To prepare for a post-run scene in the movie Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman spent the night before running around a track with rocks in his shoes. He wanted the exhaustion to be believable. When he arrived on the set looking like microwaved hell, there was Lawrence Olivier with a martini or some swanky drink. He looked Dustin over and said, “My heavens, what happened to you?” Dustin told him about the night before, explaining he was a “Method” actor. Lawrence stirred the swizzlestick-pierced olive in his drink and replied, “My dear boy. Why don’t you just act it?”
I have no idea if that story is true, but that’s how I remember hearing it when I was a theater – oh, sorry, theatre – major at Fame: Milwaukee High School. I remember finding this very pithy, and may have commented on the story with a “oh how very droll,” in a fake British accent. I spoke with a fake British accent because Real Actors speak Properly and Properly sounds vaguely British. I bring this up not to wallow in self ridicule (although that’s where I do my best wallowing), but to suggest that if you would like to run faster, my dear boy (or lady. Males have to be “boys” and females get to be “ladies” because of eons of patriarchy or something), why not just act it?
In part one of The Art of Giddyup I advised running fast longer than what’s comfortable (just a little longer! And only once or twice a week! Don’t go breaking yourself and blaming me for it. In fact, what are you doing listening to me anyway?) so you can acclimate to the panicky drowning sensation of the “red zone.” To help you not panic, act confident: back straight, shoulders loose, look ahead and not down. Apparently that’s also called “good running form,” but I don’t really know about those physiological things. I just make that up as I go along. What I do know a bit about (besides italics) is acting. In fact, I know two things:
1. If you mimic the physicality of an emotional state or attitude, you will feel the emotional state or attitude you’re mimicking
2. I’m a terrible actor
Actually, #2 isn’t entirely true. Permit me a brief indulgent detour. One of the reasons I quit acting oh so many lifetimes ago was because I didn’t like how it was affecting my self-identity. Being a goofy looking kinda funny individual, I would generally get cast as the meeker, dorky characters. Think Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. Now, I know I’m not the world’s most masculine man, but it gets tiresome to hope for a chance present one’s face for a good sand-kicking in front of an audience. So I quit acting, joined a boxing gym, and tried to have to nerd punched out of me.
Obviously, the nerd remains. Like a Timex, ticking while taking a licking.
When you’re in ohmygodahmagonnadie panic mode, whether in a fast 5k or a long drawn-out marathon, what usually happens? Your shoulders slouch. Your head lowers as you stare at the ground. Your form falls apart. You are the picture of defeat. If instead you practice maintaining a confident posture during moments of high-effort induced panic, you will run faster and be better equipped to deal with the suffering.
A confident posture can prevent injuries, too. This is why I advocate speed work for everyone, regardless of their pace. If you practice looking confident in the red zone, you will more likely maintain good posture when tested in a race. No matter the distance, no matter the pace, you will be tested. If your form falls apart it’s unhealthy but inevitable you will push on. Unless you’re one of those non-competitive types, in which case I just turned you into a unicorn because they don’t exist either.
The ohmygodahmagonnadie is one of the glues that binds us as runners. It’s the dragon to be slain, the vision quest, the state of being where you are stripped of the trappings of civilization and left a naked, raw animal. Staring into the void, into the depths of your material being, metaphorically holding your heart above your head shouting This! This is what I am and nothing more!
Whoa, that was trippy. Got lost there for a minute. So, yeah. If you want to get faster, act confident and work on your posture. I think that’s what this post is about. I’ll probably regret not deleting that whole “depths of your material being” bit.