Between weather and my life in general (tax season is a stressful time of year), I haven’t run outside much this year. Having worked out hard the previous couple of days, I set out recently on a fine spring morning for a run focusing not on time, but on my form. I’ve realized that I tend to “run tense” – shoulders clenched and bunched high, fists tight, choppy steps. It feels like I’m working harder and going faster.

Head high, back straight, run tall

It feels that way because I am working harder – but not in a good way. By clenching up I take away my natural body flow and breathing pattern. The choppy steps minimize the natural advantage of my long legs. As I got more into running my speed improved, but eventually I hit a wall. It took a new coach’s perspective to make me see I was limiting myself by trying too hard. I needed to relax.

Arms hanging by my side from shoulder to elbow

I haven’t forgotten that I’m the guy who told you “if you don’t ever run fast, you won’t ever run fast.” That may sound directly opposed to this, but bear with me. If you have to give a speech, everyone will tell you take a deep breath, imagine the audience naked, focus on breathing, etc. If you have a huge project to finish at work, do you clench your fists and make yourself tense? Or do you try to relax and focus your mind to get the best outcome?

Elbows bent 90 degrees

Try Easier

Running fast does NOT mean running “hard” – in fact, that may slow you down.

In an interesting experiment with Olympic runners, they were asked to run the first race at 100 percent intensity level (or in other words, they were asked to try as hard as they can).
In the second race, the runners were asked to give 90 percent (or in other words, they were asked to try easier).
Amazingly, they ran faster at the 90 percent intensity level.

– Dr. Gregg Steinberg, via

Hands relaxed, not clenched, and never crossing in front of me

Back to my run: I locked in on form. Went just under 5 miles for a tempo run, didn’t push hard, wasn’t exhausted at the end even after I kicked to my finish line. Oh, yeah, and I was 10 seconds/mile faster than the last time I did the same course. (That time I was wiped at the finish.)

Long stride, mid-foot strike, steady breathing.

Now, there are clearly other factors potentially in play, but I got to the end, feeling great, and was stunned by my pace. It didn’t feel fast because I wasn’t exerting myself as much. I let my mind wander, but kept checking back in and refocusing on shoulders low, hands loose, head high.

Not Just For Running Anymore

This carries over to other parts of life, also. Your “form” affects your results and your outlook. Throughout the day, take a minute and look at yourself. After years of bad eyesight, I tend towards an expression that can look pinched, even angry – even when I’m perfectly happy and content. Not very approachable, especially when I was not only tall but big!

Just now, while writing this, I realized yet again my posture was jacked. Shoulders up, neck tight, slouched down in my chair. I catch myself doing that multiple times a day, and am working to break the habit. It’s bad for my back, my neck, and my mental outlook. I try to take a quick review during the day, relax my “frown” and sit up straight and tall.

When you are traveling on this journey, take a minute to think about HOW you are doing what you do, not just WHAT you are doing. Are you being efficient and giving your best effort? Put a reminder in your calendar, hang a note on your monitor, do whatever it takes. When your watch buzzes at you to move, have your first “step” be a quick evaluation of your form. Try it for a month and tell me if it helps!

Photo by Jeremy Lapak on Unsplash