Gotta run …

I had a nice conversation with my friend Sava (the longtime runner) at the gym the other day. We spoke of running, fitness, heel striking, bad shoes and old favorites such as the Nike Oregon Waffle. We also discussed ways of determining the best shoe for someone, and what their optimum gait might be. Sava, who sells running shoes, just tells people to go run away and come back, then she analyzes their gait.

At first, the zen-like simplicity of this appealed to me. To a certain extent, it still does, and here’s why: my goal in all of this blogging business is to find a natural way of doing things, or a sort of unified fitness theory. I’ve found, and it may be true for everyone, that when I really need to peel rubber, when I need to get somewhere fast, I run rather well. (I noticed this while peeling down a hall at school recently.) It may then be true that when the purpose of the running is to get there fast, to go run away, we run naturally. This can be extended to other pursuits, but more on that later. From a Chinese martial arts perspective, it could be said that we’re running from our dan tien, or our center of mass, rather than our feet, legs, arms or whatever. It means we’re just running to get somewhere. Fine with me.

The problem with saying “just go run and come back” is that the natural mindset (or non-mindset) of that exercise needs to be maintained by the runner while he or she runs for fitness. Otherwise, the runner may be outfitted with ideal shoes, but out on the road, the runner may revert to old, injurious habits. When we’re out for a run, are we thinking the same way that we do when we’re running for the bus? Aren’t we a little more self-conscious when we’re out for a run? Maybe thinking about form? Maybe we’re bouncing up and down and jogging? Maybe we adopt a different motion, one that we believe is easier to sustain over a period longer than the short duration of the average emergency run? Maybe we get bored, unable to sustain the “gotta get there” mindset of the emergency run?

I wonder. You know, when was the last time you had to run somewhere for real? Were you late? Were you in a long enough space that allowed room for it? When you weren’t carrying a briefcase, Starbucks, whatever that prevented you from really running? As I sit here at my computer, expecting to drive home, work out … I can only recall the run in the hall, and possibly a sprint for the streetcar a few months ago. This might explain the great disconnect between the idea that running should be natural and the preponderance of running injuries out there: we don’t have enough opportunities to run for its own sake … instead, we just run for fitness or sport, if that.

I think I’ll try the “gotta get there” mindset next time I’m out for a run. I’ll get back to you.

Categories: East meets West, running, Zen-like stuff Tags:
  1. Caprice
    May 7th, 2010 at 23:48 | #1

    My instincts tell me that when people run because they “gotta get there”, they are more likely to run with undesirable stresses and tensions in their bodies (i.e., going to miss the streetcar/elevator, or someone is chasing you, or chasing after a child who looks like he or she might be getting into trouble on the playground), and are likely very much focussed on their “goal”.

    When people run for fitness, I would hope that there would be less of that kind of stress involved, which may make it easier and more relaxed. As for running being a natural activity, I think it would be safe to consider it one if we lived in a culture where people were very physically active on a regular basis due to their lifestyle. Maybe if we were part of a tribe in Africa that still hunted wild animals or something. What is often the case, though, is people run until they stop having to go to gym class in high school, then spend the next 10 or 20 years not really doing any major physical activity, then realise that they need to start exercising because they’re in bad shape and their health is suffering. Because so many people develop poor biomechanical habits for various reasons, not everyone is going to be able to run easily. And if someone “bounces up and down” or “jogs” when they test out a pair of running shoes at the store, nine times out of ten, that’s what they do when they’re out on the road, too. Some novice runners do the bouncing up and down because they don’t know how to run any other way (they don’t know how to propel themselves forward). Some land heavily on their heels because they think that running is just fast walking (this is also connected to people taking strides that are too long).

    By the way, the “gotta get there” mindset is called “Endgaining” in the Alexander Technique. Running should not be about “getting there”. It’s about _how_ you get there. I don’t think any activity should really be mindless, neither should it be about “I have to finish this distance in x minutes.” When we’re freeing up and easing into the most efficient use of our bodies, we will get there. In fact, you’ll be there before you know it. Of course, if you’re running a race, “Endgaining” will be pretty prominent in your mind, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set it aside and just have the best run you can, keeping things comfy and easy, fast but tension-free, as you head to the finish line.

  2. SteveR
    May 11th, 2010 at 13:35 | #2

    I suppose it depends on how, in this sort of discussion, we define goals. With respect to the blog post, when I wrote “gotta get there”, I meant something more like “go”. Just “go”. This mindset is not dominated by thoughts of what we’ll do when we get there, what’ll happen if we don’t get there, or other thoughts that are not related to the act of running. I’m describing the simple feeling of “go”. When I set off down the hall to pick up a remote for my class already in progress, my first thoughts were “should I run? I don’t really have to. What the hell. Let’s go.” So it was “flame on”. My thoughts while running were “Wow, this is fun. Fast. Smooth. Neat.” I had temporarily forgotten the class remote in the pleasure of running — not for fitness, but to just “go”. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m not advocating endgaining. My apologies for any misunderstanding.

    As for running being a natural activity, it depends on how we define “natural”. I wouldn’t bring our society into it, since on the whole, our society isn’t very natural, if “natural” means “in harmony with nature”.

    As for people being able to run easily, it depends on how far gone we are, and how much damage has been done by unnatural habits. As you’ve found, sometimes all it takes is a carefully worded direction, often focusing on something unexpected, to enable the subject to access a natural action or posture instead of the habitual one. Personally, as an example I found that I was able to perform a squat-like exercise naturally, distributing the action of rising through my body, by imagining myself rising as if called to dinner, instead of focusing on using my quads or calves to push me up, I simply … rose. In that instance, I was able to access natural movement because through the right cue, I was able to let go of conscious effort, and it worked. But if your point is that not everyone can access natural action through cues, then yes, I agree. Many people have strong attachments to believing they’re in complete control of their actions, and this can be problematic because it assumes we know what we’re doing when we’re controlling our actions deliberately. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.

    As for being mindless, I’ll cover that in a future post. Again. 🙂

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