Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pavlov's Dog Conditioning Theory for Runners

I am by nature a skeptic. I doubt a lot of what people tell me. I think that advertisers are liars just trying to make a buck. I spent a good portion of my teen age years bucking the system and testing things out for myself. I tend to learn best by my own knowledge. This is not always the best way to learn. I was kicked out of my parents house at 17 when they just couldn't take it anymore. I have a lot of regrets about choices I've made and hopefully I have grown up a lot since then. And I really try to learn from other people's mistakes. How does this relate to running? Well after the traditional ways of running led to injury after injury for me, I found myself on the barefoot and minimalist path. It's been a really great thing and while I'm still learning all the time, I find that even in this community I am still a skeptic and roll my eyes a lot.
For instance: In Michael Sandler's barefoot running book he talks about being in sync with the earth's frequency, or heartbeat. Did you know that the earth has a heartbeat? Apparently it does. It's called the Schumann Resonance. Google it. Our brains use the same frequency to survive and thrive. We are in sync with the earth's heartbeat. And our cell phones and other electronic devices and shoes interfere with our ability to connect with the earth. And it's not just weirdos that believe it either. Nasa created a machine to help the astronauts stay in sync when they leave the earth's resonance behind. Lance Armstrong's crew slept on these blankets that plugged them into the earth to help them recover faster and have decreased inflammation. So while my eye rolling had started, I wasn't sure what to believe or not.
He also talks briefly about running with meditation beads. He uses them to be present during the run. He rubs his fingers over them and repeats a mantra. He also watches to see how much they are bouncing and tries to be smooth and run softly. He also says it reminds him to have his arms relaxed. Running his fingers over those beads helps him be in a meditative state while being aware of what his body is doing. Truthfully, when I first read this I thought to myself that maybe I was reading the wrong book. This was just kind of weird. I am one of those people who at the end of a yoga class, when everyone else is quietly relaxing in corpse pose, am fidgeting and wondering how much longer we have to lie there in silence. Don't get me wrong, I like silence. I just can't lay there with a bunch of other people when I know class is over and there are things to be done next. It's a problem, I admit. I have trouble completely relaxing my mind and body.
But lately, while running, things have been different. I am able to relax and think clearly. This thinking clearly thing is not new. I often get my best ideas while running and solve problems that are weighing on my mind. But I really like the idea of relaxing while doing something as physically demanding as running. That's more my style of relaxation.
One day, after seeing an episode of the Office, I got an idea. Kind of Pavlov's Dog Conditioning Theory for Runners. Check out this clip and then I'll explain my new combination of meditation conditioning.

I starting thinking about the mantra that I use to remind myself of correct form during a run and wondered if I could trick my brain into doing a sort of self correction. It's kind of like combining the meditation bead theory and the Pavlov theory. So for the past month I've been using it for a certain period of time during each and every run. I really used it during my long run last Saturday and it came in very useful, especially towards the end.
Instead of beads I just lightly rub my fingers together. I have five words that I use as cues. They are: soft, relaxed, smooth, fast, strong. I picked a point low on my pointer finger that I rub the tip of my thumb on for "soft". While I rub the side of my pointer finger with my thumb, I think of things that remind me of the word soft. Like big snowflakes lightly falling on the ground. I try to make my footfalls as light as snow. I try to run as quietly as possible.
Then I rub the tip of my thumb and pointer finger together. This is the cue for "relaxed". I think of my legs and arms as spaghetti noodles. I focus on my breathing being relaxed and when I exhale all the tension flows out of me. I make sure that I'm not tensing any part of my body. My shoulders are relaxed and loose. Think Shaggy from Scooby Doo.
The tip of the bird finger and thumb are the cue for "smooth". I think of my feet being clipped into the bike and they're moving smooth. Like the wheels on a train or the road runner. I pick a sign or something in the distance and see if I can get it to not bounce in front of me.
Then I move to my ring finger and the tip of my thumb for "fast". I think of running on hot coals and having my feet move quickly. The turnover is fast. It helps me pick up my cadence.
My pinky finger is the cue for "strong". I check to see that my abs are engaged. I lift my head up by the base in the back to allow my chest to inflate and let in the maximum amount of oxygen needed. I feel confident and strong. I see myself being strong at the finish line.
So while this may sound like it will take a lot of time and is kind of goofy, yeah, I admit, it might be. But my hope and theory is that before long, after practice, I should be able to touch the tip of my pointer finger with my thumb and have my body automatically relax. I should be able to make my movements smooth by simply touching my birdy finger. And while it might take time for my brain to do it automatically, I have got lots of time and roads ahead of me. I even practiced the relaxing one in the dentist's chair and it worked. In fact, I was so surprised at how much tension I was holding until I touched the tip of my pointer finger and everything relaxed.
Call me crazy, but I'll pretty much do anything that will help me with my running.
What do you think? Am I off my rocker and out in the deep end?
Wanna try it?
Tell me your mantras and physical cues that you want to try and lets see if it works!


Tara said...

I actually think that sounds really awesome. I think that your finger idea is better than carrying beads and love what each finger is going to signify.

I do the same thing at the end of yoga. I like it but I can only do so much silence before I'm ready to be social again!

Julia said...

ummm I LOVE THIS idea. It sounds amazing...and if nothing else it made me excited to have something to focus on during a long run other than how many more miles to go or how fast I am running.

I have been using positive mantras for a while...I usually just take whatever is causing me to be negative that day and find a way to make it a positive statement. But I like this idea of connecting the mantra with something physical as a sort of conditioning. I am going to play around with this when I get back into running and see how it goes :)

Thanks for the sweetest comment on my blog this morning. I actually saved it in my email so that I can read it when I am feeling anxious or negative. I really appreciate your support and it meant a lot to read such kind words coming from someone I look up to in running and knowing that you have been through similar experiences. I am so grateful to have met you and learn something new every time I read your blog or comments on my own blog :) Have a fabulous wednesday!

trisha*n said...

I've done things like this for other parts of my life...but running sounds awesome! Our bodies really do learn to respond when we teach them. Cool idea!

Julie said...

I loooooove this idea! Going to try it out tonight on my run. Great post! : )

katie thompson said...

There are so many different things put there it's so hard to know what to believe or try. This sounds really cool though!
Which legs have you done with Ragnar? I'm SO excited. I will be doing leg 9.

Sam {} said...

i have a hard time getting into things like the earth's rhythm and the meditation in yoga, but your mantra really sounds like it could work. i certainly need some tips to make my mind do something other than think "ouch, ouch, ouch..."!!

wendy said...

You are definitely not off your rocker. Some things I read or hear about sound weird/wacky. Some truly work. I talk to myself a lot when I am running and I definitely think it helps/works. So why not be able to train yourself that touching a certain finger encourages you to do that thing. I love you words and how you use a different finger for each one. I like it so much, that I am going to try it on my next few runs and see if it helps me. I often find myself saying things (to myself) such as: "You're slumping forward. Straighten out." or "I think you are heel-striking too much. Try to land better." or "You're slowing down. Either speed up or take a quick walking break so you can go faster." and so forth.

I have to tell you that I love all of the running info/advice/knowledge you share here. I find myself thinking about it a lot when I run and I am trying really hard to improve my own running form, pace and endurance.

Joanne said...

Glad to know I'm not the only one fidgeting at the end of yoga class.

What ever works in running to help relax the body so nothing gets stressed and starts hurting works for me. I have pretty good focus on my running so I stay in tune with my body.

Not sure I'd make it 20 miles in a minimalist shoe. Around our neighborhood, it could be dangerous.

Michael said...

Jen, I have been following your blog since almost day 1. I have read all of your posts; some good, some amazing, all interesting and heartfelt. this particular one falls in the amazing category. As I run through years I become so much more open to the idea of meditation, mantras, zones, and minimalism. I am truly in awe of your growth. You have reached a state of running wisdom that is admirable. I continue to follow your blog for ideas, inspiration, just for the sheer enjoyment of "what's she gonna write about next????" :>) Mike... Hey, it's a good day to be alive, right?

Audrey said...

I think it's a great idea. I whole heartedly believe that 75% or more of long distance running comes from your brain - so tapping into that power in any way is bound to make you a better runner.

zapmamak said...

I totally love it! I have mantras I use for other aspects of my life. Your running mantra is perfect. You don't have to worry about forgetting or losing the beads. Your fingers are always there. Beautiful!

Korin Lopez said...

I am printing this post off so I can practice doing this. I think it is awesome and I love The Office clip! Thank you for sharing!

KT80 (Running Like a Girl) said...

These are a great idea. It also struck me that you think of running as relaxing. I definitely think of it as rejuvenating and I really enjoy it! For my personality it makes sense that it would relax me. Thanks for helping me see another reason that I love being a runner. I could use a mantra and a Pavlov style habit too.

Stefanie D. said...

I think it definitely helps to be in harmony with the world around you. Because at that point, I think it is easier to become in harmony with our bodies. The noise and distractions of life can more easily be melted away. Good post!

ashley & sundance said...

umm... Can I tell you how excited I am that you are running Utah Valley?! :) :) :)

Candice @ I Have Run said...

This is really cool. You are NOT off your rocker. I don't have any physical cues, but that is a great idea.

And I am all for things that help with your running!!

Amanda@runninghood said...

this looks interesting so I'm going to be back at nap time (for my son) and read it! Looking forward to it! :)

Steel Springs said...

This sounds like a really neat idea. Let us know how it goes!

Becky K said...

(I found your blog from google; sorry for the random stranger comment!)

I think this is a fabulous idea. I have been working on form for the past year or so (since I saw a picture of myself during last year's Ragnar when I looked terrible!) and so I'm always looking for ways to help me remember. I think I will try your finger rubbing trick. I can see how it would help during a long race or a hard training run where you need some motivation.

We did the Ogden half marathon in conjunction with the relay. That is one of the best organized and prettiest courses! Good luck on your upcoming marathon.