A few weeks back, I completed the annual City 2 Surf 14k race held in Sydney. It was my first road race in about eight years and while I have maintained my running habit regularly over that time, a slew of injuries kept me from running my goal distance/frequency – 4 to 15k per run, four to five times per week. After running the City 2 Surf, however, I felt inspired to refocus on my running. It occurred to me that while I have been a lifelong runner, my running practice has always been of the weakest type – running on my own, without proper training or feedback. Chances are, the reason I have chronic knee pain and injury is because I am running with incorrect technique. If my productivity philosophy has led to working better, smarter, and faster then perhaps implementing that same philosophy would in turn lead to running better, smarter, and faster as well. Instead of merely going out and running (and invariably getting injured), I will shift my focus to how I run.
This article will illustrate how I apply Anders Errickson’s theory of deliberate practice to my running life. The principles of deliberate practice are: having a coach or mentor for constant feedback, identifying weaknesses and using corrective drills to eliminate those weaknesses, and practice, practice, practice.
Step 1. Hire a Running Coach
I realised that my knees and shins continue to hurt while running because I am simply doing something wrong. The problem is I have no idea what that ‘something wrong’ actually is. While I know a bit about running form I cannot easily assess it. I need another set of eyes to do that.
Erickson notes that one trait of elite competitors in any field is that they have a coach, trainer, or mentor constantly giving feedback and assessing weaknesses. Therefore I decided to hire a personal running coach. I need a trained professional to point out where my running form is off and then give me drills and exercises to correct those mistakes. I have had two sessions with my running coach Veronika Larisova (click here for Veronika’s contact details) and already I see how my running form will improve. Veronika pointed out a few issues I have and gave me suggestions to improve those issues. For example, my cadence – steps per minute – is rather slow. Slower cadence means heavier stepping and more impact on joints. To correct for slow cadence, I will begin using a metronome while running to increase my cadence and lighten my stride.
Step 2. Identify Weakness, Implement Training Drills to Correct
As with any form of deliberate practice, the critical step is to identify weakness in the skill and then work on training drills to correct that weakness. That is what elite performers do. Over the next several months, I will work with my coach to identify weaknesses in my running technique and form. Two areas of weakness that I can work on are loosening tight muscles and strengthening my glutes. I will be spending the next month focusing deeply on improving both.
As I am still early in my deliberate running practice, I haven’t been assigned any correction drills. But I imagine that the drills will involve short, repeating kinestic movements that force a change in my running form. The key compenent of the drills is that they are repeated over and over. Once I have identified and corrected a running weakness, I then identify the next area of weakness and work on that. Rinse and repeat.
Step 3. Practice, Practice, Practice (for a very long time)
I’ve been running for a long time. But it is highly likely I have been running incorrectly for a long time. If I truly want to improve my running ability, then I will have to practice, practice, practice running correctly for a long time.
I have no delisous of granduer of become a world class running athlete. But, like most endervours of my life, I see my deliberate practice approach to running as an experiment. The question I seek to anwser –
Where will my running ability be after applying the principles of
deliberate practice for the next ten years?
Now, ten years may seem like a long time. But chances are (I hope!) that the next ten years of my life will go by regardless of how I spend them. So over that time frame, with regards to my running life, I will continue to work with a coach, identify weaknesses, and implement drills to correct those weaknesses. My hope is that focused effort and training over ten years will make me a better runner at 48 then I was at 28. Of course, the alteritave to deliberate running practice is to continue running on my own, not getting feedback, and be sidelined for a majority of those ten years.
Step 4 – Enjoy the Learning Process
I have only had two sessions with my running coach. But already it has transformed my view of running. Having new techniques and principles to think about and work on while running has brought a fresh energy to my lifelong passion (I started running track and field when I was nine years old). Further, it incorporates one of my fundmental principles of a productive lifestyle and skill development – a focus on how I work. Running, like many other activities, behaviours, or endeveours, is a skill. And if it is a skill, then it means I can improve it through modification and training.
For years, I thought my best running days – in my twenties – were behind me. Oh how incorrect I was. – my best running days are yet to come.