MINDFUL MONDAY: The Need for Speed, and the Angst of Effort

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Back in the days before ChiRunning, whenever I thought about running faster, my mind would immediately slip into fear mode. OMG, it's so much work… I'm going to be breathing really hard… I don't have enough strength… it's going to be so much EFFORT!

Sound familiar?

When the word “speed” is mentioned in a conversation between runners, the words “effort” and “strength” are usually not far behind. These words take on another level of meaning as you increase the race distance to running a half marathon or marathon.

Most coaches and trainers who prescribe to Power Running train you to increase your capacity for effort (your conditioning level) by increasing your level of physical effort. The conventional wisdom for getting faster is still built on the premise that it takes more leg strength, more cardiovascular conditioning and greater aerobic capacity for speed to happen. I don't disagree that doing these things will get you faster, but I think that few coaches today are really thinking outside of this strength-based box.

Trying to run faster can sometimes create tension or contraction in your body, which actually works against you, and that tension can make it even harder to gain speed. So, instead of equating going faster with increased effort, let's switch our thinking, instead, to increased effortlessness. As some of you know, my favorite tagline describing T'ai Chi is: “Creating the conditions for energy to flow.”

If you were told to run faster on a given run, what would you do to increase your speed? You might push harder with your legs; you might increase your toe-off or maybe swing your arms more. But, if you're a ChiRunner you might do something very different and approach faster running with the mindset of, “Creating the conditions for speed to happen.”

Then, instead of pushing your body harder, you might challenge yourself with the internal question, “How can I increase my speed without significantly increasing my effort level?”

Here are some options:

•  Relax more, especially in your hips and legs. Just imagine you have no body below your waist.
•  Keep your postural alignment intact with your core muscles by lifting at the crown of your head, upward and forward.
•  Allow your dantien to fall ahead of your feet.
•  Instead of swinging your feet into the oncoming road, feel your feet sweeping rearward as they touch the ground beneath your hips.
•  Let your body fall forward in an aligned but relaxed way, with no tension in your shoulders, hips or ankles.
•  Belly breathe, but through your mouth and nose at the same time.
•  Use your visual focus (Yi-chi) to draw you forward (ChiRunning Book pg. 44-46)

As you can see in all of these bullet points, it comes down to alignment and relaxation, not strength and effort. The underlying reason why the Kenyans and East Africans outrun the the competition, is because they are not only well-trained, but they are perennially the most relaxed and the most aligned runners out there.


Posted in Mindfulness

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