In addendum to the previous post on What Is Relaxation? I recall another experience I had in running where a specific “Relax!” instruction worked.
You certainly know about the global athletics company Nike. It started in Eugene Oregon, my home state, and it’s corporate headquarters is nearby in Beaverton, Oregon. That’s where all the Nike mega-star athletes go when they are working on their projects with the company.
On Nike’s corporate campus they have a track named after one of the pioneers in the company, Geoff Hollister, who passed away in 2012.
His son, Tracy, was the state cross-country running champion in our senior year and was one of my best friends in high school. We shared locker together our junior year and we would go skiing all winter (sometimes skipping school when the snowfall was irresistible!). He was the one who got me to start running and join the track team after my shoulder were trashed from swimming.
It was at particular track meet our senior year and I was running the 3000m race. Being a new runner, I was certainly not one of the podium contenders but nonetheless, I recall the memory so distinctly, when I was coming around the curve of the track, there was Tracey’s dad, Geoff was there cheering our team. He yelled to me warmly but emphatically, “Mat, relax your shoulders!”
That command snapped me into instant body-awareness – perhaps the first time in my young athletic life that I recalled doing that – and I realized the excessive tension I was carrying in my upper body and arms and hands. I suppose my novice brain thought that going hard was suppose to feel all tense like that all over the body (certainly that is what my swim training was like – which no wonder destroyed my shoulders). But that one specific instruction initiated the understanding that greater relaxation must accompany greater exertion.
As I come to think of it now, that may have been the first time I received any sort of advice on technique my entire high school athletic career. At least, it is pretty sad to say that’s the only piece I can remember. If I received more than that, it obviously wasn’t much, or very memorable.
Its interesting how powerful that first experience of specific advice was. Even today, 26 years after the moment, in the beginning minutes of every run I am prompted by some deep conscience to scan my upper body and relax the shoulders, arms and hands. I regard such relaxation as one of the primary foundations of my performance. And, as I gradually move into longer distances in running, which have me running for hours rather than minutes, it will be more important than ever to conserve energy and remove unnecessary strain from my body and mind. Relaxation will certainly expand the distances I can do comfortably and without injury.
A couple screen shots from my Chi Running video analysis…
Here’s the approach: Minimize movement down to the essential. Turn off all activity that can be turned off. Recruit available natural forces to assist with free force. And then, for those muscles which must remain working, have them do it with only the absolutely necessary amount of effort. Adjust technique to increase the advantage of each of these principles.