Smooth is Fast
A training tip from Brakken Kraker
Speed is a tricky thing. Like anything else in life, it comes at a cost. In this case, the cost is energy. However, we can’t just spend more and more energy in order to receive more and more Speed; that is how you blow up in a race or a workout! Our goal is always to buy as much Speed for the lowest possible cost of energy.
We have two main ways of “spending” less on Speed. The first is to improve your fitness, obviously. The second way of buying Speed on the cheap is what we’ll focus on today: Relaxation.
Almost all great runners share three characteristics: good genetics, years of good training, and the ability to run fast while super relaxed. You and I can’t pick our parents. That boat has sailed. We can’t control the work we’ve done in the past. What we can do is control the work we do moving forward and focus on learning to relax while running fast. The key word there is FAST – not HARD. Hard is an effort. Fast is a speed. We want Fast with as little Hard as humanly possible. That isn’t to say that running fast is easy, just that we don’t want to be working hard. We want to be working fast. The next time you are at a race, take a look at the elite field. The guys and girls who are winning are generally the ones whose effort looks the easiest. Sure, it is easy to look good when you are winning, but the fact is that they are ALL hurting. They just don’t show it. They have learned to control that aspect of their running.
A little back story:
I was first told to start relaxing when I raced during my sophomore year of high school. I had been getting splitting headaches after finishing races, and I couldn’t figure out why. One day, my dad came up to me after the race and said it looked like I was holding my breath during my final sprint to the finish line. I laughed him off until he came back with a video camera and recorded my second race of that day. Sure enough, as I rounded the last turn my mouth was clamped shut and my eyes were bulging out of my head. I immediately focused on breathing during my next race, and that was the end of the headaches.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college, and I was struggling to adapt to the speed of the collegiate scene. I was focused on the 800m, but the first lap was simply too fast for me. I couldn’t keep up with the leaders without completely blowing up during the second lap. My coach told me that I looked like I was out there fighting while everyone else was running. Once again, video proof showed me that he was correct. I was thrashing my arms around, pumping like crazy, with a determined look etched into my face. Everyone else looked damned near asleep! From that moment on, I made it my goal to run every single interval during practice with the least amount of effort while still keeping the goal pace. It took me two years to perfect it. With three races left in my collegiate career, it clicked. I cruised through the first 400m in 54 seconds, a full second faster than I could run 400m flat out in high school! My face was slack, my eyes droopy, and my hands relaxed. The second lap began, and for the first time ever, I was able to accelerate! I flew down the homestretch and crossed the line with my lifetime PR. Three days later, I ran a half second faster. That’s an eternity in an 800m race. Two days after that, I ran three tenths faster. And that was it, my time in college was done! However, I now had the skill down. I could use it as I transitioned to OCR.
Take a second, and do a little self test: clench your hands and face as tightly as you can while relaxing every other part of your body. It is almost impossible. Now, keep your hands and face totally relaxed while flexing every muscle in your body. Again, practically impossible. Finally, flex your entire body while keeping your mind totally relaxed and “blank”. It is really difficult. And that is the secret! If your hands, face, and mind are relaxed your body follows suit. If you can master that simple skill, you will over time find yourself able to run the same paces with much less effort, or run faster paces with the same effort.
From now on, make it your mantra during every run to run ‘smooth and relaxed’. Smooth is fast. Hard is costly. Sip from your energy stores, don’t blow through them! It will take time, but EVERYONE is capable of developing this skill!
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