This blog is usually about improv but with yet another lockdown started it looks like more and more people are taking up running as a way to stay healthy. I thought I’d share some running tips that I built up, some of which came from playing like an improviser when running.
These tips aren’t going to give you record times or win you medals, but they might help you to enjoy running and stay healthy and uninjured – and enjoying it will help you do more.
You’re not just in your body, you ARE your body
Try this as a mantra when you are running:
“I’m not just in my body, I AM my body”.
It tends to bring a greater awareness of the whole self and that every part of you is working together as one. “You” are not just a brain inside a skull being transported around by a detached skeleton. “You” is all of you, and you are one lovely thing going for a run. We need to move away from the mindset that “You” are punishing your body for past excesses, like the body is some kind of wild separate dog to be tamed by an upset brain. Punishing just leads to pain, fear and stress. Every bit of you is You, and you are going on a fun running adventure.
Run to somewhere you actually want to go to
If you were going for a nice country walk you wouldn’t go to a football pitch and then walk around it 10 times, so why do this when you are running? Run to a nice view. Run to a museum (when they are open). Run to a park you haven’t been to before. Do some sightseeing while running. I’ve even run to a pub before and had a pub lunch outside before running back.
If you are reading this in Canada, this maybe isn’t the best tip. In the UK though we don’t have bears or extreme wilderness. Going somewhere and then getting lost is a surefire way to run further than you would usually. If you’re in London I especially recommend Wimbledon Common, Richmond Park and Bushy Park. Lots of potential in all those places to get lost and have fun attempting to find your way back again. Run through the woods. Cross a stream. Get lost.
Run through puddles not around them. Dodge your way through trees. Jump over logs. Pretend you are a deer. Embrace the elements. Enjoy the sun, the wind, the rain, the snow and the hail as you become fully alive and back in touch with the seasons of the Earth. Notice what the animals are up to and how their behaviour changes over the year.
Try leaving the watch at home, and the phone, and the GPS.
You wild thing.
One way running
One for after lockdown. It’s fun sometimes to run one way and get public transport back, just don’t forgot to carry your debit card with you. It gives you an amazing feeling to end up somewhere miles away from home. 10 laps of a football pitch doesn’t look like anything. Set out from your flat and end up somewhere you didn’t think possible makes you appreciate how amazing the human body is. We can go so far on just….FOOD! That’s bonkers.
Run with a story
Mine is that I’m running away from Nazis in the World War II across a frozen wasteland. My friend Matt runs while pretending he is escaping zombies. Turn running into an adventure using your imagination.
It’s OK to walk
It’s ok to walk. If you went for a walk in the countryside you’d feel great about yourself, so if you end up doing a walk on a run you should still feel great about yourself. In fact you should feel even better, you’ve added a run to what used to just be a walk. Well done!
Pain in one place is often due to a problem or stiffness somewhere else
This is especially true for knees. Knees are meant to go mainly in one direction, forwards and backwards. Ankles and hips are meant to go in more directions, forwards, backwards and in circles. If the ankles or hips are stuck the knee has to start moving how it’s not meant to and eventually starts to hurt. Yes the knee is in pain, but it’s often the stuck ankles and hips that cause it.
Wiggle those ankles, wiggle those hips, swing those legs
Like all the time. All the time. Wiggling your ankles and hips around and swinging your legs is super helpful and stops them getting stuck. When I’m teaching improv I’m always doing this. Washing up, wiggle ankles. On a train, wiggle ankles. Running form is an expression of what you do the rest of the time, and being sat static all day leads to your hips getting stuck and the rest of the body having to over compensate.
The BIGGEST improvement in injury prevention for me was switching to running shoes with maximum flexibility through the sole. You should be able to bend them easily with your hand.
Running is a fluid movement of lots of things working in harmony. Marketing works when it’s about one thing. So the running industry went for “Running form is all about over pronation, get tested on our machine. Oh look! You over pronate. Our shoes fix over pronation!”
Then what you get slapped with is a heavy pair of running shoes with a super stiff sole that doesn’t bend. If the sole doesn’t bend then the foot can’t bend. If the foot can’t bend there is too much running load trying to get through it with nowhere to go, so the foot angles out more to compensate or the ankles are over worked. With the foot angled out the knee is put out of alignment and knee injuries rapidly develop.
Imagine wearing gloves all day that hold your hand in a set fixed position. Your hands would become stiff and useless.
This doesn’t mean completely barefoot shoes, as they can cause problems when you aren’t used to them too.
Just looking for flexibility in the sole is the main thing. I’m not alone in this I promise!
Meditations on Technique
As you run say to yourself “Easy, Light, Fast”. Work on easy first. Make running feel easy. Start slow and easy. Then as you warm up feel yourself become lighter. Do more steps per minute than usual, but lighter steps. Easy light steps. Imagine your head is full of helium so it floats up to the sky. Imagine your feet only need to touch the Earth to gently push you forward through the clouds. Fast will come later as a result of that.
Don’t worry too much about forefoot, midfoot, heel strike etc yet, everyone is built different and runs differently. Just think light.
Don’t worry about times, distance or pace
The training guides you get online or with Marathon applications are often written by professional athletes who might be disconnected from the reality of starting from scratch.
Start slowly and keep it fun and painless. Enjoy it. A run is a treat not a punishment.
Sometimes your aerobic fitness may improve quicker than your muscles and ligaments, so don’t rush to increase everything too soon. If you do increase distances just do it bit by bit, and every third week go back down again so you have a chance to recover.
If things hurt then stop and walk. If it still hurts head home. There’s no point running with an injury – do some swimming or cycling instead.
When your body is ready to start increasing distance and pace it will tell you.
Park Run is an amazing organisation putting on free 5km runs in parks across the whole country every Saturday morning. When lockdowns are over and they are back give them a go, it’s an almost religious experience!
This was a one-off blog about running. We usually blog about improv!