Persistence Hunting and Endurance Running: 5 Ways to Run Effortlessly

Our dog, Ronin (aka fluff-head, muffin-top, puppy, and the “woochy-wooch”).

On a long run with my dog through Clough State Park (about 2 hours, distance unknown), I experienced something remarkable about functional human capacities. It was a warm day, and I was running barefoot on a trail loop that is comprised of asphalt, sand, gravel, stone, and packed dirt. Ronin was off-leash running at his own pace and I was maintaining what felt like a 10 minute mile pace – slow and easy.

When we go for an off-leash run, Ronin likes to take the lead until he finds something interesting to smell. So, he often charges ahead, trots for a bit, and then stops to investigate anything and everything. It’s a beautiful display of the balance between working hard and resting just enough to keep going. Ronin knows when we’re going to be out for awhile, so he paces himself accordingly for a longer run.

Here’s where it gets interesting. After about 90 minutes into the run, I noticed that Ronin was no longer charging ahead of me. Rather, he was staying closer to me and maintaining a trot for much longer than before. Eventually, he fell behind and the distance between Ronin and I began steadily increasing. He simply couldn’t keep up with my pace anymore – even though I was maintaining speed and not running fast by anyone’s standards (a 10 minute mile, c’mon!). Granted, Ronin is an akita, which were bred for two purposes, 1) hunting bears, and 2) guarding a home or property. Sure, he’s a northern breed, with some of the most ancient lines of heritage of any type of canine, but he’s not a sled dog, if you know what I mean. He wasn’t bred to have exceptional physical endurance levels like a Siberian husky or any type of herding dog. In all the dog breed books, akitas are described as athletic with moderate physical activity needs.

But still, this is an animal, a strong and athletic animal in his prime (still has all that puppy energy). And here I was outrunning him into significant fatigue. Had we continued for another hour or two, he would have been run to utter exhaustion just trying to keep up with his pack.

This got me thinking about human capacities, especially when it comes to running. Last year and for the first time in my life, I had conditioned myself to the point where running was almost effortless (do note that I’ve never run for more than 3 hours straight). More specifically, I was running with absolutely no pain or discomfort, and my level of exertion was very low. My breathing wasn’t elevated when I ran, and when I stopped I didn’t have to slow my breathing or catch my breath. Of course, an increase in speed would change that altogether! However, running didn’t feel like work at all, and sometimes it was just as comfortable as walking. More often than not, I would finish a run refreshed, revitalized, and with seemingly more energy than when I started. Today, I’m finally able to relax while I run – something that would shock the doctors who told me I would never be able to run again.

It dawned on me that “this must be how it feels for those ultra-marathoners,” or at least for some of them during the early stages of each race. As humans, we have it completely within our capacity to run effortlessly, and a variety of factors will influence how long we’re able to maintain an effortless pace. Although, it’s obvious that we aren’t the strongest species, or the fastest either.

Usain Bolt is the fastest human in history, and a squirrel can outrun Usain Bolt – Christopher McDougall

Maybe we’re don’t even have the best endurance either, but nobody can argue the fact that we do have exceptional endurance when compared to other species. It’s clear that we have an affinity for covering long distances on land efficiently. A major reason for this is because we regulate our body heat almost entirely through our skin, not just through respiration like many animals do. When we get hot, we sweat to cool down. Whereas, a dog must lower it’s body temperature mostly through panting (or other obvious solutions like finding a shady, cool place to rest, drinking cold water, or going for a dip).

This video has been circulating several communities online. This is a persistence hunt of a male kudu, by tribesman of the San on the Kalahari Desert in Africa. This will give you a good idea of what kind of human endurance is possible. Enjoy!

Persistence Hunting in the Kalahari Desert

How to Run Effortlessly

I’m able to enjoy effortless running for several reasons. As is often the case, there isn’t a single miracle-solution that will help you to run effortlessly, but rather, it’s the integration of many different variables that contribute to better long distance running efficiency. It’s also a skill that must be developed incrementally. It’s not simply a matter of adjusting your technique or eating certain foods for better energy allocation. There is no quick-fix because it’s a skill that requires diligent practice.

First off, feel free to read this quick guide on how to immediately improve your running hobby – you can consider this a beginners guide to cover some of the basics: 5 Tips For The Perfect Run.

After that, take on these advanced strategies for running effortlessly:

1) Change your perception of running – Running doesn’t need to be an exhausting, painful, injury-producing activity. Running can and should be a joyful experience, and you need to believe that in order to make it a reality in your life. If you think that running is going to cause you pain or injury, then it probably will. However, if you change your mindset, you’ll enable your body to follow suit if you give it the time it needs to adjust.

2) Slow down – The easiest way to decrease your running effort is to slow down. It’s brain-dead obvious, but it bears attention. For me, this required that I forget my ego and go running for different reasons than to prove to myself or others what I can achieve. When I first started decreasing my running speed, I remember thinking…

“man, I’m going really slow. I might as well be walking, since this isn’t much faster. I hope nobody sees me running this slowly! … OLD MAN!!!”

Once I got over any preconceived notions about what my speed should be, it allowed me to focus on my movement in the moment. So much of our running problems stem from distractions, and any runner knows that it almost always starts in the mind. When you’re thinking about other things, it’s impossible to be mindful of your movement. This is when pain and injury come into the picture. It’s also why running, being quite a simple activity (that we’ve made complex) is an excellent vehicle to experience Flowstate performance – where all you are focused on is your movement.

3) Let your feet be your guide – Your body is incredibly smart and running barefoot gives you an opportunity to focus more strongly on the experience, instead of blocking out some sensory information from wearing a shoe. Most importantly, going barefoot requires that you pay attention not just to your environment, but to how your body feels. It should go without saying that going barefoot should be an extremely gradual process if you’re accustomed to running in shoes. The bottom line is that if you listen to what your feet are telling you, eventually you’ll be able to run effortlessly. If it hurts, then do something about it. Those blisters, shin splits, and DOMS are a sign that something is wrong. Use and trust your intuition.

4) Strive to improve the quality of your runs, not the quantity of your performance improvements – I think one of the best things I did was to throw running performance improvements out the window, which was followed by an impromptu dance session (No, I won’t film a video!). I know that there’s a time and place for measurements. Certainly if you have standards to meet, then you can’t completely ignore your personal numbers. However, for those who aren’t preparing for a track meet or physical fitness test, focusing on the quality of your runs is one of the best things you could do. So, instead of worrying about doing 1 mile more, or running the same distance in less time, just go out and run. If you’re being mindful of your movement, you’ll be constantly evaluating how you feel as you go. You’ll know if you can run faster or longer intuitively.

The only way to have a perfect run is to free yourself from any expectations. Each day is different, and so is each run. If you are mindful of this before and during each run, you’ll know exactly how hard to push yourself.

I think one of the best things you can do is to go running at a time when your schedule isn’t packed – when you have plenty of time to devote to it, and you’re not worried about your schedule (remember the mind distractions?). If you start with the attitude of “I’m just going to run until I don’t feel like it anymore,” then you’ll have a much more enjoyable and possibly even effortless run. If this means you can only run on Sunday mornings, then do it anyways!

5) Rest when you need it – Part of throwing performance out the window may also involve totally top-sizing your expectations. Sometimes, the only way to ensure an effortless run is to rest frequently – either slowing your pace considerably or even walking. Today, my runs with Ronin are often quite varied (the off-leash runs anyways). We’ll usually keep a steady pace throughout the entire run, but on occasion we will race each other in a full sprint or spend some time walking as silently as possible. Unless there is something beautiful to see or someone to talk to, we are always moving and pushing our limits within comfort. At a moment’s notice, we can come back to that effortless default “persistence trot.”

If you apply these five strategies, you’ll be well on your way to running effortlessly. Although, there’s certainly more to it than I’ve outlined above, and I’d like to know your experience with low effort or no effort running.

To your health and success,

CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT

Fitness Professional

P.S. One of the reasons why I’m able to enjoy effortless running is because I’ve spent years performing a daily personal practice to free my body of restrictions that would limit my range of motion and develop residual muscular tension. I use the Intu-Flow joint mobility program and Prasara BodyFlow Yoga to “clean the slate” in my body each day, and recommend that anyone who wants to be “free to move” should, too.

 

14 Responses

  1. Bob Tracey

    Thanks for this blog and for the amazig video. Regardless of Geiko’s caveman dissing ads I am in awe of the shear will and tenacity of our ancestors coupled with their wisdom.

  2. Excellent thoughts. Interesting how I’m tracking along some of the changes in philosophy you have noted here – you are just ahead of me on whatever curve that is.
    I recall training for a marathon in 2000. I ran with my dog. At about 10 miles, he was clearly done. He would still stay with me because that’s what dogs do, but he no longer found it much fun after 10 miles. Lab/Shepherd mix. But I hadn’t thought if it in terms of better human endurance design. Hmmmm.

  3. Jimmy Svitak

    Thanks John! That was an awesome article to read just before I go for my run this morning =D

  4. Hello John,

    Great video and thanks for sharing. BTW,this brings to mind an article that I read some number of years ago where two anthropologists/runners decided to try a persistence hunt in Montana (or mebbe Idaho)with antelope as the prey. IIRC, they posited that this would have been the only way to capture and kill antelope as they were too fast for horses and the open plains made it almost impossible to use an ambush strategy. Anyway, I don’t know if you can still find it but the conclusion was that despite days of trying, they weren’t able to do it. Whether a tribesman could do it is an open question as I notice that his choice of prey was a heavy animal not built for speed, at least in the context of four-footed ungulates. Best – A.

  5. Torsten Nielsen

    For a period in my life I did a fair amount of running, but I developed some sort of injury/pain in one foot so I stopped. This weekend I participated in a big running event with some coworkers. I haven’t done any running in more than ten years, but still managed to run the 6.4km in a decent time – could feel it the legs for a few days though. To make running ejoyable for me, I think it should either be very slow and relaxed or really fast paced with short bursts of energy.
    There’s been a lot of talk in the media about running barefoot lately, but I didn’t see any runners without running shoes at the event.
    Did you notice, the hunter in the video vore shoes!!
    Thanks for sharing

  6. “The only way to have a perfect run is to free yourself from any expectations.”

    Great quote! Great article.

  7. Hey John!

    This is AD from India.I happened to stumble upon your fitness blog via your video on Youtube where you review a portable pullup bar.I find that your routines here are simple(equipment free) and inspiring.Keep up the good work!Now, on to my question…

    I indulge in endurance running, three to four times a week.I hope to run a marathon someday!And if this isn’t some fitness fad,maybe a triathlon too!!Anyway, I do about 45-60 minutes of smooth running.The problem is not the running.It’s the period after.What stretching routine(s) do you recommend that will keep me going even when I’m old,wise and grey? :D

    Endurance training especially running is about going the distance isn’t it?I checked out the beginner/intermediate level exercises on Intuflow.The thing is, it might take a while for me to build up and incorporate the routine into my daily regimen.

    Cheers and congrats on the newest addition to the Sifferman clan!

    AD

    • Hi AD,

      Thanks for the kind words, and for introducing yourself.

      For my post-run cooldown, see number 4 on this page:

      http://physicalliving.com/how-to-run-better/

      That RMAX Powered Running DVD has an excellent cooldown program for runners, too.

      I highly encourage you to start a daily intu-flow practice. Follow along and study the beginner level videos here until you’ve memorized the routine:

      http://physicalliving.com/resources/circular-strength-training/mobility/

      If you truly want to run injury-free into old age, you’ll need to start some type of pre-hab based exercise such as intu-flow, yoga, tai-chi, or qigong. Some people get away with neglecting this, but they are few. The reason I like Intu-flow is because it’s systematic and comprehensive, but also because it’s intuitively practiced, rather than dogmatically imitated.

  8. Great article. I transitioned to minimal/barefoot style over the past year. It took a while because I’ve been running for over 40 years. It allowed me to rediscover running and the pure joy of movement. Technical shoes had me feeling running was an effort and a workout – something I needed to endure. Barefoot style rekindled my love. What you describe is very close to how I have felt. I to work on speed and strength like always, but I can slow it down and just get into a long, long run mode. I always take my iPhone with me and stop to take pictures. It makes running play.

    RunFree!

    jlg

  9. Nice article! Humans truly are impressive distance runners, especially when compared to other primates. However, I wonder about the true nature of dog endurance. Wolves are actually incredible runners, piling up miles at speeds faster than the best human distance runners. Furthermore, sled dogs are obviously unbelievable runners. Obviously, dogs display the most divergent phenotypes of any single species, but it would surprise me to learn that some breeds, especially working & herding breeds, had lost their ability to run. Perhaps the key difference is less one of physical endurance and more one of mental endurance. That is, I wonder if our dogs, much like most modern humans, simply lack the desire or interest to run long distances. Often, I will run with my dogs (herding breeds) until I am convinced that they are tired, but when we get home they immediately start play fighting and chasing each other around.
    Of course, conditioning may also play a role; many dogs (again, like humans) are essentially sedentary.

    Also, you might find this interesting:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v432/n7015/full/nature03052.html

  10. JIM STOVER

    I RAN OFF AND ON FROM HIGH SCHOOL UNTIL I WAS ABOUT 34 YEARS OLD AND BASICALLY HAD TO QUIT BECAUSE I HAD WORN DOWN MY ANKLE CARTILAGES. I ONLY WALK ON A TREAD MILL NOW WITH 5 POUND “HEAVY HANDS” (NO PAIN NEXT DAY AS WITH RUNNING). MY THEORY IS THAT ALL RUNNERS ARE DOING DAMAGE TO THEIR JOINTS (ANKLES, KNEES, OR HIPS)AND DON’T KNOW IT AND “SPORTS DOCTORS” EITHER DON’T KNOW IT OR WON’T TELL THEM. THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A “RUNNING STEP” AND A “WALKING STEP” AT THE MOMENT OF IMPACT. TODAY I AM 64 YEARS OLD AND IF I HAD TRIED TO CONTINUE RUNNING FOR THE LAST 30 YEARS I’D PROBABLY HAVE HAD TO HAVE ANKLE REPLACEMENTS. IT APPEARS AT THIS POINT IN MY LIFE THAT I WILL PROBABLY BE ABLE TO CONTINUE WALKING 6 DAYS A WEEK ON A TREAD MILL (4.5 SPEED AND 10 DEGREE SLOPE BASICALLY)AND BURNING 800 PLUS CALORIES AT 200 LBS. YOUR EVIDENTLY A STRONG ADVOCATE OF RUNNING (EVEN BARE FOOT)AND I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR YOUR COMMENTS THAT I’VE MADE HERE ABOUT RUNNING BEING MORE DESTRUCTIVE OVER TIME COMPARED TO WALKING OR BIKE RIDING ETC.
    THANKS,
    JIM STOVER

  11. Vinh Diesel

    I just bought Rmax Powered Running today and I was just wondering if you can tell me how I can incorporate rmax powered running with other programs such as body weight, weight training, or tacfit. I will probably get tacfit warrior in the future since I heard it has brain wiring moves that are derived from ross. By the way I am a combat systema student (eclectic style based on Ryabko, Kadochinikov, and ROSS)

    • There are instructions within the DVD that will answer your question. The short version (my opinion) is to do your RMAX Powered Running before and after your runs, and follow another training program like TACFIT as-is. Enjoy!

      And any more questions, just let me know – happy to help.

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