Running takes an incredible amount of dedication. If you want to race your best, you have to want it. Hard.
For the most part, that type-A personality trait most runners possess is an asset; it's what keeps them from skipping workouts, and allows them to push through the inevitable moments when motivation may start to lull. However, the same desire to get the best from yourself can lead you to try too hard. Yes, that’s possible.
Imagine the last time you were in the middle of a workout where you weren't hitting the splits from the beginning. You get frustrated and start berating yourself, thinking that you've just got to try harder. You want to go faster so badly, but the times actually get slower. This only leads to more frustration, and the vicious cycle continues. You're forcing it, and the extra pressure you’re putting on yourself isn't doing you any favors.
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Relax; don't try so hard. Unclench your jaw, drop your shoulders, shake out your arms. Anywhere you're holding extra tension is using up energy that should be spent elsewhere. To run faster, you've got to be efficient. To run efficiently, you need proper form. You want to have all of your momentum carried forward, not wasted going elsewhere. When your shoulders are up to your ears, your arms aren't able to swing freely from front to back. If you're hunching forward, you're wasting energy.
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Finally, your mindset is off. Rather than allow yourself to get sucked into the negative self-talk, shift to thinking about things you CAN control.
4 Ways to Run Relaxed
Think Loose: Know your tension spots, and check to make sure you're not clenching when you should be relaxed. Common tension spots are the jaw, shoulders and hands. If you clench your teeth or ball your hands into fists, open your mouth, take a deep breath, and release your shoulders, or shake out your arms. These practices act like little resets.
Think Form: Stop the obsessive thoughts about your split times, and start concentrating on your form. Do a check that your arms are swinging from front to back and not across your chest. Make sure you're standing tall, and that you’re not over-striding or shuffling. Keep tabs on the "tangibles" that you can control. You'll distract your mind from the watch, and ensure that you’re running efficiently.
More: 6 Tips to Improve Your Form
Think Strides and Breath: Counting your stride rate is another form of mental distraction that also keeps tabs on running efficiency. You want to aim for about 90 strides per minute—a stride is one complete running revolution on a single leg. When it comes to breath, you want to breathe deeply from your belly and not your chest. Breathe in a consistent rhythm rather than sporadically.
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Think Less: Workouts will not always go your way. Everyone has off days. But, stewing over your slow times is a sure way to make the workout worse. If the times aren't there that day, sometimes it's best to chuck the watch completely and run off of effort.
More: 5 Ways to Run Past Your Mental Blocks
Trying to force it doesn't work. Ironically, as you try less—or rather, strain less—you'll be able to run faster.
More: How to Run Fast With Less Work
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