Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Daydream Believer: Internal or External Focus

So, are you like me - do your thoughts wander when you run? Do you daydream when you run?

When I ran this past Sunday in the Drake Well Half Marathon, my thoughts kept wandering - I mean it was hard to not want to take in the beautiful valley, trees and smell of rain. Then I would catch myself and think,  'I think should be concentrating on my breathing, my glutes, my quads and hamstrings or maybe my feet - or maybe the "PRIZE"':
My Beloved Drake Well Pikermi Medal
When I got home, I started thinking about what I focus on when I run. It always seems that when I daydream - and I don't think about running - that's when I run freely - almost like I am floating.

It also always seems the first 10 minutes of going for a run is a struggle.  At this time, I really concentrate on my movements, my body, my speed - any aches and pains - or how long I have to run. After about  10 minutes, when I reach a steady state, all of these thoughts start to fade.

I think that when people first take up running, they don't enjoy it very much because they are concentrating on their breathing, their body parts - feet, legs, arms  - they feel every time their feet strike the ground - and stress about how long or far they should run. This is actually referred to as one's internal focus.

Conditioned runners often switch from an external focus to an internal focus when they increase their intensity - say during speed workouts or a race. So, what's best - an internal or external focus?

According to an article in the Journal of Sports Sciences (October 2009), well-trained runners  consumed less oxygen when they focussed on their environment, as opposed to when they focussed on their breathing or their running movement:

I knew daydreaming wasn't all that bad...

This explains why when we start our runs, and are internally focussed, it seems much harder than when we relax, fall into a steady pace and focus externally. The authors did caution that this may not apply in race situations - when athletes may need to focus on internal body signs to regulate physical responses.

I interpret this to mean that my daydreaming is beneficial during my daily runs because they allow me to go into "auto pilot mode" and improve my running economy by reducing my body's need to consume oxygen. And it's even okay to daydream during a race because this can also help improve economy of effort (by lowering VO2 consumption) ... but only to a point. I am still going to want to focus internally from time to time - check my pace, tune into my body and my breathing - so I can make specific adjustments  - speed up or slow down  - in order to meet my race goals.

So, happy daydreaming and -

Train Smart Today!

Post a Comment