Run EFFORTLESSLY! It sounds so easy doesn’t it? But is it easy? Or not? We’re taught from a very young age that E is for EFFORT: that we have to do the work and put in the effort, implying that the more effort we put forth, the greater success and results we will achieve. However, that is not necessarily the way that success is reached in running. Let’s look at the contrarian side of the effort-effortlessness continuum as athletes. For sometimes the harder we try and push, the more frustrated, worried, and stuck we can become. I’ve found some great results by learning to calm myself and relax, running more effortlessly. What do I mean by that? Running with greater ease, feeling as if we are being pulled by the run instead of pushing uphill with heavy lifting and effort.
I love running so much that sometimes I get a little too excited about running: running as more of a nervous activity of a (recovering) Type A personality. But I’ve had more success lately the more I can incorporate my creative right brain, relaxing more, calming myself, and suggesting gently that I can run as if I am a Type B personality (or AB at least). Go with the flow. Let go. Don’t clench the dog leash so hard. Holding on as loosely as we can without falling asleep: that’s about where we need to be for running most days. Maybe not for race days (depending on the length of the race). But for training, we need to relax. If we don’t, we push too hard at least some of the time and the overexertion of effort causes injury, fatigue, and running burnout.
Now do not misunderstand me to imply that running to the next level of success is easy because it isn’t. However, it’s easier than we think. We have to visualize it, break it into bite-size pieces, develop a workable plan, and incrementally work the plan.
I was struck by my blogpost 3 years ago today entitled Recalculating and Running Haiku 4 U. To rewind, I had just suffered a knee injury, derailing marathon and half-marathon training just three months before this present runstreak began. I was frustrated and angry. I had pushed too hard. Overtrained. Just as I wrote about in the previous blogpost. I was fighting to reach a 200 mile August and realizing I could not reach it. By contrast, I now see an August 2016 with 200 miles of run/walking in easy reach. How did this change?
Part of the key to my recent breakthroughs has been relaxing, setting aside time to quiet the mind with meditation and silent reflection. I use the headspace application that you can find at headspace.com and am also going through a 40-day meditation course through SoundsTrue.com. Both of these resources have helped me a lot. So have those that introduced me to meditation a few years back at a time when I really needed it in my life due to unexpected chaos (losing my previous job and all sorts of other chaotic events).
To simplify many of these meditation practices while running, one example of something we can do is to think, reflect, and say the word “calm” when we inhale and “ease” or “easy” when we exhale. See the Take it Easy sign up above? That was placed on Old Cheney Road, a busy Lincoln street during serious road construction when drivers were losing their patience and it was intended to get us all to relax and slow down. Let go of the road rage. Similarly, we as runners and those trying to improve our health, must let go. We can’t hold on to all our stress or it will negatively impact our health and shorten our lifespan. We all want to live longer, right?
Today was a good example of a breakthrough day in running for me, running further than expected with less effort. I ran thrice for 8 miles (warmup and cooldown with our dog Misty and the base run in the middle alone). I used the “Calm” and “Ease/Easy” method, relaxed my breathing and my body and it paid off. My heart rate dropped. The Fenix 3 HR gave me a +2 on the first run, a +5 on the second run, and a +4 on the third cooldown run. So a +11 far into the good range in one day of running: the highest increase that I’ve seen since switching to this watch. So what does this mean? Running with a lower heart rate, running just felt so effortless and easy. The more I repeated the word ease and easy, the more I began to believe it. It also helps sweep negative emotions and thoughts that interfere with runs. Yes, we run to unwind and run through chaos. But we can’t think about that too much when running or our heart rate can spike. It’s interesting to me that I was running that relaxed with the dog: sometimes my heart rate spikes when I’m trying to anticipate the dog’s next sudden move, hunting/chasing rabbits, sudden stops, other dogs, etc.
Also, I feel more relaxed taking more regular walk breaks when I run. It gives our hearts and lungs a break. Even :30 walk breaks can make a dramatic difference, extending our endurance, conserving energy and allowing us to finish longer/more intense runs with more power and less effort. Effortless. Make it a goal. Strive for it. We may not achieve effortless running every day but shouldn’t effortless running be a primary goal? Yes!
The difficulty with the Caribbean stress management idea that I wrote about before is that it lacked the repetitive running mantra that I’m presenting to you today. Calming ease. Calm and easy. Calm and ease. The repetitive nature of the mantra makes it easy to repeat and it can be incorporated with the Caribbean stress management techniques that I outlined earlier: visualizing the Bahamas in extensive detail from the feel of the white sand to the gorgeous blue hue of the Caribbean Sea, which beckons to you and beckons to me. Can you hear it? See it? Feel it? Taste it? The sensory soaking that must take place for this to work is intense. Sometimes it’s too intense because we have to snap back to reality and away from a seafaring fantasy that helps us relax and drop our heart rate, calm our mind, and drop our blood pressure. It also helps us burn more calories with less effort. Weight loss becomes easier. Pounds vanish from us when we take our health more seriously, including nutrition and regular active exercise, sleep, hydration, etc. These are all pinnacles that we must incorporate into our healthy habits in order be successful runners and strong, healthy, happy people.
The effortlessness of running that I’m referring to requires a great deal of gentle concentration, practice, and discipline. It requires a mindfulness approach to running a little more by feel and a little less by technology. If we relax our running form, running tall with relaxed face, shoulders, legs, and body, running then becomes a rhythmic enjoyable musical (or quiet) adventure.
Sometimes it’s useful to run as if we are the storm. Other times, it’s more effective to run as if we are the calm within the storm, like the eye of a hurricane. Run as if you are the calm within the storm and see how it goes. It can keep the storminess of chaos in our lives from disturbing our runs.
So next time you run: will you please run at ease? Calm and ease please. Think and run like a contrarian, especially when you notice that you are pushing too hard and feeling the effects of it with pain, inflammation, and injuries. Effortless running will transform your health and life. It has for me and countless others. Although E stands for Effort, E also stands for Effortless. It’s a continuum. Find a healthy safe place for you on that continuum and if you need any help with running, health, stress management, and weight loss, please ask me. I’m happy to help with ideas, suggestions, and coaching. Thank you for listening.