Even if running is second nature to you and you've logged hundreds—or even thousands—of miles on the roads and trails, you might be making a critical mistake that could be slowing you down or even increasing your risk of injury.
What is this crucial error? It's running mindlessly. Simply put, not paying enough attention to what's going in your body, your mind and your surroundings. Running mindlessly makes you more likely to get crushed by a pace that's too hard, or settle for one that's too easy; expend more energy than you need to; or tire out sooner than you should.
Thankfully, a simple solution can help runners stay focused when they're pounding the pavement. Runners should tune in to what really matters on a run by asking themselves the following five questions. Doing so will help them get the most out of their runs and keep themselves safe in the process.
Question 1: Am I Relaxed?
As you run, it's easy to tighten up and get rigid, which hampers your stride and causes you to waste energy. Whether you're out for a couple of easy miles or trying to outkick the opposition in a competitive race, try to stay relaxed and smooth when you run. To stay relaxed, run a body check to ensure there's no tension in your body.
You can—and should—do a body check every few minutes during a run. Start at your head and work down your body, ensuring that each area is relaxed. For example, if you find that your shoulders are tense and creeping up toward your ears, try to relax them for a few seconds before moving on and checking your arms. On your next check, if your shoulders are tense again, that's okay. Just continue to remind yourself to relax.
Question 2: Am I Taking Deep Breaths?
Your breath is one of the most important aspects of your running endurance. Deep, rhythmic breaths allow you to take in as much oxygen as possible to fuel your muscles as they work to propel you forward. Inhale through both your nose and mouth, bringing in as much air as you're comfortable with. Exhale only through your mouth with your lips slightly pursed. This allows you take more oxygen into your lungs, which is then transferred to your blood and to your muscles. The more oxygen your muscles have access to, the better.
Question 3: How Is My Posture?
It's no secret that running can tire you out. As your muscles get fatigued, you may find that your posture degrades, from the tall, efficient stance you started with to something more slumped over. This makes each stride even harder. To lessen inevitable fatigue, run with your head up and your eyes looking forward down the road or track. This also opens up your chest so your lungs can take in more air.
It's also important to keep your arms pumping forward and backward, not side-to-side. If your arms cross the midline of your body, they will cause your torso to rotate, wasting valuable energy.
It takes effort and diligence to sustain a tall posture, but it's worth it to maintain your stride form. That's why you should train your core muscles, giving them the strength and endurance they need to help you maintain your posture for an entire run.
Question 4: Am I Landing on My Mid-Foot?
Check to make sure you're landing on your mid-foot and subsequently rolling forward before pushing off with your toes. Striking the ground first with your heels causes a braking action that slows your momentum. Your stride should be smooth, not heavy and labored.
To learn this footfall, perform sprint technique drills after every run, such as 8 to 10 100-meter Sprints.
Question 5: Do I Know What's Going on Around Me?
You often see runners with earbuds stuck firmly in their ears, seemingly oblivious to the world around them. Listening to loud music isolates you from your surroundings, making you less likely to notice important things, like a honking car horn. You should not listen to music when you run, but if you need tunes, put only one earbud in.
When you run on the roads, stay off pavement that has a high cantor, or slant, because the unbalanced surface puts unneeded stress on your lower body and can cause an injury.
Finally, it's surprising how many runners run on the right side of the road, with cars coming up behind them. Always run on the left, facing traffic, so you can see what's heading your way and take evasive action if necessary.