The other day I got thinking about how running is like art. I recently read the Pose Method of Running and it really appealed to me because it structured running technique like mastering an art (dance especially.) I’m still experimenting with “Pose Method” running, but the technical side is another topic for another day. Instead, I am thinking about how running and the creative process share a lot in common. I’ve mentioned it before, but I love to focus on form. Like dance, Pilates and yoga often have you trying to construct an ideal pose with your body. So, in the same way running can be a performance in perfect form. My theory is that if biomechanically I can run as smoothly and efficiently as possible while emulating those who are really talented, it will make it easier to run faster and longer. Ideally, rather than killing myself to run faster I would like to make running faster feel more comfortable and as seemingly effortless as possible.
Of course in a sport like running this is only part of the beast. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of real quality running exercises like speed intervals and hill repeats—those are essential in improving cardio endurance. They also produce very tangible results when it comes to feeling more comfortable while running. The idea of running as a performance is more about the mental attack strategy.
I like to have the image of a champion in mind. Imagination is a very useful tool in running. It helps when you can delude yourself a little into thinking that you are performing spectacularly no matter what those horrible race photos show.
My mother is not a runner. Recently she was telling me about her attempts at running and it was easy to spot why she hated it without seeing her run. First of all she referenced how “all the pounding,” took its toll. Maybe this is something you get used to, but for the most part it sounds like evidence of a heavy untrained stride. Just having the image in mind of a light gentle stride could be a good way to start mentally training.
Also, the other interesting thing she said was that as she was running she imagined sports announcers commenting on her performances and saying things like “Oh man, she is really struggling! She is not doing well at this at all!”
This is very similar to the “inner critic” that is sometimes talked about when trying to craft a work of art. Often the thing that holds you back from creating something that is really great is that voice in your head that tells you it’s no good. The truth is that most ideas are pretty weak when you first have them, there’s a process of things that happen before something becomes really good. Therefore you have to be forgiving of those early incarnations of an idea and just roll with them until you unearth their true potential. In essence you have to create this image or fiction first of what it is you are trying to do that is really great. Then you have to work your ass off to live up to it.
So basically, when you are just starting your run you have to imagine those sports announcers saying positive things. For example, “She’s really putting her heart out there under these difficult conditions.” Or “for some one who hasn’t run in several years she is performing at the top of her division.”
You may call it self delusion but a little of that is necessary to grease the wheels.
Then the next step is to have some clear goals that you are trying to achieve. Qualifying for the Olympics or writing the Grammy award winning song of the year may be a bit lofty. However, you can say today I want to run and not feel too much tension in my shoulders or get through the whole thing without walking. Those things are attainable. As you improve your goals will be higher, but it is important to know where you are and what you can do.
The last thing is to take that small goal and knock it out of the park. You can become a master of running for long periods of time without stopping or releasing tension in your upper body. You push yourself to make those periods even longer.
Virtuosity is the ideal of art. To become so good at something that people marvel in the beauty of it. The wonderfully open-ended thing about it is that sometimes you can be brilliant at something that is simple: like having a pure singing tone or writing a lyric that really resonates. It doesn’t have to be a grand unattainable thing.
That can also be the goal of a good run. That it is a performance to be marveled at. In a professional sense this would mean a world record time. For a normal person it could mean getting in 5 miles when you were so tired you thought you’d only be able to pull off 3. Or maintaining perfect form and not having pain after the run. You can define the goal and then when you nail it you get the euphoria of accomplishment.
That is the essence of a beautiful piece of art and a beautiful run.
P.S. MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!