It was great to spend a quality weekend (Read: One without excess social media or being tethered to my computer...the very reason this article is late in arrival...) with my wife and some really good friends at the Crescent City Classic. The down side was that I didn't feel like working out too much. Major thanks go to Betsy and Aaron and the clan for crawfish and hospitality, Bea and Goody for conversation and good sea stories, Eric for letting us drive sag on course, Chuck for the compliments at the expo, Bill and the NOH3 for great beer and meat-like substances...
I did miss the familiarity of my typical Sunday morning long run, which as of late has been a blend of chatting up and psyching up as we get into the last weeks of the racing season here in the FL Panhandle...my little group will soon start to prepare for the autumn half- and full-distance marathons. When runners step into that murky and sometimes frightening world of longer-distance training runs it is easy to tell when the fatigue has set in.
One of my wife's favorite teaching tools, especially when she works with younger children, is to teach them the basics of a foreign language. She collaborated with Japanese teachers earlier in her career and took the time to learn simple children's songs...one of her favorites is the "head, shoulders, knees and toes" song. The observant coach and the mindful runner can borrow from this song, if nothing else but to check their status during efforts of all intensities. Check early, check often...
Head - Where are the runner's eyes focused? If the terrain is uneven, root-strewn, rocky or slick, or they're running in a close pack, the vision ought to be focused at a point which exceeds fifty yards in front of them. Keep the head in a natural position with the jaw as relaxed as possible. If you can't say a few words, even at speed it's most likely the jaw is clenched a little too tightly, too.
Shoulders - Can the runner lower their shoulders? If the answer is 'yes,' the odds are good they're running tensely. From experience, I can say this is the most challenging correction; from the shoulders I have to look more distally, down toward the elbows and the hands. Are the hands clenched so that I could not place a roll of quarters there? Are the elbows bent at a sharp angle, as if the runner is showing off their biceps muscles (runners who carry music players or smart phones in armbands often show this)? While we're at it, how are the arms swinging; front to back is good, side to side not so much.
Easiest way to drop the shoulder comes from lowering the hands closer to the waistline, which opens the elbow angle and relaxes the shoulders. That will also make it easier to breathe.
Knees - Visualize, now, an imaginary string from the crown of the runner's head going downward. Ideally the line will go almost perfectly straight down to a point behind the knees. The ideal amount of forward lean, or erect posture, is in the one-to-four degree range from direct vertical. Runners, when they begin to fatigue, tend to either hunch over (when running slowly) or lean backward (when running quickly).
Toes - Listen. No, really. Do you hear a lot of scuffing along the pavement? How about slapping? That means the gait needs a little adjustment. We're not talking major tweaks, but a slightly quicker turn-over with a shorter stride (and a little concentration) can make for less-fatiguing running. Quiet feet are happy feet, in my humble opinion.
Quite simply, it all boils down to a sense of mindfulness. A mindful concentration on your run and the mechanics which affect running performance can save you time, energy, and a little bit of discomfort. It all boils down to paying attention to your head, shoulders, knees and toes.