When I was in junior high, there was one day a month I dreaded above all others.
Mile run day. I still shudder in horror thinking about it.
I remember the feeling of trepidation and panic at the extraordinary effort I was going to have to put forward to get in before the 12 minute cut off. It was like my version of the Hunger Games. I would push really hard in an attempt to be ruled 'fit', my legs punching into the ground, my arms swinging, gasping for breath. I would often experience knee pain afterwards and have trouble walking for days, all of which convinced me I needed to learn how to be 'stronger' and try 'harder'.
It wasn't until well into my adulthood that I realized this attitude was not only hamstringing me but keeping me from experiencing an activity that can actually be, dare I say it, pleasurable. As an adult post Alexander training, I have found I no longer have the feeling of 'pounding the pavement' that I used to have, and I can go further with much less effort and no joint pain after (though nothing can help the soreness in my thighs). Here are some of the most useful things I have learned that you can apply to your running today! (Much credit goes to Malcom Balk and The Art of Running for introducing me to some of these concepts)
1. Head Forward and Up
One of the foundational movement principles of A.T. can be articulated like this: the head leads and the body follows. Having your head balanced on top of your spine and not allowing it to pull back is crucial for any movement, and extra special important for running. If you allow your head to tilt back, it distorts the shape of your spine and causes you to run with your torso slightly behind yourself (you can see some of this in the photo at the beginning of this post!), creating drag and implicitly changing your stride, causing you to kick your legs in front of you rather than running over your feet.
The best way to change this is to simply be aware of the orientation of your head and let it gently rotate forward from a point approx. between your ears. Thinking of releasing the base of the skull can help with this. Be careful of adding a push through your back by trying to 'straighten up' --it can cause you to over-curve the place where your lower back meets your ribs, which has the effect of tilting your head back! Let yourself be easy through your back so it can be gently flexible to the movement of your arms and legs.
2. Run 'Up and Over' the Ground, Rather than Down Into It
Think of yourself as a stone skipping across the surface of a lake as you run, your feet tapping the ground rather than pounding down into it. Sometimes we step heavy thinking that we are engaging our muscles more--in reality, we are actually compressing ourselves into the ground, which creates friction with the feet that slows us down and can be hell on your knees. Thinking of running up and over the ground can help to keep you light, easy, and in rhythm.
3. Be Aware of Your Hands, Jaw, and Eyes
These are three places we tend to unconsciously clinch while running, and though they themselves aren't going to cause you problems, residual tension can easily creep into your neck and shoulders from them. Try gently softening these areas as you run to avoid this. With my hands, I find it useful to have them lightly curled and have my thumbs and pointer finger touching, but not to clench my fists. Also, you want to let your arms gently move as you run, but be careful of letting them swing without a connection to your back--they should be moving because of a diagonal stretch across your back with every step, not because you are consciously pumping them.
4. Focus on Your Exhale
When we are doing cardiovascular exercise, it is natural to want to gasp for breath. However, this can become a negative cycle, as inhaling heavily without exhaling fully can speed up both your breathing and heart rate in ways that won't help you and cause your muscles to seize up from buildup of carbon dioxide. Try to balance this out by consciously extending your exhale just a bit to slow down your breath rate and allow it to go deeper.
5. Run on a Three Count, Not a Two
If you study the rhythm of your feet, you might notice you are internally counting it on a 'one-two one two' count. This can cause you to lean into whatever leg is on the 'one' count and move too much side to side while you run. Internally counting to three can reprogram this, make your stride smoother, and give you a delicious sense of flow as you move.
6. Remember that Running is Fun
As related in my experience running in junior high, many of us correlate running with a sense of effort and intensity it really doesn't need. Sometimes this takes the form of a gritty 'eye of the tiger' attitude. Though this can be fun and make us feel sort of bad***, it can also cause us to overexert ourselves and run with too much heaviness and compression, which will have a deteriorating effect as your run goes on. It is amazing how an attitude that running can be light, easy, and fun can be self fulfilling!
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Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.