Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This Is About The Victims


When I scroll through the endless series of blog posts and tweets, I (rightfully or wrongfully) am disappointed to see so many people trying to make this horrific tragedy about themselves.  Trying to put yourself at the site of the scene, indicating that it could have been you, your family, your friends. But you, the person writing, were likely not there.  You were not the one who has to deal with the repercussions of what happened.  You, like myself, are just one of the millions of observers – an outsider looking in.  And while we have every right to feel grief, anger, etc at what happened, I can’t help but be saddened when events like this enable people to turn the tables and make it about them.  

Do you even know what it is like to spend any period of time not knowing whether a loved one is still alive?  Do you know the range of emotions one goes through at a time like that?  I don’t think most people do.  Well, except for those who were there that day, or for those who have the unfortunate distinction of having gone through similar tragedies elsewhere.  If you haven’t been in that dark place, please don’t try to act like you were.  I can tell you from personal experience (not from this event, but from another), you simply can’t fathom what it feels like.  But again, this is not about me, or likely you.  This is about the victims.

So what I ask is to stop playing the what if game.  Stop playing the victim card.  Stop pretending like you know what it is like.  I can assure you, you don’t.  If you must, listen to those who were there.  Hear their stories.  Learn from their account and let them (if they wish to share) tell you what it was like.  They are the victims.  They are the ones who will spend the rest of their lives remembering what happened on April 15, 2013.

What can you do?  Support them.  Support the community.  Inspire others.  As runners, we are once again in the spotlight with an opportunity to shine.  Whether that means showing up with greater force at events, doing more for your community, raising money for victims – do it.  Do it all.  Because that is what we do.  We inspire others through our actions.

So in this dark moment, find your strength through reaching outward and do what you can to give back through whatever means possible.  Just because you weren’t there doesn’t mean you can’t have an impact.  We all can have an impact.  Now more than ever is your chance to make things right.  So get out there and run if you must.  But run to inspire.  Run for a cause.  Run for others who can’t.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Life as a Sherpa - Training and Racing Through Others

After I finished Shamrock last month and spent the past couple of weeks recovering, my focus has shifted away from myself a bit and onto others I coach.  I don't talk about that side of things much, but this is more directly related since one of those people I am currently focusing on coaching is my wife.  You see, a few months ago, a bunch of her friends all decided to race the Nike Women's Half, which is coming up in 2 weeks.  To honor some family members, they all joined in as a team to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through TnT.  And while they provide you a "plan" to train for the race, it is a pretty bare bones one to barely get you across the finish line IMO.  Some of these ladies haven't run anything longer than a 5k or a 10k, but they all have plans to do more than just finish.  So without a real plan, I stepped up to provide them coaching, because I know that each one of these strong women are driven and motivated to do great things.  And most importantly, I simply love seeing people work hard for something they want, and ultimately achieve it.  I have no doubt that race day will be a great day for all these women.  But before we start writing the future, lets talk about the past and my recent life as a sherpa and coach.


When we first started training, I had all of these women use recent race performances to set a baseline for their training paces, because as you know, you can't just pull goals out of a hat.  After about 4-6 weeks of training, we retested to set a new baseline at a realistic level now that they all had a chance to have some consistency.  The results were astounding - they all PR'd by 1+ min in a 5k time trial, which is a large chunk of time for a 5k!  Now mind you, some of these women have been running for 6+ years, including my wife.  So when I saw their results, I was so proud to learn they were adjusting to the training I was giving them.  It was only a few moments after they were all basking in their glory of these results that I informed them of the "bad" news - all their workouts just got harder!  You see - here's the thing about training...getting faster never makes it easier, because you just adjust your paces with your fitness.  So when they all proved they were more fit than they were when they started, I adjusted their paces to be more in line with their current fitness.

Fast forward to this past weekend, which was the first real "test" since that 5k time trial.  A number of them had won entry through the lottery into Cherry Blossom, so had planned to run it in place of the designated long run for the week.  I wanted them to go into this race as a simulation for Nike.  So I spent some time writing them a race plan so they knew what to focus on, how to stay controlled, where to hold back and where to push, and how minimize distractions at a big event like Cherry Blossom.

Additionally, my wife was scheduled to run her longest run of the training cycle (13-14 miles) the same day.  And seeing how she isn't the biggest fan of running solo, let alone for such a long run, I joined her.  And so did the little man.  We linked up with some of my fellow coaches and friends, and joined them on the always enjoyable W&OD.  Having never run longer than 8 miles with him in the stroller (at my faster pace), I wasn't sure how he'd do for such a long run (likely 2+ hrs).  I also wasn't sure what it would be like pushing a stroller for that long.  Initially, I was only planning to run 8-10 of the miles, as I figured he'd only last about that long if we got lucky. So we ventured off, and shortly after, the little dude found his happy place.  As we neared where I'd have to turnaround if I was only doing 8-10, he seemed to be still well asleep and doing fine.  So we stayed together and figured I'd just take of him if he woke up and Rebecca would just continue on until she was done.  Well sure enough, around 11 miles, he woke up.  And with a few crackers brought along for just this type of situation, he was fully content to just hang out and watch the world speed by for the last 2.1 miles.  Since he was awake and we were running out of time (due to other obligations), we decided to end the run at 13.1.  Because you can't train someone to run 13.1 and end a run at 13.  That would just be cruel.

Overall, it was such an impressive day - for both the Z man and Rebecca as they both set new long distance PRs, and for the other folks who ran Cherry Blossom!  Z managed his first double digit stroller run, while Rebecca ran her longest continuous run (excluding this, since she had good reasons to slow down and walk).  As for the Cherry Blossom race, of the 3 people I coach, 2 ran 9+ minute PRs, while the other was their first 10 mile race ever!  So pumped for everyone!

But it doesn't stop there!  Tomorrow is the Monument Ave 10k, which has historically been a race we've run each of the past 6 or so years.  Last year, Rebecca didn't run it, since she was very pregnant with the Z man.  Well this year, its my turn to take off, as I will be official race sherpa and super dad!  Will she represent us well?  You'll just have to stick around to find out!

Can't wait to see these ladies rock Nike in 2 weeks - its going to be such a great time for everyone!

Friday, April 5, 2013

When the Going Gets Tough - How to Teach Yourself to Tolerate the Pain



Often times during training and racing, we find ourselves faced with a decision – do I keep pushing myself to go harder or do I ease up and slow down.  This is not an easy decision for anyone, no matter how fast you are.  Even competitive athletes struggle internally with this decision.  However, the difference is that highly successful athletes learn techniques and train themselves to get through it.  Easier said than done, but a skill virtually anyone can learn.  It simply takes a dedicated, consistent approach to training, much like anything else.  There are no shortcuts - If you want to be good at it, you have to practice it.

What I mean is that you don’t just decide one day to go out there and run as hard as you can for as long as you can, only to do the same thing tomorrow, but for an extra minute, mile, etc until you are satisfied.  You wouldn’t take that same approach with mileage, right?  RIGHT?!?!?  You also wouldn't just show up on the starting line, having never practiced what you are planning to do in a race.  Of course not!

Enter the key concept of progressive adaptation.  A progressive approach is one in which you slowly build upon a foundation by applying a little stress, and then backing off, only to build again soon.  As with your weekly mileage, hopefully you follow a similar approach of slowly building up mileage for a few weeks, holding at that level for another week or two, and then taking a recovery week to back off, followed by a return to building.  Taking that same concept and applying it to learning how to push through the pain (both physically and mentally), you should incorporate workouts designed to simulate pushing through the specific type of pain you'll experience in the race you are training for.

Most well informed marathoners should be familiar with marathon simulation workouts in which you teach your body to become efficient at running marathon pace and knowing what it feels like.  These are commonly long runs (and to a lesser extent tempo runs) where a significant portion of the workout is comprised of marathon paced miles (ie 18 miles of 3 x 5 mi at marathon pace, with 1 mi recovery between each set).  It also happens to work pretty effectively at the mental games you’ll play with yourself late in a race as you try to focus on nailing goal pace and not slowing down.  So in other words, you kill two birds with one stone by working both the mental and the physical at the same time.

In the case of a marathon, the goal of marathon paced running is to become comfortable being slightly uncomfortable.  Note: Workout like these are NOT designed for you go as hard as you can go over the given workout distance.  That would defeat the purpose of the workout, which is specificity.  Of course, this approach changes slightly when you change the race distance.  Training for a ½ marathon or a 10 mile race?  To be more race specific, you'd need to get more comfortable being moderately uncomfortable, otherwise referred generically as moderately hard.  In these types of workouts, you are more likely to have key sessions through hard tempo runs and long runs.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Regardless of the distance, the progressive approach to your training physically and mentally remains the same.  The example of 3 x 5 mi at marathon pace isn’t something you would just jump into.  If you tried something like that at the beginning of a training cycle, you’d likely end up with less confidence, rather than more, and/or injured as a result of “a case of the too’s” – too much, too soon, too hard.  With a progressive approach, you place together the building blocks over time.  It is only at the peak of training for a marathon, after you have done all the incremental steps of building up your physical and mental game, where you would attempt such a workout.  So how do you get to that point?  Here are a few thoughts on the ways to progress through more challenging workouts:

  • Fartlek – Yea it’s a funny word, but it is what I consider the first building block.  You simply run fast when you feel like it.  No pressure to run for “x” minutes or distance.  Baby steps first.  
  • On/Off segments – Starting with something as simple as repeated sets of 1 minute hard/2 minute easy throughout the middle of a medium distance run.  As you build from this, you can flip the set to be 2 minutes hard/1 minute easy, ultimately building to longer segments like 5 minutes hard/1 minute easy.  Note: Hard in these cases is relative to the distance you are training for –the shorter the race, the harder you’d run during each segment.
  • Longer repeats with easy jog recoveries – Hard running segments are now starting to get a bit longer, but by doing repeats with easy running between sets, you still get the “break”.  Often times, you’ll find you can do more volume at a hard effort with the break, rather than simply making it a single extended tempo session.  For endurance races, this can start as 1 mile repeats and build up (depending on the race distance you are training for) into sets of 3-5 mile repeats.  For something like a 5k runner, you might start with ¼ mi repeats, building up to 5 x 1k at 5k pace.
  • Tempo – Now is when we start getting into what most runners are familiar with.  Tempo runs are longer stretches of runs that are done in a single set.  For example, a 4 mile tempo run at 10k pace.  4 miles of running at 10k effort takes a pretty large amount of focus, at nearly 66% of the distance.  Getting to this step too soon might make achieving the goal paces and maintaining the focus of running that hard for that long a bit challenging.
While some training programs might have you do the same type of run (ie a tempo) throughout your training cycle, I like to use these various types to create variety.  If there’s one thing that might also keep you from progressing, its knowing you have the same workout you did last week, only this time it is a mile longer.  To do that week after week after week, to me, is simply boring and a mental drain.  I think most people thrive on variety, so progressing from one type to the next, while simultaneously adapting to longer distances, is a win-win in my book.


However, the reality is that most people jump right into the long tempo run variety without the buildup and find it is difficult.  It’s harder on the body and the mind, which can have a lasting impact on your ability to train for a given race.  You want workouts to give you confidence, not take it away.  A confident runner is a race ready runner and one who will not try to do stupid things or change their planned runs just because they need to “test” themselves.  A runner who builds confidence over a progressive approach will peak at the right time close to the race, not 4-6 weeks before a race due to going straight to the hardest workouts.  And lastly, a runner who employs a progressive approach is much more likely to remain healthy throughout their training cycle.  So not only are they peaked and ready to race, they are healthy enough to perform up to their potential on race day.  And ultimately, that’s the place you want to be when you’re standing on the start line.
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