Slow down to get better

TL;DR - Unsure as to how to improve your running technique? Get a dog!

After a long time of doing nothing and letting my work life compromise my body in all sorts of annoying ways, I’ve recently teamed up with my brother to join this year’s Inferno Water, a non-competitive 8km obstacle course which feels like the perfect excuse to get back into a more reasonable shape.

Given that my current levels of fitness are akin to those of a block of stone, I have once again gone back to running regularly, much as I used to back in the healthier days that preceded my decision of starting a company. These days, however, I am often delightfully accompanied by Nova, a loving rescue who has consistently been making my life better ever since she joined our pack.

Nova posing in the most serious and poised way she can muster

Partly due to her being a mix between a Maremma Sheepdog and a hound breed of some sort, Nova’s natural pace is usually steady and deliberate, punctuated by brief sessions of more stationary activities. As my own natural pace is slightly faster than hers, running with her often becomes a matter of slowing myself down just enough to let the both of us enjoy the workout. [1]

To my surprise, trading my ideal pace for the wonderful companionship of my furry friend has also had a tremendous effect on my technique. Bound to a pace that I can sustain with less effort and mental commitment, my attention seem to naturally converge towards the act of running itself. When I run with Nova I am generally much more aware of the state of my own body, from my posture to the way my feet are impacting the ground, and I am able to make small adjustments almost effortlessly. Whereas arbitrarily limiting myself to a slower pace would often leave me wondering about whether I could push things just a little bit more, having to match Nova’s own pace simply gets rid of the question entirely.

This has already resulted in a fairly dramatic change in my gait, going from a pronounced heel-first gait to a much more controlled and efficient mid-sole strike directly underneath my body. In turn, these improvements have brought me closer to what used to be my old average pace in a surprisingly short amount of time and to greatly diminished stress on my knees.

Lesson learnt: sometimes, slower is better than harder at getting us to faster and further.


[1]: Technically speaking, running is a human gait that does not translate to dogs very well. When we think of a running dog we usually refer to a dog that is either cantering or galloping, two gaits that in larger dogs such as Nova result in speeds that few humans are able to match (and certaily not me). When accompanying running humans, dogs usually resort to trotting, which is their most efficient gait.