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Pittsburgh Marathon notebook: Proper running form can trim a lot of time

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Face of the race

Name: Jessica McCullough Huzzard

Age: 31

Where you live: Hampton

What you're running: The Pittsburgh Marathon

Why you're running: I started with some smaller races six or seven years ago and have gradually escalated to marathons. I run to stay healthy and to spend time outdoors ... but mostly to try to keep my sanity from a busy life with two crazy kids.

Your advice: My advice would be don't take yourself too seriously. Running and sports are supposed to be fun. Have a good time — put the watch away sometimes. Don't make it a chore to log the miles. If you're finding yourself getting bored with the running, replace a run or two with cross-training. It is a great way to break up the monotony of lots of miles and also is great to hit some of those muscle groups that you don't focus on while running. I supplement training with yoga and it is awesome for strength and flexibility.

Saturday, April 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Like any athlete, Kevin Smith said, runners need instruction to learn proper form and technique.

But the owner of Elite Runners & Walkers said that too many people just simply lace up their shoes and go out the door, and those are often the people who either aren't very successful, find themselves injured, or both.

Smith offers free clinics weekly at the Robinson Township location and monthly at the Monroeville location in which runners learn four key points about good form: posture, forward lean, having a quick turnover and the point where the foot should land relative to the body.

“We try to guide them into a smoother running style,” Smith said. “Three words I try to get people to remember is to run smoother, run lightly and run efficiently. We don't want heads bobbing up and down and you shouldn't sound like a small herd of elephants. And we want you to use the least amount of energy to go the longest distances. Your body will have more energy left afterward, you'll feel less beat up and everything is going to be much happier.”

Part of the clinic includes recording the runner in stride and playing back the video in slow motion for an honest look at what's happening with the body. Improving where the foot hits the ground can mean saving 1100th of a second, Smith said, which may not sound like a lot but can add up to 16 seconds per mile and minutes over the course of a marathon.

“I've had people take two or four minutes off 5K or 10K times after one week,” he said. “That's extreme, but I also have people giving running one more try after they gave up in the past because their knees always hurt. We get them running correctly and their knees don't hurt anymore.”

Did you know?

Smith said anyone running the full or half marathon should now be wearing the shoes he or she plans to wear on race day. Typically, they suggest being in race-day shoes four-to-five weeks before the race, which is now just over three weeks away. Even if it's the same style shoe one has been wearing, runners should have at least 50 miles in the shoes by race day.

Tip of the week

Endurance activities are difficult, even for athletes who've trained. But when should a runner stop and seek medical attention on race day? Here's what UPMC sports medicine expert and orthopedist Dr. Aaron Mares said: “An individual may not feel 100 percent, and that is to be expected, to a certain degree. However, there are some signs and symptoms that should prompt an individual to seek immediate medical attention. They would include, but are not limited to: chest pain or chest discomfort; difficulty breathing; dizziness/lightheadedness; difficulty concentrating or confusion; nausea and vomiting; or even an atypical sense of fatigue or muscle weakness in comparison to prior runs. If certain muscles or bones/joints provide a sharp or lasting pain, something over a 2 on a 0-to-10 pain scale, you should temporarily stop running and seek medical consultation.”

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