The Whole Picture
What are all the factors you should consider if you truly wish to perform at your best?
For non-professional endurance athletes to enjoy a balanced life AND to achieve success in their sport is a major undertaking in logistics and time management. For most runners running is not their whole life. Yet each of us aspires to find that holy grail that will see us running as we had always hoped we would. Finding efficient ways to improve without just adding miles, is a challenge.
A runner's physiology is not the only factor that needs attention.
In my coaching life I acknowledged the importance of the mental side. I could only be effective in this regard when I studied sport psychology. I received professional support from sport psychologists as I prepared runners for the Olympic Games. In my mind this aspect became pivotal in performance. This is why I wrote a now successful book on the subject. Magical Running , A Unique Path to Running Fulfillment .
And still there was more than just training physically and mentally. Unlike other skills, running is not cognitively learned, but developed. We learn to swim, we learn to ride a bike, but running comes naturally after walking. Despite my formal training in biomechanics, I did nothing about the style anomalies of each individual runner I worked with— I was wrong! I learned drills and applications from sprint, hurdles and walking coaches that brought about almost miraculous transformations in my distance running charges. Suddenly national records and titles were in reach for athletes that I coached; from walking events, 10 000m and the marathon, all the way down to 800 and 1500 meters on the track.
Nowadays I apply The Running Curriculum to all the athletes I work with that run:
The Physiology of Running I & II
Running Biomechanics I & II
The Running Mind I, II & III
Running Physiology I involves optimizing the genetic ability each runner is born with. There's some truth to the fact that if you wish to run faster, you need to go back and re-choose your parents! But there is still much you can do by working with your various limitations. For example, by knowing that you are a heavier, bigger runner you can emphasize shorter events; work on your strengths (power), as well as on your weaknesses (carry as little weight as possible). Also know the limitations of your physiology. Larger runners need to pay careful attention to staying cool in longer hot races. Runners that struggle on the climbs, despite doing the same training as their stronger counter parts should add some specific (weight training) and functional (hill repeats) strength activities to their training regimens.
Physiology II is an easier part to work with. Train correctly. Discover what works for you. Learn everything you can about training and apply what you discover.
Biomechanics I , As in Physiology I, we are all born with certain traits. Some of us have high arches that provide less natural shock absorption; others have hyper-mobile feet with low arches that provide sufficient shock absorption, but insufficient support. You can strengthen certain muscles, loosen others and gain expert advice on the choice of footwear and even consider orthotics. Work with what you have.
Biomechanics II. Our individual histories as athletes have led to successes and misfortunes that have shaped our mechanics. Injuries left unattended might have led to shorter muscles or weaker muscles—imbalances lead to adaptations and long-term problems. Such issues often only arise with increased training demands and/or age.
Massage, stretching, physical therapy and specific drills are all tools that can help to redress imbalances and help us to return to our natural abilities. We tend to only consider these options when it is too late and we have already lost form, performance or have become injured. Prevention is better than cure. Runners might baulk at coming to activities that might expose them as being weak in some area - rhythm and coordination drill sessions being one such area. However once they have attended such sessions, they never leave, experiencing great results after very short periods of application. Having your body in alignment, balanced and strong improves your efficiency, performance and extends your career/running habit immensely.
The Running Mind I. This part of mental skills involves the conscious mind and the thoughts and ideas we have concerning training and racing. How do you judge yourself? “I'm too slow. I'm fat. I'm useless in the hills.” Constant negative internal dialogue can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and ruin your performance. You are not your thoughts. Make sure that you have clear goals; focus on what you want and how to get there—avoid dwelling on your misfortunes and inadequacies. Consciously create strategies and self-talk that support your efforts.
The Running Mind II. This is the emotional mind. We can either allow emotions to disrupt the running experience or make it highly enjoyable. Whether it's getting to a race late, cursing the lines outside the toilets/porta loos, or allowing your ego to carry you off to a suicidal fast start; stop for a moment, take a breath and choose an attitude that will ultimately lead to a successful running experience. Be aware of your emotions and how they impact your running experience. Take responsibility for your running enjoyment and success.
The Running Mind III. This encompasses running as a spiritual experience. Those of us who pay to run, as opposed to the elites who are paid to run, often run for far nobler reasons like being self-actualized, even if we don't quite call it that. When we started running it was to experience a sense of achievement—to be successful and to enjoy it. If this is lost one needs to do what it takes to regain that sense of self-respect and satisfaction that we have all experienced at some time.
Ultimately we run because we choose to run. Ensure that the experience is always, always worth the effort and remember only you have the power to make each bout of training both effective and fulfilling.
Be willing to go to school again with your sport and you will be rewarded with a broader more lasting experience.
For more information on running go to www.BobbyMcGee.com