Tips for the Trail – Running with Intention – Xterra – 5-27-2011

By Rachel Cieslewicz

5/27/2011

When you train, what do you think about? Is your mind on what you are going to do when you get home? Or what happened yesterday? Or maybe you simply put on a set of headphones and zone out. As we all know, running can be one of the greatest forms of mental therapy. But what if you want to learn how to run faster, stronger, and happier than ever simply by applying your mind?

Rachel CieslewiczIf you use running as a way to focus and decide what you want to have happen on that run, it can be a very powerful training tool.  What we practice is a good indicator of how we perform when race day comes.  For me, it starts by integrating the mental aspect into the emotional and physical.

When preparing for your next run, I challenge you to do it on your own — just to experiment how magical it can be.  Do a proper warm-up.  Run very slowly to start. Listen to your breath. How does is sound? Since it is a warm-up go slow enough to breathe deeply and fully, to also get your lungs ready.  Notice your body.  Does anything hurt?  If so, take note.  How is your gait? Is it smooth, quick and light?  If not, try shortening your gait a bit and quicken your cadence so you hear a soft tap, tap, tap. This is much better than a high-impact clop.  Are your core muscles engaged? Where are your shoulders?  They should be down and back rather than hunched up by your ears!  Noticing these things can lead to better overall form all of the time, which will easily lead to faster runs that flow.

After you run for five minutes, stop and do a little self-massage or dynamic stretching on any of your body parts that are achy. Breathe deeply while doing so, as this will help you focus and continue to deliver rich oxygen to your blood.  Then run another five to ten minutes, but pick up the pace a bit.  Now, think goals.  What do you want to accomplish for your run today?

I like to decide three things. The first is how do I want to feel physically when I finish my run?  Do you have a certain pace in mind? Is it agility or form you are working on? Second, what kind of emotions can you imagine carrying you through your run?  I often dedicate my runs or races to a person who can’t be there that day.  I find that if the going gets tough, having something outside of myself to run for really helps my motivation. Embrace this or whatever it is you want to feel.  Third is your mental focus. This will allow you to keep coming back to your initial goals.  Decide now how your run is going to end. Can you imagine finishing your run and completing your goals for the day?  What does this look and feel like?  If you lose focus, can you bring it back?  If it starts to rain or you get chased by a llama or almost step on a snake can you come back to your rhythm?

All of these are simple, but important. The more you set goals and practice running with purpose and intention, the easier it will be on race day to know how you are going to perform.  When finished with the second run part of your warm-up, take time to get a drink and do any other stretches or drills. I like to do a few wind sprints at this point to get the muscles firing and to open up my legs.

From here, go on your run. Take notice while running how your body feels. Can you breathe a bit deeper than normal?  Is your form still good as it was while warming up? How about cadence and your mind? Every now and then remember your pre-run goals. Are you on track? If so be excited!  If not, what can you do to get back to the path of achieving your goals?  And when you finish your run, celebrate yourself for being out there.  Notice all of the amazing things about your run.  This will set you up for a great remainder of the day and leave you looking forward to the next time.

And no, you don’t always have to run on your own, but it can be a great way to tune in to where you are and practice goal-setting and feeling prepared.  This way on race day you can show up excited and confident in your abilities, knowing you are going to have the best race ever.

Rachel Cieslewicz is an elite runner and triathlete based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She won the women’s division of the XTERRA Lake Las Vegas and Santa Cruz half-marathons this year, and placed fifth at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship last December at Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii. She is a talented sports massage therapist, Pilates and yoga instructor and is a certified running form coach. She can be reached atrcanyon1@gmail.com  or visit her website atwww.newageathlete.comor follow her onwww.twitter.com/newageathlete.