Sunday, June 24, 2012

How to “Rest” When You Can’t Stop: Relaxing While Running

{Yesterday’s Solstice Run 10K was really fun, and I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it soon.  In the meantime, let’s talk about a challenge that plagues distance runners: how to relax your body while running miles and miles.}

I have a disclaimer to announce first.  I am vaguely uncomfortable giving anyone running advice because I have no credentials to do so beyond my own experience as a runner.  I’m not a coach, trainer, sports physician, or anything of the sort.  If you have questions about fruit fly genetics, then I can offer you advice.  But running?  Eh—not so much.

Nevertheless, I do have multiple races and seasons of training under my belt shoes.  I’ve had long stretches of solid, healthy running and I’ve nursed myself through a few injuries.  I’m no Olympian, but I’ve been able to set running goals and achieve them with lots of hard work and perseverance.  I feel like I know a little bit about running and what works for me.  So it’s from that humble position that I offer a few bits of wisdom about learning how to relax while running.

One of the hardest things about long runs for me is that my upper body gets tired and tense.  My arms, shoulders, and neck feel the strain of maintaining a running posture for long periods of time.  On top of that, I tend to store stress in my neck and back.  For whatever reason, my legs often handle long runs more comfortably than my upper body.  Perhaps they are stronger?  At any rate, I find that learning to “relax” during a long run is largely a function of relaxing my upper body.  Here are a few tricks I’ve learned for relaxing while on the run:

* Shake out your shoulders and arms.  Literally, drop your arms from their standard running position and just shake them out, let them hang loose for a few strides.  Drop your shoulders away from your ears, too. 

* Take a few longer-than-normal strides and swing your arms long, with unbent elbows.  This can help loosen the shoulders, too.  Changing your stride for a few steps seems to relieve some tension in the body.

* Stretch your neck by tilting your head from left to right.

* You can use your breath to encourage the body to relax.  I try to breathe more deeply and slowly, which calms my body and mind.  Of course, I have to be running slowly enough that I’m not gasping for breath, but my long runs are not done at a pace that leaves me panting.

* Finally, some hippy-dippy advice.  I literally tell my body to relax.  I think positive, soothing thoughts about being strong and capable.  So much of running is the mental game that I think it’s really, really important to stay positive during your training runs.  In my mind, running is associated with competence and happiness, and that’s a huge confidence boost.  So practice your mental running game the way you want to perform: with an I-can-do-this attitude.

Happy summer and happy running to you!


  1. You know, my upper body has been really sore after my last two half marathons - much more so than my legs. I think it was due both to a lack of upper body strength (I didn't do much yoga or cross training this spring) and to a lack of core strength. Since I got back from Madrid, I'm making more of an effort to do some push ups, crunches, and strength-building exercises a couple of times a week. Of course, telling my body to relax during my long runs would probably help too!

    1. Yes, I hear you! I want to get into a habit of doing some core work whenever I can squeeze it into the day. Sometimes I do it after runs; other times I do it while watching tv. I figure something is better than nothing, right? I'm also trying to get back on the yoga bandwagon, and I'm proud to report I did a 20-minute session last night. Baby steps! :-)