I’ve been a Podiatrist since 1996, and a runner since I was a little kid; over 30 years. Patients, friends, and family often ask me, “How am I supposed to run?” I can certainly evaluate how someone runs and understand where their flaws are, where they do things well and make suggestions…but, can I really teach someone how to run?
I can make recommendations, and certainly do. That’s what I get paid to do, and it’s what those inquiring and aspiring runners are expecting. Often times I’ll recommend a shoe (or occasionally the “sans shoe”) or make an orthotic that will help an individual have a better chance at running more efficiently or without pain. I work often with massage tools from the Triggerpoint technologies
family to help loosen the muscles that we need to keep loose in order to run safe. I’ve recommended books and clinics on run form such as Chi Running
, which is a step by step methodology on how to run/how we are supposed to run. Sometimes, many times I hope, this works for people, and they get better and accomplish the goals they set out to do. But often times it ends in frustration, injury or both. Why? For as much time as I’ve spent trying to answer the questions on how to help an individual, I’ve spent more time on trying to figure out why it doesn’t work for this person or that person…and here is what I’ve come up with:
DON’T DO, FEEL
When someone asks me what to do, I try to switch his or her mindset away from TRYING to do anything. The second we try and move in a specific way, we are creating muscle activity that is not what the body is used to, and therefore, will create resistance and act as a limiter to normal movement. The intent is good, but the reality is not. Running, and movement in general, is something that should be natural and flow. When people struggle with running, it’s usually because they are putting far too much effort into the process, i.e. working hard to get their body to move in a certain way instead of letting the body move in that way. That’s a FEEL thing, not a DO thing. If you are playing the piano, it’s not enough to just know how to play the correct notes. You have to play the correct notes in the correct sequence WITH the correct timing or it won’t sound like the intended song. And I suppose that just as someone can learn to play the right notes in the proper sequence, and turn the notes into a song, so too can someone learn how to run by making movements proper enough to make running look and feel better, or even good. But that’s still DOING. Think for a moment about watching elite runners competing. How would you describe their form? “Effortless and as if the feet aren’t touching the ground.” You can pretty much end the analysis right there as nothing else really matters when effortlessness is the goal. When you see something that’s right, you just know it. A piano player can practice and learn how to play a song, but there is a clear difference between the pianist who plays a song well and the virtuoso. The virtuoso is precisely that because he or she allows the music to come from within them. The music flows and it just sounds right. The elite runners let their movements flow and it just looks right. Again, it’s not what they are DOING, it’s what they are FEELING!
TAME THE MIND
Like higher handicap golfers, runners tend to over think and over analyze everything! So focused on swing form, hip rotation, body alignment and aim, the golfers mind is filled with so many different thoughts there is virtually no chance that the ball will do what the player wants it to do. Every now and then, however, this same golfer will hit an incredible shot. Ask that player what they were thinking of when they hit that shot and chances are they won’t be able to tell you. The reason being that they weren’t thinking of anything at all! They cleared their mind and let their body do what it needed to do. People who are new to running or struggle with it are like high handicap golfers, they over think all of the things they are supposed to do to achieve a certain outcome, and don’t give the body a chance to do what it needs to do. The body needs to move. Movement occurs on a subconscious level. Where we want to go, how fast we try to get there are certainly conscious events, but the manner in which the movement happens is not conscious. The sequence of events to make the body move in a particular way is the result of years of repetitive movements creating patterns that are fixed upon the subconscious. That’s something that can’t be changed through conscious thought alone. It’s a process. And a process that can’t, and shouldn’t be cheated. It takes years to achieve mastery in anything. In Malcomb Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he cited research showing that 10,000 hours is necessary to become expert in something. And with running, I like to take it one step beyond merely spending more time on your feet. I like people to think about the process. In Eugen Herrigel’s book Zen and the Art of Archery, the author tries to cheat the process by figuring out a fix in his grip that allows the arrow to fly straight. The Zen master was so taken aback, he stopped working with Herrigel because he was trying to take a short cut. Eventually, the Zen master resumed his teaching, and after 6 years of steady practice, mastery was achieved (important note: Herrigel’s 1st year was ALL about breathing!). The point is, if you truly want to achieve mastery at running, it’s not just about trying to consciously force the body to move in a specific way. It’s about being patient and believing in a process that requires repetition of proper movements; movements that are relaxed, free from tension, fluid and just happen. We all don’t need to be running masters, but we do need to get on the right path as early as possible in order to do it properly and safely.
HIT THE ROAD
…or trail. When it’s time to run, make sure it’s really you want to be doing. Running should be enjoyable. If it’s not, then there is probably a better exercise out there for you than running. It’s important to be relaxed and allow your mind to be open to feel, not to do. Try to avoid forcing anything such as a specific stride, pace or a certain foot strike. Research has shown that there are better strides (landing underneath the body), paces (something that allows you to talk at an easy conversational level means that you are not over-exerting yourself) and foot strikes (more mid to forefoot), but they can’t and shouldn’t be forced! Focus on things that you can control; standing tall, relaxing the shoulders and diaphragmatic breathing. Above all else, have patience, relax and enjoy the process. Running can be one of the very best, most satisfying and efficient forms of exercise. Just remember to feel it, keep it simple and have fun.
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