We agreed to meet on a Monday after work. All joking aside, I was excited to meet Sylvie Dansereau. The lasting impression from our single brief phone conversation was that she was really, exceptionally nice.
(Why did this surprise me? If marathon runners tend to be Type A, then Ironman competitors are a breed unto themselves: Alpha-Type As. And that mentality felt so foreign to my own personal psychological makeup that I think I was probably reacting with something akin to xenophobia.)
We met at a coffee shop. We hadn’t described ourselves, but I recognized her immediately. Sylvie manages to give off an impression of both smallness — her body doesn’t have an ounce of fat — and power. Lean muscle bulged through her NRG jacket. The other thing that struck me right away was how she talks: at a mile-a-minute, leaving a trail of unfinished sentences as her mind races on to the next thought. This is the speech of a sprinter, not an endurance runner, I thought, reasoning that she couldn’t maintain that level of conversational energy for long. I was wrong. An hour-and-a-half later, she was still imparting advice at the same breakneck pace.
This was fine with me. Because I’ve never had a coach before, I’m the running equivalent of your uncle-with-a-computer-hobby Louie, who, when you tell him your laptop won’t connect to WiFi, fiddles with it until your webcam no longer works and Word will no longer open. (If that simile seems stretched to you, you haven’t heard the list of knee-and-shin-related ailments I’ve developed since I started running a few years ago.)
We talked about a number of things (as the meeting came to a close, she tried to sell me on a triathlon, which made me laugh and laugh and laugh). But in case you also are like Louie when you run, or simply have never been trained by an Ironman-competitor-slash-Canadian Long Course Athlete of the Year, I’ve distilled the conversation down to the most salient points here:
Expert advice from Sylvie Dansereau to help move you beyond the ‘novice runner’ category:
- You should be hitting 85-90 strides a minute (up to 93 if you’re more competitive) as you run, regardless of your speed. To move faster, take longer strides; slower runners shorten up. This is unintuitive for someone like me. I want to take advantage of my long legs to move faster with less effort, using fewer strides but a wider step. This is wrong.
- A good way to track your strides is to count how many times your right foot hits the ground in 15 seconds. You should total about 22 or 23.
- Sprinters generally look towards the horizon, whereas distance runners focus about five to ten feet ahead of them.
- Everything should move in a forwards-backwards motion, including your arms. Many runners angle their arms so they pump back and forth across their bodies. This twists your core, resulting in inefficiency.
- Core muscles are, of course, extremely important. Many runners–Sylvie included–neglect their glutes. 15 minutes of core exercises five times a week can make a world of difference.
- Coaches often talk about “running proud”. Your back and neck and chest should be straight. But people often make the mistake of leading with their chest, causing them to bend ever-so-slightly at the waist. Instead, lead with the pelvis. You should have the slightest sensation almost like you’re falling forward.