The smartest person who ever lived once said the most beautiful thing ever said and it’s known by every single person living in the modern age. A hundred and ten years ago, on the shoulders of giants, the worlds of light and matter were woven into a single tangible tapestry by Einstein: E=mc2. Now either running isn´t as simple as theoretical physics, or people whose idea of fun is leaning forward and not stopping until exhausted are no Einsteins, but we don´t have anything so profound and all-inclusive, to the best of my knowledge, so here are twelve energy hacks for running that will keep you moving.
For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.â€ -Oliver Wendell
- Energy equals managing carbs squared? The question of carbohydrates and how they relate to athletic performance has been taken in every direction possible. The only thing I haven´t heard of is an experiment to see if you can grow enough glucose to fuel a runner indefinitely with a backpack full of algae and an IV drip. As far as I can tell, the general idea is to limit your intake of processed sugar, put stuff into you thatâ€™s not carbs sometimes, and if you do binge on starches, get some coffee and greens into your system, grab a water bottle, and head out for a long one when itâ€™s digested (so later in that day or evening, or in the morning). Bananas seem to have a load of potassium thatâ€™s helpful (and tasty), and if you´re okay to ingest some lipids, so do avocados, and a mix of water, chia seeds, sugar, and lime makes a rockinâ€™ energy drink straight to you from the super-secretive hidden tribe of ultra-distance champions, the Tarahumara called iskiate. I´ve thrown in my favorite low-carb meal adapted from Tim Ferrissâ€™ slow-carb diet that I can whip up in less than tenÂ minutes.
- The breath of life. Your cells need oxygen to perform the chemical reactions that let you move and rebuild. While this is, of course, useful while running, remembering to breathe the rest of the time can also be quite beneficial. This evening, for instance, I got home from work totally exhausted and pigged out on two bowls of cereal, promptly collapsing into a food coma. I had already had three cups of coffee today, and more caffeine was out of the question. The solution was to breathe deeply for twenty minutes and will my body to prepare to use the obscene amount of sugar I had just tasked my digestive system with turning into glycogen. Fortunately, I had remembered to drink some water, and twenty minutes later sprang out of bed, threw on some shorts, and tore out for a quick five and a half miles. Didnâ€™t need a water bottle, or even shoes. I did need air, though, so letâ€™s talk about breathing while running.
- Breathe with me. Your lungs get two of the twelve tips, thatâ€™s how important they are. First thing to say about breathing while on the move is that the air column needs to be supported. If you havenâ€™t read my piece on posture dig in. Tuck your chin and breathe through your mouth and your nose if you need a lot of air, or just your nose if you donâ€™t. Itâ€™s totally valid to let your body make up itâ€™s own mind about what rhythm to breathe at, but if you want some ratios to think about, here are some I find useful:
- 3 paces inhale to 3 paces exhale or 4 paces inhale to 4 paces exhale is good for cruising. How far you can push that should give you some information about where you’re at, energetically.
- 2 paces inhale to 2 paces exhale is a churning rate, good to sync to if you really want to hit the top of the hill ASAP.
- 3 paces inhale to 2 paces exhale is what I call urgent oxygen uptake mode, and 4 paces inhale to 3 paces exhale and beyond is non-urgent oxygen uptake mode.
Above all, try and keep your breathing smooth. Shaking your diaphragm off of your ribcage isÂ uncomfortable. Pay it a little attention and youâ€™ll find yourself breathing easy.
- Posture. Okay, Iâ€™m phoning it in with this tip, but have you read my piece on posture? If your posture is off, youâ€™re wasting energy, and that energy could be used to run faster (which increases the wind you feel, which is nice), or it could be held in reserve. Make sure itâ€™s the medial glutes doing the work at the hip, make sure your core is stabilized, make sure your chest is open, and make sure your chin is tucked. Also, make sure your elbows are always behind your hips, because thereâ€™s no way to over-torque when you do so, and you know that your lats are activated. Also, make sure your legs are in the right position, which Iâ€™ll go into more detail onÂ presently.
- Bounce a little. Your muscles donâ€™t actually store that much elastic energy. Turns out, thereâ€™s a whole other system of taught rubber bands that do exactly that, much better than muscles. Your fascia, or connective tissue, is one of the major advantages that humans have in distance running. For a master class, and one heck of an adventure story, read Christopher McDougallâ€™s Natural Born Heroes, but suffice to say that straightening out your fascia is one of the reasons cross-training is so important, that runners get much betterÂ with practice, and that a high rate of turnover, or cadence, is super important to efficient running. There are two styles of running (that are well-studied) that make good use of elastic energy and can be efficient over a long distance: gliders and gazelles. â€˜Glidersâ€™ keep their legs longer during the swing phase and donâ€™t leave the ground as much, but turn their legs over at a â€˜running-on-hot-coalsâ€™ 110 strides per minute. â€˜Gazellesâ€™ fold their legs up under them and launch off the ground for a little more distance between foot-strikes, but turn their legs over at the â€˜still-pretty-quickâ€™ 90 strides per minute. Switch between them as you see fit, or as the terrain dictates, and donâ€™t worry too much about what part of your foot is striking first, as long as youâ€™re not over-striding, which I go over here.
- Listen. On some rare occasions, it may be appropriate to assert your ‘will to power‘ and dictate how events are going to unfold. This canâ€™t be accomplished, however, without a lot of listening to the environment and to your body, and itâ€™s generally a better idea to just run with the world, and with your body. This can take the form of listening to the path and finding the most efficient route up a hill, or listening to the hill and applying an appropriate amount of power, rather than trying to maintain your initial speed. This can take the form of listening to the wind, and increased evaporative cooling when the breeze kicks up means you can push a little harder, or if you leave a shaded area, it can mean taking it easy so you donâ€™t end up overheating. This can also take the form of listening for traffic. Getting in the way of traffic is extremely inefficient. Whether for bliss or for safety, remembering to listen will improve your outcome.
Pro tip: Take a pair of scissors and remove the entire left earbud of yourÂ Apple Earbuds to turn them into the super-convenient and super-safe Apple Earbud Plus!
- Events and hormones. A passing cyclist or car (or barking dog) can be extremely motivating. For any phenomena that increases your level of excitation while running, you get to decide whether itâ€™s something you will use to run faster, or whether the better tactic is to slow your roll and get back into the rhythm of things. The variety of stimuli is so vast I wonâ€™t try to name them all, and instead Iâ€™ll just say that itâ€™s useful to remember that any mental state is influenced by a chemical state within your body, which will normalize in just a moment, so maybe relax. Or, maybe think of Blade in Blade III when he tells Abigail Whistler, “Use it.” Up to you.
- Other bodily functions. Itâ€™s totally rad to feel like a lean, mean, running machine, but itâ€™s also important to deal with that lean, mean, running machineâ€™s lubrication and exhaust, and to clean the filter. On your journey to leaner, meaner, and more machinated, try to remember when something helps you run better or brings your run down, and integrate what works for you into your routines. To go there, I find that whenÂ Iâ€™m generally getting enough fiber, if I get some caffeine into my system before a run, it will prompt a bowel movement, which makes core stabilization while I run an easier task. Furthermore, if I donâ€™t have the need to urinate before a run, I find itâ€™s often better to just hold it if I end up feeling the urge during the run, as caffeine is a diuretic and I might well end up reabsorbing the water back out of my bladder, though Iâ€™ll have to pay extra attention to rehydrating after the run. Moving on, I find that neither my sweat or my clothing is sufficient to prevent chafing between my thighs, and I generally use Vaseline for that purpose. I also apply some to my lower back if I’m wearing a backpack loaded with water bottles. If I find my throat dry, I swish some saliva around so that I can keep my breath moist and let my lungs function optimally. And, if my face is sweating, I reclaim some of the salt content. I checked with some other endurance athletes, mostly cyclists, and they do this to. So, yea, tip number 8 is ‘do what you gotta do.’
- Dress appropriately. Too hot, too cold: major no-noâ€™s. Itâ€™s absolutely amazing that humans perform feats of endurance in every climate the Earth has to offer, and clothing is a critical technology that allows this to happen. Which is true, of course, unless youâ€™re this guy:
Basically, if itâ€™s hot out, wear something that lets your skin breathe, and as weâ€™ve already gone there, I fully support (no pun intended) going commando, as long as itâ€™s done tactfully. If you canâ€™t pull that off, so to speak, there are athletic undergarments that promise good heat management (UnderArmor has worked for me, so far). If itâ€™s cold out, you probably want a pair, anyway, and the major tactic here is layers. You can get away with track pants and a big ole hoody for a good part of the fall and early spring, but if you want to experience the mystical wonderland of winter running, get some light gloves, light wool socks, a hat, a neck thing, and be able to slip into and out of multiple layers of tops and bottoms because youâ€™ll want to be as warm as possible at first, and then youâ€™ll heat up, and then itâ€™ll get cold again, et cetera, et cetera. Just try not to stop moving for too long, because if your toes get cold youâ€™re in for a world of hurt. Totally worth it, though, being able to stay cool in the heat by keeping it moving, and being able to deal with the cold to see things like this through the lens of runnerâ€™s high:
- Sips. Starting dehydrated severely affects performance. Hydrating more than is necessary is unhelpful, and can push you into a hypertonic state. The thirst mechanism isnâ€™t broken, so when youâ€™re thirsty, or every fifteen minutes or so, take a sip of water. It takes a little bit for it to get into your system, so be patient. Maybe even hold it in your mouth for a while to correct your breathing pattern and cool your sinuses.
- Positive energy. Itâ€™s amazing how thinking of a good reason to run can make running easier, and how thinking negatively can bring you down. If youâ€™re like me and running is your primary form of therapy, itâ€™s going to be a roller-coaster journey through your issues, with plenty of ups and downs. Try to stay positive. That doesnâ€™t mean itâ€™s always going to be blissing out on the oneness of the universe and how itâ€™s all so beautiful, man, and I love you, bro. Just the other day I was mad as hell and tore out on a nine mile run at top speed, full of negativity, and I definitely let it fuel me. Maybe Iâ€™ve crossed over to the dark side or whatever, but from an apologist point of view, that was probably the most constructive thing I could have done, and I sure did feel much better afterwards. Besides, a mountain biker passed me after the top of Snake Hill and said to me, â€œYou know, thereâ€™s not many runners alive who could run up that hill like you just did.â€ And I said, â€œYea, haha, you know, just one of those days.â€ Also, look up â€˜cognitive reappraisalâ€™ to addÂ a powerful psychological tool to your arsenal.
- Just run. Thatâ€™s it, just run. Youâ€™re meant to run. Go for it. Light that fire under your butt and do what-it-do. Just sitting around all the time isnâ€™t a good use of energy, even if youâ€™re pounding the keyboard or doing something equivalent. Youâ€™re even better at creative tasks after some exercise, and youâ€™ll probably live longer, too, so youâ€™ll be able to output way more creative energy and get waaay more done. All you need is to be conditioned and to find a comfortable pair of running shoes, and though thatâ€™s a little oversimplified, Fastblr can help simplify that process and get you the best deal possible on a set of kicks, so gear up and get out there!
What are your favorite efficiency hacks? What gear do you use that helps you get the most bang for the buck? Subscribe, join the conversation by commenting below, and best wishes!
Slow-Carb Ã€ La Twitchkidd
Have a pot of basic cooked beans prepared. Start some olive oil off in a pan. Add cayenne pepper. Crack three eggs into it and mix them up. When the eggs are done, add frozen spinach, beans, soy sauce, and salad dressing, and stir. Add cheese, if it’s available, then salt and pepper and voilÃ !