Q. Towards the end of a long run my heels begin to clip each other every few strides. What can I do to prevent this?
A. This sounds like a technique and conditioning issue. Running technique is thought to be a natural activity, but natural doesn't mean optimal. Running is like any other sport - you need to practise to improve.
Most runners spend very little time practising their technique and fine-tuning it to become faster and more efficient. Instead, they just go out and run their set number of miles. This is not the way to become a better or faster runner.
If your heels begin to clip every few strides this is probably because the muscles of your upper legs are becoming tired, which affects your running gait. The glutes are lateral rotating muscles, which means they help turn the leg outwards.
If these muscles are tightening up, the knee will move out laterally, causing the heels to clip. It is very important to stretch out the glutes, because other issues, such as sciatica and ITB (iliotibial band) problems, can arise if these muscles are too tight.
The pigeon pose (a yoga position) will help stretch these muscles; it can also help prevent sciatica and reduce your chance of developing ITB issues.
Doing running drills as part of your warm-up will help you think about correct technique. Include a few drills in your warm-up routine to improve muscle memory and train your body to move in the correct way.
Conditioning training throughout the year will help keep you strong enough to maintain the right technique when you begin to tire. Conditioning is traditionally done during winter to prepare you for race season.
You should include exercises such as squats, lunges and step-ups. Abdominal exercises are also vital for maintaining strong core muscles, which have a major impact on your running technique.
Ralph Hydes is a running, duathlon and triathlon coach. He has helped many athletes reach international-level competition and has been the trainer to corporate teams for the London Triathlon since 2001. Ralph is a freelance coach, designing individual triathlon training programmes, providing one-to-one coaching and offering nutrition advice. His new DVD is Flexibility for Triathletes and Runners. Visit ralph-hydes.com.