Run like a tree

Now that the article heading grabbed your interest you are probably thinking I've lost the plot. A tree is perhaps one of the last things you'd connect running to. After all, unless you are talking Ents (Lord of the Rings style) then you don't see many trees moving about (though I'm still waiting to spot some when I see the 'Heavy Plant Crossing' road signs).

There is method to my madness, so bear with me.

The more I run in nature, the more I learn from what I'm running through and around.

I was recently running through a woodland which was a bit of an obstacle course with lots of windblown trees crisscrossed over the path. As I was dodging and weaving I mistimed one jump and duck, smacked my head on a large branch and ended up on the ground, facing the sky through the branches, watching the tiny birds tweeting in a circle round my head. Maybe the latter didn't actually happen, but it felt like a cartoon moment. While I lay on the floor in a slight daze my head linked my thinking about what makes for healthy running to attributes of a tree. So here goes with what came to mind in no particular order.

Build strong roots

A tree doesn't suddenly and miraculously appear fully formed and balancing on the ground.

It takes it's time and build strong roots, strong foundations.

It's starts small and grows over time. It's the same with running. You don't just slap your trainers on and do a marathon. You should start slowly and gently, building strength and pace from the ground up. If you put the work in early on, those strong foundations will help you remain injury free and grow as a runner.

Strengthen your trunk

Healthy trees have healthy trunks. Trunks that are sturdy and tough, but that can also flex in the winds. A strong trunk holds up the weight of the branches and leave and helps the tree stand tall. As a runner you need a strong yet flexible core. Your body needs to be able to be able to stand tall as you run keeping your head up and your lungs open. So remember to strengthen your core in a functional way: build strength but remain flexible.

Wave your branches

Trees allow their branches to move with the winds. If they stayed static they'd snap and be useless to them. When you run, you need relaxed shoulder and allow your arms to move. Allow them to drive your steps forward. Like the branches of the tree let them move with the wind. What I mean by that is to be mindful of moving them front to back and not across the body. If your hands swing across your body then you are losing effort and energy into the twist rather then the forward momentum. Like the tree, don't waste energy.

Grow with the seasons

Trees understand the seasons. In spring and summer they put in maximum effort to grow. In autumn and winter they slow down, still growing, but in synchronicity with the weather. Of course you can run the same all year round, that's your call. However there's nothing to say you have to. With the warmer, longer seasons put in the miles and time and effort. Make hay while the sun shines. When the nights then draw in and it's more difficult to get out before or after work, be kind to yourself.

Run when you can but don't force it.

Still put in the work you need to. Keep the fitness there, give your body time to heal; and know then you'll be ready to grow new leaves and twigs in the spring.

Choose your species

Not all species of tree grow everywhere. Birch can cope with most places, but Weeping Willows want plenty of lowland water. Consider what kind of runner you want to be. Do you want to be a Birch and be an allrounder, or do you want to be a Willow and specialise in lowland ultras. How you train your body will differ. How your run will differ. However we have an advantage over the tree. We can change species if we choose to. We can move from a 10km runner to an ultra runner, or a marathon runner to an allrounder. When we do though we need to accept that we may need to go back to the sapling stage and learn to grow new roots first.

Drink deeply

Trees don't do well when they can't drink and feed. It's the same for you. Your body needs fuel and oxygen to function. Keep your nutrition up inline with whatever your levels of training are. Keep hydrated. If you are really thirsty it's too late. Without water trees become brittle and lose their leaves. Well, hey, it's the same with you. Drink little and often. Anything over 10km consider having water with you.

There you go. My tree metaphor for running. It's amazing what can come to mind when you are lying semi-concussed in a quiet woodland! I don't recommend it as a source of inspiration, but do learn from it. Get out there and run like a tree!

If you want to know more about learning to run healthily and get yourself fit then contact me or visit

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