Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Less Effort Leads to Better Running

by Elinor Fish

Are you a relaxed runner?

Or do you carry your shoulders up around your ears, clench your hands or slap your feet on the pavement?

All that tension is probably making you work much harder than you need to be, and may even be hurting you.

If so, you’re not alone. Legions of tense runners are suffering from running-related injuries. But is that really surprising, considering the popular ethos that running is “hard work”?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Running should feel easy. In fact, given the right conditions, running can feel nearly effortless.

That sensation is known as flow, or the state in which you are fully immersed in an experience to such a degree that it feels simultaneously engaging, yet easy and sustainable.

This is the state that runners strive for, especially on race day. Being “in the zone” can be key to achieving the coveted PR.

However, flow cannot occur where there is resistance.

Here are four steps to reducing resistance and creating the optimal conditions for flow to occur:

1.  Make gravity work for you instead of against you.

Good running form is a lot more foot strike. The most efficient way to run doesn’t look the same for every runner, but those with good form all have proper joint alignment.

That means your joints maintain a straight line, even when you go from standing to running. This posture requires that you employ the core to maintain a straight back, square shoulders, tilted pelvis, engaged gluteus muscles and forward lean originating at the ankles.

Such alignment allows you to make running a controlled forward “fall.” Instead of using excessive muscular force to push your body through the gait cycle, gravity pulls you forward.

2.  Release muscular tension.

Now that you have your bones in the proper places, notice the sensations in your muscles. Let go of any muscular tension, especially in the shoulders and arms.

That unconscious tension is an energy suck, diminishing your efficiency and making running feel like way more work that it should.

Beware that tension can increase along with fatigue. In the late stages of a hard run or race, when form begins to deteriorate, the strain and stress causes muscles to tighten up in an attempt to compensate for their decreasing strength.

3. Run by perceived exertion rather than pace per mile.

Most runners run too hard too much of the time. Again, the unhealthy “running is work” ethos spoils your attempts to make maximum fitness gains in minimal time.

This approach mistakenly equates effort with effectiveness.

Running too hard too often makes your running less effective because without sufficient recovery, your body cannot make the physiological adaptations necessary to build fitness. Instead, you build fatigue.

Eighty percent of your total mileage should be at an “easy” pace. The best way to stay within that “easy” effort level is to regulate your pace by perceived exertion. Rating your exertion level on a scale of 1 (easiest) to 10 (hardest) allows you to go as slow as you need to recover sufficiently between key workouts.

4. Replace negative self-talk with positivity.

It’s okay: every runner has a little voice in his head re-telling the same stories over and over about why he’s not fit enough or not good enough.

Neurologists have assessed that up to 98% of the brain’s activity is unconscious, which means that all day long, you’re replaying engrained stories that may be eroding your self-confidence.

Doubt in your ability to meet a challenge or perform well in competition has been shown to cause physical tension  and more rapid fatigue.

So tune in that background conversation and consciously swap out the old, negative stories with new, more positive stories. They shouldn’t be too hard to conjure; your running history is most likely rife with successes that prove you’re far better than your old stories would suggest.

[Author bio]

Elinor Fish is a mindful running coach and author of The Healthy Runner’s Manifesto, which offers what modern runners must know to stop striving and start thriving. Her online courses, workshops and international running retreats help runners overcome injury, burnout and low motivation to reclaim a foundation of health and vitality upon which to build fitness and achieve their goals. www.ElinorFish.com

Photo: "Trail des Cerces Merell" (cropped)

Photo: "Running New Zealand's famous Routeburn Track" (cropped) by Ryan Smith