Our body is an incredible machine. Sometimes it seems like a perfect organism. Everything works in a coordinated rhythm and you feel like a superhero. You feel the energy flow in your veins, you’re focused, and your body just pushes and pushes you up to heaven.
You’re in the zone.
Being in the zone is the best sensation an athlete can have. But what is it, being in the zone?
If you never had the pleasure, the competence, and the luck to be in the zone, you should work harder to get there. Because it’s an immersive sensation. Time collapses and you feel everything in slow motion.
You have time to feel your body as a whole. Feel your body as hyper-focused. And sometimes a spiritual state of mind, where anything you do is possible. It’s where we become our most energized, creative, and powerful selves.
When you’re there you know it. You feel it. And you don’t want that to stop anymore.
Christopher Bergland, a world-class endurance triathlete and ultrarunner, writes:
“I would visualize the jolt of pain entering my body through the soles of my feet as energy coming from the core of the earth. My feet became a conduit that allowed my body to tap into an infinite energy source that propelled me forward like I was plugged into a nuclear reactor.”
If you ask professional athletes about being in the zone, some of them don’t know the feeling. Others do. They were there. They disconnected from this world. They entered another dimension. And let themselves get away from the noise, from the stress, from everything.
Kobe Bryant once scored 81 points in a single NBA game. And some players from the other team reported that he was in total silence, even with his teammates. His face spread serenity. His eyes were somewhere else. That was when they knew he was in the zone. That was when they knew they were in trouble.
What if I tell you that you have to suffer a lot until you have your body and mind prepared to run?
Are you capable of dealing with the pain?
Because there is no other way to shape your body to do a 5k smooth run. You have to teach your body the impact of your feet on the ground. Remember that in your daily routine, most of you sit for hours and hours at your desk. Or you just walk from place to place in little segments.
One day you decide to change the routine, and start training. Your muscles, tendons, joints, bones, are not prepared for such an impact. You have to teach them with little sequences. For them to memorize the new actions and prepare all the cells to be stronger.
Another part of your body — your brain — also needs to be prepared for the changes, especially to the hormones. They’re going to flow and change your behavior, your humor, and your awareness.
So it’s time to give you 10 tools for you to feel the power in your next session, on your next run, in your next race.
1. The Importance of Willpower in the Sucess of Your Running
We rely on willpower for almost everything in our lives. To overcome procrastination, stop drinking, quit smoking, save money, diet, or exercise.
In 2011, 27% of the respondents of the Stress in America survey reported a lack of willpower as the greatest obstacle to change.
Willpower has a stubborn nature. It doesn’t come when we want. And especially when we need it. It just doesn’t come. So, we have to manage some other skills to have control of willpower.
Drive, determination, self-discipline, or effortful control, reinforce the control of willpower.
Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.
Yet, you have to control apathy, doubt, and fear. This is the antagonist forces that block so many thousands of human beings to thrive in life.
If you made the decision to start running or reach a higher goal of doing a 10k race, a half-marathon, 42k marathon, or even an ultra-marathon in the mountains as I do, you have to start working on these abilities.
Think about yourself. About your determination and your drive. Spend some time reflecting on how are you taking advantage of using these powerful tools. But also about your fears and doubts. It seems a bit cliche, but it’s a war between your good and your bad forces. And you have to win.
2. Treat Your Body as a Temple
You feel the drive in your mind to set new and fresh goals in your life, like running the extra mile. But you have to be rigorous on your body.
I’m not saying that you become a vegan food enthusiast. And you cut with all the temptations that come your way. At least I’m not that guy.
But balance your rituals. Try to find the best way to reach your goals by determination. You always have things you can change. And it’s gonna be hard. Your willpower button must be always on, all the time. It’s the price to pay.
Yet, don’t be fundamental. Remember that this effort is to make you happy. To transform yourself into a happier person. If reaching your goals is a sign of happiness, then you know the kind of track you have to choose.
There are thousands of articles and books that explain how to lose weight, how to gain strength, or how to stretch. Nowadays, there is good content to make you a knowledgeable person. You have several articles and books about developing a balanced body.
Jim Rohn, my best mentor, once said:
“Treat your body like a temple, not a woodshed. The mind and the body work together. Your body needs to be a good support system for the mind and the spirit. If you take good care of it, your body can take you wherever you want to go, with the power and the strength and energy and vitality you will need to get there.”
You don’t have to check your weight every hour. I do it once a month. It’s more important to feel the signs your body is giving you than a number on a machine below your feet.
To treat your body as a temple, there are some suggestions I can give that changed my life and my running skills:
Start meditating — Meditation is an incredible activity. Your brain starts to lower its stress levels and helps you to focus on your goals. As I started to meditate first thing in the morning, my energy tripled. Concentration and drive started to rise. And it benefited my training, my running routines, my work, and my sleep. It’s an incredible weapon to empower everything in your body.
Eating habits — I stopped doing 3 meals per day. Now I do 5 to 7 meals a day. What does it prove? When you eat lunch or have dinner you’re not as hungry as you were if you did a 3-day meal routine. It helped me to start eating more fruit and vegetables. And eat smaller portions of each meal.
Drinking water — Your skin is one of the most important organs in your body. I usually didn’t drink much water. One day I read an article about our skin. I realized that the skin is the first barrier that protects our body from external threats. And if the skin is always well hydrated, it becomes more elastic and stronger. It avoids external threats, like bacterias, viruses, or the sun.
Sleep habits — Lack of sleep affects concentration, productivity, and cognition. But it influences also weight control. If you don’t sleep the number of hours you need, your hormones deregulate. And it can interfere with your body’s ability to regulate food intake.
3. The Worst Enemy of an Athlete — Injuries
I had a muscle break a month ago and I am undergoing tests to start medical treatments, so I know what it is like being injured. I knew it all my life. Since 14 years old, I’ve been competing in different sports, and I got injured almost every year. Fortunately nothing serious.
Let me share with you that it’s the worst sensation.
Your body was in good shape. You were training hard for the next race. You wanted to go further, to the next level, to higher ground, to a longer distance, and suddenly you feel a little pain. Then a moderate pain. Then you had to stop because you can’t run anymore.
One of the things meditation does to your mind is making you stressless. And if you ask me what now, Nuno? How can you survive an injury without running?
I know that I will have to stop running for a while. Do the treatments the doctor will prescribe.
But I already found the cure for my pain.
I can´t run, but I can walk!
So the first advice I can give to you is that injuries can make you stronger. Make you stop to rethink, to reflect, and to make you feel that your body is a sensitive organism. Sometimes it breaks. It’s not an endless machine.
You start giving yourselves the notion that you have to treat your body as a temple 24/7. If you do it, you’ll solve the injury problems with peace of mind. Because injuries will come one day. And if your body and mind are strong, you will transform an injury into an opportunity. An opportunity to explore other little things you couldn’t see.
I started doing some long walks through the mountains. In my running sessions, I found out that sometimes I passed through places so fast, that I didn’t have time to contemplate the views.
Now I’m exploring all the mountains I raced but in a tourist mode. It has been invigorating.
If your mind is strong, but your body injured, you’ll always win anyway.
Last advice about injuries. I always made my stretching sessions. Every day, everywhere. I’m always stretching. When I’m at work. When I’m home. When I have an opportunity to stretch, I do it. It releases my muscles, lowering the tension in my body.
By stretching and doing some flexibility, I am certain that I avoided a lot of injuries over all these years.
4. Strength Will Boost Your Stride
When you start your training sessions, you must have a general notion about complementary exercises. These exercises will balance your body.
When my coaches started the pre-season, we always did a mixed exercise program. And they put strength exercises in early cycles.
If you’re preparing yourself to complete a huge challenge, always put strength exercises in your list. Why?
Remember that your muscles are made of elastic tissue. Each muscle consists of thousands or tens of thousands of small musculus fibers.
Tissues need strength to support all the joins, cartilage, tendons, and bones. You’ll need the strength of your muscles to absorb the impact.
With strength, your muscle system will have fewer injuries. And strength will help endurance to prevail for longer periods. It works like a compensation organic system.
5. The Best Running Shoes for You
What if I tell you that there are 3 footstrikes for running. The midfoot strikers, the forefoot strikers, and the heel strikers. But how does this influence my running technique?
Let me start by explaining to you that the most common one is midfoot strikers. It’s characterized by having your heel and the ball of your foot touching the ground simultaneously. You can see this when you’re watching kids running. They always land with their whole foot on the ground. And so do most of us.
It is, for most runners, the best injury-preventive way to run. Usually, the lower legs (including the knees) are the area that 90% of all runners’ injuries occur. Achilles tendonitis, calf pulls, over-pronation, plantar fasciitis, and tibial stress fractures are some of the most common ones.
If the heels don’t touch the ground when you run, you’re a forefoot striker. This way of running is great if you want lots of speed. But it puts the responsibility for most of the body’s propulsion onto the legs…especially the lower legs.
Most recreational runners tend to run with their body in an upright position… with no lean at all. At least 75% of all runners run with a heel strike. Normal people like you and me, we are heel strikers. Usually, we do it by default, by not having running lessons in an early stage, and the technique is not our best.
‘Repetitive impact forces experienced during long-distance running normally reach the level of magnitude ranging from two to three times the body mass and are considered to induce damage to the musculoskeletal system of the lower extremity (Nordin et al., 2017). In order to reduce the magnitude of impact force and a corresponding high loading rate, the concept of “cushioning” was proposed in shoe manufacturing to reduce such impacts and potential impact-related running injuries.’
Try to ask a friend of yours to film you during a training session. You’ll be surprised with things you think you thought happened while you run, didn’t.
We have a different perspective on our running technique while we’re running. Because we look at what’s in front of us. We’re focused on our pace, our strike, and our breath. We’re not like ‘Let me think what part of my body is first toughing the floor’. We don’t do that. But we should.
When we buy running shoes, we must know what type of footstrike we have. You should buy a type of shoe that absorbs the most percentage of the impact of your body when it touches the ground.
If you have an upright position and you have too much weight, you should buy a shoe with a big drop.
Drop is the difference between the height/thickness of the midsole under the heel compared to the same measure under the ball of the foot. That height is the key to protecting your heels from the impact of your body.
If you’re a forefoot sticker, you’ll need a low drop and as light as possible.
Good knowledge about footstrikes will benefit you in your running. But also and especially avoid the worst thing a runner can have — an injury.
6. If You Can´t Suffer, You Can´t Run
If you want to be one of the best trail runners in the world, you have to be prepared to compete in the French Alps, in a 100-mile race. Yes. Almost 180 kilometers in high mountains. The best of the world made it in less than 20 hours. They do it without stopping.
Reaching the 42k marathon is a huge achievement. But watch this impressive video about a 100-mile journey of Billy Yang. He is a normal guy like you and me.
When you’re running 100 miles you pass through so many emotions. One time you want to quit. Another, you want to finish climbing one more mountain and start going down the hill below.
There is so much pain involved in a running trip. You have to prepare your mind for the pain.
“Running long distance is really special. It’s really extreme. After the first 15 or 20 hours, all the runners’ bodies start to have pain and you have that pain until you finish the race. So you still have five or 10 hours when you need to run and try not to think about the pain. You must just follow it and keep going. I think it is one of the most interesting things to work with your brain to push through this pain to the finish.” By Kilian Jornet
Generally, when you start any sport, there is pain involved. Your body and your mind are being tested. But there is something crucial about this dichotomy.
If your body is broken but your mind is good, you can always do one extra mile. But if your mind is broken but your body is good, you’re in trouble.
So, what I’m trying to say to you is that your mind must be a rock. An impenetrable stone. And you have to find a way to manage that. You are the best person to know about yourself. You know, deeply, what are your weaknesses. And you have to deal with your weaknesses eye to eye.
Meditation is a catalyst for strengthening the mind. I said that once and I repeat it again. I never could reach the 64k race without the support of meditation. It empowered my will, my focus, my drive. It can empower yours.
And I’m always talking about trail running, but it also happens on the road races. The majority do 5 to 10k. And they also struggle. What I am trying to say is that it’s not a question of distance.
I can suffer more in a 10k rather than a 42k. It can happen. Because with short distances, the pace is completely different. And the demands on your body are also enormous.
Train your mind better that you train your body.
7. Loneliness as Personal Development Key
One of the best things we have, when we’re running, is loneliness.
It’s you and yourself. It’s one part of the day that you can relax your mind. Of all the noise, the people, the traffic, of everything.
It’s absolute silence. And if there are people who think this is another part of the day, it isn’t. It exactly The Part of the Day. It’s your best chance to train your mind.
The Part of the Day is a unique opportunity for you to hear your breath, and to feel the beat of your heart. To have the real notion about the pace of your run. To feel the zillion things happening at the same time in your body and mind. It’s a privilege for people like us — runners — to feel all these tiny transformations. Day by day, you’ll feel stronger, happier, and totally fulfill.
It’s hard to explain in words. You have to put on your sneakers and start.
Stephanie Fulton, a researcher at the CRCHUM and lead author of an article published in the journal Cell Metabolism, said:
“We discovered that the rewarding effects of endurance activity are modulated by leptin, a key hormone in metabolism. Leptin inhibits physical activity through dopamine neurons in the brain.”
Even metabolism is on our side. Which is great. Runners know that. Runners feel that all the time. Hormones take care of us when we need that pain killer. When we need that extra mile of energy. We go straight to our brains hoping for a little more of that good sensation, that good vibe, that good feeling.
So, loneliness transforms itself into something else. Into a journey that invites you to enter its space. It’s an unknown space. It’s a zone. The zone! You can lose your self or find yourself.
It’s the best opportunity for you to find peace of mind, absorb all the good things your body can offer you. It is a transformation into a better place.
Loneliness is a retired place.
Loneliness is a magical place, for you to embrace the power of being alive!
I’ll give you the eighth weapon. That extra mile tip. Probably the one most dear to me.
Those Who Suffer With You, Never Leave You
It’s a secret code.
When you are racing against yourself in a 10k, 21k, 42k, or 100 miles race, you find that other brothers and sisters are there with you too. In that particular space in time, you are sharing the same universe, the same room.
You are suffering the same sacrifice, they carry the same cross on your back. But also the same dreams and aspirations. You find that so much of yourself is in other runners too.
So, it’s a kind of electric current that unites all people around you. Because they worked hard, as you did, to fulfill that dream, that goal. To finish the race!
And coming from nowhere, there is always someone at the same pace as you are. You run for 10 minutes, side by side. 30 minutes side by side. And naturally, you start to feel the bond, the same energy that is around you. For that period of time, you are brothers in arms.
And at the end of the race, you go talk with him or her. You want to know how it worked for them. And you start sharing the sensations of the ride. The pain, the joy, the happiness. It’s in these moments that the connection is made between two people. You will hardly forget his name or his face.
You will never leave that person out of your memory. And many times, you change phone numbers, email accounts, social media connections. You want to know more about the brother or sister that fought with you that battle.
You get strong friendships in the running world. And if that’s all you get by all the suffering in training and in a race — if all you get is friendship — then that’s enough.
Sometimes, that’s all we need!