“If you fall into rhythm, force comes behind it.”
This was some of the best racing advice I’ve ever received, and it came from Matt Dixon the day before my first marathon. It carried me through my day feeling great, and it’s the mantra I use in all of my races now, whether it’s long trail runs or 1500’s on the track.
So today, I want to dive into what it means to find rhythm and how to use it as the catalyst for a great run. Finding rhythm takes practice and presence in training, and of course, it requires other factors like form and fueling to be on point. But your best performances will always come from establishing rhythm first, then then adding pace and effort.
Here’s how we do it:
STEP ONE: Set the tone right away.
We need to leave room for improvement over the entire distance, and we have that room: you’re in a long-distance race. The first 400m will not make or break your day, so spend it finding calm: calm reduces tension, and tension is a performance killer. Take your first few minutes to find calm. Focus on good form and keep your eyes off the clock.
STEP TWO: Establish rhythm before you lock in effort.
Once you’ve set the tone, it’s time to find a feeling of rhythm. Focus on flow. A few physical cues to help you:
- Smooth movement, with your chest ahead of your hips
- Loose shoulders and quick arm swing
- Feet lightly tapping the ground with consistent tempo and balance
- A sense of connection and coordination from your shoulders down to your feet
- Breathing under control
Rhythm will help you maintain your form and be efficient in your movement. This translates to better speed and power, and sets you up to make best use of your physical resources.
STEP THREE: Take measure of your resources to set pace, effort, and strategy.
Once you’ve established rhythm, then you can check in on your physical resources to set your pace:
- How long have you been running, and how far do you have left? Are you keeping up with calories and hydration?
- How does this effort feel to you? Do you feel you have the energy to keep this pace up for the entire duration?
If you’ve established a sense of rhythm, it’s easier to detect and address issues that could disrupt your flow before they completely derail your race. Addressing those issues might mean taking a walk break, refueling, or simply reminding yourself to relax tension in your shoulders. Addressing these will almost always give you a better overall time than if you try to force through or blindly follow a set pace. They will also allow you to return to rhythm more quickly, which is critical for maximizing your run efficiency and ultimately delivering your best performance.
The bottom line: find rhythm, and the rest will follow.