Tuesday, August 26, 2014

'Running Without Judgment' and Other Applications from Coach Joe Vigil

Weekend before last, I attended the Houston Running and Marathon Seminar here in The Woodlands, put on by Team Green Running. While I expected per the usual to learn a thing or two/geek out with fellow runners/catch up with Coach Doug, I was utterly blown away by keynote speaker Dr. Joe Vigil. Like I wanted to squirm around in my seat I was so pumped up from what I was hearing. That doesn’t happen much!

For those unfamiliar, Coach Vigil boasts two Olympic marathon medalists-you may know them as Meb and Deena Kastor-and countless NCAA D2 championships during his storied time at Colorado’s Adams State University. Currently he works with top middle distance runner Brenda Martinez. 

Credentials aside, this guy is an INCREDIBLE speaker. His training methods and results speak for themselves, however, his philosophy on what running does for a person and commitment to his athletes and values system really shone through. I could crank out an entire post recapping his stuff that I learned, but I risk watering own or messing up his central message. There are some things that I took away to immediately apply with my runners I work with and also in my own training. A lot what Vigil discussed I found I already believed or agreed with upon hearing it.

Here are some principles that I took away that were helpful, practical, or just plain fascinating:

1.       The principle of “deep training”. I always thought I knew the gist of what that meant. I was wrong. So often we go out on a run and really don’t think about what we’re really doing.  I’m a fan of using association to really dial in to what your body is doing in space and feel out paces, but it was brought to my awareness that how the more we focus, especially on long runs and workouts, the more muscle fiber recruitment and myelination of nerve cells form. In short, if we don’t think about how tired we are and just focus on our body’s actions and how much force to apply per stride, etc. It becomes easier to access. Unfortunately, carrying on a conversation and thinking about what we will eat and drink afterward (while still important!) really doesn’t apply! Embrace the suck. Or is it really the suck?

2.       Vigil also mentioned that there really isn’t much of a place for emotion in racing. I believe you want to feel the ‘right’ things before and especially after the race, but your emotional reserves should be mostly fixated on the task at hand. For me, it’s a balancing act, finding just the right ‘blend’.

3.       Belief and confidence. Vigil spoke highly of the use of sport psychology and sport psychology professionals (yea!), and confidence is really the bedrock of all improvement.

4.       Speaking of improvement, my last takeaway was that our long-term focus shouldn’t necessarily be on any outcome, but a lasting commitment to improvement. Simple stuff, but love it. Makes me want to go out and do things.

5.       Lastly, the discipline of running makes us better people: not just athletes, but professionals, friends, family members, and students. It’s up to us how seriously we access this in our own training and racing lives-elite or recreational.

So no back to thesis stated in the title and like last post indicated, I’m really trying not to overthink anything in my training and just try to stay in the moment as much as possible. Saturday that moment came in a great start to a 12-miler (the longest I think in at least 6 months) and getting very hot and uncomfortable towards the end. The mindset was think about what I’m doing when I feel good, and really think about what I’m doing when not feeling so good: form, relaxing my shoulders, reminding myself that it gets easier and continuing on.

Perhaps a better application of just getting out there and executing the workout would be this morning. I had a steady-state run at a not crazy fast but challenging enough pace to cause me to pay attention. Given my issues with acclimating to the heat and humidity this summer, I could have approached this tentatively, but instead of focusing on something that takes away my energy best used in the run, I simply ran to stay on pace, and more importantly just focus on the immediate moment. Not the next mile, not how much is left; basically get lost in what I’m doing for about 20 mins. You know what? I was close to getting that down. It was warm, there were a lot of workers at the park, but I simply told myself to “run on” and not worry about anything; not where I was at, how much left, etc.

Each time I do one of these workouts, I feel a little stronger and the pace becomes easier to just access and sit in. Plus, the less I really have to think, the better. It’s already a busy fall season and I’m a week into it at the office-so if I go out and give a degree of effort and not have to think much of it-that’s fine by me! Slowly, by doing these, the belief that I will improve becomes more galvanized, and that is the most important part.
Hope you enjoyed my ramblings, observations, and that I have done Coach Vigil justice. 

Thanks to Team Green Running for putting on the event.

Stay the course. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Me. And My Fitness: A Look at the Bigger Picture

I received my next 6 weeks or so training schedule from Coach Doug the other day. Now that tri season has come to a close for me I have been looking forward to being a single-sport athlete focusing on the discipline I love so much: running. I would be lying if I said this cycle did not come without any apprehension, but I as I have been getting fairly consistent miles in week in, week out-my expectations, goals, and purpose keep floating around in the vast space that is my cranium.

While I won't bore you with specifics of what's included in this part of the training plan, the email that came with the attached spreadsheet read "it's going to get difficult quick, so pay attention to how you're feeling". After another wave of initial apprehension, the apprehension turned into something more like confidence. The biggest difference in this cycle is that it is realistic for where I am at. While the distances for long runs will definitely stretch me, especially at first; the paces for tempo and interval days are set appropriately for the here and now of my( current) fitness level. Imagine that?!

 A year ago I would have probably asked for faster paces or more miles sooner; feeling that those are not challenging enough or nowhere near I'm capable of doing. If I was at the helm again designing the plan I likely would have rushed to return to my elusive top form. I would have felt sorry for myself for not running faster or being given a faster schedule. One thing that I have made a point or working on this year is to look at training as a process. Fast times and top fitness demand consistency, doing the right amount of things at the right time, and probably the most difficult of all: patience. As Chris Lear writes in his book "Sub-4:00" on Alan Webb and his first year at Michigan, "fitness takes patience".

So what does this have to do with the 'Me' in as the title indicates? For so many years, my fitness level and race times were part of my identity. I got more of my self-worth than I would like to admit with how fast I covered a distance, how many miles I ran in a given week-plus what my average pace was on each run made it easier to be at ease with who I was at the time. Well guess what? It is a very frustrating and often empty pursuit chasing the almighty clock and everything that goes with it. One of the biggest changes in my approach is that I am pensively* learning to look beyond the clock , the endless comparisons, and how my day goes being based on my run or if I am healthy or not. How fit and fast I am can increase my overall confidence level, but drive it? Sounds like risky business.

Was the schedule "beneath" my potential? Of course-but that's the point. I know what I am capable of, but in order to experience that potential-I have to work this step first to get to the next one with what I've got right now. Looking beyond my own little orb of self-influence, I have a lot to be grateful and to work with. What it takes is patience. Of course I want my 50-mile weeks and low-6 tempo runs now, but I don't need them in order to enjoy the sport and feel like an athlete. As much as running enhances my life-my fitness level does not need to determine what I think of Me.

And as a much wiser sport psychologist once wrote "you can have anything you want as long as you don't need it". A realistic, yet still  fairly progressive training and racing plan is a step. I'm here, I'm in, I'm committed. May I remember those three phrases on those days I do get frustrated and struggle. Progress is never a straight line. Realistic goals make that crazy curvilinear line a little straighter.

A quick closing note:

I hope anyone who reads this takes what they want and leaves what they don't. The purpose of this post is to help keep me accountable as I enter a physically and mentally challenging phase and hopefully provide a different perspective on what running and racing can bring to us. In no way is what I think or believe better than any one else's philosophy, we all have different reasons for our training. This doesn't mean that I won't be my competitive, driven self; just a slightly smarter, more patient version of it! Hopefully my best running experiences are ahead of me.

Stay the course.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Cypress Triathlon 2014

Now that I've had a nap and a Skinny Mocha from Starbuck's (two of my favorite Sunday items in case you care), I thought it would be as good a time as any to write up some thoughts and high points from today's Cypress Triathlon (for Houston locals-formerly Bridgeland Tri). Today I was to close out my short summer tri season and put another somewhat frustrating running summer behind me. I wanted to do well today, and feel I did just that. And lucky for the reader: this may be my last "long" race report!!

Pre-race was pretty uneventful and unusually calm for me. I went with what works for dinner, penne pasta with spinach and salmon for dinner, oatmeal with peanut butter and sports drink for breakfast, and a Stinger Gel before the swim. I felt like I hydrated and rested well this week to prepare as a new snap suddenly appeared in my legs for the days leading up to the race, something I didn't have pre Texas Star. We also were blessed with a cool front making conditions bearable for SE Texas in August.

My process goal for this race was to simply focus on myself, what I could control and what I could do over the course. When I wanted to look at the start list, I didn't, when I wanted to look around and size up others, I managed to refrain. I just may be growing up:)

Swim-550 meters Open-Water: 

This was a big race with well over 1000 participants, I believe. There were 14 or 15 waves and my AG was #13. While this was good for time management and not feeling rushed, everyone seemed out on the course by the time we waded in, treaded water and went off. After losing a little warmup effect, it took me about 100 meters to get comfortable and in rhythm, but when I did, it was surprisingly comfortable. I just focused on long strokes and saving energy. It occurred to me near the one turn that I was having a pretty good race. My friend Richard actually was a pleasant surprise at the shore and he pulled me out onto the beach, and I went into T1, which wasn't fast but wasn't slow either. I swam pretty good for a non-fish, in 10:39. Oh, and the water was grayish brown-but I chose not to acknowledge it and fortunately, I don't think I got much in my mouth!

Bike-13 miles

I am a decent cyclist, but with travel over the past couple weeks and a slow increase in running mileage the bike took the back burner a bit in training. It actually took me until half way through the course to get comfortable and in a groove. Jockeying with two other women in my AG made it challenging, then I remembered my race plan "focus on YOU". Ok self, point taken...

The last few miles I rode under the red line, but solid enough to keep me in contention. And I started feeling energized again-I put another gel in my water bottle with a spoonful of beta alanine with a salt tab. It looked weird having brown liquid in there (it was a basic Honey Stinger) but worked like magic-I never wanted hydration on the run, which is weird for being such a heavy sweater. T2 I feel I did a better job of getting my stuff together. I came in at 37ish and was a little over 20 mph.

Run 3.1 :

I took off from the grassy transition area onto the residential run course-most of it on sidewalk (eeek!). After having some trouble focusing on the run in spots last race I actually wore a Garmin on this part. My shoe choice was the Saucony Virrata-light and responsive. The first half mile I thought I was running respectively, but upon looking down saw 6:03 for the pace. Um, need to dial back a bit-at least at this stage! Although the first part of the run felt the easiest it has in a long time, I slowed quite a bit to stay around current LT and was glad I did as the last mile got a tad tedious. I kept telling myself how I'm getting my toughness back, and that I'm having a great race and going to do so much better than my last race. In the last quarter, I found the energy to surge past a few more athletes and put in a 1:13-good enough for the podium in a big race. Even though the Virratas are now banned for how tired and sore they made my "project foot", I felt great afterward and accomplished for the season. Avg pace was 6:56, an improvement from last race and a sign things are trending positively and was fastest in my AG. Telling myself "you're having a great race" was much better than "you're out of shape" or you have work to do".

At the time of the awards ceremony, I was listed 1st AG 30-34, with the fastest run, 4th fastest bike and 11th fastest swim. I'm sure my transitions were pretty slow, but whatev. Total time was 1:13 and I'll gladly take it. I think post awards another girl in my AG was ahead of me (whoops!). The medals were really sweet and awards were actually useful-engraved medal hangers!
While I don't race for swag, I have been wanting a medal hanger!
I'll note some things I did for recovery-first, after having a disturbing blood sugar drop after last race, I knew I needed more sugar just after. So I had my first Coke in about 2 years. And it was everything I wanted it to be. When I got home, in addition to foam rolling, I took an epsom salt bath-especially with still-repairing foot muscles, it was very helpful. You should try one sometime.....but hydrate while you're in there.

My takeaways for this event are that I run/race better relaxed. Comparing myself with other athletes is exactly what I read and convey to others: useless, and I am starting to find my mental toughness again. As I shift back to run focus, training my mind will be just as important as my runs and recovery practices. Today's run I am happy with and can't wait to see what Coach Doug has in store in the next cycle. Til then, I get a recovery week-and I will gladly take it to 'hit reset' and move on.

Thanks goes out to Doug Storey for keeping me corralled for my run training as I build, and of course my sweet sponsors Oiselle and Honey Stinger.

Race. Recover. Repeat. Get stronger!

Stay the course.