Keep on running

Dark nights and cold weather can challenge even the keenest runner’s commitment. Applying the principles of Alexander Technique can help you stay motivated through the winter.

The long days of summer are great for running. Your muscles warm up quickly, your body feels more limber and a hard session somehow seems less of a slog when the sun is shining.

The arrival of autumn, however, can cause even the best intentions to waver. After a hard day at work or college, suddenly it becomes easier to skip a session and slump onto the sofa. The benefits and pleasures of regular running can start to fade and a carefully planned training routine begins to unravel.

Intelligent running means listening to your body and adapting your schedule to fit your circumstances. It’s inevitable that chilly days and dank evenings will make you feel less inclined to lace up your trainers, so rethink your runs to emphasise quality rather than quantity.

Here are five top tips, based on the principles of the Alexander Technique, to maintain your interest and enthusiasm through the autumn and winter months:

1. Take a break from routine

Following a routine is not in itself a bad idea. The problem is how to prevent the familiar from becoming mechanical, where predictability dulls the brain and you are no longer so aware of what you’re doing.

Instead of blindly trudging round your usual route at your usual pace ‘because it’s Thursday evening and I always run on Thursday evening’, consider how you might react to not running on Thursday evening one week and setting out on Saturday lunchtime instead.

You will almost certainly find the experience invigorating and inspiring. Rather than switching off due to over-familiarity, the change of environment will help you switch on. Not only will you be more aware of your surroundings as you view them afresh, you’ll pay greater attention to the signals coming from your muscles and joints as you run.

2. Run with control

Take time to practise running very slowly. Aim for 12 minutes per mile, at around 180 strides per minute. You will now notice whether your footfall is light or heavy, whether your head feels poised on your neck and spine, and whether you can sense unnecessary tension in your arms, shoulders and back.

Training at other speeds will also help you decide which pace enables you to run most efficiently and, if you are planning to enter a race, tame any tendency to set off too slowly or too fast.

3. Forget about targets

While it’s useful to have objective ways of measuring progress, remember that the outcome of any activity is just an indicator of how you’re getting on. Relying on it as the only indicator can lead to a false sense of accomplishment or, more problematically, a feeling of failure if you don’t hit your targets. Albert Einstein wasn’t known as a runner but one of his quotes captures this dilemma exactly: ‘Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts’.

It’s too easy to move from being a ‘fun’ runner where you enjoy the activity for its own sake to someone for whom times and distances are your raison d’etre.

4. Focus on the process

Real progress comes from concentrating on the process of running – what Alexander called the ‘means whereby’ – rather than the end result. And when it’s raining or you just feel tired, running with only a specific end result in mind – and failing to achieve it – can become another stick with which to beat yourself.

A more positive way forward is to think about the quality of your running experience. Don’t just try to ‘get it done’ and simply put one foot in front of the other in a mechanical and mindless fashion, in order to tick it off the list of tasks to be completed. Every run should be different, and its physical demands should never overwhelm your kinaesthetic ear and determination to ‘stay present’ in your run.

This will help you:

  • First, to become aware of any tension in your body while running;
  • Second, to allow yourself a moment’s pause to make a conscious decision to release the tension – what Alexander called ‘inhibition’;
  • Third, to give yourself direction to expand your ‘primary control’ – the dynamic organisation of your head, neck and spine.

The result will be a run that feels light, graceful and free of stress.

5. Consider running as an art

It’s very easy to approach a run half-heartedly. Reluctant, for whatever reason, to push yourself physically and emotionally, it’s sometimes appealing just to go through the motions.

Once you start doing this, though, staying within the confines of your previous experience risks becoming your default mode – at which point boredom and demotivation can quickly set in.

Instead, consider running as an art with skills to be practised. It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday – it’s always the next step that counts. By making a conscious decision to treat each run as a new opportunity for learning and self-discovery, you’ll enhance both the experience and yourself.

At about the age of 45, I began to experience severe pain in both of my knees. I was told I had damaged the cartilage, initially caused by the use of a kicking strap on a sailing dinghy, and made worse by many years of beagling, and to stop beagling or risk ending up in a wheelchair. A few years later a friend suggested the Alexander Technique. At first I was very sceptical, but had also reached the stage where I was ready to try virtually any means to solve the problem. A few weeks after my first lesson, I had gone out beagling, but only walking.

Chris Walsh

See the benefits of Alexander Technique