Tuesday, 04 October 2016 21:31

Relaxing for Optimal Performance

Edwin Moses, Peter Snell, Abebe Bikila, Henry Rono, Billy Mills, Tosheiko Seko, Bob Kennedy, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Grete Waitz, Anne Marie Lauck, and other great runners over the years would all agree that they share one quality: the ability to relax and self­regulate their levels of prerace arousal.

This same ability—the ability to relax the mind and body—is the most widely ignored aspect of training programs for elite and recreational runners alike, yet also happens to be the most crucial for performance. Australian runner Rob de Castella, one of the world's greatest marathoners ever, considered his ability to settle down and physically and mentally relax before a race to be one of his greatest strengths, and recommended that every athlete should seek such ability.

This is not to say, however, that certain circumstances in his racing didn't call for greater arousal. Overall, a relaxed, calm nature was crucial to his success over the long run. Being calm enables one to focus energy when and where it is needed. Also, it helps the musculoskeletal system to remain fluid for greater, more efficient striding throughout the run. In a phrase, we need to relax for the maximum performance. This notion of relaxation as a prerequisite to running success has been reinforced in our work with elite distance runners who compete in races ranging from the 1500­ meter to the marathon. They unanimously agree that the secret key to smoother, faster, championship performance is to focus on relaxation and remain calm before and during the event.

You can experiment with the techniques in the next section before and during races to learn which methods bring about this calm for you. Relaxed running leads to peak performance. To remain relaxed. we must use our cerebral cortex and sensory and motor areas of our brains, and keep the limbic system quiet, Intense feelings and negative thoughts can stimulate the limbic centers and increase your baseline level of tension and anxiety. This can precipitate a circular pattern in which feelings of anxiety (butterflies in your stomach, a lump in your throat, sweaty palms, increased breathing and heart rates) can cause emotional panic—which, in turn, stimulates those parts of the brain that further increase the respiratory and heart rates. This can multiply and eventually cause a full­blown panic attack.

This happened in 1988 to an American Olympic athlete in Korea, who jumped off a bridge during such an episode and remains permanently injured. For most of us, we may get a feeling that we are "losing it" before or during a race. Years ago, the head track coach at San Jose State, Bud Winter, espoused the benefits of running relaxed in his classic book Relax and Win. He developed the 90 percent law, claiming that when an athlete gives 100 percent, she gets tense and, paradoxically, performs at lower levels than if she exerted a 90 percent effort. You can see the 90 percent law in action if you watch a distance race of elite athletes. They are going fast—their splits tell the tale—yet they look smooth and effortless, almost as if they are out for a leisurely run.

You can achieve this relaxed running, too, by focusing on running in control and on the mechanics of arm swing or foot plant, and maintaining a certain rhythm and pace. National 5000 ­meter champion Ceci St. Geme mentioned that she felt very relaxed during her national ­championship performance, and the race seemed so effortless, so easy. To remain calm during the race, Ceci focused her attention on the process of the race, such as tactics, form, stride, and posture, rather than potential outcomes and results. By taking her mind away from what might eventually happen (the outcome) she reduced her anxiety associated with trying to control what can't be controlled—the results. Also, she practiced the ancient wisdom of soft is strong; the martial art of aikido teaches that the less resistance, force, and effort you create, the more efficient and effective you become. This same principle can be applied to running, as physiologically it helps to conserve energy and direct it in a positive, useful direction. Therefore, if you want to run faster, focus on running smarter.

You can experience the difference for yourself: first, do three push­ups with your arms tensed, then do three more with your arms firm but relaxed. Notice how the second set was much easier. Similarly, the implication for running hills is simple but powerful: relax to create the max. Most runners tend to apply more power and run the hills harder. However, harder in some runners' minds translates to tenser bodies. Instead, try relaxing your shoulders, arms, and face as you glide up the trail; notice the difference. There's no need to get tough to run hills.

You need power, but it is a fluid, controlled, relaxed power rather than tense power. Inefficient movement leads to premature fatigue, loss of running economy, and, consequently, suboptimal performances. Focus on relaxing as you run your hills: imagine helium balloons attached to your shoulders, lifting you as you proceed to run up the hill like a tireless deer. Repeat the words Relax, relax, relax . . . soft is strong.

Running Within -- OmRiyadat English