If you’ve been a runner for any amount of time, you’ve likely experienced a run or two that was less than stellar. Similarly, you’ve probably had a few runs that were transcendent, amazing experiences. It’s not always easy to hone in on why one run set your world on fire and another one burnt you to a crisp.
To be clear, you can’t completely eliminate the possibility of having a dumpster fire of a run. But, there are things you can do to increase your odds of having an amazing run and decrease the chances of having a decidedly crappy run. Below are a few techniques to consider. Give them a shot and you might just have your best run ever.
Visualize your run
My best runs have often been associated with spending some quality time visualizing. I find a dark, quiet room. I close the door. I close my eyes. I see my run unfold.
I’m running strong. Replete with confidence, I cruise through the miles hitting my target pace. I visualize my best run ever.
But, I don’t just visualize the parts of the run (or race) that go swimmingly. I spent some time visualizing the tough parts that I’ll have to battle through. When I do some quality visualization prior to my run, I almost inevitably have a positive experience when the run materializes.
There’s plenty of research indicating visualization of an activity (such as running) activates the part of your brain responsible for that activity. Mentally rehearsing your run helps prime your body for the actual act of running.
Visualizing a successful run improves focus, facilitates relaxation, and boosts confidence. If you start your run in a focused, relaxed, and confident state, you’ve got a pretty good shot at having a great run.
Timing is of the essence
I’m not a morning person. It takes me a couple cups of coffee to feel even vaguely human. Getting out and logging a few miles in the AM is a daunting task for me.
So, I rarely roll out of bed expecting the runner’s high. It almost never happens. Most of my early morning miles are drudgery.
In stark contrast, I’ve found myself flying through countless miles late in the afternoon neck deep in the runner’s high. I’m more alive later in the day. The afternoon just works better for me.
But, I know plenty of people who are at their best at the crack of dawn. They roll out of bed, throw back a cup of coffee, warm up, and hit the road. Early morning running is their jam.
Everyone has their own unique circadian rhythms that are pretty reliable in dictating when they feel most energized each day. Whether you feel your best in the morning or late in the evening, schedule your runs accordingly.
Running during your prime time can improve the chances of having your best run ever.
It’s easy to forgo a quality warm-up. Your schedule’s crazy. You’re short on time.
So, you throw on your shoes and lace up. You head out and the first few miles are clunky. Maybe the entirety of the run feels clunky.
My clunkiest runs have typically not included any kind of warm-up. Not only does forgoing a warm-up potentially increase the chances of aggravation and injury, it makes it tough to have a great run. This only makes sense.
If you don’t warm up, your body and mind likely aren’t primed for the act of running. Just as visualizing can help prime the neural pathways for quality running, warming up also sends the message to your body that it’s go time.
Warming up primes your central nervous system, soft tissues, and internal organs for the act of running. It also increases your heart rate and blood flow. Lastly, warming up improves delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the physiological systems utilized during the act of running.
I’m not claiming a quality warm-up guarantees a great run. But, if your body is primed for the act of running, there’s no question you’ve got a better shot at having a positive experience during your run, and you might just find yourself awash in endocannabinoids and endorphins (aka the runner’s high).
Find Your Flow
Years ago, I stumbled onto a book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In this book, Mihaly describes the blissful flow state. This flow state immediately made me think of the best runs I’ve ever had.
The flow state can be thought of in a few different ways. Ultimately, it’s a state where you are optimally engaged. You’re challenged, but you’re not overwhelmed. Flow is hitting the sweet spot.
Flow is a hyper-focused state in which everything else falls away.
This is what my best runs always feel like. I’m no longer running. I simply AM the act of running.
If you can find your flow state when you’re running, it’s almost certain you’ll have a great run. As it turns out, there’s a certain kind of running that will help you get into this flow state. Not surprisingly, the kind of running that gets you there is challenging, but not overwhelming.
If your run is too easy and provides no real challenge, the high will likely elude you. If your run is too challenging, the high will likely pass you by. The sweet spot you generally want to aim for is your tempo pace.
Duration is also a factor as well. A run that is too short likely won’t trigger the runner’s high. A run that is too long likely won’t do it either. Research indicates the endorphin floodgates tend to open after about two hours of running. So, if you’re new to running, you might need to get a few more miles under your belt before you find your flow state.
Clunky, unpleasant runs are impossible to avoid. They’re going to happen no matter what. But, trying a few of the techniques I’ve mentioned above can help you avoid them. These techniques can also potentially catalyze your best run ever!
Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at www.marathonmatt.com!