Relaxation And Running -
Easy Does It By Bob Cooper from
Runner's World Online
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Relaxation is the key to entering the
effortless zone, and stress is the deadbolt that locks you out. When you're
stressed, your muscles tighten and your mind muddles.
work, relationship woes, and other problems should be left at your doorstep. If
these thoughts come meandering back into your head later in the run, fine.
Initially, though, try to flush them out.
"Stress can increase
fatigue and muscle tension," says Jeffrey Martin, Ph.D. "You don't breathe as
deeply when you're stressed, which increases the effort of running." The Wayne
State University (Mich.) sports psychology professor and former World Cup
marathoner adds that athletes under stress, according to studies, get sick and
injured at a higher rate than lower-stressed athletes.
It may not be
possible to run away from a "major stressor" such as a job change or divorce,
but you can make your runs a mental escape from lesser irritants such as
arguments, traffic jams, and computer malfunctions. Inadequate sleep can also
elevate stress levels, so try to get your nightly 7 to 8 hours.
Some days, when you're lucky, running feels like
floating. Here are 10 ways to get that feeling more often.
Don't Expect So Much
runs with outside stresses is bad enough, but it's even worse to stress about
your running. Goals are great, but too rigid expectations can sour your
enthusiasm and prevent you from entering the effortless zone.
expect to break 50 minutes, for example, on a particular training run or in a
10-K race. Your on-the-run anxiety about doing it will actually reduce the odds
that it'll happen. Instead, settle on a broader goal, such as finishing
somewhere between 48 and 52 minutes. You'll be more likely to succeed. And even
if you fall outside the range, adopt the attitude that you gave it your best
effort. That's all you can do.
Says Martin: "Setting a narrow goal is
like painting yourself into a corner, because so many factors affect
performance: pacing, weather, course difficulty, stress, and so on. Sometimes
you just have a bad day. You need to acknowledge that you won't always run
fast, race well, or improve your time."
Strengthen Your Core
A strong "core"--which
includes your lower back, abdominal, and hip muscles--makes it easier to
maintain good, upright, effortless running form. "When runners with weak cores
get tired, they start leaning too far forward," says Janet Hamilton, an
Atlanta-area running coach, exercise physiologist, and author of Running Strong
& Injury-Free. "That's biomechanically inefficient, and will even limit
your lung capacity."
Like many coaches, Hamilton considers core
strength to be essential. "It ensures an efficient transfer of power from the
core to the legs and upper body," she explains. She recommends taking a yoga or
Pilates class, or doing the following gym exercises at least twice a week--but
not on long or hard running days. (If possible, have a personal trainer
demonstrate correct form.)
- Squats. Start to sit down, knees in
line with ankles; stop at "mid-sit" (before feeling pain); come back up. Do two
sets of 10 reps.
- Side bridges. Lie on your side with
knees slightly bent. With one forearm on the floor, lift your entire body,
keeping straight head-to-foot. Hold 15 to 30 seconds, and do three reps per
- Modified crunches. Lie on your
back, with one leg straight and one bent. Place a hand under the small of your
back for support. Lift your head and shoulders a few inches off the floor, and
hold for 3 seconds. Do two sets of 10 to 15, alternating left and right leg
- Ball toss. Hurl a weighted medicine
ball against a concrete wall. Do two sets of five to 10 throws, alternating
between overhead, underhand, and chest throws.
This one goes against the grain for lots of
runners who believe that when their running isn't going right, it's because
they're not running enough. Could be just the opposite. Remember, effortless
running can only happen when your legs are fresh, and that requires regular
rest. If your legs feel tired or sore fairly often, running fewer days per week
could be just the ticket. For example, Runner's World columnist Jeff Galloway
suggests that runners over 40 run only 4 days a week, runners over 50 run every
other day, and runners over 60 run 3 days a week.
recovery," adds Hamilton, "you'll be fatigued and generally more prone to
injury. Your glycogen stores need to be resupplied, and your muscles and
tendons repaired. If you're still fatigued after a day or 2 off, take a clean
break from running for a week or even more. Keep active with walking, biking,
swimming, or other low-impact activities."
Besides taking occasional
days and weeks off, here are other ways to put the spring back in your
- Alternate between short and long;
fast and slow; and flat and hilly runs.
- Space your races several weeks
apart, especially those longer than 10-K.
- Don't run the day before or after a
short race, or for at least 2 or 3 days before and after a long race.
Any mechanic will tell you to warm up your
engine with an easy idle before driving anywhere. The body's engine works the
same way. Yet we're often too rushed to warm up. We lace up our shoes and go.
That's a mistake, because a rushed start makes it unlikely you'll reach the
effortless zone on that run. Add a Little Speed
"You need to gradually increase your
heart rate and core temperature while warming up your muscles," says Norm
Witek, an exercise science professor and coach at North Carolina's Brevard
College. "Otherwise, you're going to go into mild oxygen debt, strain your
muscle fibers, and end up with sore legs."
Start each run by walking
for a minute or 2, then jogging. Barely clear the ground at first, then start
lifting your knees higher and lengthening your stride as you cover the first
mile. On morning runs, when your body takes longer to wake up, this gradual
acceleration may continue for more than a mile. But within 10 to 15 minutes,
your body should be ready for effortless running.
Add speed to run effortlessly? That's right.
Regular doses of fast running will make the rest of your running seem
comfortable in comparison, both mentally and physically.
add occasional fast running to your program, this increases muscle enzyme
activity, which allows you to access energy more efficiently any time you run,"
says Robyn Stuhr, an exercise physiologist at the Women's Sports Medicine
Center in New York City. "It also enhances neuromuscular function, raises your
lactate threshold, and on slower runs, delays the onset of fatigue." Regular
speed training will also make your races seem easier because you'll be
accustomed to the faster pace.
There are several ways to inject speed
into your schedule besides killer track workouts (though those are effective as
well). Here are a few examples:
- Speed sandwich. Run 2 miles slow, 2
miles fast, 2 miles slow.
- In-and-outs. Do several repetitions
of 1 to 4 minutes hard, and 1 to 4 minutes easy, at mid-run.
- Pickups. Periodically pick up the
pace for short distances between streetlights or trees.
- Tempo. For the middle part of your
run--say 15 to 20 minutes--maintain a pace that's about halfway between your
training and racing speed. It should feel comfortably hard.
Just as fast running makes your standard
pace easier, long runs make your regular distance seem shorter--thus easier. By
pushing the pace on some days, and lengthening the distance on others, you'll
be able to cruise in the effortless zone on the rest of your runs.
"Long runs train the body to use fat, so you don't have to rely as much on
carbohydrates for energy," says Stuhr. "Long runs also increase the number of
capillaries, the vessels that deliver oxygen to muscle cells and mitochondria,
the structures inside the cells that convert that oxygen into energy. The
result is a richer supply of blood providing energy to your muscles."
Psychological barriers also tumble when you go long. A big reason for the
98-percent finish rate among Jeff Galloway Marathon Training Program
participants is that they go the full 26-mile distance in training. This works
for shorter races as well. Prepare for a half-marathon or even a 10-K by
running (or exceeding) the race distance at least a couple of times in training
to boost your endurance and confidence. Nice side effect: More of your regular
training runs will be in the effortless zone.
Hit the Treadmill
It's hardly effortless to sweat through a
run in 90-degree heat on smog-choked streets, or to negotiate an icy sidewalk
in a snowstorm. Sure, you can run in any weather, but unlike the mail carrier,
you don't have to. The best way to enter the zone during adverse outdoor
conditions is to head indoors, where the weather and surface are controlled.
"Once you set a treadmill on your desired speed, the machine does the
work of setting the pace," notes Sara Wells, winner of the U.S. 2003 Women's
Marathon National Championship. "You can shut your mind off and just run. It's
also less impact on your legs compared with running on asphalt, and safer than
outdoor running at night." Wells did most of her afternoon runs on a treadmill
last winter, including several 20-milers.
Here's how to make
treadmill running more effortless:
- Wear headphones and pop in your
favorite CD to block out gym noise.
- Get on the gym treadmill with the
smoothest, most cushioned surface.
- Run alongside a friend, and get
into a conversation.
- If possible, visit the gym during
quiet, off-peak hours, like mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
Feeling full, empty, or nauseous will keep
you out of the effortless zone, so you can't afford to eat the wrong foods at
the wrong time. Be sure to follow these guidelines:
- Before a morning run, don't eat
much. A light carbohydrate snack such as a banana or half an energy bar, washed
down with a glass of water, will provide ample fuel for running without taxing
your digestive system.
- Before a mid-day run, eat a
good-sized breakfast, plus a carbohydrate snack 1 to 2 hours before your run.
- Before a late-afternoon or evening
run, be sure you eat lunch and a mid-afternoon high-carbohydrate snack.
Having a carbohydrate snack in the last 2
hours before a run is critical. "Besides being easily digestible, complex
carbohydrates maintain your blood sugar to keep your energy level up," says
Lisa Dorfman, M.S., R.D., a marathoner and author of The Vegetarian Sports
Nutrition Guide. "The best choices are low-fiber and lactose-free, to prevent
intestinal problems." Examples: bananas, energy bars, bagels, pretzels, rice
cakes, and sports drinks. Drink
"Water aids in the functioning of every
muscle and cell, so inadequate fluids can make you sore, weak, and tired," says
Dorfman. "Even a 2-percent reduction in your total body fluid will increase
your effort level during running." Therefore, no possibility of effortless
running. Ready, Set, Relax!
When you run on a hot, humid day, you sweat up to 2 liters
or more per hour. To keep yourself fully hydrated, try to consume at least five
servings of fruits and vegetables (for their water content); 1 liter of fluid;
and 1 additional pint of fluid for each pound you lose on the run. (Determine
this by weighing yourself immediately before and after a run.)
runs lasting more than an hour, either take fluids with you, or stash sports
drinks along the way. Aim to take in an average of at least 5 ounces of fluid
every 15 to 20 minutes.
To enter the effortless zone of running,
relaxation is essential. Here are five tips to help you relax, courtesy of
sports psychologist Jeffrey Martin, Ph.D.:
1. Look for social distraction.
Run with a friend or two, and your stress level will plunge in the first mile
2. Look for environmental distraction. Run a woodsy trail,
a quiet urban street, an interesting neighborhood, or any place where there's a
lot to see.
3. Ditch the gadgets. Try running unfettered and unplugged.
Leave behind everything that beeps, buzzes, or blares--the watch, the
heart-rate monitor, the headphones. (Hang on to your cell phone though; it
could come in handy if you run into trouble.)
4. Don't rush. If you cram a
run into your schedule, you'll probably skip the warmup and worry about
finishing the run before the next obligation. Schedule runs when you have a
comfortable cushion of time.
5. Calm race jitters. To harness the nervous
energy you feel before a race:
- (a) take long, slow, deep breaths;
- (b) whisper to yourself a positive
phrase like "smooth and strong;" and
- (c) picture yourself running
effortlessly. Repeat (b) and (c) throughout the race.