A Very Useful Running Tip: Knowing When to Stop

During a training session do you continue to run when uncomfortable or tired, or do you stop and walk to recover? Many runners, myself once included, consider stopping or slowing down to be a failure and admitting defeat. Unfortunately, this attitude places the emphasis on quantity rather than quality. Running when you’re tired, injured or feeling unwell reduces the quality of your movement as breathing, circulation and muscle function are impaired.

On the other hand, you must also be wary of setting up the habit of stopping just because you feel tired. There is a difference between ‘pushing yourself to the limit’ and taking yourself into the unknown. Pushing harder invariably means putting more of the same (extra unnecessary effort) into the run, resulting in poor form. Going into the unknown is about learning from a new experience. If you feel tired, keep running and observe whether there is too much tension in your body. If necessary stop, try to regain your focus, then start again. Do not be concerned about the time. It is more productive to use a training run to identify problems with your technique and address them, than it is just to get a good time and suffer as a result.

Realistically you cannot stop in a competitive event, but you can approach your training sessions differently. There is nothing to gain from applying a wholly competitive attitude to training. In this state, your ability to observe and learn from experience is limited. Muscles reflect our state of mind – if you maintain a competitive approach, the same habitual muscle tension will be present during every run. To improve performance without changing your underlying habitual patterns of how you run will require more effort; it’s more of the same with extra tension. More of the wrong kind of effort increases muscular activity that will resist movement – preventing you from slipping into a flowing rhythm, into the moment and into The Zone. This brings about a more competitive attitude out of frustration if your performance is not improving. Back to square one.

In the absence of a competitive attitude, you can try things that are not feasible during a race. To stop and walk gives you time to observe what otherwise may go unnoticed if you continued to run. If you are a non-competitive runner, time is not as important as the quality of your run. Maybe you use running to supplement your training for another sport. Competing against the clock in this case could be detrimental if good form is lost chasing a meaningless personal best. You could literally be running yourself into the ground if you continue to apply more effort whilst using the same inefficient style.

Remember, putting on your running kit doesn’t mean leaving your brain at home!

Roy Palmer is a teacher of The Alexander Technique and has studied performance enhancement in sport for the last 10 years. In 2001 he published a book called ‘The Performance Paradox: Challenging the conventional methods of sports training and exercise’ and is currently working on a new project about The Zone. More information about his unique approach to training can be found by clicking Running technique