Most things in running begin at the ground and work their way up, so this is where I’ll start.
Introduced and discussed in a previous blog, Ethan and I have been working together since November 2014. Both physically and emotionally, he has improved by leaps and bounds, and he can tolerate a much greater dose of training now than ever before. Most coaches would agree that workouts should always feel more challenging than the races, which is where Ethan has learned how to emotionally tolerate the pain that comes with running. I often refer to these moments of painful running as “the dance,” and he is just now understanding, after 18 months together, what it means to dance with pain “a little while longer.” There are a few ways in which we discuss increasing this pain tolerance, one is by being mindful of our biomechanics (form) while running. Allowing the pain of running to trigger thoughts of form and technique takes an abundance of discipline, acceptance, and self-belief.
Meet Amara, Ethan’s teammate. I began working with Amara just a few weeks ago. Physically, Amara is where Ethan is at now – school record holder in the 800m, vastly talented, and District Champion. Admittedly, our first workout together was too brief to learn anything I didn’t already know – she’s fast. It wasn’t until the second workout, two 800m simulations, when I learned where Amara is at emotionally. Initially, my plan was to run the first 800m-sim with her, then video record her second 800m-sim to better assess form. However, during our recovery interval between the first and second 800m-sim, something told me to run the second with her, which ended up being the right decision. During the final 150m push, with only 70m to go until the finish, I felt Amara flinch. She continued to display great strength and perseverance though the finish, but the subtle flinch provided an abundance of feedback to help dictate a focus for her summer training.
What’s in a flinch?
Without breaking it down too far, a flinch can be both seen and heard. For starters, a change in the foot strike can be heard, from a tapping to a skidding or thudding, the legs become weary and careless – a clear disconnect from the brains demand of heightened intensity, into the body’s acceptance and defeat of the onset of fatigue. Next, the knees cave or buckle, increasing what kinesiologists call the “Q-Angle.” These two variables alone, skidding of shoes and the increase in Q-Angle, increase the amount of time spent on the ground, ultimately decreasing ones elasticity and power. From there, the signs continue trickling up the spine - the core weakens, the elbows widen, and the head bobbles. These signs are certainly not all-inclusive, but many will appear if you watch close enough. All of which start with a mere flinch, which in my world, is where training begins.
In order to train through the flinch and improve emotional tolerance, you must begin by ensuring work beyond the comfort zone. This is done mindfully, yet begins with a keen attention to detail in drills, warm-ups, and in each run. As mentioned before, assessment should begin from the ground up. Once you feel you’re in the groove of your run, which is typically beyond the warm-up period, begin focusing on footstrike by landing flat-footed, with your foot as close to mid-line as possible (actually, landing on the forefoot is idea to maximize speed, however, since most runners are heal-strikers, let’s start with a mid-food/flat-foot strike, and go from there). This means that if you were to draw a straight line from your shoulders through your hips to the ground, your foot should land directly below your hips. Admittedly, this is extremely difficult, but it will at least provide you with something to think about while running, instead of the monotonous grind of 8-20 miles remaining on your long training run, or the 8-20-quarter mile repeats you have left. Moving up through the body, additional thoughts to focus on could be the hips pushing forward to remain tall, confident shoulders and chest, an efficient arm swing, and/or a centered head on your spine. Regardless of the attention to detail, running with an intentional focus to improve form and efficiency can not only take your mind from the drudgery of running, but can also make you more efficient and faster!
In summary, when things become difficult in your run, this is the precise moment when you cue attention to detail by recalling good mechanics, visualizing an efficient runner (someone you have watched before) or what you would like to feel like, and implementing this thought or vision. This takes discipline and acceptance to new things, but will ultimately enhance self-belief within your running.