How to Run Faster by Trying Less

I am not a runner and know nothing about the mechanics of running. But, I’m trying to start running, mostly as a way to have alone time a few days a week. I am on Week One of the Couch to 5k program… Much, much closer to “the couch” than the 5k!

As I was running on the treadmill yesterday, I started wondering why I’m not faster.  I could easily run a 7 minute mile in Middle School; why do I feel like I’m struggling to keep up with a 13 minute mile? Since I’m normally uncomfortable and struggling while running, I try to close my fists as tightly as possible and tense up more shoulders even more than normal in order to distract myself from how tired my legs are. I vaguely remembered reading a tip a few years ago that recommended not clenching your fists while running.

I unclenched my fists and then started to think about the Bradley Method, the primary method of childbirth I followed.  If you’re not familiar with it, a major principle of the Bradley Method is that the woman in labor tries to relax her entire body in order to step aside and let her muscles do the work necessary to progress labor. I started to breath deeply and to focus on relaxing one part of my body at a time.  Between nursing and carrying Beach Baby, my shoulders and neck are tense.  I slowly started to relax them, to unclench my fists, and to just loosen up my entire body, except for my legs that were doing the work of running.

Suddenly, running felt much, much easier.  I had been running at 4.5 miles per hour, according to the treadmill, and struggling to barely keep up.  After relaxing, I was able to increase my speed to 5.6 miles per hour and even maintained 6 miles per hour for a minute or two.  And, more than that, I felt more comfortable! I started to actually feel like I was enjoying running!

When I got home, I googled it and turns out I was right!  This article, by Jerry Lynch, PhD with Runner’s World, has many tips for relaxing while running and confirms: “The secret to smoother, faster running is to focus on being relaxed, rather than ‘efforting’ more power. Efforting causes muscles to tighten. Athletes who stay loose run best.”

5K, here I come!

For all the runners out there, any other tips for newbies like me?

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