Born to Run (but still needing to learn how)
Thursday, March 3, 2016
by: Jae Gruenke, GCFP

Section: Athletes

Jonathan came to me after completing his first marathon. He wanted to run another but didn’t wanted to feel “like that” again; the race had been tough on his knees. He believed it was possible to run faster during a marathon and feel better afterwards.
Like many of my clients, Jonathan was inspired by Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, which tells the story of the Tarahumara Indians, ultra-distance runners living in Mexico. He’d also read articles by scientists that suggested conventional running shoes were more of a problem than a solution and that running problems could be fixed by improving your running technique – a distinctly new idea for the sport of distance running.
Jonathan had been a serious rower, competing at the international level while in university, and his position in the boat was with the oar in the water to his left. This was clearly reflected in how he ran: with his left shoulder and arm lower than his right. His trunk stayed a bit flexed the whole time, as if ready to pull on his oar, and his upper thighs rotated inward so his knees were closer together than his hip joints or feet.
We began with an Awareness Through Movement® lesson I often give to my runner clients during their first session, with Jonathan lying on his side, figuring out how to move his leg forward by moving his pelvis and feeling how to allow his body to make the counter-rotational movements of running.  Then we went outside so he could run and feel what effect his new experience of counter-rotation had on his running.
 Jonathan was amazed to feel his pelvis moving as he ran. It was easy for him to bend his elbows in order to bring both hands closer to his chest, which made running much less work. And he was also visibly running faster.
Shortly after that lesson, he ran a half-marathon. Jonathan reported that it felt easy and attributed it to the lesson. He also told me that his quads were the main muscles that got tired during the race, and if my eyes hadn't told me there was more we could do to improve Jonathan's running, that bit of information would have made it crystal clear. When you know how to coordinate yourself to run with a minimum of extra effort, your glutes and hamstrings are the muscles that get fatigued--unless your run is very hilly.
After his next lesson, Jonathan amazed himself by accidentally going for a twenty mile run at his marathon pace. On his run, he'd been enjoying himself and before he knew it he'd run much farther than intended!
Over the following lessons, we worked on his ability to use the two sides of his body more evenly. A bad blister on his left foot from a week of running more unevenly than usual and a subsequent right foot problem caused by a shift in the strap of his running sandal, made this work particularly necessary and gave us touchstones to gauge progress. With each improvement in his right/left balance, his discomfort ratcheted down.
During his fourteenth lesson, we delved deeply into coordinating the rotation of his arms with the movement of his shoulder girdles and his trunk. This proved to be easy with his right arm but very challenging with his left. When he ran afterwards, his upper body turned easily, counterbalancing the movement of his pelvis for the first time. I helped him feel the rotation of his first rib and how it moved his body across the sole of his foot with no wasted effort as he ran. He loved the feeling.
At the next lesson, he reported to me that he'd recalled that feeling and tuned into it on his runs and it had made him much faster.
I'm always really thrilled when a runner comes for enough lessons to reach this particular point. It seems to only become possible when they've had enough lessons to really digest the basics. When they can feel the first rib turning in harmony with everything else, they move more simply and powerfully over the face of the earth.
Jonathan had two more lessons with me, during which we focused on how his pelvis could tilt side-to-side, allowing him to use his glutes more fully and direct force more clearly from his foot to his head. Then it was marathon time.
The afternoon of the cold, rainy, windy race day, he emailed me with this news:

I did it!!!!! 3:13, even qualifies me for Boston (probably won't do it but I have the choice!). And there's no way I could have done it without your help... I thought of you with much gratitude at several points as I was playing with how I was running. A fantastic experience!
A year later, in an interview with Runners' World, Jonathan said:

“I trained for my first marathon a few months after taking up running. It became less fun with a plan – it was just hard work and I had the sense it wasn't meant to be like that. When I read Born to Run, it reaffirmed for me that running isn't all about paces and times, but I didn't know how to change what I was doing. Then I took part in a “taster” Feldenkrais workshop with Jae Gruenke and felt the difference instantly. Over a series of lessons I began to unravel the poor movement habits I'd picked up. I learned things about how my body moved, how running could feel so much easier and Jae encouraged me to experiment, to see what felt right. It was like having permission to play with my running. I was still training hard, but I was enjoying it again. Conditions for my second marathon were far from ideal, but I had a smile on my face, or at least inside; I knocked fifty minutes off my time.”

Jae Gruenke is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm, running technique expert, and founder of The Balanced Runner in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian relieve pain and improve their performance, and she also helps Feldenkrais practitioners learn how to work effectively with runners.
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Comments (3)
6/7/2018 1:05:15 AM
Hi, I'm a spa consultant and I would like to connect with you regarding a project that I'm working on in NYC

3/7/2016 6:05:39 PM
I had myself some Feldenkrais sessions in Paris. After, my job in post-office was easier (I was in the parcels service, a post nobody wanted to do). Nobody could understand why I enjoyed my job so much!

3/5/2016 12:24:23 AM
What a wonderful article! Inspiring and sweet to read.

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