Saturday, September 6, 2008

Relaxed Running

After Usain Bolt won the Olympic 100, setting a World Record, I heard so many people comment “think how fast he could have run if he had not eased up”. I take the counter view – think how much slower he would have run if he was running tight?

Go to any high school (or college) cross country meet this fall. You will see the people who finish at the top look relaxed when they run and the further back in the pack you get, the more the runners seem to labor. Certainly part of this is explained by conditioning. But each runner is running at their maximum – I doubt Bret Johnson is not trying as hard as the guy who finishes 100th in the race. Yet Johnson will look light and easy, with a relaxed facial expression, limber arms and fingers as he blazes up the final 200 meters of grass on Holmdel.

I wrote a blog that form does not really matter. I think what matters more is the efficiency and focus of energy into the effort of moving your body forward. Clenching a fist, scrunching up your face, tensing of any muscle does not make you move forward any faster. In fact, it saps energy from your body. It uses up valuable oxygen on the wrong muscles, and can cause a chain reaction that makes your stride tighter and less efficient.

Back when I was in high school I got into Transcendental Meditation a bit. It is a technique to teach your body to relax and become more aware of yourself. One day during my junior year of track, I did an experiment to try to transfer some of the things I had learned from TM onto the track. I had noticed that the best runners really looked very relaxed and I felt that maybe if I found a way to relax, then I would be able to run better.

It was a dual meet against Catholic Central, and they had a great two miler. I decided my strategy would be to forget about everything else in the world and just focus-in on staying right behind him and zeroing in on his feet. For about 7 laps I was able to keep nearly a total concentration on his feet and forget about everything else and become very relaxed. He dragged me to a 20 second PR and got me close to the magical 10 minute mark.

I still use TM methods when I am running in a race. I close my eyes a bit and actually slow by breathing and breathe more deeply. Focus on making sure my muscles are relaxed – the shoulders loose, the hands unclenched, the stomach just breathing in and out.

Maybe Bolt could have run a 9.65 that day, but I doubt he would have enjoyed it as much…

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