prefontaine olympic trials nike billboardBy Sara Calabro

Wouldn’t it be awesome to be one of those people who truly enjoys going out for a run?

For the past two weeks, I’ve closely observed this enviable species—and in the process, uncovered a kinship between acupuncture and running.

I live in Eugene, Oregon, the birthplace of Nike running shoes and the deathplace of Steve Prefontaine, a University of Oregon track star whose legacy is among the most revered in sports history. With running as part of its culture, Eugene was an obvious choice to host the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials for Track & Field. The event played out in my backyard, which abuts fabled Hayward Field.

Watching competitors, coaches, and enthusiastic spectators effortlessly float through warm-up and fun runs for the past couple weeks, I made an important observation: These people appear to genuinely enjoy themselves. Which led to a related realization: Acupuncture can make us better runners by teaching us to like running!

4 tips for learning to love running

Although it can work wonders for running injuries, acupuncture is not a magic bullet for making you run faster and farther. It can, however, help you get more enjoyment from running, which for many people will make improved speed and distance a realistic outcome.

Here are four acupuncture-inspired lessons for kick-starting your running life:

Focus on Kidney 1

I don’t know about you, but when I run, I do a lot of flopping around. Especially when I’m fatigued, my legs and feet seem to take on a life of their own—lingering a little longer here, dragging a little slower there. Something tells me I could be having a lot more fun if I glided through the process like a professional runner. The pros have a consistent rhythm to their stride. Their feet strike the ground in almost the exact same spot every time.

An acupuncture tip for staying aligned while running is to focus on Kidney 1, an acupuncture point on the bottom of the foot (see picture at right). Concentrating on this point can help you maintain a balanced stride while also providing some internal balance. One use for Kidney 1 is to ground energy, to help people gain clarity and restore their sense of physical and emotional balance.

Slow down

Professional runners may be in it to win it, but you don’t have to be. You don’t have to push yourself to the max every time you go out for a run. Knowing this can be the difference between running being fun and running being a chore. So slow down. Prioritize the process over the outcome.

This is a lesson that acupuncture teaches us, since it requires an investment of time and a willingness to ditch the assumption that good medicine must provide instant gratification. Like acupuncture, running should be thought of as a process that teaches patience, relieves stress and gradually produces improvements. For most of us, this is not a race.

Get out of the gym

If you’re a treadmill runner who dreads your time on the machine, switch it up. Try running outside. If you live in a rural area, this should be easy. If you live in a city and can’t easily access an outdoor route, get creative. When I lived in New York City, on days when I didn’t feel like trekking to the park, I would run up and down the stairs of my apartment building. Running outside or up and down stairs is completely free and a great way to break the cycle of gym bordem.

It’s also in keeping with a central tenet of acupuncture, which is that change is good. In acupuncture theory, change is the only universal marker of progress since the primary objective of acupuncture is to get things moving. Change looks different for everyone, but as long as you are changing, you are not stuck—you are moving forward. From an acupuncture perspective, this is always the right direction.

Skip it

Often, more than running itself, it’s the pressure of feeling like we have to go for a run that causes us to dislike it. When we let go of that pressure—by allowing ourselves to skip a day if we don’t want to go—running starts to feel more like a choice than an obligation.

Acupuncture is such a wise teacher when it comes to letting things go. The goal of acupuncture is not to merely mask symptoms but rather to change the root pattern that allows symptoms to flourish. In doing this, acupuncture helps us see our struggles from two distinct viewpoints: They are meaningful aspects of our stories worthy of careful consideration and at the same time fleeting details destined to be transformed.

Next time you find yourself dreading a run, grant yourself the freedom to skip it by remembering the power of letting go.

To enjoy running, you don’t have to be an Olympic hopeful. But these acupuncture lessons can go a long way toward helping you feel like one.

Photo by Sara Calabro; KD1 infographic from A Manual of Acupuncture

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