I remember the first 5K race I ran nearly 20 years ago. As I was lumbering along trying to keep pace with the pack, I noticed that some runners just seemed to glide effortlessly as they ran and didn't appear to be using nearly as much energy. Sometimes I see people running with such labored and exaggerated movements that it hurts to watch. It hurts even more if they happen to be passing me.
I've always been interested in the concept of bio-mechanics and exercise efficiency. I am fascinated with the subject, so I recently went to a class on running form that was taught at Runner's Corner. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is that I didn't learn about proper running technique a long time ago.
About 6 years ago, I read Hal Higdon's book Marathon, the Ultimate Training Guide and learned several techniques about running form, but the hands-on class at Runner's Corner was very informative and covered the four main areas listed below.
1) The posture of leaning forward at the ankles without bending at the waist. Imagine yourself falling forward using gravity to your advantage. The chest should be tall and open with your shoulders back and relaxed. Keep your head up and look forward.
2) Keep a minimal arm swing, and don't allow arms to cross the chest, since lateral movement will compromise efficiency. Relax your hands (visualize you are holding a potato chip between your fingers and thumbs).
3) The feet should strike mid to forefoot and you should land on your feet when they are directly under your hips rather than out in front of you. Landing on your heel (heel strike) causes unnecessary impact and slows you down with each step.
4) Keep your cadence at 180 steps per minute regardless of how fast you are running. This concept really surprised me since I always assumed faster runners take bigger steps.
Combining these four basic areas can reduce the amount of energy you expend, help protect you from fatigue and injury, and improve your running speed. The only drawback is that it requires more awareness, practice, and discipline to run with correct form.
If you want to improve your running technique, then I highly recommend the running class at Runner's Corner. At $7.00 it's a great bargain and even includes a brief video analysis of your running form.