Tag Archives: improvement

I Want it ALL!

“I need to pick a different day for my speedwork,” I told my coach Wednesday night.

My current training consists of a Saturday morning long run, the PR Fitness Wednesday night run, and one day of ‘speedwork’ – tempo run, intervals, hill work, progressions, or similar torture, which has usually been Tuesday. All well and good.

I hear an "Except" coming...

I hear an “Except” coming…

Except that with my cutback in Aikido due to my hurt shoulder, I’d added a Tuesday session of strength training at Body Specs. So I’d put off the tempo run until Wednesday afternoon, and here I was that evening, putting in my second set of six miles. (And they’d thoughtfully started without me, resulting in more, unassigned, speedwork.)

“So,” Coach said, “what do you want? To get stronger at the gym, or get faster on the road?”

Well, that was a no-brainer. “Both, of course. I want it all!”

She ought to have expected that response. When I first hired her, right about this time three years ago, I’d outlined my goals; a marathon in 2011, then in 2012 a 500-mile bike ride and 50K ultra. Oh, and I wanted to get faster, too, and win at least one age group award. (I can’t remember if I mentioned my Aikido training, too.) “So what do you think?” I’d asked her. “I think you have a lot of goals,” she’d replied. Yet I accomplished them all, and more.

Good SignI know there will come a day when I stop getting faster. But as the sign says, today is not that day. I don’t think I’ve peaked yet, so why not give it a try? Coach has no problem with that, but points out that by trying for too much I could get injured. And in just over a week I will turn 52 – by no means a barrier to improving, but I shouldn’t expect my body to respond the way it would have at 22.

See, they promised! Click here to view the commercial.

See, they promised! Click here to view the commercial.

So is it realistic to want to have it all? I’m a baby boomer – isn’t that what we were about? Readers of sufficient years may recall the 1980s Michelob Light commercials that said we could. They reflected that age pretty well, I think. We were free of the 1970s “national malaise” and the economy and Wall Street were booming. Today, in the 20/20 vision of hindsight, this former Yuppie can look back and see the developing attitude of entitlement which, I believe, has led to some pretty reprehensible conduct in today’s corporations and our government.

Excuse me - when did this become a political blog?

Excuse me – when did this become a political blog?

Sorry. Back to running and exercise. I do them to keep my body and mind fit, and for self improvement. Is it unrealistic, or even unhealthy, for me to want or expect improvements in both strength and speed at the same time? I don’t think so, not yet at least. I explained this to Coach Marie, after stopping to tie a shoelace and catching up yet again.

“Everyone says that,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s the trouble I have with all my clients. Sometimes I think I just need to create an extra day in the week.”

“Good idea,” I said. “Get to work on that.”

Give Me the Running

Student: I’m reaching for the light, please help me.
Teacher: Forget about the light. Give me the reaching.

Two years ago, October 9, 2011, I crossed the finish line in Chicago and completed my first marathon. At the time, I considered it a transformative event. Before then, I was just a runner. Now I was someone special – a marathoner.

But what did the act of finishing actually do for me? Was I one person 10 yards before the finish line in Chicago, and then magically someone else when I crossed it 5 seconds later? Of course not. Crossing the finish line was simply the demonstration of what I’d become – someone capable of running a marathon. Back when I’d started marathon training, my physical and mental limits were far short of 26.2 miles. All the growth needed to reach that distance had occurred before the race.

Actually, I was a different person after the marathon. Damn tired, for one thing. Sore, too.

Actually, I was a different person after the marathon. Damn tired, for one thing. Sore, too.

So here’s a question for you. What’s more important? Setting a goal and achieving it, or the improvement gained from trying for the goal – whether you reach it or not?

Er...not quite the Western ideal here...

Er…not quite the Western ideal here…

Western culture, where I was raised, seems to argue for the achievement. The hero slays the dragon. Our team wins the game. The runner beats the four-minute mile. Training is a given, an accepted necessity, but glory goes to the achievers. Came in second? Too bad. Can you point me to the winner?

The Buddhist koan that begins this post argues a different perspective. It’s from an article by Buddhist teacher John Tarrant in the latest issue of Shambhala Sun magazine. (Read an online excerpt here)

Shambhala Sun - You Are Perfect

Tarrant posits that the improvement itself is most important. Sure, we can set goals: lose X pounds, spend more time with family, run a marathon – and then work toward them. Achievements are good things, as they are evidence of our improvement. But real transformation takes place when we can set aside the goals and focus on improvement for its own sake. The following comment on the treeleaf zendo forum sheds a little more light, as it were, on the koan:

We are all about self-improvement and moving forward too. It is simply that we see each step as itself a total arrival, …

I think this is a useful perspective to have as a runner. I will probably never run a 4-minute mile, or a 2:30 marathon. And at some point I will no longer be able to set new PRs. When that happens, what’s the point of continuing to run? How do goals fit into that situation?

Set aside the goals. Run for the sake of running.

No matter how fast or how far we can run, we can always become better runners. We can improve our stride, our footwork, our mechanics. We can enjoy the act of running more, and appreciate what it does for us. We can encourage others to start running, or help them achieve their goals. Or we can just run. Growth will come.

And what if we reach for a goal, and come up short? Does that makes as a failure? No. We’ve done the reaching. That was good enough for the teacher.

My goal for the 2061 Boston Marathon: 3 years, 6 months, 2 weeks, 1 day.

My goal for the 2061 Boston Marathon: 3:06 (3 years, 6 months).

I’ve Got a Little List

Recently Kris at gorunagain.com invited several bloggers, yours truly included, to give him some tips for runners just starting out. His post has eight tips ranging from using a goal race as motivation, to planning for pit stops, and even (gasp!) running without music. It’s a good list that goes beyond the usual “see your doctor, buy the right shoes, don’t run too fast” rote of the typical list.

Read the GoRunAgain post: Eight Unique Running Tips for Beginners

Kris used two of the tips I came up with and it seemed a shame to waste the others, so I’ve put the rest of my list below. They all come from my own experience as a beginning runner, but I still apply them today.

#1 – Just Run

Doesn’t matter for how long or how far you go. What matters is that you put on the shoes, step outside, and get going. There are always excuses why you can’t run today. Overcome that inertia, and the rest will take care of itself.

I didn’t run at all until just a few years ago, and then just to supplement my other activities. A run of 2-3 miles was a significant accomplishment. Today I run 20-30 miles per week, take part in 20 races per year, and am training for my second ultramarathon. I never expected this to happen; running just sort of grew on me. But it started like everyone else – one mile at a time.

The 2013 Boston Marathon PR Fitness runners. :Like all marathoners, they got there by going out and running.

The 2013 PR Fitness Boston Marathoners. :Like all marathoners, they got there by putting on the shoes and getting out the door. (And with invaluable support from the rest of us, of course,)

#2 – Don’t Expect Instant Results

Quick, but not very satisfying.

Quick, but not very satisfying.

It takes time to build the physical and mental stamina needed for longer runs. Pushing too hard will get you hurt, and some people give up running when that happens. Not happy with your results? That’s okay, it’s all about improvement. Next time will be better.

#3 – Form Is Everything

Once you start running more than 2-3 miles at a time, or more than twice per week, proper running form is essential to preventing injury. Good form also feels better and helps you run farther. Work on correct footstrike, posture, and stride. Consider taking a basic class on running; the one took in 2010 covered form, shoe selection, running gear, and nutrition. And it got me into the habit of running regularly.

Improve your form, and prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse!

Improve your form at Running 101 – or was this the seminar at the Ministry of Silly Walks? I don’t recall.

#4 – Enjoy Each Run For What It Is

Whether it’s a race, training for an event, stress relief, socializing, or just for some fresh air and exercise, you’re out there for a reason. Breathe deeply and live in the moment.

Happy Runners

Footnote: A colleague of mine, who was an active runner years ago, has recently started again and ran 5K yesterday. He was pretty unhappy about his time and didn’t want to hear that “just running” was a win. (It’s true, but he didn’t want to hear it.) “Okay, so your first time out sucked,” I told him. “Next time will be better.”

“Now that’s something I can take away,” he said, smiling.