There are essentially just two types of running; training & racing. And the only difference between these two, is your pace or intensity.
What I mean when I say this is:
With racing we are typically asking our body to perform at the highest level of intensity, with a high level of focus or concentration on every aspect of our running and running form. This we do to maximise our performance for the race.
But what do we do differently in training, when the pace or intensity varies so much?
Training comes in all different shapes & sizes; Recovery, Intervals, Pace, Tempo, Threshold, Steady State, Long Runs.
In training the only difference should be the intensity, and as a result cadence (but only slightly). The mental focus on running form should be just the same.
Here’s another way of looking at it, that most runners will understand.
There is good running form, and poor running form.
Good Running Form = tall posture, strong trunk, high foot/knee pick up, high cadence, yet smooth, light & easy. Good running form sounds like tap, tap, tap, tap. You get what I mean.
Poor Running Form = bent over posture, low hips, collapsing into knees, low feet that drag, slow cadence, bumpy, heavy, hard. Goes more like thud…, thud…, thud….
Whatever your run, your form may be better or worse depending on many factors. If we consider this on a linear scale, and as a runner you will sit somewhere along that scale at any given moment as you run. Most of us will start a run at the better end of the scale ( best form) and often move backwards as the run progresses as our strength is challenged and fatigues takes its toll ( poorer form).
Unless you’re Mo Farah, you’re probably not always at the far right (best) end of the scale, but you still should always be working towards that goal. By that I mean regardless of the type of run, hence the pace/intensity of your run or what stage of your run, you must always focus on good running form, thus aiming to strengthen the neural pathways, and associated muscles that produce good running form. For it is good running form, that produces efficient running that when combined with strength & power means you run fast!
You must always practise good running form always, regardless of your run.
This sounds like a lot of work I agree, but the consequence of not doing this is the bigger problem.
As the body responds to it’s environment always ( i.e. how we train it), if you spend time running or allowing yourself to run with anything less than good form (poor form), you are teaching or training your body/muscles to run this way ( poorly).
Now that is clearly counterproductive, and you just simply cannot afford to be doing that, if you want to become a better runner, or remain a good runner, or even get the most out of your training.
So what of slower runs; steady pace long runs, recovery runs and easy runs.
Our body is a dynamic organism in that it is constantly adapting and responding to it’s environment. In this way, we are the product of what we do, or how we keep or train our bodies. Thus running training provides a stimulus that results in stronger, fitter muscles with better condition for running due to accompanying physiologic changes.
But when we train for running, and we achieve stronger, fitter leg muscles there is a higher force that provides this change that must be considered. And this is the brain & nervous system.
When we train to get stronger, we are actually stimulating the nervous system to build a stronger neural connection or pathway to those muscles (and supportive structures & mechanisms) required for that activity (running), and thus adaptation towards greater power/strength & physiologic conditioning can be achieved in those muscle functions.
Not only that, for we are also training the body and in particular, your posture & legs to move in a specific & deliberate manner, and in doing so developing your motor pathways. This of course is also known as your running gait (or form) and very important for running efficiency.
The important point to understand and remember is that this is happening on every run. It is after all neurologic, always.
So in effect, we are not (just) training muscles, but training your nervous system to produce stronger signals, of greater intensity that result in stronger motor patterns and a stronger muscle response. So the effect of this stronger neural pathway, is a stronger, fitter muscular system that produces a stronger response that results in more efficient & more powerful running. This is what makes you faster!
And so, training your body to run, and Run Well means we must practise good running form on every step, of every run, regardless of the type of running session we perform, be it training or racing.
The question you must ask yourself is;
When I am running, when I am training, am I running with my best form, or am I doing something else?
If you find during a running session that your form has gone, then you must slow down or stop, get it back together, and then continue with good form. Otherwise you're being counter-productive.
For maximum results & performance, you must always focus first on Running Well.