The Art of Relaxation

Resident running ace Martin Yelling explains why you don’t need to grimace to run fast

Running is tough. It places your body under intense pressure. When you run, you are demanding a lot from your muscles, tendons, joints, heart and lungs. You’re stretching your psychological limits, too: asking yourself for more, staying positive, keeping on target.

The harder you push, the greater the pressure. But tensing up and stressing out are not the answer. We all need to relax.

IDENTIFYING THE TENSION

Relaxation and running should go hand in hand. While our normal response to fast running is to strain our face and scrunch our shoulders, this is actually detrimental to running performance. It is inefficient and utilises energy that would be better directed elsewhere, to working muscles.

Tight muscles, scrunched shoulders and grisly grimaces serve nobody. Tensing up is also mentally destructive. When you’re on the threshold of breaking – whether this is mile 23 of a marathon, the final third of an ultra or the last lap of a 1500m race – learning to relax at the point of most pressure will almost certainly help you run stronger to the finish.

It’s easier said than done, of course. Learning to be mindful, calm and focused in your body and mind before and during a race is a learned skill. Make time to perfect your mid-race relaxation techniques. Don’t expect it to happen naturally when you’re under pressure on race day. It won’t.

ACE YOUR WARM-UP

Conduct a warm-up that is appropriate for you and the event in which you are participating. Include things you have done in training that you know help you to reach a relaxed state of mind. For example, running for a certain distance, doing a series of mobility exercises or listening to music. Be confident about your preparation and the race that lies ahead. With confidence comes relaxation.

On the start line, take five deep and full inhalations. Fill your lungs with air, breathe in through your nose and stretch your chest out. Don’t rush. Slowly release the breath from your mouth as you exhale and allow your shoulders to drop, your arms to hang loose and your hands to shake out by your sides.

GET A NEW RACE FACE

Your face should be relaxed and loose. As you feel the demands of your event intensify, instead of gritting or grinding your teeth, tightening your jaw muscles, screwing up your eyes and wrinkling your forehead, learn to relax from the eyebrows down.

Start with the small muscles around your eyes and hairline. Then consciously open your mouth a little wider, wiggle your jaw from side to side, take a deep breath in through your mouth and exhale in a slow and controlled way.

Lift your eyes up and spot the horizon. Lift your chin and feel your head lift, your chest expand, your spine lengthen and your hips rise. Reset your race face with a relaxed, calm, controlled, determined and steely face!

BREATHE EASY

When you are under pressure running, especially at a high intensity, your breathing rate increases to match the demands of the distribution of oxygen around your body. The harder you are running, the quicker your breathing rate. When you’re at top-end speed, it really doesn’t matter how you hoover the air into your body. Just suck it up any way you can to keep you moving.

At lower intensities, you can use your breath control to help you relax. Change your breathing rate and try slowing it down, taking fewer, deeper inhalations and controlled breath releases while you run. Let your breathing rate drop into a natural rhythm in sync with your running cadence and pace. Relax; don’t over-focus. Let your body do its thing.

THINK POSITIVE

Relaxed running is directly related not only to your fitness and physical conditioning but also to your mental and emotional state during the race. A positive mental approach to your race, even in the toughest moments, will help you to stay relaxed and on track. It’s easy to find yourself thinking negatively when the pace drops, starting to doubt yourself, and wondering about failing.

Don’t do ‘what ifs’. This just serves to add tension to your physical and mental state. Internal peace of mind and stability helps you to turn down the voice telling you to slow down or stop, Again, this will take practice.

Try visualising your successful self. See your race unfold as you desire. Watch yourself running tall, strong and purposeful. See the strength in your stride and your training shine through as you glide over the ground and cross the finish line inside your target time.

Try repeating a positive mantra to yourself. Make it short, personal and meaningful, such as “I am strong as the race goes on.”

 

Men's Running

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