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Making adjustments

October 12, 2015

Vertical oscillation over time

One of the things that I’ve noticed about my running data – background here – is that I seem to be an unusually bouncy runner. So, I thought I would experiment with tweaking my running style to see what impact that might have.

For the past week and a bit, I’ve been consciously monitoring my vertical oscillation. (My default running screen shows distance covered and vertical oscillation – I get pace feedback as my Garmin clicks off each mile, but that’s about it.) My approach to this has been as follows:

  • shorter strides, landing my leading foot earlier than I would naturally
  • leaning further forward – moonwalk-style (i.e. angle from the ankle) not hunched over from the hips
  • varying arm swing from minimal to maximal, with little to no clarity on how/whether it affects my gait.

It felt a bit unnatural at first – the motion of running was slightly speeded up, which my body wasn’t used to – and after the first run using this style (potentially a strategic error to introduce on a Sunday long run) I really felt the change in style in my quads for the next couple of days. But I’m coming round to this style, and it seems to be having some advantages. My feet are much less sore in the morning, for one thing, which suggests that I might have been placing too much pressure on them through over-striding.

Anyway, a look at the data from these runs shows a few unsurprising changes in my running form. My cadence has increased, dancing around 180spm (about 10% higher than previously), and my ground contact time has decreased. My stride length on my less bouncy runs has decreased by about 15cm (about 11% shorter than previously).

Based on this, you’d think that the pace wouldn’t be wildly different, and you’d be about right. I was shaving off a second or two per mile from my usual mid-week 6-miler, which was probably more a result of my body adapting to several weeks of consistent training than anything in my running form.

Then, on Friday evening, I needed to get a run out of the way before heading to a work do. Having got changed and about to set off, I bumped into our group director, who wanted to check I was still coming to the pub. I assured him that ‘I will do – I’m just going to knock a quick one out, get changed and head over.’ (Not a brilliant choice of words, as I was reminded by various colleagues who had been informed of my whereabouts.) That aside, I wanted to push on with a decent effort, but couldn’t quite contain the bounciness of my gait.

Pacing trend for 6-miler

Trending faster – but Friday’s effort shows a big jump in pace

While the run was bouncier than I’d been managing for my other runs this week, my cadence wasn’t much slower than for the more controlled runs. So, while this effort may have been more wasteful than my previous runs, a faster turnover (accompanied by a longer stride) massively improved my performance for a pace that felt the same effort as previous runs. Interesting.

However, there’s probably more to this since my VO2 Max has been going through some changes recently.

VO2 Max improvements

Gradual improvement, followed by quite a significant change in the past week

My running VO2 Max reading has gone from 50 four weeks ago, up to 55 by the end of this week. This may well have absolutely nothing to do with my recent tweaks in form, and an awful lot more to do with some – long overdue – consistent training weeks and some focus on effort. Either way, it feels good to be recovering a bit of form.

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