As a technical coach it is tempting to blame resistance to the idea of ‘technical’ training as opposed to ‘just running’ on inherent laziness in runners. I could bemoan that runners just want to ‘run, run, run and think of nothing else’. Superficially this seems to be true for many runners – they just want to go and run and all other activities they need to do to facilitate their hobby are an annoying distraction whether it be stretching, running technique drills or ‘cross-training’ in its myriad of forms. Our experience is that runners are not so much lazy as they want to be engaged in activity that is meaningful and pleasurable to them (don’t we all?). Holding a static stretch often does not fit this description nor does sitting in some hamster wheel of a fitness machine while electronic music blares from the walls and a soap plays on the TV in front of you.
This leads to a culture of becoming ‘disconnected’ and wanting to ‘disconnect’ from the activity we are doing rather than immersing ourselves in the process of what we are doing. In this way the resistance against ‘running technique’ training is part of a cultural phenomenon – our desire to escape from the boring physical workouts imposed upon us – or the opposite, running is our only escape from the ‘daily noise’. Let us briefly divert and explore this further:
Disconnected from exercise
Another enormous problem we face today is that movement and activity when it becomes detached from a purpose is simply mindless activity (even if that purpose is ‘fun’ such as dancing or other pleasurable activities such as…well…you know!). When our activities become ‘workouts’ our pure dull and repetitive work then we begin to disconnect from it. We see this in action all the time on the road as people run with earphones or trot away on treadmills while watching the TV. Anything to take attention away from what we are doing. Do we hate running so much?
It does not help that we live in a time where our attention is being bombarded by more distractions than ever from ever-present communication devices and endless choices of leisure. For those runners who enjoy the pure act of running and who do not need distraction to make it through their training session, the opposite problem arises. Because we are bombarded all day by information, our systems are stressed. Only when we sleep, meditate, or kick back with friends can we ‘turn off’ all the noise that surrounds us. In such a world running becomes an important time for many people to ‘turn off the noise’. If, as coaches, we then introduce extreme focus on the act of running and many difficult drills, then we are taking away a time of solace which these runners badly need to ‘turn off’ the noise. But the real problem is the constant stress of distraction and non-stop activity.
In the old days runners where often very focused on the ‘task at hand’. Their run was a time to enjoy – almost like an expressive art form. You didn’t simply ‘go and do it’, you would ‘do it well’. Running was not an escape from the noise of every day world or daily chores – it was an enhancement and a pleasurable pastime that added to an already balanced life. New Zealand runner Jack Foster, who ran 2:11 for the marathon nat age 41, perhaps described this sentiment better than anyone:
“I don’t train; never have. I don’t think of running as training. I just go out and run each day, and let the racing take care of itself. It has to be a pleasure to go for a run, looked forward to while I’m at work. Otherwise no dice. This fact that I’m not prepared to let running be anything but one of the pleasures of my life, is the reason I fail by just so much.” – Jack Foster, Tales of an Ancient Marathoner
So the first step to train and run with more purpose is to learn to appreciate and love the activity itself and to find a purpose in doing it that is meaningful to us – whether that be health, adventure, recreation or competitive reasons.
This article was a ‘spin-off’ on a larger discussion on running technique