When I have time to sort through my thoughts, most often while my legs are moving and my heart is pounding, I often make lists of ways I’ve found to improve my running. And a few times I’ve started drafts of posts laying out those ideas, but I never hit ‘publish’ because that annoying internal voice of self-doubt says ‘who are you to tell anyone how to run?’ I’ve only been running for about 6 years. I haven’t won any of the races that I’ve run, not even close. In fact, I wasn’t even trying to. I don’t know if I have the ability or even the desire to attempt something like a full marathon. I don’t run very fast and my gait isn’t very attractive. So what do I have to share?
Recently, as I renew my relationship with running and log some miles, I’ve gone back over those partially finished drafts. And I realized I feel differently about what I could contribute to my friends who read this blog. Maybe it’s age, I am over 30 now you know and that obviously makes me more awesome in pretty much every way. Maybe it’s confidence that has come with motherhood, I did grow an entire small human and then use all my bodily strength to push that thing out into the world. Or maybe it’s just that annoying internal voice of doubt is slowly growing weaker and harder to hear over the thump thump thumping of feet on pavement. No matter the reason, I now want to share with all my friends. Longtime runners, running newbies, running wannabes. For what’s worth, these are little nuggets that have helped me. Please share yours if you have them!
Respect the shoe: As hard as it can be to get off your wallet and spring for a nice pair of shoes, it really is important. Go to a store that SPECIALIZES IN FITTING SHOES FOR RUNNERS, not a store where the kid trying to sell you a sneaker also tries to sell the skis and the bikes and the snowboards and his mom dropped him off before his shift. Talk to someone who can look at your foot and tell them how much you run and to what end. This person will, hopefully, help you see past all the marketing and the color schemes and the bullshiz and put the proper shoe on your foot.
Gravity is your friend: Everyone has had that moment of dread mid-way through a long run when you see a huge, steep incline in front of you. But while you may feel some burn in your buns while going uphill, going downhill is when you may actually start to feel some pain in your joints that can end up causing injuries. My best friend Jess once gave me this advice for running downhill: just go with it, don’t try to pull back. Of course you have to gauge the grade of the hill and remain in control so you don’t end up as a heap at the bottom, but use the natural shock absorbing abilities of your body to your advantage. Tensing up and leaning back only makes the impact harder. Let loose, take the chance to rest a bit, and go down the hill with arms and legs a little bit relaxed. You can make up time and save your joints some trouble all in one move.
Unclench: I originally was given this advice from a yoga instructor, but when I applied it to running I found it worked the same miracle. We often don’t realize how tight we keep small parts of our body when focusing on accomplishing something with bigger muscle groups. Even though it seems like the effect would be minimal, even the energy used to keep your jaw tight, your shoulders shrugged or your fists clenched takes away from the energy you need to hold a pose in yoga or to get a little further on a run. Take a moment during your run to do a head-to-toe check. Open and close your mouth a few times, relax your fingers and palms, roll your shoulders back and down to loosen them. The energy you were wasting there can be channeled to where you need it most at that moment.
Feel the music: I know most people listen to music when they workout or run. I know you probably stole some playlists from your spin instructor or you use all your favorite go-tos or you just put your iPod on shuffle. Often, however, it seems like people use the music as background noise while their head is still all wrapped up in the effort of the run. My advice to you is to really FEEL the music. The beat is your footsteps, your breath or your heartbeat. The lyrics are your mantra. Don’t just let the song be the soundtrack to how hard you are working, use the music as an actual tool to motivate yourself. It can be ANY music that moves you. Use Jay-Z ‘8 Miles and Running’ for a long, moderately paced stretch. Use ‘Teenage Wasteland’ to get up a hill. Us ‘Rolling in the Deep’ (yes I know it’s Adele, but trust me on this) to get you over the hump of a runs beginnings.
Appreciate the silence: Although it seems like a direct contradiction to the previous tip, an important aspect to having ‘sucess’ as a runner is understanding that each run is a different experience. Some runs you will make you feel exhilarated, others will leave you exhausted. Some will make you feel both of those things in combination. Runs will vary in pace and length and spirit. So while music can often be used as an awesome tool of motivation and encouragment, try and recognize the important role that silence can play in giving you an extra push. Especially if you find yourself running in a relatively quiet place, like the woods, the beach or a peaceful park, taking our your earbuds can have a profound effect. Listen to the beat of your feet, counting the steps you take. The sound of shoes pounding is full of information. Use that data to learn about the length of your stride, the cadence of your gait, the pattern of your breath. In doing this you may find you are cutting your stride short or taking an irregular step every so often or stifling yourself from taking a full, deep breath. After you’ve crunched the numbers, use the silence to clear your mind. Don’t bother trying to stop thoughts from flowing, just them them come but float on by. As your mind stops gripping onto every worry that occupies it, your body will be given more energy for your run.