at the races Maybe it’s time to switch up your running form?

Maybe it’s time to switch up your running form?


Erin Hopkins won the Toronto 10K this Saturday in a blazing time of 33:34 and she did it after completing her last 10K in Ottawa looking, according to her coach Reid Coolsaet, “like a kid falling asleep in her car seat.” What changed? She was feeling better and the weather was cooler, but also she kept her arms closer to her torso, leaned forward and kept her cadence moving quickly, taking fast short steps enroute to first place at the finish line.

“I lean back when I’m tired and I try to address that by working on my core,” says Hopkins, a 26-year-old 5K specialist who—no surprise, since Reid is her coach and she sometimes runs with Krista DuChene—is eager to take on the marathon. “When I enter the hurt locker I try to shorten my stride and find that it’s less taxing, but I also know that if you think too much about anything when you’re running that’s energy you’re not putting towards moving fast.

All runners with goals on their mind set themselves up around now with fall training plans. But in addition to strategizing your long runs and split times, should you also be reexamining your stride? I think most runners overstride, especially if/when they do too much too fast too soon,” says Olympian Lynn Kanuka, who trained Natasha Wodak and lots of other runners at  “They tend to “try” too hard. The tip I find most helpful (even for avid runners) is to imagine staying “light on the feet” and to think about tightening their stride a little bit: smaller steps landing consciously under the hips. A nice quick arm action helps with this and takes the effort out of over-working the legs unnecessarily.”

Did you get that? Small steps, like Erin took in her winning race, with your feet landing under your hips. I also find I can generate speed when I land on my forefoot and not my heels. But you also have to be careful when attempting to tweak things that you’re already doing naturally. John Stanton, obviously who started The Running Room, advises leaving well enough alone. “There’s no such thing as good running form or bad running form,” he told iRun, and mentioned Lisa Harvey and Paul McCloy, runners he calls “world-class.”  “Lisa’s form could be described as impeccable and Paul’s as chaotically unique,” he said.

What’s consistent, he went on, is that they both run efficiently given their individual body types. “My advice to all runners is to run your best effort with your body type. Trying to change a person’s natural running form can often lead to injury!”

And yet, as we reconsider our diet and our choice of footwear, our goal races and the amount of kilometres we aim to tackle each week, doesn’t it also make sense to look at how we run? Reid Coolsaet @CoolSaetGo split the difference between Lynn and John. “I rarely try to change someone’s running form by having them change the way they run,” he says. “Strides and running drills often help promote better form. If someone is striking the ground way out in front of them I’ll try to get them to shorten their stride, but that’s rare amongst seasoned runners.”

Erin says she finds her form when she’s running and she also says, even after her W, that she has room to improve. “I feel like I look so smooth in my head, like I look great, but I see a video of me running and it’s just, Oh my God,” laughs Erin, who, in addition to being a fast runner, is also funny, and everyone should follow her Instagram @erinmawhinney_.   

“Krista DuChene is someone who runs really smoothly, but I’m someone aware of their limitations so I plan on just repeating my workouts and hoping for the best.” 

Photo: Victah Sailer

In the end, being aware of our limitations isn’t terrible advice, but there are things you can do: keep your head up and your neck on a swivel, arms close to your body and try not to crash into the ground. Think dear, not elephant when you land.

At the end of the race, at our most tired, is when the form really breaks down. It almost always happens. In Ottawa, Erin felt that happening at four K. In Toronto, things were better: she made it another two K before she had to fight.

“Both my parents run and they have lovely form, so clearly I’m spawned from the devil,” she says, with a laugh. “I’m curious about this upcoming season. I’ve been incrementally improving, so that’s a start.” 

On your next run, think about your running stride. What works, what doesn’t, what feels good and what can you do to pick up speed? Let us know and we’ll share your answers with Reid and Erin, Lynn and John. Most of us don’t have our goal races for awhile. Now’s a good time to play. 

Top phot by Inge Johnson/Canada Running Series.