A Lesson From The Sprinters of the World
Have you ever watched a sprinter in slow motion? I’ve always been fascinated with the juxtaposition of muscular effort with relaxation while they run – specifically, the power exhibited in their arms and legs versus the relaxation in their faces. It fascinates me to see someone running a sub 10 second 100 meter sprint with their lips flopping around like a jellyfish.
You see, sprinters know something that distance runners should pay attention to. They know that wasted effort — seemingly minute amounts of effort — can lead to inferior performance times. They know that having a relaxed face can save them that hundredth of a second that can get them on the winners podium.
Five Areas of Tension
- Face: Yup, just like sprinters, you too should 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.
- 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. If you break the crackers, you are too tense in the hands.
- Shoulders: We runners, especially while running long or hard, tend to scrunch up our shoulders. Relax, relax, relax.
- 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 (I’m laughing as I type this – so many jokes, so little time).
- 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
While being far from scientific, my experience is that each of these sources of tension really add up – especially over long distances. Specifically, I’ve 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, I’ve at times been able to lower my working heart rate by five or six beats per minute. For me, that amounts to a 3% decrease in effort my heart has to expend while running. While 3% 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 Boston.
So, relax, relax, relax. You’ll be glad you did.