What should be the simplest sport has gotten incredibly complicated. Even the one necessity—shoes—is up for debate.
But bringing it back to basics with an early summer running clinic is Roy Alexander, a former Nike insider. (It was his job to explain how the research done on athletes applies to the performance aspects of a shoe.) The Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp instructor and life-long competitive runner is about to kickoff a four-week class on June 8 for those looking to shave time off a 5K, meet a goal, avoid injury, or figure out what their funky running hang-up is. Like makeovers for your athletic self, you’ll look a whole lot better jogging up the West Side once Alexander’s done with you. Mostly because he’s able to break down just what goes into teaching a runner to, well, run.
Alexander learned how to run in the sand (he’s from California), and he applies the tools that one can grasp—digging in with the toes and propulsion—to his students, which he caps at about ten per class. “Any more students than this and your instructor won’t be able to give you specific feedback about your form, stride, and posture,” says Alexander, who starts you off with theory in the first class. He uses the remaining classes to establish new running patterns that can improve your efficiency. Expect drills galore. “Not everything is about avoiding a heel strike,” says Alexander, commenting on the barefoot-running phenomena. “For some, it’s minimizing drag, bounce, or pumping the arms. The goal is find a form that works for you.” For some people, a slight modification can be a victory.
1. Finesse your form. Some drills use extreme opposition, so runners can unlearn habits quickly. “Then for subsequent weeks, we work on undoing old patterns as we’re imprinting new information. Many accomplished runners find when they learn new patterns their body aches again for the first time in ages, because they’re using a new part of their feet and legs to move.”
2. Feel your run. Alexander can diagnose faulty footwork faster than an Olympic ice-skating judge, but he gauges whether or not a specific drill is assisting your development by asking you how it feels when you’ve accomplished it. “I can tell someone what to do or I can ask them how something feels when they do it. Only the latter tells me whether the exercise is what they need,” he says. “And they’ll remember it better after the class when it comes from them.”
3. Change your mindset. Re-introducing a feeling of lightness—and fun—into running is part of the goal to a better time and efficiency, swears Alexander. “There’s a joy that every toddler experiences when they learn to get around on their own, and running as adults should be more like that.” Learning the simplicity of running and feeling the beauty of it sounds cheesy, but that’s the result Alexander is going for. “Running shouldn’t be a duty—or just about competition. We want to transform a feeling of obligation and chugging along on a run to a positive exploratory experience.”
At graduation, runners tend to use the words “gliding, effortless, or floating” to describe the experience of a run. “The tools for self-correction are drills,” says Alexander. “But the promised land is a feeling.”