I came across this pin on Pinterest, and was thinking about how this is applicable in so many more ways than one! Staying calm and relaxed during a race is more important than one would think! Watch this video of the leaders of the Chicago Marathon in 2012 running in slow motion.
Notice how relaxed most of the runners faces, shoulders, and upper bodies are? One might think that they are just out on a casual jog. However, the 2012 Chicago Marathon was won in 2:04:38, and this is the lead pack at some point on the course, so they are probably running around a 4:40-4:45 minute per mile pace here. Elite runners know the importance of staying relaxed during a race.
When we run a race or do a really hard speed workout, the goal is obviously to run as fast as we are able to. When you are pushing yourself, in a workout or a race, you naturally tense your muscles up, and you may think that this muscle tension and extra tightness will help you to push harder, when in fact, the opposite is true. That extra tension is causing us to exert more energy, and we want to conserve our energy the best we can during the entire distance. A great runner can run relatively fast using a minimal amount of energy. The key is to STAY RELAXED.
But, how do we do this? There are three key physical areas where we hold tension while running: face, shoulders, and hands and arms. By being aware of and doing our best to eliminate the tension in these three areas, we can run more relaxed.
- Face – try to keep your jaw slack. When running, our jaws tend to tighten up, so be aware of this and try to keep that area loose and relaxed. Relaxing your jaw can reduce tension in your shoulders and improve breathing for fast runs. Another sign of tension in the face is squinting your eyes. While wearing sunglasses or a visor can help with this, it’s also important to notice when you are doing it so you can correct it.
- Shoulders – I’m definitely guilty of this one! When running long or hard distances, runners tend to scrunch up their shoulders, so concentrate on not doing this and keeping them relaxed. Make sure not to slouch with your shoulders, and if you are having a hard time relaxing them, try doing a “shrug”, bringing them up and then back down – this can help to eliminate shoulder tightness.
- Hands and Arms – Many of us runners will find ourselves clenching our fists when we run – knock it off! Keep the hands loose. Your upper arms will naturally carry enough tension to counteract your legs’ momentum — this is how you remain balanced and don’t fall over. But if your hands are continually clenched then your biceps and triceps will be overly tense, and your elbows will feel stuck in one position and your arms will get tired creating a sensation of body-wide fatigue. If you find yourself clenching your hands, shake your hands and drop your arms letting them flop around at your sides for a few seconds. This will release tension, and help to keep your hands and arms relaxed.
Physically, we want to concentrate on those three areas. Basically, keep your upper body RELAXED!!!
Another thing we want to keep in mind is mental relaxation. Normally, when I am extremely stressed about something, a nice long easy run helps to calm me. However, in a race, we want to go into the race calm so that we aren’t using up any energy worrying about something unrelated. Be mentally prepared for a race by leaving anything you are stressed or worried about out of it. Try to reduce stress as much as possible the night before and the morning of the race. If you are thinking negatively during a race, it will slow you down. You want to be thinking positively. During the race, you can come up with some sort of mantra that can keep you focused mentally. I sometimes use “push comfortably” or “fast and relaxed”, and when things get really rough, I use “just keep going!”. Anytime, I start to think about how much it hurts or how tired I am, I just repeat something like this over and over again to keep me mentally focused on positive things.
Lastly, when you are going into a race, it helps to have a plan. If possible, do packet pick up the day or night before. Make sure to get to the race with plenty of time to spare. Know where the start and finish are, know what your goal is, know what you want to hit your splits in, and if possible, know the course. This will help to keep you focused and knowing what to expect will help to keep you relaxed and avoid any type of unwanted surprises in the middle of your race (like a quarter mile hill with a 15% grade at mile 24 of a marathon – no thank you!).
Hopefully, some of these tips will help you to relax during those hard effort runs allowing you to find even more enjoyment in the sport! My golden rule of running is that if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong! So, most importantly, have fun and run your own race while being aware of different tensions and how to eliminate them. Keep calm and run on! Happy running! 🙂