Dr. Michael Spino is a world-renowned running coach, teacher, athlete, researcher, and author. Michael has coached world champion runners and teams, extensively researched the mind and body connection to running and is the author of six books on the mental and physical aspects of sport, including Beyond Jogging: The Inner Spaces of Running. In this episode of Omni Athlete, Dr. Spino reveals how a strong connection to your mind and spirit as well as your physical state as a runner can unlock peak performance. Join host Rich Walcoff for this interesting conversation to help you on your journey to access your peak performance state and unlock sport as a transformational human experience.

Dr. Michael Spino, running coach, teacher, athlete, researcher, and author joins us on the Omni Athlete today. Dr. Spino has been at the forefront of physical exercise, as a coach to world champion runners to his extensive research and publication on the mental and physical aspects of sport. During our conversation, we follow Michael’s journey from track star, to coach and now thought leader. Stay tuned as Michael offers digestible takeaways from his significant research on the psychology, spirit, and mindfulness of running to help you achieve your peak performance.

What is the essence of the spirit of running? [1:03]

  • “It’s to have an internal experience as well as a physical experience.”

Michael’s journey to understanding the ‘spirit of running’ [1:15]

  • Passionate about the mental side of sports, specifically researched event rehearsal and how you build up to a big event. Received Ph.D. from elite research school in Europe. A great opportunity to work with great mentors, including Lars-Eric Uneståhl.
  • Wrote article: Running is a Spiritual Experience. Provided the first indication that there’s another element to running, some spiritual aspect that could enter at any point and time.
  • In 1973, started coaching Michael Murphy. He got outstanding in a year or so. He paid me back by teaching me how to meditate.
  • In 1974, brought Percy Cerutty to Esalen to do different workshops. Followed that by creating a 6-week program that added elements of meditation.
  • Wrote Beyond Jogging: The Inner Spaces of Running. The book was a exploded, even landing on the New York Best Sellers List.

Psychological and mental approach to enhance running performance [9:00]

  • “If you’re going to get into the mental aspect of running, you probably need to train in short intervals. Short intervals are good because you can monitor the mental aspect that’s going on in your mind. Identify things that might hold you back or make it easier.”
  • Build up mental capacity for the run during and outside of the run in many ways
  • Use active visualizations (imagine rope pulling you, hand pushing you).
  • Use guided imagery, take imagery and apply it back to a run you’re going to do at a later point.
  • To become a mind-body athlete is an athlete who develops mental and physical skills at the same time and overtime to predict things before they happen, know what you’re thinking and feeling, control your breathing and all things runners want to do to become more consistent and at the top of their game.

Guided imagery [12:00]

  • Visualization while you’re in motion.
  • Do your first visualization when you finish your run. Wipe away the image and condense it into your mind so you have a positive image to work with that you can refer to.
  • The other visualization is a sequence you start from the beginning, start with relaxation, work on body image then work on imagining a run at a certain pace and certain things you do along the way.

Interval training [13:30]

  • Don’t assume you can exercise for a certain period and you’re fine, it does nothing. “Stopping is one of the best things for you because it challenges you and changes your heartbeat.” [17:07]
  • “Interval training is better for you than running at a consistent pace.” [15:50]
  • Once you discipline yourself, it comes to you naturally.

What initial steps do you take if you’re a novice and you want to get into better shape, make running more enjoyable and run faster? [17:40]

  • I have a 10-week program to get people to run faster. I provide 20-30 minute workouts for every day of the 10-weeks. The program includes breathing techniques and conscious time to review your workout.
  • I offer techniques to help remove a heaviness in your body and replace with lightness to take into a run. If you’re feeling bad, stop and do a recovery process to go back into your body to figure out why you’re feeling the way you are. Breathe and go again.
  • “It’s not a sin to stop. Stopping is part of training.” [22:10]

Training and Diet of Kenyan Athletes [25:45]

  • Many Kenyan Athletes don’t want to break out of tradition. Eat greens, ugali, beef. Ugali has a ton of easy to digest carbohydrates. Drink a lot of tea and orange juice.

Running styles: What we often see the best runners in the world running on their toes [31:00]

  • “When you’re training someone, you don’t want to change their foot plan completely, but a lot of it is distributed throughout their body. If they’re not landing right, they’re doing something in their upper body that’s not allowing them to run efficiently in their legs.”
  • Galloping makes you come alive. It can help identify your bodies nuances, how you’re moving and potentially how you’re wasting energy.
  • Runners, especially indoor runners, CAN change their foot plan.

Breathing [35:00]

  • “Exhale is more important than the inhale” [35:15]
  • “If you’re feeling like you’re gasping for breath, your inclination is to try to bring air in but the best thing to do is to exhale.” [35:55].
  • Tighter breathing – “every breath is not the same. Your breath is like the ocean waves coming in. It adapts to the needs that you have for that situation.”

Exhale is counterintuitive [37:40]

  • “Focus on the exhale when you’re in motion and, you’re typing up. Exhale and regroup mentally.”
  • Learning “how do I get the most air in my body and stay relaxed so I don’t pant – when people pant, they begin to panic” [38:00]

Breathing paralleling the ocean waves. Mentally and spiritually, you get into a congruous flow that’s hard to replicate. [39:10]

  • Focus on the ebb and flow of the breathing and waves. It can calm you. You stop and regroup your mind and energy, and you can go again.
  • You train these things in steps. You might not be good at things right away. If you stick with it in 6 months, you can get there.

When you run barefoot, it’s more likely you’ll be landing on the front of your foot. If you have running shoes on, you’ll be more likely to hit on the back of your foot. What makes one or the other advantageous? [43:00]

  • If you run on a beach or uphill, you’re running on the front of your foot. Wear track shoes most of the time, sometimes barefoot to prevent cutting your feet.

Some like to run solo, no headsets, in solitude. Others prefer pulsating music or to run with a group of people. What are the mental and psychological influences for this? [45:30]

  • “As a runner, you might have three training partners your whole life. You know the habits of those people perfectly.”
  • There are many recreational, social running opportunities but if you’re considering how to best train or commit to a spiritual aspect, consider this interaction carefully.
  • There’s energy between people. We want to bring people together that have a simpatico “A coach commits to the spirituality of running. This isn’t running; this is an art form. This is the development of a person as their highest self.” [48:45]
  • What you want to accomplish is a deeper question

Evolution of Strategy [50:00]

  • The strategy has changed dramatically in last 5-6 years. People used to hang back, front-runner or kicked.
  • “Real masters control the race 4-5 laps from the finish, and most people don’t know what to do. There’s no way to beat them because they can sprint and slow down faster than anyone else.” [50:40]
  • Everyone has all different aspects they can play.

How would you characterize the Omni athlete runner? [51:38]

  • “A person who commits to the mind-body connection. Committing that the energy you experience, that what you transfer to other people, is the objective. Not just running.”

Pulled Quotes

  • “Running is a spiritual experience.” [1:10]
  • “When it’s enjoyable, it works.” [10:25]
  • “Go back into your body.” [21:30]
  • “Stopping is part of training.” [21:45]
  • “The exhale is more important than the inhale.” [35:10]

Links Mentioned in Podcast

Learn more about Michael Spino’s coaching True Champion
Read Michael’s seminal book Beyond Jogging: The Inner Spaces of Running