Thirsty (for knowledge) Thursday: What to Focus on While Running

>> Thursday, July 10, 2014

Runner's World recently posted an article about a study done with midpack and elite runners. They wrote about the best things to think about during racing.

In the late 70s, there was a study about this. The results were pretty clear:

The elites said that they monitored the body while racing. The midpackers said they they tried to distract themselves by thinking about stuff unrelated to the race.

The two approaches were named “associative thinking” (the elite way) and “disassociative thinking” (the midpacker way). Before long, average runners everywhere were encouraged to develop an inward strategy like the elites: Shoulders relaxed–check. Arms moving smoothly–check. Breathing controlled–check. Stride light and quick–check.

But a new study published in the "Journal of Sports and Exercise Psychology" suggests that the 1970s study was too simplistic - there are only CERTAIN things that we should be thinking about. Don’t think about things you can’t easily change, like your breathing and form. The study states "focusing on the automated running movement or the even more highly automated process of breathing is counterproductive. But it’s okay to ponder your general feelings, or to think about the things that usually flutter in and out of your mind." What? You want me to get a touchy-feely?

The Runner's World article wrote about how this recent study was done:

The subjects had their oxygen consumption measured while:

1: thinking about their breathing;
2: thinking about their form;
3: thinking about their feelings; and
4: thinking about whatever typically occurs to them while running.

Under conditions 1 and 2, the runners’ oxygen consumption increased significantly over 3 and 4, which yielded similar results. “Both internal foci of attention directed to automated processes (running movement, or breathing) led to worse running economy than the internal focus on the feeling of the body and the control condition,” the authors report.

I've had really great races where I forget I'm running and just think about whatever. But I've also had really great races where I've constantly thought about form/breathing/etc. So I'm not sure what to make of this study.

Give it a try: focus less on your form, and start getting in touch with your feelings.

Related: 5 years ago, I posted a semi-controversial post about not training or racing with iPods. I still stick by that thought. I noted that "I really need to be 'tuned in' to my body. I need to hear my breathing; I need to hear the speed of my foot strikes; I need to hear the wind going past my ears." It's not always about checking my form, but being "tuned in" really helps me. Check out this post for more of my thoughts along with a race director's opinion.


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