To Run or Not to Run (part 2)
In the previous blog post “To Run or Not to Run (part 1),” I examined two diametrically opposed ideas about running:
Humans are “Born to Run” and, “Eighty percent of all runners will injure themselves in a given year.”
Where does this leave us? Maybe humans are, “Born to injure themselves.” There may be some truth to this statement and I will examine that in a later post. For now, I’ve concluded that we’re “Born to be Bipedal.” Of course that doesn’t make for a very good title but it’s as close to a blanket truth that I can get to for now. Actually, an even better slogan is, “Born to learn and adapt to the environment.” The myriad of human endeavors shows this nicely. What other species can make music, write, dance, lift weights, bake pies, build bridges, and on and on and on?
In the last post I also said that I would offer some ideas on how to run, or start running. In thinking about this post, I realized what a daunting task I had set for myself. Because bipedalism is such an incredibly complex activity, it would be impossible to give any meaningful advice on how to run in approximately 1,000 words.
So this will not be one of those internet articles promising you:
“10 easy steps on how to run!”
I can however, talk about learning and offer some ideas on how to learn to run.
Running should be treated as a skill, or even an art and can be learned as such.
If you decide to learn a musical instrument (or any other complex skill) how would you go about it? First off, you would need to really want to learn that instrument because doing so will require a substantial amount of time and energy. The same holds true for running: why do you want to run? If you’re doing it to lose weight, look better, or because “you should,” then you’d be better off not running. There are more efficient ways to look better and trim down. If you think, “You should,” then find another activity that you will enjoy.
Next you would need to find a teacher or some way of learning to play the instrument. These days there are innumerable offers on how to learn things over the internet. This may work for some, but I’m very skeptical when it comes to learning well. With running, you may be able find lesson over the internet or even to teach yourself, but if you’ve been inactive for a long time, have a history of injuries or are in less than good health, you’d be best off finding some kind of teacher or coach to help you get started on the right (or left) foot.
Moving along, lets say you’ve started learning to run. Now you need to practice regularly. When a music student practices, she/he is striving to produce the best sound, accurate rhythm and musical expression that they can for their level of development. Ideally, when the student makes a mistake or starts to lose sound quality, concentration, and/or musical expression, they stop and work on getting that back. If they don’t they’re just practicing mistakes and it will take even more time to correct them once they’ve become habits.
You need to do the same when running. Just as a musician would never continue playing badly, nor should you run badly. This is about practicing form and feeling well while doing so. As soon as you feel discomfort or fatigue, you must stop and rest. It’s vitally important only to run as far, or long as you can while feeling well. The best way to describe this approach is called, “Deep Practice.”
Here are the six fundamental characteristics of DP, and how you might use them to practice running:
Six Principles of Deep Practicing
1. Slow down – Runners practicing deeply, slow down to the point where they can run smoothly, fluidly, and with ease before beginning to gradually increase the tempo or speed.
2. Learn to Feel it – Runners need to learn to sense their bodies so they feel when they lose form or start compensating in a way that will be detrimental down the road. They also must learn to feel when they are straining and creating unnecessary stress for their bodies, which can lead to becoming one of the eighty percent injured in that year.
3. Break it down – Practicing deeply means breaking form or elements of running into the smallest doable parts, rehearsing them, and then putting them back together into larger pieces. This can also mean doing drills and/or Method Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons (my preferred way of enhancing running).
4. Imagine ahead – Before running or while waiting in line at the grocery store, you can imagine yourself running and how you would like to feel. You can also do this while running. For example, run for a short distance, evaluate how it felt and then imagine how you would like to feel and repeat.
5. Experiment with variation – Try taking larger and smaller steps and notice how you feel. You can play with breathing, the expression on your face, vary terrain, etc.
6. Always strive for growth – There is no mindless repetition when practicing deeply. Additionally, in order to know if you are heading in the right direction, you need to have an idea of how you want to feel while running (and afterwards as well). It can be helpful to set some kind of focus for each practice session as well as mid- and long-term goals that will help guide you in this respect. One session might focus on variation and the next on consistency.
This may seem different to what you’ve been taught about running. The common assumption is that you can just put on some shoes and start running. This is one of running’s advantages over other movement forms but also one of its weaknesses. Society often tells us that we need to push through the pain, suffer, kill our bodies , etc., in order to get stronger. While there can be some value to pushing our boundaries, that too must also be done mindfully and with a larger perspective. What good does it do to run really hard, go past your limits and then have to rest for a week afterwards? Or even worse, injure yourself so that you can no longer run or participate in other activities that you may enjoy?
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