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Running Integrity: 10 Metrics to Help You Run Further, Faster, and With More Fun

These 10 running integrity metrics will help you run more efficiently, healthfully, and sustainably.

By on July 9, 2024 | Comments

Stay the CourseMany people reading this article have the ability to run — to put one foot in front of the other in rapid sequence. But is that running done efficiently, healthfully, and sustainably? Not always.

I label this complex of higher-order running success — that is, running efficiently, healthfully, and sustainably — running integrity. When we’re deficient in running integrity, running can be painful, unsuccessful, and unenjoyable. We runners, and particularly we ultrarunners, are good at hiding these deficiencies through our choices of running surface, terrain, distance, and pace. However, the deficiencies remain and tend to emerge at the most inopportune times, such as during key races or adventure runs.

Best Cushioned Running Shoes - Running in the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12

Running integrity means having the physical skills and abilities to run efficiently, healthfully, and sustainably even during your longest or wildest runs and races. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Integrity deficits thrive on the inactive end of the use-it-or-lose-it spectrum. When an ability is lost — be it to sprint, to do a sit-up, or to touch one’s toes — it often signals broader deficiencies and has consequences. Again, those consequences are most likely to become apparent when least desired, when performing at the edge of one’s ability in a race or adventure weeks, months, or years in the making. After putting in so much hard work, don’t you owe it to yourself to ensure your running integrity is up to snuff?

Running integrity refers to the skills and abilities that push the boundaries of our running. Increasing strength and mobility reduces aches and pains and the risk of injury. Improved running efficiency reduces the chance of cramps, blisters, and toenail issues while simultaneously allowing you to run faster, further, or both. And can’t we all agree that running better and with less pain is more enjoyable?

So, what are the paths to increasing your running integrity?

First, assess where you stand with the 10 metrics around mobility, strength, and fast and far running that are detailed in this article. If you’re unable to meet the lowest standard on any of the 10 metrics, you’ve identified a core deficit in running integrity. Even where you have basic competence under a given metric, I’ve provided additional targets for further improving your running integrity. Now, let’s dive in!

Griffin Briley - 2024 Running Up For Air Moab 3 Hours winner

Griffin Briley on his way to winning the 2024 Running Up For Air Moab 3 Hours men’s race. Running integrity is crucial for maintaining a sustainable and powerful stride over the course of a long, technical race like this one. Photo courtesy of the event.

The Running Integrity Metrics

Below is a comprehensive — but not necessarily complete — list of multi-dimensional metrics of running integrity: the key abilities required for both maximum success and running enjoyment.

They’re tiered into hierarchical standards ranging from Bronze, which is minimum capacity, to Silver, which equates to moderate capacity, to Gold, which represents the highest integrity most likely necessary for peak performance.

Then, there are two elements of standard execution:

  1. Can you perform the motion or activity?
  2. Can you do it repetitively and sustainably? Can you do that exercise today, and come back tomorrow or next week and do it just as well or better, without increased aches, pains, injury, or other setbacks?

Please note that there is a difference between not wanting to do or not enjoying an element and the ability to execute that element without significant pain or setbacks.

It’s true that a runner may not need to do these activities in order to be successful. However, it’s important that a runner has the capacity to do so. That said, I do think a runner should include some small amount of these activities in their training regimen in order to maintain these abilities.

Grayson Murphy - 2023 World Mountain Running Championships Up and Down race - winner

Grayson Murphy, 2023 World Mountain Running Championships Up and Down race winner. Maintaining your running integrity daily allows you to perform your best in the most important moments. Photo: iRunFar/Sarah Brady

Running Integrity Metrics: Mobility

To run efficiently requires basic mobility, or free motion of the propulsion system.

The most basic mobility metric is symmetry. Because running is a balanced activity, integrity and efficiency begin with symmetry: relative equality between left and right legs.

While there are many mobility metrics for healthy running, these few are most impactful for running integrity.

1. Hip Mobility

Bronze: Symmetrical hip flexion and extension mobility between left and right legs. Are both hips relatively equal, even if somewhat lacking in motion?

Silver:

  • Ability for one thigh to lie flat on the ground while the other is flexed upward, all while the hip is extended to zero degrees, meaning the pelvis and trunk are in line.
  • Ability to flex the thigh to 120 degrees.

Gold:

For more information on hip mobility metrics, see our article, Performance Mobility Series, Part 1.

2. Ankle Mobility

Bronze: Symmetrical ankle dorsiflexion, meaning upward foot flexion, and plantar flexion, meaning a downward, pointed foot, between both ankles.

Silver:

  • Plantar flexion of 30 to 50 degrees, with zero degrees being a perpendicular angle between the foot and shin.
  • Dorsiflexion of 10 to 20 degrees upward from the perpendicular angle.

Gold:

  • Plantar flexion of over 50 degrees.
  • Dorsiflexion of over 20 degrees.

Running Integrity Metrics: Strength

Strength metrics encompass key aspects of the running propulsive system, namely the hips and lower legs. Core stability is also a key element as it allows the harnessing of the full body’s energy and keeping the system aligned and connected over prolonged runs on challenging terrain.

1. Functional Squat

The squat represents a key test for both gluteal and quadriceps strength — key propulsive movers — as well as a test of core stability and balance.

Bronze: Full squat depth — the front of the thighs touch the pelvis, or the back of the thighs touch the calves — and full return with intact balance, symmetrical motion, and no pain. Ability to perform at least 10 repetitions.

Silver: Goblet squat holding one-eighth to one-quarter body weight, meaning if you are 160 pounds, you can hold a 20 to 40-pound dumbbell, full depth. Ability to perform at least 10 repetitions.

Gold: Back squatting one’s body weight, meaning if you are 160 pounds, squatting with a weight bar containing 160 pounds, full depth. Ability to perform at least 10 repetitions.

2. Calf Raise

Lower leg strength is crucial for running. The lower leg stabilizes the body upon landing, then allows the big movers of the upper leg to generate propulsive energy. Finally, the calf provides propulsion of its own, aiding in terminal pushoff.

Bronze: Perform 30 double — two legs at once — heel raises, and 10 single — all weight on one leg — calf raises, consecutively.

Silver: Perform 50 doubles and 25 single calf raises, consecutively.

Gold: Perform 100 doubles and 50 single calf raises, consecutively.

3. Core Stability

The core stabilizers — the front, back, and sides of the trunk — create a strong platform off of which the limbs push and pull to generate motion. The core also aids in propulsion, adding to both forward flexion and rearward leg extension.

Bronze: Perform a 30 to 60-second plank exercise on elbows or hands.

Silver: Perform a plank and also perform an abdominal bicycle exercise for 30 to 60 seconds — without low back extension or rotation.

Gold: Perform plank, bicycle, and be able to perform a full sit-up — at least 10 repetitions.

NordicTrack 55 Lb. Select-A-Weight Dumbbells - testing in plank position

iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks does a plank using adjustable dumbbells. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

4. Plyometrics

These comprehensive exercises represent the bounce of running: the ability to land on the ground, including variable surfaces, and quickly and efficiently bounce off that surface. Strong, efficient plyometric strength maximizes energy for propulsion while minimizing energy inefficiently absorbed by the body.

It is one of the most important, yet overlooked and easily lost, strength metrics for high-integrity running.

Key aspects of plyometric ability include:

  • Adopting and maintaining neutral spinal, pelvis, and leg alignment, with no shifting or leaning;
  • Maintaining a running hip hinge position; and
  • Maintaining a slight flexion in the ankle, knee, and hip without excessive giving-way motion.

Bronze: Double hop side to side, quickly with three hops per second, for 20 to 30 consecutive hops.

Silver: Perform single-leg crossover hops, quickly with three per second on the same leg. At least 20 to 30 consecutive hops.

Gold: Perform single-leg hops moving forward, over objects or up a staircase. At least 5 to 10 consecutive hops.

Running Integrity Metrics: Fast Running

Endurance runners may not enjoy running fast, but the ability to do so represents a high-integrity running function. It requires full mobility, sound core stability, and peak strength in the hips and lower legs.

1. Sprinting

You may not like it, but sprinting can be predictive of success in long and slow ultramarathons.

The speed standard — paces and times — does not matter. Rather, it is the ability to run at 80 to 90% or more effort, using maximal range of motion, strength, and physiological capacity.

Bronze: Sprint 50 meters on a flat surface.

Silver: Sprint 200 meters.

Gold: Sprint 400 meters.

Zach Miller Sprint - 2022 UTMB

Zach Miller sprinting to the finish at the 2022 UTMB. You never know when you’ll need to sprint in a trail race or ultramarathon, so it’s important to maintain the ability to do so. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

2. Tempo Runs

These medium-fast runs at 10-kilometer to marathon race pace require higher levels of mobility, strength, and high aerobic and even anaerobic physiological function over prolonged distances and durations — anywhere from 10 minutes to multiple hours. Medium-fast and medium-hard running require enhanced integrity of myofascial and joint tissues to withstand this relatively high load.

Bronze: Tempo running for 10 to 20 total. This might be broken up into intervals or consecutive running at moderately high intensity.

Silver: Tempo running for 20 to 40 minutes.

Gold: Tempo running for 60-plus minutes. This represents the ability to run a hard 10k to half-marathon effort.

3. Sustained Flat Runs

This is a major integrity test. While many runners flock to trail running and ultrarunning as former road marathoners, they often lose the ability to run flat for a prolonged distance. Again, while they may not enjoy flat running, when the ability to run flat is lost, it often signals key integrity deficits in strength, stride efficiency, and essential fitness.

As such, every runner should be able to perform prolonged flat runs on forgiving surfaces.

Bronze: Run 10 miles continuously on flat terrain.

Silver: Run 20 miles continuously on flat terrain.

Gold: Run 30-plus miles continuously on flat terrain.

Camille Herron - 2024 lululemon FURTHER - 6 day world record - 1

Camille Herron on her way to setting the 6-day world record at the 2024 lululemon FURTHER Ultramarathon. This event was an example of an extraordinary amount of flat running that surely required high running integrity of its participants. Photo courtesy of lululemon.

4. Training Frequency and Volume

Finally, the ability to run at higher volumes  is a key metric of physical integrity. Specifically, a simple metric is the ability to run on consecutive days. This is a basic metric of recovery: how quickly one can rebound from a simple bout of running? Even greater, it is a measure of efficiency. The more efficiently you run, the less stress is incurred, and the faster the body can rebound and do it again.

In short, running on consecutive days is a simple, but potent metric of integrity.

Bronze: Running any distance or intensity on consecutive days.

Silver: Running the day after a fast or long run.

Gold: Run consecutive long or fast days.

Conclusions and Implications

To reiterate, these metrics are not exhaustive, are not stone-cold requirements for training and racing success, and need not be enjoyed!

Instead, they are multi-dimensional variables of physical function. To do them requires the highest-level ability. Thus, to ensure you have the highest running integrity, you should be able to perform these elements. This greatly increases the likelihood of running success: being able to run far, fast, and with peak enjoyment.

Try these metrics if you find yourself struggling with repetitive injury, consistent problems, difficulty in adventure and race events, or lack of enjoyment in running.

Work on them, but if you continue to struggle to improve and restore your strength, mobility, and fast and far running, you may be harboring key orthopedic or neuromuscular deficits that may benefit from advanced medical care.

But above all else, don’t give up! Don’t give up on the metrics or the ability to do what you love.

Call for Comments

  • Did you give any of these running integrity metrics a shot? Are there any that you are really good at? Any that you should work on?
  • Have you ever had your body fail you in the moment when you most needed it, like during a long ultra or race? Can you pinpoint an issue with your running integrity which might have led to it?
  • Kilian Jornet - 2024 Zegama Marathon - Sancti Spiritu climb with fans

    Kilian Jornet on his way to winning the 2024 Zegama Marathon, his 11th victory at the race. Daily work on running integrity can help offer a lifetime of healthy and sustainable running at a high level. Photo: Zegama Marathon/Igor Quijano

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Joe Uhan

Joe Uhan is a physical therapist, coach, and ultrarunner in Auburn, California. He is a Minnesota native and has been a competitive runner for over 20 years. He has a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and is a USATF Level II Certified Coach. Joe ran his first ultra at Autumn Leaves 50 Mile in October 2010, was 4th place at the 2015 USATF 100k Trail Championships (and 3rd in 2012), second at the 2014 Waldo 100k, and finished M9 at the 2012 Western States 100. Joe owns and operates Uhan Performance Physiotherapy in Eugene, Oregon, and offers online coaching and running analysis at uhanperformance.com.