Relax….Just Do It!

There is a shitload of information out there about how to run “correctly” and how to improve your times.

Everything from shortening your stride and increasing turnover to doing less speed-work and longer endurance sessions.

The one thing that is fairly consistent and has remained consistent for…well, forever…is to simply RELAX.

I find this quite challenging as I’m not a natural runner. I grew up swimming and it shows.

Actually, right now, my neck and shoulders are killing me. They are locked in a permanent spasm from being unable to relax during my 11 mile long run Sunday and then again on my 5.5 mile run yesterday. I’m not sure if it’s the cold, the wind, or the fact that I want to run the Jan 15th 1/2 marathon in under 1:59 and I can’t let go of that goal out there in the distance.

What I do know, is my average paces are slowing the more I “try”. The harder I work, the worse my numbers appear and the more tense I become. Factor that in with temperatures ranging from the mid 30’s-mid 50’s with a gusting headwind and it’s certainly no Christmas party around here.

The 1st step is to admit you have a problem, right??!

It seems strange, but the harder you strain, the slower you go. I know that running relaxed is the single greatest skill to possess in order to go fast. The key lies in finding the balance between pushing very hard, but also keeping the body fluid and relaxed.

Sounds simple enough. If only!

Like anything, it takes practice.

Here is a quick and easy way to start applying some relaxation drills into your running sessions.

Survey Your Five Areas of Tension:

  1. Face: check your face for signs of tension. Specifically, you should make yourself aware of jaw tension (i.e. a clenched jaw), and eye tension (i.e. squinting). The latter of these may be reduced by using a hat with a brim that puts your eyes in shade, or by wearing sunglasses.
  2. Hands: Do you clench your hands into tight fists? Stop that! Seriously, a good mental image to use here is to pretend you are holding crackers between your thumb and pointing finger, or an egg, even a feather. You’ve probably heard ’em all. If you break said item, you are too tense in the hands.
  3. Shoulders: We runners, especially while running long or hard, tend to scrunch up our shoulders. Relax, relax, relax. Sounds easy…NOT!
  4. Bladder: You know what? It’s hard to run when you …gotta go so take a pit stop and relieve that not-so-small bit of tension…us triathletes are quite good at taking care of this “on the go”…free yourself 🙂 and run faster
  5. Mind: Bringing mental tension with you on a run will likely cause you to carry tension somewhere in your body so do yourself a favor – find out what’s bugging you and try to release the anxiety.

Why It’s Important…besides running faster

While being far from scientific, each of these sources of tension really add up – especially over long distances. Researchers and coaches have quantified the effect of points one to four as each contributing to an increase of 2 to 3 heart beats per minute while running. Of course, it’s unlikely a person will carry tension in all of those areas at one time, but just by being aware of, and eliminating these undue sources of tension, it’s possible to lower heart rate by five or six beats per minute. While that might not sound like much, it could easily be the difference between whether or not you go the distance, achieve that personal best, or qualify for …..

I dunno….

Boston… Kona??! 😉

Run Happy (and relaxed), My Friends!

9 thoughts on “Relax….Just Do It!

  1. I love this post. One of the reasons why I spend some time in the gym doing upperbody weights is that I find it provides good balance and I’m able to keep my shoulder and arms relaxed.

    Very good reminders here!!!

    • I think a lot of people underestimate HOW much upper body strength is used when running. You’re told to “relax” the upper body, which is true…but the strength is still necessary as the legs follow the arm swing AND it balances and stabilizes. As you can tell, I’m having a problem keeping things loose and fluid….today was better 🙂 baby steps!

  2. You’re right! There is a lot of upper body strength in running. I found this out when I went running then swimming afterwards. I felt like I had never swam in my life! Upper body was so tired. Relaxing certainly is the best thing to do when running.

    • You are 100% correct. I tend to have an issue myself swimming as well…always trying to hit those 100s at a “specific pace. I’m now just concentrating on a more relaxed strokes, regardless of splits….and ya’ know what…my splits are not that different!

  3. One thing I remember during the chicago marathon when I was running with @speedysasquatch is that he instructed me to close my hands and open them, and repeat a few times. I think it was a mental exercise to get me to relax.. Maybe? It worked, I was focusing on the exercise with my hands instead of the stress of getting through those last few miles.
    Nice post jenn!

    • Good tip from a speedy guy! I chew gum. If my mouth can chew, blow bubbles then I’m not tensing up. As soon as I start to tense up I hold the gum in the back of my mouth…chew it when I swim and cycle too, it’s my “must have” item…you should see my transition area 🙂 HOWEVER, the key is for me to realize what I’m doing…many times I don’t!

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