Prior to the FCIAC cross country championship race at New Canaan's Waveny Park on Oct. 18, I worked on the track with a freshman runner from Fairfield Warde High School. He was preparing for his first competition in such an event, and we worked on honing his running skills.
We started with stretching techniques, which are so important as tightness cuts down on the range of motion in the legs. The tightness can originate in the lower back.
One of the greatest advantages of flexibility is that it allows the muscles to apply more force directly to the foot and the ankle needed for efficient running. This results in more efficient use of energy.
The second thing we did was watch his overall style as he ran around the track, using a stop watch for his speed while he ran 220 yards at a time. He was actually improving with his change of racing style.
We then worked on his stride length, moving his legs and arms in an increased stride length and rate. In doing this, we placed his body in a different position, leaning forward in a racing position. That put faster motion of the ball of the foot, as using the Achilles tendon gives the ankle a stronger lever arm for speed. He took a few seconds off each of the 220-yard runs.
The final outcome and reward was that the freshman runner had a personal-record time at the championship meet.
Dr. Robert Weiss lives in Westport and has a sports-podiatry practice in Darien. He is a former marathon runner and was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and the 1988 Olympic Trials.