From my experience, long distance running is 50% fitness and 50% mental. (Or more accurately 50% telling yourself you’re not tired!)
It’s important to push yourself if you want to go further or faster, but there’s also a lot of benefit from listening to what your body is telling you. I’m aware that it’s ironic that I praise listening to your instincts when I rely so much on technology (being loaded with Bluetooth headphones, a FitBit Surge and soon to be a GoPro), but part of what I love about running is letting the animal side of you out.
We spend most of our time safe and comfortable, between office jobs, coffee shops and cars, and i feel like running is a chance to remember that you’re equipped to sprint away from that lion, that your body knows how to adapt to exertion, and that a cold sting of adrenaline at the top of your neck feels damn good when your legs are tired! Most importantly though it’s important to remember when you’re running that your lizard brain knows when you’re doing something wrong.
I’ve been watching the London 2017 Athletics a lot with my Wife and on my last run i realised that i finally understand what the commentators are talking about when they say that an Athletes form is slipping, or that they’re labouring at the last minute and that’s what lost them the race. At a couple of points i started landing heavy on my shins, and leaning too far forward or back on slopes when i was tired, but by paying attention to how my legs and back were feeling i was able to correct it. I actually ran my fastest ever 6k today! Proper form is key when running, and the quickest way to pick up an injury is to let it slip!
My understanding of good running form and practice is the following:
- When running your arms should stay pretty close to body, and your shoulders fairly level and stationary. Obviously if you’re really going for it there’s going to be more movement, but for the most part you want to stay pretty square. This one is less obvious than the others to feel, but you should be able to pay attention to it once you get used to it.
- When you start getting tired it’s easy for your body (neck and head too) to start leaning too far forward or backwards. I noticed i was doing this going uphill on a tough slope towards the end of my run, and also some shocking doubling over forward going up some steps! If you’re leaning then you’re labouring and your sense of balance should alert you to it.
- I’ve noticed sometimes that when i start struggling my shins start to hurt, because im not bending my knees properly and my legs are landing too straight. It’s very easy to do downhill or when you’re not paying attention, but it also causes a very distinct feeling in your shins. If you feel it then correct it, your knees are designed to absorb impact, your shins are not!
- When you’re really going for it a tight chest is to be expected as your lungs work overtime, or even a little chest pain when your pulse is going crazy. It can be tempting to try and ignore this in a “mind over matter” fashion, but my experience is that when you start to feel this then you’re pushing it too hard and you’re about to hit a body brick wall. Don’t be a hero, from personal experience a slower paced 5km is faster than a lighting 4km that you have to walk the rest of the way home from. If you really want to go for it then save it for a final kick at the finish line, when it doesn’t matter if you need to stop after that sprint finish.
- The dreaded stitch, the horrible cramping feeling you get during exercise that threatens to stop you. The only way I know how to clear one is to slow down! I’ve tried ignoring it, i’ve tried putting pressure on the area or massaging it and it doesn’t work. Your body is telling you something has locked up and you need to give it some space to fix it. I’ve found mine are often digestive based, and prevention is better than (non existent) cure. Try eating earlier or lighter if you’re running in a few hours, or drinking less before or during a run.
I hope that you find this information useful, even if it only helps to put a name on the feeling you have whilst you’re out. If you know it’s something to look out for then it’s easier to recognise the feeling! Let me know if this post was of use to you, or also if i’m talking rubbish and there’s a better way of doing something.
So next time you run pay attention to what your animal bits are saying to you. They’re still in there and they knon what they’re doing!
Featured image courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios.