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Synthesizing Science

“Relying on science alone overlooks the mysterious mental and emotional aspects of human performance. Even worse is the inexorable drift toward chemically aided performance – a disillusioning and dispiriting trend that is threatening the credibility of top-level competition and harming the image of almost every professional sport.”  Julian Goater

If coaching can be defined as a blend of art and science, I put more emphasis on the art than most. I believe we’re already oversaturated with data and advice on the science of peak performance and the jargon that goes with it. I prefer to tap into my understanding of human nature and my infectious enthusiasm! In my experience, a few choice words from a trusted coach can inspire an athlete to exceed everyone’s expectations on race day, far more than even the most sophisticated data dump.

Of course, your training should be based on sound scientific principles! While meticulous planning, scientific testing, and monitoring all have their place, they can’t give us a complete picture of our true, innate running ability. By over-focusing on tangible physiological benchmarks, we often overlook the intangibles. These are the psychological, spiritual, and even mystical factors that allow us to tap into our energies and unlock our hidden potential.

One condition for being a gentleman would be keeping quiet about what you do to stay healthy. A gentleman shouldn’t go on and on about what he does to stay fit. I’m no gentleman so maybe I shouldn’t worry about it.”- Haruki Murakami

Follow your Heart

True understanding of a person’s nature arises from the heart. Science has a firm bias against the hearts feelings, for, as scientists point out, the emotions are in one way or another, biased. The deep calm feeling of the heart however is the only tool we have that we can rely on.” – Swami Kriyananda

Before heart rate monitors, people learned to “run by feel” in order to sense how relaxed or how hard they were running so they could estimate the intensity of their training load. With a heart rate monitor, for the first time in history, people could use physiological data in order to coach themselves more accurately. Why not bring the two streams together?

The physiological effects of positive emotions such as caring, compassion, or appreciation for someone or something can go a long way in helping people reduce their risky training behaviors. These heart-brain interactions actually cohere and soften the heart, which processes the good feelings and circulates positive information throughout the entire body. All this adds up to a heightened sensitivity to what works for us the basic self-awareness so important to optimal health, performance and enjoyment. 

Keep Still – Run Faster!

Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Finding them in each other – activity in rest and rest in activity – is the ultimate freedom.’ – Ravi Shankar

For thousands of years, people have used mindfulness practices to deal effectively with a wide range of life challenges. We are now witnessing an explosion of scientific research demonstrating that mindfulness meditation changes both the function and structure of the brain. My translation: If you want to believe in yourself and build mental muscle, you might want to consider meditation practice!

Sitting in stillness is a simple, straightforward way to practice mindfulness meditation. To gain strength in your sitting posture is to open a gateway to hearing and feeling the flow of information from the inner world. Sitting quietly for 20-30 minutes every day helps reinforce the sense of calm and peace I experience through running; it affects the quality of energy I bring to my running, and it has a profound effect on how good I feel inside. 

Since the attempt to sit this still is not entirely natural, it must be directed consciously. To gain strength in your posture you must learn to stay relaxed and ride out the physical stresses and strains you may feel by imposing the right measure of willpower on your body. In this way sitting teaches you about inner poise, grace under pressure, and detachment from results, all of which are fundamental to running, healing, and spiritual practice. 

Finding balance in life can’t be left to chance.

You have to plan for it.

The ideal amount of intensity of training and the time it takes to affect the body positively varies greatly from person to person, depending on their overall health and wellbeing.”- Art

We’re all familiar with how much stress can arise due to competing demands on our time and attention. The time we spend running should help counteract these tensions by putting them in perspective and making them manageable.

The word “recover” means to regain health and balance. People often make the mistake of racing too frequently without adequately recovering from their hard efforts. Consequently, they fail to regain the good form and fitness they had built up through training. This often results in injury, disillusionment, or worst of all, giving up on running altogether. The inherent risk of these pitfalls increases markedly when you are running and racing at speeds/distances that are too far beyond your comfort zone.

 If we’re really paying attention, we know when our running/racing regimen is putting too big a squeeze on our lives. The resulting stress may actually overshadow the health benefits of runningThe good news is that burnout and injury are not an inevitable consequence of training hard; the solution can be as simple as prioritizing the workouts that give us the most satisfaction.

"I don’t think tactics count too much above simple common sense. Conditioning is the main factor, and determination makes you get in good physical condition.” - Peter Snell (1965)
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