In the spring of 2001 I was really frustrated. I badly wanted to run, but it felt awful. Every single time I went out the door I struggled through a few pounding, gasping miles and returned home dejected. My back hurt, my knees and feet hurt, and the whole thing felt like an assault.
Despite the misery, though, there were always a few moments of running along the East River or through Central Park with the fresh air and the sunshine when I knew running is what I was meant to do, and that kept me going out the door day after day.
The thing that frustrated me most about my struggle to run was that I was a professional dancer. I was very fit — I regularly spent all day dancing. I was very coordinated — I could balance, turn, and do things most regular people couldn’t dream of. And I was very flexible and had great posture — things dancers are certainly known for! But none of that translated into an ability to run.
(Have you ever been told that your running injury or problem was due to poor strength, flexibility, or posture? Let me assure you, it isn’t true.)
Here’s a screenshot from a performance around that time — it’s a bit of sweet irony that the piece was called “Get Out of the House” (choreographed by Sarah Skaggs). I’m the blur on the left. I was a blur when I danced back then but not when I ran.
My dance career was beginning to demand that I run, because Sarah Skaggs was making long pieces we were to perform in large outdoor spaces, and we would have to run around, jump, turn, etc. without any offstage breaks to catch our breath. So for the first time in my career I really needed to develop my aerobic capacity, and running seemed like the perfect fit… except I couldn’t do it.
I hate it when I can’t do something, and I get really stubborn about figuring it out. So I kept going out the door in the morning to pound the pavement, and I tried all sorts of things to fix my problem. And eventually, in a series of glorious eureka moments I’ll never forget, everything changed.
Now, 15 years later, what sends me out the door to run is how good it feels. In fact, once I figured out how to make running feel this way I was so excited about it that I devoted my Feldenkrais practice to helping other runners do the same. I believe running that feels natural, comfortable, and easy is part of our human birthright. I knew that in my heart in 2001 and you know it in your heart too.
I’ve mentioned my story of learning how to run before briefly in my bio. This week, in honor of Feldenkrais Awareness Week and because I want to help you do what I did, I’m going to share my journey from miserable runner to smooth, comfortable, happy runner with you. The fact that I was a dancer doesn’t mean it’s all that different from your journey, despite what you may think.
In the next couple of days I’ll tell you about all the things I did that didn’t work. I want to save you some time and effort in your own journey, since many of these are common mistakes I see runners making.
I’ll also share with you my eureka moments and how — no matter how fit you are or what you’ve been told is wrong with your running — you can have a breakthrough of your own. (Hint: Feldenkrais is involved!)
See you back here tomorrow.
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.