“Go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.” So said Jesse Owens, four-time Olympic gold-medallist.
For many fitness enthusiasts, running is part of their daily routine. They like to run and run and run — setting new targets every day. Some improve their performance, others struggle to do so. Some listen to motivational music, others try out energy drinks and bars. But now, a new study suggests that the key to make running easier is to be distracted. Yes, you heard that right!
Focus out, not in
Recently, researchers from the University of Tennessee looked at how 12 women, who were beginner runners performed when they were distracted, compared to when they were in tune with their bodies. The findings suggested that the more closely runners listen to their bodies, the more draining their running can become, both physically and psychologically. Focusing on external sights and sounds rather than on what’s going on in the body made running feel easier and improved performance.
The new mantra for boosting your running performance and conquering new distances is to pay attention to anything other than your body, according to the study. So, does this apply to professional runners as well as to those running to keep fit? Experts share their views on the subject which has become a hot topic of discussion worldwide.
The big picture
Says Dr Priyanka Sarkar, sports psychology consultant: “Running is a physical activity that requires a lot of energy.” It isn’t easy, thanks to burning legs, lungs that starve for air and the hard work that is involved. As much as it is important to listen to your body, it is also important to acknowledge the power of distraction.”
She says it all depends on the bigger picture.
“It is different for a novice runner and for a professional one, because their goals are different. For example, music is considered a potential motivator. This can help a novice runner who is just picking up running, to continue running, enjoy it and come back to the track every day. But for a professional runner or athlete, it is important to stay focused and listen to their body. They need to be aware of what they are thinking when they are running, because it helps them understand their levels of performance.”
Dr. Priyanka says that after a certain point, the body is tired and sends signals to the brain that it is tired. “It takes a lot of mental toughness to keep running in spite of the negative thoughts, fatigue and boredom. Instead of ignoring the feeling of fatigue, it is ideal to welcome the feeling.” According to her, planning how to tackle this feeling of boredom or fatigue can help a runner get maximum benefits from running.
Dr Priyanka Sarkar, Sports psychology consultant
“If you are tired or bored of running, slowing down instead of stopping is helpful. That will help you understand if you are really tired or just need to catch a small break," she says. "In simple terms, if someone is running to keep themselves fit, to stop themselves from being bored or quitting, they could turn on the music. But an athlete or a person who is running for his career will not need music or distractions. He/she needs to be focused on reaching the finish line. So it depends on the bigger picture or end goal," explains Dr Priyanka.
Watch your step
Gogulla Samuel Sudhakar, a former banker, strategist, branding expert and endurance runner has more to say on this. In his view, this is more relevant if running on a treadmill or in a city. And even more applicable when you are running solo.
“Just to break the monotony, one may resort to listening to music, or audio books or podcasts. These are good distractors and many runners use these means to kill boredom or even the pain of covering the distance,” he says.
Gogulla Samuel Sudhakar
However, when you are running amidst nature — on mountains or along trails, concentration and focus on the route is important, feels Sudhakar. “A slight mis-step can result in injury. I have even known cases of runners losing their way and getting lost,” he says.
“And when you are running amidst nature, what better way to enjoy the run and escape from the fatigue than looking at the sights around you. They change with every step and that’s what keeps one going. And when you are alone, the sights around you, plus the rhythmic sounds of your heartbeat and footsteps are a different high,” he adds. “But to each his own,” he says. “Each runner has his or her own incredible distractor and this kicks in only when the monotony or boredom sets in."
Mind off the matter
Ask marathoner Ramana Suryadevara, a techie, what his views on this issue are, and he says how people find it tougher to run the same distance on a treadmill than run outdoors where they can take in the sights and sounds around. “As an old saying goes ‘a watched pot never boils.’
Personally, on a typical training run, I chat all the way along. But that might not be the case on a race day where I tend to focus on my breathing technique,” he reveals. So while running might be a form of meditation for some, there’s a lot to be said for taking your mind off what your body is doing.
“Listening to one’s own body while running is very important to avoid injuries. Concentrating on externals may alleviate the pain of exercise, but one has to keenly observe how bones and joints are reacting to the run. Take appropriate measures to reduce injury.” — Chandrasekhar Ramini, Orthopaedic surgeon, Recover sports and orthopaedic clinic, Vijaya health care and marathoner
To make the running more enjoyable
1. Listen to music or podcasts. Can use an arm pod to carry music player
2. Run with a friend: Find folks with similar goals and abilities, and see how building a running community can make running more fun
3. Take in the scenery: Find a different way or go on new roads that are more visually stimulating