What do you think about when you are running? Does it make a difference? Research suggests it definitely can.A survey into what runners think about when competing identified four categories. These are relevant to participating in many sporting activities: -
1) Inward monitoring - focusing on how you feel while running.
2) Outward monitoring - focusing on aspects of the race such as distance, terrain and tactics.
3) Inward distraction - having thoughts irrelevant to the race such as solving 'mental puzzles' or what we are going to do after the race.
4) Outward distraction - focusing on surroundings irrelevant to the race such as scenery.
The research concluded that inward distraction (3) should be avoided as it reduces awareness resulting in either running too fast and 'burning out' or running too slow. Inward monitoring (1) is useful for judging the required pace and also being aware of any warning signals such as muscle strain. The researchers believe that most attention should be focused outwardly on aspects of the race to minimise the influence of discomfort whilst remaining aware of the race situation.
However, I would like to add another category, I call it 'interactive awareness'. This is thinking of how we are running in relation to terrain. This is not to be confused with what we are feeling or race strategy but to the actual movement.
For example, when running are you aware of the location of your hip joints or which muscles lift the leg off the floor? Focusing on the act of running can help to 'free up' the movement if unnecessary tension can be identified. Misconceptions about our body will influence the way we run. The pelvis is part of the back yet many run with an excessive swing of the pelvis because the hip joints are held too tightly. The swaying action of the pelvis will also twist the lumber spine where the psoas muscle (hip flexor) has its origin. The psoas lifts the leg therefore inappropriate movement of the spine reduces efficiency and alters the direction of the pull.
This type of thinking is neither inward nor outward, as it requires us to maintain awareness of who is running, how we are running and where we are running. For example, see if you can be aware of yourself reading this article. What parts of you are making contact with a surface? Is your jaw tight? If we are aware of the feet landing on the ground when running, we can appreciate the force opposing our weight as gravity helps us to move forward.
Newton's third law of gravity states that 'the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal and in opposite directions', or more commonly known as, 'for every action there is an equal opposite reaction'. We do not have to be pulled down by gravity yet many runners appear to lose the battle.
Contemplate this law when running and we can allow ourselves to 'go up' to go forward due to the action of the legs and utilise energy more efficiently. Another way to describe this is 'Thinking in Activity'.
So on your next run try and maintain an awareness of what you are thinking. 'Interactive awareness' can exist concurrently with thinking about the race and surroundings. but if you find your thoughts drifting onto to something beyond your run to the point of distraction, let your awareness come back to your moving parts and the ground.
Roy Palmer is a Teacher of The Alexander Technique and author of The Performance Paradox: Train Smarter to enhance performance and reduce injury. More information can be found at http://www.artofperformance.co.uk
He works with sports people of all abilities to recognise and overcome performance-limiting habits.