Mind-Body RunningPosted on May 21st 2010 12:00PM by Jennifer Fields
In his new book, "Run: The Mind Body Method of Running by Feel," Fitzgerald explains how to better listen to your body to help you become the best runner you can be. That's Fit spoke to Fitzgerald about what it means to be a better listener, throwing out your training plan and how he's used this mind-body technique to improve his own running.
That's Fit: In your book, you talk about how the culture of distance running is all about pushing through pain. Why doesn't that work?
Matt Fitzgerald: It's important to be able to push through fatigue and pain to improve as a runner, but there different kinds of each -- those red flag pains and that accumulating fatigue that strikes day after day -- those are problematic. When you listen to your body, you can start to tell the difference.
Most runners aren't taught that listening to their bodies is an important skill. We're taught the principles of running and training, but not how to listen and observe. And once you consciously listen, you'll start to observe things about yourself and gain valuable information to evolve your training approach.
TF: I think most runners are pretty connected to when we're feeling pain or tired or struggling. How do we tap into this mind-body approach to use this information differently and not just push through it?
MF: A lot of people hear mind-body and get turned off, but it's really just, on a basic level, learning how your body responds to different types of training and utilizing that information. You may notice that doing speed work comes very easy for you compared to another runner of similar ability, but that you struggle with long, endurance running, which may come easily to that same runner who struggles with speed work. This is valuable information. You can force yourself to follow one of those set training plans, but you'll only get so far. Instead you should use this information you gain about yourself to tailor that plan to fit your body and adapt your training approach. When you do that, you'll get the most out of running no matter who you are.
TF: So you shouldn't follow a training plan?
MF: You'd be surprised the number of elite athletes who train without a detailed running plan. They don't know what they're going to do weeks ahead of time; they mostly decide the day of the run. You have to learn to run as your body feels. And despite how it sounds, it's not complete chaos. You create a framework and know where you need to get.
It starts with a goal, like running a marathon, and you back out from there. So you know you need to run easy on certain days, harder on others, and you know generally where your mileage needs to get and how to increase it to get there. From there, you fill in the gaps on the fly. You'll decide day by day what you'll do based on how your body is responding to training and how it's recovering.
If you're a beginner, you may need to have your hand held, so go ahead and follow a training plan, but even then, start to implement your own personal preferences. Seek out training that appeals to you. You may not be an expert, but you can still put your own stamp on your training approach, which is really what running is all about -- finding what you love and making it your own.
If you're paying attention, you might notice you perform well with the "run less, run better" approach -- that you're at your best when you train three days a week. That's crucial to know.
When you follow a training plan as gospel, you'll inevitably find yourself facing a run you're not ready for. But it's a process. You have to just keep trying different things and eventually you'll get more and more comfortable deviating from a plan.
TF: How do I start listening to my body more effectively?
MF: I talk about this a lot in the book. Part of it is paying attention to how much you enjoy your workouts. It's impossible to get bad results while you're enjoying yourself and to keep getting good results when you're not. So I ask people to rate their enjoyment on a scale. It seems like an almost childish tool, but it's focused. If you notice that notice that after you have several low enjoyment scores in a row, and that your time is going downhill and then you start to get injured, you have learned that something needs to adapt in your training plan and it's this kind of information that allows you to develop your own magic formula, which is a chapter in the book.
There are some basic training variables I help you identify, like how much you like to run. Another variable is speed -- some runners thrive on it, some don't. Once you understand some of these variables, you can find the individual recipe that's right for you and realize your full potential as a runner.
There are some general practices that work for everyone -- you don't become a good runner by chopping wood. But do you take a high-volume or low-volume approach? When you understand this, you'll do more of what works, less of what doesn't.
Running is as much an intellectual challenge as it is a physical one, which is part of the joy of running. And when you have this mind-body connection, you'll train better, train more effectively and you'll get faster.
TF: How has mind-body running helped you in your own running?
MF: I'm not the ultimate mind-body runner at all, but I've learned a few things. I know that a cross-training based approach is best for me. I can handle a lot of training if it's not all running. I know how much mileage I can handle. I can do about 90 miles a week. That's less than I have run, but also more than I've run in the past. But I know now what my limit is. So when I'm training for a marathon, I won't go beyond that. It's a different target for every runner, but it's like gold to know it.
"Run: The Mind Body Method of Running by Feel," is available June 1.
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