© Copyright – 2018 – Athletics Illustrated

For those of you who want to begin running or get better at it, here are two important things to never forget:

1.) Run by feel, often.

2.) Make running part of your lifestyle.

When I contacted marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe about her thoughts on running by feel, this is what she said, “I am a huge believer in running according to feel and getting to know your body and tune into the right paces, for you, by listening to your body.”

She has run as fast as 2:15:25, which is the current world record.  She has also run three of the top four marathon times, all-time.

Running is primal. It’s how the human species subsisted long ago. Humans persistence hunted and travelled long distances to food sources on foot and ran from predators. We are runners and walkers; biped locomotives. It’s our superpower.

There are a lot of well-meaning people dispensing running advice that have no idea what they are talking about. There are some smart people too, but the loudest often give icing-on-the-cake-type advice. You cannot half-bake a cake and then expect the icing to go on smoothly. The foundation requires a recipe that includes plenty of by-feel running to build up a base of general or aerobic fitness.

“The importance of listening to your body and understanding the feeling will develop confidence in your training and any competitive running you do,” says three-time Olympian and New York City Marathon winner Rod Dixon. “My favourite three words, “Learn by doing.”

Radcliffe agrees, “The only way to do this is to practice in training and learn how to listen to your body and what it feels like to run at different efforts. Then you can know better in races how to find that sweet spot of pace that you know you can maintain and stay strong.”

“On the plus side, you also feel like you are running more freely and will get in a more enjoyable run!”

Run by feel whether you are a long-time runner or are newer to the activity or are just stuck in a rut.

Does your coach have you timing and pacing all of your runs and running intervals all year round? If so, get a new coach.

Before you can prepare for the specificity of race training, you will first need to get aerobically fit. Time must be set aside once or twice a year for a few weeks in a row of by-feel running.

“Be free of too much technology and too much time connected to your phone device. Listen to the sounds of nature when you can, connect to your inner self and confidence and know yourself and your ability based on how you feel,” Added Dixon, who also owns Kid’s Marathon, a program that keeps kids fit and healthy.

With all of life’s things, you cannot replicate a particular day: biorhythms, feelings, dietary stuff, stresses, tiredness, recovery, sleep patterns, moods, weather, all that. So, you should not hammer a pace to fit that day’s schedule; square pegs, round holes. There will come a time for paced running.

Don’t distract from the feelings of running by listening to music. If you dislike running that much, do something else with your time (or keep running, because eventually, you will learn to like it). Listen to your own breathing, footfalls, birds chirping and leaves rustling in the breeze. Actually, enjoy the act of running and the environment that you are passing through.

Sure, wear a watch and or heart rate monitor while running, but be strong and never look at it on by-feel runs – examine the data afterward.

If the effort bothers you, you are going too fast. Slow down and daydream or solve a problem. If it feels good, pretend you are an Olympian and rejoice in your greatness. Endurance fitness is a long haul, you won’t get run-fit in three weeks or three months, so settle in and make it part of your life for a few years or forever. Human’s superpower is running; it is primal.

If one day you are tired and don’t feel like running, run for 10 minutes to see if you warm up. If you don’t, then head back and do something else with your day, there, you got in a 20-minute run. Even a 20-minute run counts as an aerobic deposit into your fitness bank account.

If you are out for a random run – lots of running should be random meanders by feel, especially if you are a beginner or don’t want to race for a long time – choose the hill, choose all the hills, choose the trails and choose to go longer if you have the time.

Jonathan Brown, three-time Olympian, twice finished fourth in Olympic marathons said, “It is important to run by feel as this is what is specific to racing and the most reliable mechanism tool for understanding ourselves when working under pressure.”

Brown currently coaches in Victoria, BC as Run by Common Sense.

London Olympian Hilary Stellingwerff, who competed in the 1500-metre event agrees, “Yes I think it’s a sign of a true runner who loves the sport when one can run by feel and not always be dictated by a watch or the pace. I purposely leave my Garmin at home on many easy runs so I don’t get caught up in the pace. And as a coach, I’m always trying to teach athletes how to go by feel instead of always by splits because intuition in training and racing is so important for the enjoyment and longevity of the sport.”

Stellingwerff coaches with the University of Victoria Vikes.


Feel the effort, not the pace. There will eventually be a time for paced runs

Allow the rhythm to come, don’t push the turnover.

Sense the flow; don’t strain in effort.

Sense the rate-of-breathing; relax within your own ability.

Note the time it takes to warm up to it all.

Let the warming up happen to you.

Start slow and don’t pick up the effort until you feel like it.

The more you run, sometimes the longer it takes to get all warmed up and in a good rhythm. I have taken up to an hour to get a flow going, but I was running a lot back then.

Make excuses to run, rather than excuses to avoid it. Put into your trunk a complete change of running gear, shoes and a towel. Sometimes you will sit somewhere and think, “I could be running,” while waiting for someone, who will now be late – always be prepared to run.

If you go out to a friend’s place for dinner, drive and have your life partner drive back, while you run back. If it is a good friend, you can run there, use their shower and drive back; earn that meal.

If running with someone is about listening to them talk about themselves or other people or complain of work and it doesn’t excite you, run alone. Be okay alone with yourself; it’s powerful and freeing.

Don’t start your very first runs in the middle of summer on a hot day, it is too hot, you will hate it. Run on a rainy, foggy, muddy day in the fall. Carry on through winter and into spring, which will feel like a gift; summer’s long hours of daylight will be heaven.

On runs that are not long don’t worry about drinking beverages and eating gels on your run. You have 24 hours in a day to do that. For that one 30-minute or 90-minute run, be unencumbered – run with nothing in your hands and nothing on your belt, be free.

If one day, you feel it is time to test yourself, to see if you are getting fitter, then don’t race and don’t do knee-grabbing intervals and don’t sprint specific distances in specific times, start weekly out-and-back runs, say 30-minutes out and come back on the same route, go as fast as you can without straining. Think, “I could have gone faster, but I am glad that I didn’t.” That is just about fast enough.

As you get fitter, you will come back at least as fast.

Keep on enjoying running by feel, there will be a time for paced efforts.

Enjoy the by-feel running for as long as you need to. Running is not a quick fix to health, weight control or fitness, it is the foundation to good mental and physical health; it is our superpower.

Four-time Olympian Lorraine Moller, co-founder of the Lydiard Foundation writes, “Surrender to the run and allow it to take you, rather than trying to control or force an outcome.”

“If you find yourself looking at your watch or monitor every 5 minutes or every known mile mark, leave it at home.”

“Leave your iPod at home. Before long your inner voice will be enjoyable and possibly fascinating company.”

“After several weeks of buildup running, your fitness will rise to a whole new level, as will your mind/body rapport.”

Read Becoming the Body Whisperer, by Lorraine Moller