The dynamics of running

Amrita Prasad
Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Prior to his 50th workshop in Mumbai, Ashok Nath tells us more about running form, how the running movement has picked up momentum in India and why a larger mandate is necessary to help underprivileged runners

Ashok Nath, popularly known as Ash, is a familiar name in the Indian running circuit. Running for the past three decades, the 10-time consecutive Boston Marathon Qualifier and executive trustee of India Amateur Runners Trust (IART) has been inspiring and guiding hundreds of runners by imparting his knowledge and sharing his experience with them. The Bengaluru-based runner and mentor has mentees spread across the country and overseas. 

He has also contributed to the documentary Limitless which is aimed at inspiring more women to run. Ash, who has been teaching the subtle nuances of running techniques, training properly, etc is hosting his 50th workshop, called Form 2.0 in Mumbai on February 2 and 3. To register for the workshop, visit:  www.facebook.com/events/1452490394854136/?ti=icl

Here, he shares more:   
What will be the focus of your 50th workshop? Is it some new aspect of running or further emphasis on past topics? 
The worst teachers are those who stop learning and regurgitate old information. I keep challenging myself and one of the ways is to periodically inject something fresh in my workshops and mentoring programmes. Going forward, in addition to the usual ‘postural elements’, there will be a new dimension of ‘collision dynamics’ taken into account when analysing running form. Presently, there is a lack of ‘quantification’ in the way running form analysis is done as postural elements are insufficient and not very objective. Form 2.0, the upcoming workshop, will be a paradigm shift. 

Boston Marathon remains elusive to many runners. What is your advice to those who dream to get there someday? 
The iconic Boston Marathon, or the ‘Olympics for amateur runners’, is definitely a goal worth pursuing but best approached as the natural outcome of a due process. Initially, focus on becoming a better runner and eventually, this journey will bring you within striking distance of their challenging qualifying standards. Becoming a better runner implies getting smarter and stronger when it comes to running form, body composition, strength training, cardio fitness, mental perspective and so on. 

As a successful runner and running coach, how do you create a balance between your professional commitments and personal aspirations?   
To truly succeed, you must be single-mindedly focused on your own goals, even selfish in your behaviour, as all your energies must be towards that purpose. Eat, train, sleep. Repeat. Once a runner takes on the responsibilities of coaching then his own performance will start stagnating, and eventually diminish.

If I reflect on myself, my priority has always been sheer fitness with running achievements and coaching accolades a result of my process excellence. 

You have been propagating the importance of ‘proper running form’. How would you simplify this for amateur runners? 
Proper running form has two elements, namely the postural and the collision aspects. The former is to enable you to run in a balanced state with all body parts engaged in a unified manner, contributing proportionately. The latter is to improve upon the movement patterns of the force producing parts of the body to influence running economy, performance, and risk of injury.

Your journey as a runner spans around three decades. How would you describe the changes that have come in the field of running in India since fitness is the buzzword today?  
The running movement has definitely picked up in India if the growing participation at local races and sheer visibility of runners at gyms and outdoors are any indication. And many runners have taken the next step of engaging with coaches to cut their learning curve.

Earlier, runners were a rare sight and running races even rarer. When people describe running as having low entry barriers, they would be referring to the early days when a cotton tee, socks and shorts with basic shoes would suffice. Running wasn’t a hot subject and you would catch glares from the general public. 

The sight of an adult in shorts no longer causes raised eyebrows. Many runners draw envious glances for their energy levels and some even look like they stepped out of a Vogue mag!

What differences have you observed between global marathons and the way running events are organised in India?     
One should categorise running events as (1) national, (2) city and (3) locality level, as each is different in their size, cost of participation, quality and range of offerings and the sheer running experience. Presently, in India we have a few of the first, several of the second and plenty of the third category.
 
For comparison, let us limit ourselves to the first category only, namely national level races like Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) and Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) where the number of participants coming from all over India are substantial. For the most part, these events are on par with those abroad but fall short on crowd support, media coverage, course management and corral handling. I have two suggestions — for organisers to be more marketing and less sales oriented, and for runners to be more quality and less quantity conscious.

Since running has become a huge phenomenon in India, some running organisations and groups have been helping underprivileged runners. How do you plan to help such runners?
India has no dearth of talent but a lack of process to identify, nurture, expose and respect them. At one level, I am a trustee of India Amateur Runners Trust where our ‘Runners Help Runners’ initiative supports the less privileged performance runners in matters of gear, race related expenses and even with financial support. At another level, a runner is accommodated at my workshops. And finally, there is ongoing free advisory service to such runners.
 
The simple truth is that for such talent to truly blossom they need some reassurance of their future and talent management through the year, not just camps around races. Such support needs a larger mandate than possible at an individual or group level. 

THE RIGHT ANGLE 
Ash’s recent Facebook posts talk about the importance of angle of the shin and foot in running. He explains how every runner, beginner and the experienced, stands to gain from it: 

The average distance runner is highly injury prone and finds it difficult to run faster despite long hours in training. A runner’s legs collide with the surface, roughly 170 to 180 times per minute, and the specific dynamics of these collisions determine their pace and proneness to injuries.

Most runners are focusing their training largely on improving the capacities of their heart and muscles, akin to fine-tuning the engine of a car but then outfitting it with square wheels by not addressing their collision dynamics.
  

  • A runner’s foot has a kidney bean shaped flight path during running.
  • The airborne swing leg moves ahead and eventually stops moving forward relative to the body. The angle of this point to the ground is their max shin angle (MSA). 
  • Then the foot moves backwards and downwards to make contact with the ground, the angle at initial contact is their SAT or Shin Angle at Touchdown. 
  • The difference between these two angles is their reversal of swing (ROS). 

Some angles are strongly linked to the highest production of propulsive forces and lowest risk of injury and postural elements are designed to enable these to happen optimally. Runners are advised to understand their ‘angles’ (collision dynamics), learn the drills and form-specific exercises and then practise. 

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