I want to start off by saying that I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time. Many, many weeks. In the first weeks of training, one of my coaches lent me a book that has had a big impact on this whole process: Master the Art of Running, by Malcolm Balk and Andrew Shields.
The reason this book was a sort of collision of the worlds, so to speak, is because its main principle is something I’d previously only experienced in the music world: the Alexander Technique. For those of you who don’t feel like reading that Wikipedia article, the Alexander Technique is basically a way to use your body efficiently. It focuses on releasing excess tension and aligning the spine/neck/head. Many musicians love it and swear by it. Almost all musicians have at least heard of it.
I had never heard of anyone outside of the performing arts using the Alexander Technique, but that’s what this book is all about. And at last, my running world smacks right into my music world. It was somewhat fulfilling, to be honest. I am neither an expert runner nor an expert in the Alexander Technique, but having a little familiarity with both made the combination that much easier.
For the sake of time and simplicity, I won’t summarize the book, except to say that the main idea is to run at your full stature, as though your sternum is pulling you forward and you catch yourself with your foot at every step. (I hope that makes sense.) In the hopes of explaining better, here are a few things I liked most from the book:
- The emphasis on the mental aspect: Awareness of your form and good use of your body are the most important aspects in bringing about change. Focusing your mind on how your body should move and feel is more effective than trying to hold your body in a certain position.
(They also get into a discussion about listening to your body as you run,
and being in a sort of meditative state. This is why I don’t listen to music
when I run. I like to be aware of everything that’s happening, and use my
workout time as meditation time as well. It’s waaaay easier to meditate and
exercise if you do both of them at the same time. Multitasking win!)
- Your feet should land under your head/neck/chest. If your feet are landing in front of you, most of your weight is behind your foot. It takes an unnecessary amount of energy to then move the rest of your body forward to where your foot has landed. It’s like running with the brakes on.
- Your eyes should look ahead, not down. Seems obvious, but so many people (myself included) run with their heads down, looking at the ground 5-6 feet in front of them. Instead, lift your head up and look at the ground 50-60 feet in front of you. You won’t trip. If there are obstacles, your body will remember and adjust for them.
- The pulley: Perhaps the best image I got from the book was of running as though there is a pulley attached to your sternum, and from that pulley, a rope extending to the top of a building a block away. This rope is pulling your forward and up.
This idea is mentioned a lot in the book – that you should run as though falling forward and up. Kind of strange to think about on its own, I know. But it’s easier to get the hang of while running, I promise.
So, there you have it. A book review. Kind of. At any rate, if you’re at all interested in running, I would recommend at least skimming this book. Even if you’re just running occasionally for exercise, this book has a lot of great tips that will make it easier, healthier, and more enjoyable to run. Do it right, and you’ll prevent injury. Because ain’t nobody got time for that.