The Running Doctor: Remembering a run with a world class runner

On a Sports Medicine conference I attended years ago in Dallas, Texas, I had the privilege of meeting with a champion runner, Mary Decker (Slaney).

In the 1980’s Decker set six world records, at distances ranging from the mile to 10,000 meters.

Dr. Harry Hlavic, DPM, Mary’s sports podiatrist, a fellow marathoner and my friend, I joined Decker for a morning training run. Although Decker stated that the pace would not be very fast, the run turned out to be an education for me. Every world class runner teaches us something. Rather than the lower body power, the Decker-Slaney characteristic seems to be her facial expressions, ranging from casual interest of a person on a sailboat looking at the other passing ships, to the serenity of a runner on a country road at duck.

She started picking up the speed when she saw me now running about a six and one-half minute per-mile pace. At this point, I had to use a belly breathing type of method to keep my pace (taking air into your belly and exhaling against a slight resistance either through pursed lips or by a grunt or groan).

This method uses the diaphragm correctly and prevents the “stitch”—air under the diaphragm, which can cause pain. Mary was getting even with me.

Mary then began running with a smile on her face, while I was reaching the state where I started using the neck muscles to assist my breathing, which is a waste of energy. Then I watched her portray the proper upper body function of running, which is proper balance and breathing. Her upper body was responding to this and counterbalancing the driving propulsive movements from the hips down. Her arm carry had nothing to do with the forward progress. The arms were completely relaxed, moving just enough to compensate for what is going on below. I began to relax and pick up, or try to pick up a different style of running, relaxing my shoulders and neck muscles.

There was now a gain in energy and performance. We were now at a pace lower than six and one-half minutes per mile, but with the upper body relaxation, we were back in front of the hotel before I knew it. All things had been made smooth through the upper body relaxation. I felt so good after that run that the next day I took a first place in the Academy’s 5K Road Race!

It is important to remember that a proper running style, especially with upper body relaxation, will help you run a good race. Try it — it works!

Dr. Robert F. Weiss is a podiatrist. He was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials. Dr. Weiss is a veteran of 35 marathons. For more information visit