Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Thoughts on coaching and training philosophy

As a coach and a runner, I am constantly trying to refine my personal coaching style and philosophy. The more I read, and the more I realize what is truly important in training, the more I am convinced that my philosophy is one of minimalism. Not in the sense of wearing ridiculous barefoot shoes, but in the sense of eschewing technology and gear in favor of relying on your own senses.

I have written about the over-reliance on GPS watches in the past, and the onslaught of data at our fingertips these days. Let it be known that I am NOT anti-GPS. I have one myself, and find it an invaluable training tool. But it is a tool, and in that regard, has a place and time where it should be used. If you are running a marathon pace run, a GPS is great for keeping you on pace. However, if you are on a recovery jog, then a GPS can lure you into running too fast if you have a pre-conceived notion of what pace you should be running. Likewise, when doing tempo runs or intervals on the roads, a GPS can help you dial into the correct pace, but once you have that, I suggest turning it off and trying to keep the same effort for the remainder of the workout.

My reasoning is this: data is good. But sometimes too much data can overwhelm you. It is not a fact that more data is always better. In fact, sometimes it can be counterproductive. If you spend your entire workout glancing at your GPS every 5 seconds to make sure you are on pace, you learn nothing. The key to running well is to be able to take a self-assessment and determine if the effort level you are running at is appropriate or not. If you are doing 3-minute surges at 5K effort, you need to be able to gauge if the effort you are expending is one you can keep for three miles. During the race, you also need to be able to assess your effort and determine if you can increase the pace, or if you need to back off slightly in order to stay strong through the finish. Honing this skill allows you to race at the proper effort, and not get pulled out too fast.

Furthermore, effort matters more than pace. Suppose you use a calculator to find out that you should be doing intervals at 6:00 pace based on a recent race. However, there are myriad factors that affect how fast you can run at a certain effort on any given day. The heat, humidity, and wind can cause you to run faster or slower. Internal factors, such as your hydration level, how much food or caffeine you have consumed, whether you are relaxed or stressed, or how much sleep you got the night before can also affect your performance. Taking this into consideration, there should at very least be a range for your paces, but I argue to keying off effort level is even better. That way, it doesn't matter if you are feeling good and running 5:50 pace, or feeling off and running 6:15s; the effort and the benefit of the workout is the same.

What I'm trying to convey is that running is a very primal, instinctual activity. Humans have been running for millennia, and lacing up your running shoes is a great way to get in touch with that ancient act. Come race day, it is your body, and even more importantly, your mind, that allows you to achieve your best, not the GPS. Unlike some other sports, the victor in a road race is not determined by who spent the most money on their gear.

So what does this mean to somebody looking to run their best? I believe that you should dedicate at least some of your workouts, and all of your easy runs, to be done by feel, rather than pace. If you must wear a GPS, make a goal not to look at it during your run. I also think GPS watches should not be worn for races shorter than a half marathon. Not only will you learn to be able to gauge your effort better, but chances are you will enjoy the run more too!

Also, it means that instead of immediately purchasing the latest and greatest running gadget, save your money and put it toward something more useful, like food or a concert. If you simplify your running, you will have less distractions, and can focus on what really matters. As I said before, running is a simple activity. Don't over-complicate it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Just what have I been doing lately?

Many things have happened since the Utica Boilermaker in July, most of them not related to running. Most importantly, Ashlie and I had our second daughter, Hadley, who was born on September 11th. We were supposed to run the first Pete Glavin XC race in Clay on Sunday the 10th, but Ashlie's OB prohibited us from making the trek, and with good reason. Hadley was born the very next day! She and Ashlie are doing great, and Avery is very proud and excited about her new little sister.

In regards to running, I have been trying to follow a pretty structured training plan in preparation for the Syracuse Festival of Races and the remainder of the PGXC races. It is going ok. I can tell that I am missing a crucial aspect of my training, which is my base. I had logged some pretty good miles in the latter half of 2016 and was in great shape then, but several injuries, an emergency surgery, and the birth of my daughter have made my mileage very sporadic ever since then.

Still, I am running decent workouts and averaging around 50 miles per week these days. This past Sunday was the second PGXC race, which I ran as my first race since the Boilermaker. Being a 6K, times are hard to compare, but I ran just over 22 minutes, or 5:55 per mile, in hot, sunny conditions. I was pretty excited about that performance, but my left hip has been bugging me ever since. I am trying to be smart and nip it in the bud before it turns into something serious, but next Sunday is the Syracuse Festival of Races, where I am hoping to run close to 17 minutes.

Already, though, I am looking toward 2018 and what races we will be doing, so again, my focus is on the long term goal. The goal for right now is to get in decent shape and stay healthy so that 2018 can be a good comeback year. There should be some exciting new opportunities for Roadkill Racing and I hope I can be an asset to the team once again!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thoughts on the 2017 Boilermaker 15K

I ran my first Boilermaker 15K in 2001, at the tender age of 17. It took me an hour and a half, and over the next five years, I would only improve to about 1:10. Finally, in 2006, after realizing that training year-round has huge benefits, I ran a huge PR to break 60 minutes for the first time with a 57:27. Every year since then, I have been lucky enough to finish the Boilermaker in under an hour. My times have ranged from low 54 minutes on an unseasonably cool day to 58 minutes after taking several weeks off to tramp about Europe the month before.

This year I was shooting for my 12th consecutive year under 60 minutes. Despite having a hip flexor injury in the beginning of the year, my training was progressing nicely through May. Then, my gallbladder had to be forcibly extracted, which came with a 4-week moratorium on running. I had about four weeks to train for the Boilermaker, starting at a level where even walking was still painful. To add to the worry, I also was in my friend Andy's wedding the night before the race, out in Albany. So, I resigned myself to the fact that my streak of sub-60s might end this year.

Race day came, and my alarm woke me up in the hotel at 4:00. I was dehydrated, exhausted from dancing all night, and regretting my decision to drink as much beer and wine as I did. But I slowly re-hydrated on the drive to Utica, and by the time I parked, I was feeling mostly normal, except for some slight pains in my hip flexors. I was lucky that the weather was fairly mild; it was only 60 degrees and not at all humid.

I met up with my friend Mark Saile at the start, and we agreed to run together as he wanted to break the hour mark as well. As usual, I started out conservatively; my first 5K split was 20:02 and Mark was right beside me. We opened it up on the downhill after mile 4 and I was rewarded with a 5:40. Mark's younger, fitter legs propelled him to an even faster time and I lost sight of him (he went on to run 57 minutes!). I split the next 5K in 19:15 feeling good. The hill from mile 6 to 7 always drains me, and this year was no exception. Still, the course is mostly downhill after that, and I was able to use that to pick up the pace. I always feel that this course affects my legs more than my lungs, so that by the last mile, I am running as fast I can while not even breathing hard. Despite this, I was able to pass many runners in the last mile, and split an even faster final 5K on 18:54 to finish well under 60 minutes with a 58:11.

Yes, this is my slowest sub-60 clocking since 2008, but it's also my proudest. I was most worried about this year, given my lack of fitness and pre-race activities. However, I was able to stay calm and collected, and use an intelligent race strategy to achieve my goal.

So what's the moral of this story? I think it's two-fold:

  1. Don't try to make up for lost time. I was smart and cautiously increased my mileage after my surgery to about 40 miles per week. Had I panicked and immediately started cranking out 60 mile weeks in an attempt to get fit, I have no doubt that I would be injured now. Instead, I listened to my body, carefully adjusted my training load as I healed, and went into the race as fit as I could have hoped for.
  2. What you do on the day before the race doesn't have as much of an impact as you think. I had too many drinks, did not re-hydrate well enough, and danced so much that I was actually sore. But when the gun went off, I felt fine. This is why many college runners can "double" in meets; running one event one day and then coming back the next day for a different event. It takes 24-48 hours for a stressor to really affect your body, so you'll be fine even if your preparation isn't optimal. Don't stress over it, and you'll be fine.