This is how it works-
I love to run but there are times when I would rather not. This is when the voices start. Chants, name calling, guilt and reverse psychology is how they get me up and out the door. I don't really mind the voices and have actually started looking forward to their daily calls. Together we have formed a running club that supports, encourages and competes with each other. I love these peeps. They are much more experienced, talented and tougher than I am. Pushing me out the door, through the hard miles and up the monster hills when I am feeling lazy or want to give up. Some people have "real" training partners, coaches and support crews. My team is ALWAYS with me and helps me to keep my eye on the prize and not veer off the track. Sounds crazy- Yeah, probably is.........

Monday, July 15, 2013

Training? Training?? I Don't Need No Stinkin' Training Plan....

I used to think that I had it all figured out. This running stuff is really simple after all. Just lace 'em up and hit the road. Run as fast as possible for the desired distance and call it good. Go back the next day and run just a little faster. Training plans were, in my mind, something designed by "professionals" to make money. Every copy of Runners World seemed to have one that was just a little different than the last issue but claimed to be better. I tried a few early on because, like most beginners, I was lost and wanted to improve. It wasn't long before I started feeling like a complete failure. I couldn't find the time and I didn't understand 90% of the stuff it wanted me to do. Pretty quick, I abandoned my faith in the "experts" and just decided to run. Looking back, this was the smartest and dumbest move I ever made. Weird.

When I began "training" for my first full marathon back in 2007, the goal was to finish. I knew that a 3:30 was realistic but wasn't sure how to get there. I perused the internet and found several plans that promised to take me my goals and beyond. I noticed that they all had a few things in common. First, every plan called for a build up of miles over a period of time, usually 16-20 weeks. Second, they all called for some type of speed work and recovery days. Finally they stressed the importance of maintenance runs. Seemed simple enough so I built my own plan by stealing from several and combining them into something that would fit my life and schedule. It was genius. I cut out all the speed work stuff, mainly because I had zero understanding of it and partly because it seemed too hard, and ended up with a plan that would end up matching total mileage with the majority I had found.

Things worked out okay. I ran a 3:13 for my first marathon, qualified for Boston, didn't break any bones and fell in love with the longer distance. Because of my luck, and I really think it was pure luck, there was an arrogance that I had it all under control and most plans were just money making gimmicks. I carried on through a few more marathons and eventually found myself looking at ultras. Back then there really weren't any real plans for 50k's and up. Sure there was a lot of "tweak your marathon plan" type of articles but no real clear plan to step up the distance. This,of course, help solidify the idea that I didn't need no stinkin' plan. Just run dude. That's all you got to do. So I did. After running a couple of fairly successful 50 milers I wrote about some of the stuff that discouraged me from training plans....

I am one of those people that believe that the only way to “truly” learn is through personal experience. Sure this takes a little longer and there are some risks, like injury and never reaching the peak performance, but still, I think it is the BEST way. I may be way off base here, but it seems that most of these “experts” are basing there plans on what works best for themselves......exactly what I believe.....but want to apply it to everyone else. HOW can one plan work for everybody? I mean, they are almost always backed with some type of guarantee. (I guarantee that if it doesn't work for YOU, it was because YOU didn't follow the plan properly.) 

VO2 max, lactic threshold, fast-twitch, slow-twitch, pronation, fartleks, tempo-run, marathon pace, mp+ 30, heart rate and Yasso 800's....... that crap blows my mind and leaves me feeling less like running and more like taking a nap. I kind of understand some of it and do not care about the rest. What I do know is this...... When I run as hard as I can, my heart beats faster and breathing becomes difficult, so I slow down. When I get thirsty, I drink water. My marathon pace depends on the course, weather and how I feel that day. Yasso 800's tell me nothing except that I hate running 800's. The rest of that “technical” stuff is just mumbo-jumbo to me. 

I have tried to follow some plans in the past and usually end up tired, sore and less motivated than ever. Some of it is because of the time commitment required, some due to the mid-week speed drills but mostly because I hate the inflexible nature of a strict plan. Knowing that training is more important than the actual event, I WILL follow a training plan for all future events. The plan will be the same for everyday if possible, try to hit back to back long runs (10-12 miles followed by 16-20 miles the next day). Some will be slow, some will be faster but they will ALL be on my terms- depending on how I feel that day. (Read that nonsense here)

I stuck to this idea, this "plan", that all I had to do was run and everything else would fall into place. And it did. For the most part. I employed this theory through a couple of sub 3 marathons, a few very fast 50k's, two sub 24 hour 100 milers and a sweet 50 miler that left me with a state record for my age group. It was working. Nothing could stop me. Nothing. Well, almost nothing. Nowhere in my "plan" did it take into account that I could become injured and what I should do about it once it happened. My experiences in the past with injuries had been few and far between. A little knee pain? Calf muscles are sore? Hamstring issues? Plantar? Shin splints? ITB? Rub some dirt on it dude... you got to keep up the mileage. So I always did.

Back in late December, 2011 and early January of 2012, The Idiots Running Club was formally created and our motto became ti no trid emos bur which is simply rub some dirt on it backwards. It came about because of my attitude that we, as runners, didn't need to play by the rules and just had to tough it out if goals were to be met. This motto and dumb little club pushed me to continue my arrogant ways for a while. (I still believe in the "dirt method" for the most part- most of the time we talk ourselves into quitting because of "make believe" pains/injuries.) In April of 2012, I ran the Ouachita 50 miler with some big time knee and calf issues. Going in to the race, I knew there were problems and coming out I made a ton of excuses but the fact was that I had over-trained and really just didn't have a clue how to prepare myself for the distance.

Earlier in the year, Jeff Kline from PRS Fit and I started "talking" via twitter and facebook. He is the owner of PRS Fit and quickly integrated himself into the Idiots Running Club group page on facebook. To be fair and honest, I really thought he was full of crap when he first started posting and tweeting. I automatically assumed it was another "get rich quick" scheme and he was just trolling for clients but in the interest of providing knowledge and helpful tips to the club I allowed him to continue his interactions while monitoring and inspecting every post for even a hint of a sales pitch. To my surprise, he only offered sound advice and quick responses to every question asked, whether directed at him or not, we eventually set up a weekly "Ask the Coach" forum for members. His responses were in the form of private video mails, if the question was of a personal nature,  public videos and in depth comments for all to see if the questions could be publicly addressed.

Jeff really impressed me with his work ethic and generous nature. In fact, it got me thinking that maybe there was something to the whole "hire a coach and follow a plan" thing. So.... Jeff and I spoke in May of 2012 and by June I was onboard. My initial thoughts were to just give it a shot for a few months and see what happened. I was still recovering from various injuries but I wanted to run the Arkansas Traveller 100 in October. Again, to be honest, I was very skeptical of his methods and the first few weeks didn't help make me a believer. You want me to do what? A heart rate monitor? Throw out the distance/pace and run for a set amount of time only? Are you freakin' insane???

On more than one occasion, I questioned whether or not he understood what ultra running was really all about. I mean, it IS different than marathons or triathlons and he didn't really have a resume for training 100 milers but.... I stuck with it. Each week seemed to get a little better. The heart rate training started to actually make sense and the benefits were showing. Granted, I wasn't going to run any sub 18 5k's or sub 3 hour marathons BUT the 100 miler was looking much easier. But the "run slow-build aerobic base-trust the process" crap made me wonder. I still wasn't completely convinced.

At the starting line of the Arkansas Traveller, I was nervous as hell. There was NO WAY that I could run a sub 24 on this course with the training that I had. All I had done for the past 4 months was run slow. All the time. Sure there were a lot of miles but they were SLOW. I should have been running fast. This dude is off his rocker. I'm going to die at mile 30 and end up coming in DFL. This is going to suck.....

It didn't suck. I had a great day. It poured down rain, it was cold, I kept my nutrition in check and my heart rate stayed so low that I wondered if I was even alive. At the end of the day... night.... whatever... I crossed the finish line in 4th place overall with a time of 21:29. Not a 100 mile PR but much better than I had ever dreamed on such a tough course. The very first text message I received was from Coach Jeff, who had stayed up all night tracking the race online. That meant a lot to me because I am far from elite and still hadn't figured this dude out yet. After the race it was easy to follow his twitter/facebook timeline and see that he had indeed followed my progress throughout the day and was excited about the prospect of a good finish for me. This was HUGE because, like I said, I just didn't expect that level of dedication from him for a non-elite runner like me.

We had scheduled a running clinic in my small town for the very next week. Jeff showed up and gave a great clinic to all the runners I could round up.... there were only like 10 of us that came. I apologized for not being able to attract more people because I knew his expenses were going to be more than he brought in. His response was simply, "I don't do this to get rich." and I couldn't help but believe him. We talked about the Traveller and I told him of my plans to go sub 20 at Rocky Raccoon. He told me he would make the trip to Texas and help crew/pace me. Yeah... right.

Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler in Huntsville, Texas. Coach Jeff was tripping over the roots on the toughest section of the course. Cussing, smiling and encouraging me to keep up the pace. We were at mile 70 and I couldn't help but wonder "Why in the hell would this dude show up, at his own expense, to crew me?" There was no real benefit for him. He could have just stayed home and followed online. The answer seems obvious now but it was a puzzle then. He truly does care about the runners he coaches. His dedication is not a smoke screen. It is real. He was there so that WE could reach OUR goals. This wasn't just something that I wanted, he wanted it as bad as I did. After the last pacer left me at mile 92 he told me "This is it. You have an hour and a half. It's all on you now. You know what to do." Those simple words, and the the fact that he no longer felt a need to send a pacer, let me know that he believed in me. He knew that I wanted it. He knew my personality and KNEW that the training was solid. The 100+ mile weeks, the 300+ mile months, all the time we spent going over the plan had paid off. He understood where I was in that moment. Can't find that in a magazine.

I crossed the line in 19:37, well under my 20 hour goal, with a PR of over an hour. We celebrated with an Oreo, which was a big sacrifice on his part, and I couldn't thank him enough. Still can't. This post isn't an advertisement for PRS Fit. I do think you should at least give Jeff a phone call but that's up to you. (it doesn't cost that much- tell him I sent you) It isn't a retraction on my earlier thoughts about "one size fits all" training plans. It is, however, an endorsement for smart and efficient training, and my personal recommendation to find a plan or coach that will bring you to your goals in a way that brings out your potential and minimizes risk of injury. Oh... Injuries? Yeah... haven't had any of those since I started with PRS Fit. Next up? How about a sub 19 at Rocky Raccoon next year, Coach?


Friday, July 5, 2013

How Bad Do You Want It?

It's almost midnight. It's dark. It's cold. I'm hungry. I'm tired. Nobody will know. Just sit down for a minute. Better yet, lay down. Who cares? Dude... NOBODY cares. Nobody cares if you finish in 20 hours or 30 hours. Fact is, nobody really cares if you finish at all. They are all asleep and will totally understand if you DNF. Hey... I got an idea. When you get to the next aid station just start limping. And talking in circles. Hopefully you'll catch a volunteer that can't see through your lies and tell you that you should quit. Then you have an excuse. Do you really need another buckle? No. What you need is to find a warm campfire, a chair, a cold beer and take these stupid shoes off your feet. Does it really freaking matter? Can't we just walk the rest of the way? 

If you think that every one of these thoughts hasn't gone through my head at some point during a 100 miler then you are very wrong. Every single time I have questioned my sanity, my heart, my talent, my dreams, my desire, my physical ability and my mental toughness. There have been many times when I questioned myself on shorter distances too. The one thing that always pushes me to keep stepping, to keep moving forward, to find the finish line is the idea that I have already done the hardest part. Training. Nothing is tougher than  training. Waking up at 1, 2 or 3 a.m. to fit a run in before heading off to work for 10, 12 or 14 hours is not easy. Running the last 20 miles of a 100 is a cake walk in comparison.

100 plus mile weeks, 300 mile months, holding a full time job, a part time job and attending my kids basketball games, school functions, helping with homework and discussing the days events is where it gets hard. Keeping focused can be tough at times but that is what makes the focus on race day easy. My mantra during training is simply, "Eye on the Prize". Take your eye off the prize for a second and it becomes a distant and seemingly impossible goal. Mental toughness doesn't all of a sudden appear on race day. It does, however, become a natural reaction to whatever obstacles come your way. Rain, snow, ice, extreme heat or race directors that try to skimp and leave you scrounging for sun-baked pbj's and undrinkable water can be overcome IF you have the right attitude.

So many times in the past I would train to finish the distance. To complete the distance. Sure I had goals but at the top was ALWAYS to just finish. I have learned that by training to go BEYOND the distance, I can always dig a little deeper and push just a little harder when things get tough. The "wall" still exists but it's not the death nail that it once was. I have found myself looking forward to hitting the wall because I know that once it finally shows up, I WILL be able to push through and things will get easy again. No fear of dying. No fear of failure. No fear of not reaching my goals. Secure in the knowledge that I have already conquered worse during training calms me down and allows the relentless forward progress to continue. It allows me to question myself and run through the scenarios of quitting without any realistic expectation that I would actually follow through.

Eye on the Prize. How bad do you want it? Do you still want it as bad now as you did yesterday? These are the thoughts that always win out during the tough times. It is always the same. I want it bad. I want it more now than yesterday. Yes, my eye is on the prize. Failure is not an option. Keep going unless you are dead. This is the stuff I learn through the training period. Nobody WANTS to get up at the butt crack of dawn to run 2, 3, 4 or 5 hours. Nobody WANTS to go to work everyday on 3 or 4 hours sleep. Nobody WANTS to run 4 hours, go to their kid's basketball tournament and then run another 5 hours after it's over. Only a crackhead would WANT to throw in 40 miles on a treadmill. These are the things we do because we WANT to succeed on race day more.

Mental toughness is 90% of my strategy. The other 10% has to do with beer and Oreos so I won't bore you with the details. My "natural" running talent is very small and I realize that if I want to compete then I must do what others aren't willing to do. That is what drives me to the next goal, the next medal, the next trophy or the next buckle. I will never be an elite runner. I will remain average at best. I know this. Thankfully the VOICES don't really care what I think I know and they keep pushing me to new limits. When in doubt - push a little harder. You will be so worried about dying that you will forget about the doubt and things WILL get better.