Perceptions, preconceptions and ‘free-falling up hill’

One of the most dramatic moments of the recent Pose Clinic in Loughborough occurred when Dr Romanov selected a volunteer from among the group of Pose novices for a special experience. The novice was instructed to close his eyes and run, Pose style, while Dr Romanov guided him by holding his wrist. At the time we were gathered on the edge of a grass playing field at the base of a steep grassy slope, perhaps inclined at 1 in 5. Dr Romanov set-off leading the novice along the edge of the field and then turned up the slope. At the top, they turned and ran down again, finally turning back along the edge of the playing field to where we were assembled. The novice was allowed to open his eyes and asked where he had run. He indicated a level course along the field. He was incredulous when informed that he had been to the top of the hill.

Then we all had an opportunity for a similar experience. My guide wove a sinuous path to throw me off the scent. I concentrated on pulling my foot from stance as rapidly as possible on each stride, and avoided focus on foot-fall, as we had been instructed the previous day. At times I had the sense that we were traversing across a slope because I perceived that one foot was landing lower than the other, and occasionally I was aware that we were going downhill because I received a slight jolt at foot-fall. When I finally opened my eyes, I was just as amazed as the first novice had been to discover just how much hill climbing I had done without perceiving any extra effort.

So what was there to learn from this amazing experience? The first lesson is that perception can be quite different from reality. The second lesson was that removing preconceptions can make things easier. Perhaps much of the effort we perceive when running up hill comes from our preconception that running up hill is effortful. The third implied lesson is that Pose method makes running up hill easy. Chapter 32 of the ‘Pose Method of Running’ deals with running up and down hills. When describing uphill running on page 210, the authors, Dr Romanov and John Robson, state: ‘The momentum of your running plus the forward lean allows gravity to continue to work for you – you literally free fall uphill.’ To the amazed novice experiencing the blind-fold hill running session, the conclusion seemed inescapable. Pose made hill running easy.

I believe that at least two of these three conclusions are true, so it is worth stepping back and looking a little more closely at each.

Perception and reality

With regard to the first conclusion that perception can be quite different from reality, Dr Romanov had pointed our several times during the weekend that we can only be conscious of one thing at a time. (This of course is the source of a magician’s magic). We had been instructed that when running Pose style we should focus solely on a rapid pull of the foot from stance. This is almost certainly excellent advice because it minimises the waste of energy and increased risk of injury associated with actively pushing downwards at footfall. Not surprisingly, we failed to perceive the premature footfall and shorter stride when running up-hill, and similarly failed to perceive the slightly delayed footfall when running downhill. So the practical conclusion is that when running we need to identify what we should choose from among the possible things we could focus on, to achieve our goal. Focus on the pull from stance appears to be a good choice.

Preconceptions

Most people find running up hill effortful even when they decrease their speed. Dr Romanov emphasises that when running up hill the stride should be shortened so that perceived effort remains constant. That is what he did when leading the novice up the hill. When deprived of an unhelpful preconception, running uphill with an appropriately reduced stride-length requires no additional effort.

‘Free-falling uphill’

The third implied conclusion that Pose method makes uphill running easier because ‘the momentum of your running plus the forward lean allows gravity to continue to work for you – you literally free fall uphill’ requires closer inspection. Once you are moving at constant velocity, the main influence that keeps you going when on a flat surface is indeed momentum. As discussed several times on my blog, most recently in yesterday’s post, I believe that gravitational torque cannot provide propulsion, either on the flat or up hill, simply because any torque applied at some point in the gait cycle must be cancelled by an opposite torque at some other point in the cycle, if we are to avoid a face-down crash. When running up-hill work must be done against gravity. There is no plausible source other than muscular effort. If the guide sets the pace such that perceived effort is constant due to deceased stride length, less muscular work is required per stride to accelerate the leg from stance to overtake the advancing torso. The energy saving (per stride) provides the energy necessary to raise the centre of mass up the hill. Unfortunately we require more strides to cover the same distance compared with running on the flat. The rate of energy expenditure in not increased but the duration is.

So, the amazing experience of blind-fold hill running tells us something useful about perception and also about preconceptions, but unfortunately we didn’t ‘literally freefall up hill’ as implied in ‘The Pose Method of Running’

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