One of these fine gorgeous spring days I decided to make my body wake up from its slumber of lethargy and charge full speed ahead through the green fields. Yes, it was the day where endless seating and slow walking would be replaced by energetic, heart-palpitating running. Great idea, unfortunately that casing that is my body didn't seem to like it. The sidewalk crackles as my feet sprint upon it. Alas, to my dismay my body orders me to stop two minutes later. It also signals in no uncertain terms that it won't let me start up again. Panting, out of breath, I am hyperventilating and wondering when my breath and pulse will come down to their regular rate.

What I have learned since has enabled me to run without feeling completely exhausted and deadly worn-out afterwards. Keeping myself from getting out of breath, I have made sure that I steadily and consistently draw breath as I run. That has required a certain sacrifice. I do not run at maximum speed all the time. I often run slowly to draw in my breath so that when I later pick up speed I have enough to keep me going without getting breathless.

Running for me has become a process of building up energy. Going fast and managing to breathe comes from first going slow. I would guess that this is because it is more comfortable for the body to gradually pick up in speed and increase its breathing than to switch from very slow breathing to very fast breathing immediately. The more important role that slow running serves is as an interval of recovery. After having run fast for a minute or more, the body needs to slow down its pulse and breathing speed. The slower breathing and pulse during an interval of slow running makes me feel rested and ready to subject myself to running and breathing fast again.

The process of running has revealed itself to be one of drawing breath and energy, releasing these depleted resources, only to build them up again for yet another release. This whole process is incredibly fascinating because it transcends the realm of running. The build up of tension and its release is something that we see everywhere though we don't recognize it as such. In sports events, boxers often grit their teeth and have a strained look on their face before getting down to the fight. If you have ever watched a detective film, the murderer often plans methodically and walks carefully, slowly, and observes everything around him with incredible concentration before committing the gruesome deed. In fact, the viewer is often shocked by the transition from a cautious, nervous guy into a man of mad and violent action.

A stage of cautious, tense, and slow build-up followed by a violent release is also expressed in the rhythms of nature. Think of waves. They start as small ripples that slowly climb up and gather at the top into a crescendo that later violently crashes. This process of waves building and crashing is often communicated to us via music and choreographed dancing. A stunning example of such choreographed music is American figure skater Sasha Cohen's short program performed at the 2001 US National Championships and the 2002 Olympics.(Note: Sasha Cohen won the silver medal at the 2006 Olympics.) The music that she performs to, the Sentimental Waltz composed by Moldovan Evgeniy Doga for the Russian film Sweet and Tender Beast, alternates between two melodies - a slow descending sequence of notes that marks the buildup of tension and a fast and bouncy rising line melody that represents exuberant release.

Sasha Cohen's movements perfectly mirror the two motifs. She accompanies the slow tense melody with tense body motion. Her hands are stiffly stretched out in a straight horizontal line or semi-vertically. Her legs also reflect stiffness when she holds them out horizontally to do her spiral sequences. As it moves along, the music deemphasizes and almost silences the slow tense melody and gives most of its time and focus to the rising energetic melody. Sasha's skating reflects the movement from tension to release. The body loses its stiffness as angular horizontal positions that are held in place give way to "flowing arms" that swoosh up and down. The release of energy is also mirrored by the twisty and twirly turns performed by her feet that replace the earlier straight movement along the edges of the rink.

In this case, the sum is greater than the whole of the parts. The choreography of this program manages to make the point because the transition from tension to release is very gradual both in music and the skater's movement. The rising melody line gradually gains in power and drowns out the slow lethargic tension-filled melody. The skater's body that starts out as stiff and tense gives way to relaxation as the feet and arms loosen up from their torpor into fluid dancing motion.

Let's not blow up this choreographed piece of music into some miraculous revelation. After all, buiding up tension and releasing it is rather ordinary because it's there in the ocean and in the human body. But just because this process is so normal, it doesn't mean that we actually think about it. Somehow when the ordinary rhythms of life are set to music and dance, they become more lucid and impress themselves upon us more vividly.

P.S: By the way, Sasha Cohen's skating performance to the music of Sentimental Waltz from the film My Sweet and Tender Beast is available on youtube, in case you may want to give it a look. See Given the ever-changing nature of youtube, this link is due to expire sometime but hopefully not soon.


What makes e2 amazing is that the insights about running that I obtained from my recent experience have already been written-up by another noder. It's as if he took the words out of my mouth about the importance of alternating fast running with slow running to catch your breath. I highly recommend futurebird's node How to Run Faster because I can assure you that my own experience has born out his advice.

Two other nodes that also deal with the same point are interval training and fartlek.