Racing can be stressful. Most people don’t sleep very well before their races, and they get nervous in the days leading up to them. I do too. I think I’m used to a certain level of stress in my life, and seek it out during my leisure time as well. The great thing about races is that, no matter how kinda cruddy you feel before the race, once you get going, and your blood is pumping and your body is moving, it starts feeling good. I also think it’s really fun.
While I think training is OK, I get a great deal of satisfaction seeing improvements in my performance during races. Since I race a lot, sometimes my PRs aren’t that big, but I still enjoy setting them. Any long runs or fast times during training are forgotten after a while, but racing PRs are recorded and offer almost tangible proof of your improvement.
I said I would talk about using your arms, but I’ll start with the hands first.
You see people doing different things with their hands- maybe clenching them in a fist or deliberately holding them open so their fingers stick out. I’ve heard a piece of advice several times about the hands that I agree with.
I think it works best to imagine that you are holding a large potato chip in both hands. You wouldn’t want to crush the chip, so naturally you won’t clench your fists tightly, which might cause unnecessary tension. Also, this will keep you from opening up the hands the way many runners do. The open hand position can also lead to tension, because one has to flex the muscles of the hand to open it. The potato chip hand position ends up being the most natural, least forced option we have.
I just got back from a 15 mile run. Yesterday I ran 10, and the day before that 10 as well. This is after taking 3 days off because of work. I know that I can run that many miles without injury because I have sorted out my form. I am especially aware of my posture.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain the posture I described for the duration of a run. So often, as people become fatigued, they look up and stick their head out. It looks as though they are thinking “oh God, how much farther?” The head is actually pretty heavy, so sticking it out on the neck throws our balance off quite a bit. Looking up and sticking our head out makes us throw our butt out behind us somewhat, causing our pelvis to be out of alignment and preventing us from engaging our core muscles correctly. It’s very easy to succumb to poor posture, and simply trying to keep good posture might not always be enough. Sometimes it helps for me to think of running within myself. I’ll explain what I mean.
While we run, we often want to look up at our surroundings. In races, we often want to see who our perceived competition is, or perhaps we’re looking longingly for the finish. This leads to a downward spiral of poor posture, increased effort, and possible injury. By thinking ofrunning within ourselves, and not being concerned with external things, we maintain proper posture and keep our mind more engaged with our body. Being in tune with our body helps us avoid injury. You often see top runners with this sort of “running within themselves” attitude. They’re not looking up way ahead, with a worried expression. Their eyes are often cast down, just ahead of them a bit, and they have a rather inward, relaxed expression on their faces.
Being balanced is of utmost importance when running. Imbalance leads to injury. Proper posture helps keep us balanced.
Ideally, our bodies are in a sort of neutral position when we have good posture. By this, I mean that the head is balanced atop the neck and shoulders in such a way that we aren’t fighting gravity or straining in any way. Over time, gravity and old age conspire to make our posture less than ideal. The head is thrust out a bit on an outstretched neck, and the back is hunched.
Proper posture is achieved by having a poised sort of positioning of the head and neck. To practice this, it is a good idea to first take off your shoes to eliminate the possibility of interference by footwear. While standing, pick a point on the ground about 15 to 20 ahead of you and relax you eyes and fix your gaze on that spot. This should have the effect of bringing your head back on your shoulders and lowering your chin a bit.
This sort of posture is clearly evident in the lead runner from the last video, Haile Gebrselassie. We also see this posture in children, as you’ll see in this video: