Training — Be proud, even if your training was ugly

running-advice-bugI’m always proud of people when they finish marathons. I was talking to one of my runner friends last week who had just finished running her third marathon. I told her that I was proud of her and I felt like she didn’t quite believe me. “I am too,” she said in a slightly tentative way.

Be Proud- Even if your training was uglyThe back-story here is that she hadn’t trained much for this marathon. In fact, I would almost say that she hadn’t trained at all. She did a little bit of running and maybe did one long-ish run. I believe that her hesitation was that she didn’t do much to prepare and hadn’t followed a marathon plan. But as I said, I am always proud of people when they finish a marathon. I was proud of her. Here’s why.

First, the training for your marathon is intended to prepare you mentally and physically to meet your goals in finishing the event. Your training then needs to be designed to help you do what you are setting out to do. If you’re trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials then your training will have to incorporate the right amount of work to help advance that goal for you. But if your goal is simply to finish the race, then the load might be lighter — especially if you are already in good physical shape.

Second, your marathon training is intended to help you avoid an injury in the race itself. If you were to do absolutely no training and then go try to run (and probably walk) 26.2 miles, you run the risk of some pretty serious injuries or at least a very lengthy amount of time hobbling around on very very sore legs. Marathon training programs are designed to slowly increase the distance over a period of time, because this is the best way to avoid suffering a major injury in the race. I like to imagine a marathon training plan like a set of stairs. To get to the top you take one step at a time. If you try to jump from the bottom to the top in one big leap, you risk really hurting yourself.
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Triathlon — Three Things I Remembered at Ironman Australia

running-advice-bugI’ve done more triathlons and duathlons than I can recall, but seven years ago I did my first Ironman and vowed never to do another. Ironman Australia was my second (and surely the last?). I came away feeling the need to share three things that I remembered during the race. These were sensations that I don’t think are boiled down into any text that I wish I had in my head before setting off on this latest long-distance adventure.

Coach Joe on the bike @ IM Australia

Coach Joe on the bike @ IM Australia

Lesson 1 — Swimming with thousands of people is unpleasant. Every book and coach will remind you to get out there and swim in open water, because open water swimming is different than swimming in the pool. That it is. You can’t follow that convenient black line on the bottom of the pool and there are no breaks every 25 meters to interrupt your stroke. These things are true. But to me the revelation (again) was that swimming alongside that many people is a really JARRING experience. You have legs and feet in your face, people throwing what feels like punches in your noggin, and the water is churning around like a damn washing machine. Forget the fact that you don’t have the wall every 25 meters. That wall has instead been replaced by a living creature that whacks you in the head, causing you to pull your head back, gasp for breath and throw a punch of your own.

My sensation about two minutes into the swim was this: “I can’t do this for the next hour. I will drown if I don’t slow down, catch my breath and stop being kicked in the head.”

But the learning from this race was the same as in my last one. The craziness does eventually subside. The field spreads out and you do find some calm water. It’s never like swimming in a pool and suddenly out of the blue someone will swim into you and pound you in the head in the middle of the race, but it does get better. If you can try to find clear water, get there. If not, then just bear down and hang in there. It gets better.
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Training — Even the Best Struggle and Bonk

running-advice-bugI wrote a piece a couple of days ago called “Why do the Tough Get Going?” in which I was giving some advice to one of my athletes who had struggled in a series of recent workouts. I related to her in an e-mail later the story that I will tell you later and her reaction was a little surprising to me: “even people at your level have tough workouts? I thought only beginners struggled.” That’s what I want to look at today.

In that earlier piece, I talked about the fact that the most beneficial parts of our training workouts are the hard parts — the last few miles in which we really suffer. This is true, because it is the response to that challenge that drives the body and mind to prepare for new and tougher challenges that will come later. What I want to make clear today is that this applies at every level, from the newest runner to the most experienced professional athlete. It may happen in different ways, but the tough parts are always there, no matter what the experience level of the athlete.

The way that we bring on the suffering — the tough parts — scale with the level of experience. Someone just starting out might have a tough time running for two minutes, four times in a workout. For that person, this might represent a really difficult thing to do and will drive the body into a need for recovery and adaptation.

A first time marathon runner might struggle in the last two miles of their 12, 14, 16 and 18 mile runs, each one after the other. And each time they may think “why isn’t this getting any easier?” In truth, it is getting easier as they likely wouldn’t have finished that 18 mile run at all had they not done their 12, 14 and 16 mile runs first. Each run just feels “hard”, because as they “get out to the end of their distance” as I like to say, the difficult part kicks in. The “end of their distance” keeps moving out as the season progresses, but as we near it each week we get hit with new waves of struggle and hard effort.
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Tips — Knowledge is Power on the Race Course

running-advice-bugPeople say “knowledge is power.” Never is that more true than out on a marathon race course. I can think of a few ways that this comes up and today I’d like to consider how a little knowledge can bring you a lot of power when you’re pushing yourself through your next running race.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was writing about the fact that in two recent races I had either seen or been misdirected on race courses. One of my bottom line points in that article was this: it’s your job as a runner to know your race course. When the leaders missed their turn in one of my races recently, the next guy in line turned back to me and quizzically gestured, “shouldn’t we be going that way?” I knew the course and I knew to make that turn. This apparently happened again this week at the very competitive front end of The Flat Half-marathon here in Oregon, where the train of leaders didn’t turn around where they were supposed to and ended up running an extra mile or so before being brought back on course.

Runners in the 2012 Vancouver Marathon

But if these are abstract to some of you that aren’t up there at the front, let me give you a couple of more examples where knowledge will go a long way for you. First, is knowing your pace. Second is knowing your fitness. Third is knowing the conditions and how they will impact those first two items. Let’s start with pace.

I ask running all the time what they think they will run at any given workout or race. The answers are so varied it defies imagination sometimes. Perhaps the most important piece of knowledge that you can have about yourself is how fast you run at a particular distance. This shouldn’t be a vague notion at all. Your pace should be established and monitored in your workouts and you should simply know what you can do on any given day. I understand that you may have multiple goals for a particular race (e.g. on a good day vs. a great day or a lousy day), but these goals should be gradations of what’s possible for you. You might have a reasonable target pace for example and have a goal to improve on that by say 5 or 10 seconds per mile if things are going really well. But that’s it. If your coach, friend, running partner or whoever says “what are you planning to run today” you should be able to answer that within 15 seconds per mile.
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Races — My Likes and Dislikes from the Walt Disney World Marathon

running-advice-bugToday I’m going to try something new. In the spirit of Facebook and “liking” things, I’m going to tell you what I liked — and disliked — about this weekend’s Walt Disney World Marathon. I’ve always wished there was a “dislike” button on Facebook, so I’ll just say thumbs up and thumbs down on some things that you might be wondering about this very large race.

Coach Joe after the 2012 WDW Half-marathon

First, a little background. This is actually the third race that I’ve done at Disney World. In 2010, I was one of the unlucky souls that was there for the Walt Disney World Marathon when temperatures were well below freezing. Yikes, that was cold. I’ve also supported the Disney Princess Half-marathon in Walt Disney World. This year I decided to run in the Walt Disney World Half-marathon, because it provides a good early season (or Winter) racing opportunity and really this course doesn’t disappoint on a lot of levels. But, as promised, my thumbs and thumbs down list for the Walt Disney World Marathon!

Course TerrainTHUMBS UP — this is one really, really flat course. There are a couple of bridges and fly-over ramps that you cross, but other than that there is very little that isn’t totally flat. There is one short hill where the course crosses under a water-way, but otherwise this baby should provide a really quick course.

Start TimeTHUMBS DOWN — So, I get it. They want to open the parks early, but the fact that the bus transportation starts at 3:00AM says a lot. Riddle me this: if the full marathon has to start at 5:30AM to get the parks open on Sunday, why does the half-marathon (held on Saturday) also have to have a 5:30AM start? Logic would be suggest that the half could start say an hour and a half later, which would be a lot LOT better experience for the runners.

Course SceneryTHUMBS UP, SORT OF — I am very enthusiastic about the scenery of the course, but it was so dark that it was hard to see a lot of it. This may be a corner case for the faster runners, because when I supported the full marathon in 2010, there was plenty of sunlight for most people. The course is really neat in that it goes right through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The full marathon course also goes through Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and along the Boardwalk. There are few courses that can provide those kinds of sights. In addition, there is music, people jumping on trampolines, and the famous Disney Characters. Your ability to view all of this might be based somewhat on how fast you’re going.
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