"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Most Important Meal of YOUR Day

We've been taught since we were little kids that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It's the meal that gets you going and fuels your day, right? What about as a runner, your most important meal of the day is your post-run meal.

Studies have shown that the body has an increased ability to convert blood sugar to glycogen in the 15-30 minutes immediately following a workout. This ability gradually decreases until approximately two hours after your workout, when the conversion process rate returns to normal. Not only is the replenishment of glycogen essential to your training, but also to your recovery.

What foods are best for maximum replenishment and recovery?

Think about the cubicle-worker swamped with projects. They all have deadlines. The poor employee works feverishly to try to make progress on all of them but despite his/her best efforts each project is mediocre at best. It's not that the employee isn't skilled enough to handle each project. Quite the contrary. There was just too much going on all at once to give the proper attention to the most important projects.

Despite what you may see on the food tables at the end of your race, shoving a bagel covered in peanut butter in your mouth and then following it up with a handful of tortilla chips and salsa, a chocolate chip granola bar and finally some oranges and bananas is going to force your body in the same position as the employee with too many projects on which to focus.

If replenishment and recovery is your focus, then give your body every chance to do this job well. Don't expect the body to digest a hodgepodge of complex foods while also trying to maximize the glycogen conversion process. It's won't happen.

For glycogen stores to be replenished after an intense workout, the body's blood sugar levels must first return to normal. Only then can the blood sugar-to-glycogen conversion take place. Fruit is perhaps the most perfect catalyst for helping replenish the body's blood sugar levels. It is simple and easy to digest and breakdown and gets the nutrients to the body quicker than a bagel or bar.

Bananas are are a rich source of carbohydrates, calories and water. They also contain potassium and magnesium, two electrolytes lost through sweating, and even calcium and protein, which are vital to muscle repair. Oranges also contain calcium and potassium and provide sufficient amounts of vitamin C. Strawberries (which provide even more Vitamin C per serving than oranges) contain a variety of vitamins and antioxidants in addition to fiber, which can affect blood sugar levels. Combine all three of these fruits into a smoothie (with or without any other fruits you desire) and you have a perfect post-run meal. No dairy, refined sugars or any other additives are needed and will, in fact, diminish the effects of your fruit.

If replenishing your body and maximizing the recovery process is your goal, treat yourself to a cold fruit smoothie. it will be the most important meal of your day.

(Note: For additional reading, FoodnSport.com has an excellent two-part discussion on nutrition and athletic recovery. Part I. Part II)

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Fear of Failure and Success

What is your true potential? What's keeping you from achieving it? What could you accomplish if you removed the barriers and pushed back the limits you have set for yourself?

Think about your current average running pace. Is it 8 minutes/mile? 10 minutes? 6 minutes? Do you think that you could take 7% off that pace? If the answer is no, how about 6%? 5%? Think this through for a moment until you reach a point where you think, "yeah, I could probably do that." Make this your new goal and begin today to work towards it today. How will this be possible? By taking away, not adding, a key component of many people's running.

Chances are you've read and maybe even implemented various strategies into your workouts already in an effort to run faster, longer. Popular training routines include fartleks, Yasso 800s, Hills, cross-training etc. Do what you wish with these, but we're going a different direction to reach these goals. Today is the day to change your mental approach to running by beginning now to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Some months ago, after I had set a 6% improvement goal, I had a great run and finished with a PR training pace, just off of the 6% improvement I was shooting for. I walked back into my house feeling super confident...so I thought. As I was giving my post-run analysis to my wife, though, negative thoughts began to enter my mind. They weren't complete sentences or even complete coherent thoughts, just negative feelings more than anything else. The basic message of these feelings? I had given everything I had to run that fast and there was no way I could do it again.

I had just finished my best run ever (to that point) and here I was questioning myself. This really bothered me and I spent considerable amounts of time in the following days exploring my feelings. Why didn't I think I could do it again?

I generalized my negative feelings into two types of fear.

First: The Fear of Failure.

Was I fearful of not making it to the end of a run if I pushed too hard? What if I ran out of energy and couldn't keep the pace? Then what? The answer is quite simple--I would slow down a little, or a lot. But it wouldn't be the end of the world. As the saying goes, there would be 1 billion Chinese people (and another 5.2 billion other people) who wouldn't care what I did. Let's eliminate the fear of not being able to finish from the list of possible restraints.

Would I consider myself a failure if I wasn't running as fast at the end of a run as I was at the beginning? Obviously not. I think. It's as irrational a fear as worrying about not being able to finish though. I'm running for myself. There are no points to be scored, no team to contribute to. It's not a matter of life or death and no one is relying on me to achieve any particular time, pace or distance.

So why the fear of failure? The only person I could possibly fail or let down is myself. And the only reason I would have to ever feel this way would be if I quit or gave less than I could have.

Second: The Fear of Success.

Why would anyone fear success? Maybe the expectations that come with it? Do I feel like you deserve it? Am I not willing to take on the responsibilities that come with it?

The point is this: most people perform far below their true potential because they set up false barriers to their true abilities. They put these limits in place and convince themselves there's no overcoming them.

What would happen, would could happen, what WILL happen when you strip away all of the negative thoughts, irrational fears and self-imposed limits and began to perform closer to your actual abilities? Any lingering fears of failure or success would be replaced with the satisfaction of knowing you DID accomplish something great and you would look forward to doing it again and again.

It is only when we recognize, think, and most importantly believe that barriers and limits can be moved that true progress and achievement will be made.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On Race-Day Discipline

I ventured out for a long run on Saturday morning, one week after the Pocatello Marathon. I had run three miles earlier in the week just to loosen up and make sure all my muscles and systems were still intact, but Saturday was my first real training since returning home. It was a forgettable 15-miler. I finished in just under 2:04, cleaned up, consumed my morning fruit smoothie and went on with my day. As I sat watching college football during the afternoon, something about my run kept nagging at me. I couldn't put my finger on it until I started crunching numbers.

15 miles in 2:04. An 8:16/mile pace.

To have finished 26.2 miles in 4 hours (my current goal after three unsuccessful attempts), I would have had to run the final 11.2 miles in 1:56. A 10:21/mile pace.

This bothered me.

It bothered me for two reasons. First, short of an injury I can't think of any circumstance when I should not be able to run a 10:21 mile. Second, my 15-miler was a so-so run at best. I didn't feel great. I didn't even feel good. I still felt the effects of running downhill for 2 solid hours the week before. But I ran it at an 8:16/mile pace. And what was my strategy? Exactly what I DIDN'T do in Pocatello -- walk early and walk often. From the very first mile I was running 8 minutes and walking 1. Over and over again.

It bothered me because I already knew the benefits of walking early, often and regularly. I had done it in my long training runs. Heck, I had don't it on my 5-milers just to solidify the habit. But once the gun went off in Pocatello, this strategy went right out the window and I paid for it in the final 10 miles.

I'm so disciplined in every other aspect of my running. I'm a schedule-oriented person who has the number of miles I'm going to run on a particular day scheduled and written on my calendar weeks and months in advance, depending on how far out race day is. While in training I keep to my planned diet right down to the number of regular and frozen bananas in each smoothie or which days I'll allow myself to put a little bit of olive oil on my whole wheat pasta. My pre-run/race rituals are the same every day.

What bothered me so much on Saturday, as I was watching my alma mater get rolled by what should have been an inferior team (no, not Virginia Tech), was the realization that I am so undisciplined once a race starts despite working so hard to be exactly the opposite during my training phase.

I recalled what I thought and wrote just a day or so prior to my first marathon, "I began a...plan that I believed would help me achieve my goal or running a marathon. I put my trust in this plan and haven't deviated from it since." That plan has been refined a bit as I have gone from one marathon to the next this summer, but the principles have remained constant.

I'm healed, I'm rested and I'm ready to tackle another one. The next one will be different though. If I stick to my plan and it blows up, fine. I'll go back to the drawing board and start over. But I don't feel like I've given myself a chance to achieve the kind of success I desire or have worked for.

And that bothers me.

(Side Note: The Portland Marathon in now less than a month away. Good luck to all my running friends participating, especially to the three whom I know will be making their first marathon attempt. Keep up the good work!)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pocatello Marathon Recap: Experiencing Gratitude

First things first: The race organizers, staff and volunteers were absolutely top notch. All the trains ran on time, the aid stations were where they were supposed to be, carrying what they said they would be stocked with, volunteers at each station were enthusiastic and supportive and the finish line area was well organized and easy to navigate. And although I heard a few people gripe about non-runners, including family, friends and kids, not being allowed in the recovery area (where all of the food/drinks were), I contend this made a huge difference in being able to move (gingerly) through the area smoothly. Top to bottom, this is the most well-organized race I've participated in of any distance.

This is also the farthest I've traveled for a race and I must say I'm not really a fan. 800 miles/11 hours in the car Thursday (to take my little brother back to school) left me hanging out (and locked out of his apartment) with not much to do most of the day Friday. After the race, I returned to a cousin's house to shower and get a short nap in before driving 4 hours back to Boise where I saw some friends, watched some football and got a few hours of sleep before leaving at 4am Sunday for the final 7 hours back home. The race festivities were great, but the down time and the drive time made for a long four days.

The starting line...in the daytime
(courtesy of Vitit Kantabutra)
The 350 marathon participants boarded charter buses at the finish line at 5am and were taken up to the starting line. It was dark and we were in the middle of nowhere when the driver pulled over to the side of the road, opened the door and declared, "We're here, don't leave anything on the bus." The people immediately around me hadn't run this race before and so our general consensus was, "We're where?"

It was partly cloudy and the moon was covered. We were in the middle of the Idaho wilderness at 5:15am. It was dark. The driver told us there was road about 50 yards from us. Turn right, he said, and then take the first right until you see the UPS truck (which took our drop bags to the finish line) at the starting line.

The "starting line" was a farmer's driveway. The line of portable toilets lined a sheep-pen and many (including me) sat down against the barn until it was time to go. Not exactly what I had imagined, but interesting, nonetheless.

It was still dark when the race started at 6:15am. As a pack we made our way down the driveway and onto the road. The first 13 miles were downhill. All downhill. I wasn't prepared for that. After a while I started to look forward to something flat, or even uphill. Just something different. That would come, but not for a while.

The sun eventually came up and darkness gave way to a perfect morning. Not a whisper of wind could be felt and the temperature was perfect. Around mile 7 I turned my music off and talked to a lady from Philadelphia that I had been running with for a few miles. During a pause in the conversation, I noticed a strange sound: silence. Miles from anything, on a closed road in a canyon. Except for the sound of shoes hitting the ground, it was pure silence. I kept my music off for a while and just enjoyed the sound of nothing.

Being on the road, my diet wasn't as ideal as it could have been. I attended the pre-race pasta party and had some salad dressing and a little bit of alfredo sauce--more fat and oil than I usually consume prior to a long run or race (big mistake #1). I also inexplicably ate a banana as I drove to the bus pickup site on Saturday morning (big mistake #2). I don't know why. I know I get stomach cramps when I eat the morning of a run. And sure enough, in the first few miles, an annoying stomach cramp greeted me. Nothing debilitating, but definitely uncomfortable. It wouldn't ever go away and I ran the rest of the race feeling it.

As for my race strategy, I had every intention of running 8 minutes and walking 1. I had done this in my training runs, knew the benefits of walking early and was committed to doing so...right up until I got to the Mile 1 marker and knew I had been going for close to 8 minutes (it was too dark to see my watch). At this point I fought an internal battle: on one hand, I knew I needed to walk. I had committed to doing so and again, knew I would reap benefits later. On the other hand, nobody else was walking. We had only gone a mile. What would people think if I pulled off to the side so early? I even thought of faking an injury so I could justify walking, but I didn't want anyone else stopping to ask me if I was alright.

This was all so stupid. I wasn't there to win the race and I didn't know a single other soul running with me. Who cares what they thought? But I couldn't do it. I couldn't walk. So on I went (big mistake #3). I did walk through the aid stations in the third, sixth, ninth and tenth miles but that was it for the first half, which I finished in roughly 1:55.

At the Mile 13 marker I noticed a lady who was walking at every mile marker for 20-30 seconds. For a few miles I would pass her while she was walking and then she would catch up and pass me when she started running again. Two different strategies and yet we were essentially in the same position (until mile 16 when she pulled far enough ahead that I couldn't catch up during her walk breaks). I knew I had made a big mistake in not walking regularly like I had planned.

The second half of the race consisted of some light rolling hills. Nothing too extreme except for a pretty good hill from mile 20 to 21, but the rolling hills seemed to roll "up" as we came back into Pocatello. I did walk for a minute or so every mile from miles 13-20 (the aid stations were almost a mile apart during this stage, so that make it a little easier to track), but the effect of running downhill for two hours without regular breaks caught up at mile 20. The hill to mile 21 finished me off, and the final 5 miles became a combination of walking and running, just trying to get to the finish line.

It's amazing to me how much my time suffers in the last 5 miles. It happened in both Seattle and Newport (well, in Newport it was more like that last 9 miles). I need to work on this.

As I passed the aid station at mile 24 I began to have a frank and open discussion with my internal coach. It was one-sided and went something like this (think drill sargent mode, without the profanity): "Why are you walking? You've walked plenty the last few miles. You're not here to walk, you're here to run. You've got two miles left and you WILL run them. So get it together right now, find something left in the tank, dig deep and finish this thing." And with that, I took off running as hard as I could.

I only lasted a minute or two at this pace, but that was fine. I was running again. When I couldn't do it any longer, I walked. My internal coach continued: "Good. See, you did have something left. Now do it again. Now!" And I took off running again.

With the finish line in view,
walking was unacceptable
Over and over again I would run as hard as I could and then walk for a few moments, each time resetting my mind and body with some positive, motivating self talk. Mile 25 passed and mile 26 approached. The final turn towards the finish was made around the 25.5 mark and I told myself there would be no more walking on the final stretch. As I fired up the engines one last time I made the turn and saw two runners in front of me who had passed me a few miles earlier. I was going to catch them.

With spectators on both sides of the road cheering us on, I passed mile 26 and briefly slowed to a walk for just a step before my internal coach screamed "NO! GO!" And so I went, on through the finish line.

I finished in 4:34:05. Slower than Seattle, but slightly faster than Newport. I felt good about it though. I know I've only run three, dozens less than some of the runners I spoke with during the weekend, but crossing the finish line never gets old. The emotions are always raw and the sense of accomplishment strong. Hours earlier, just before the gun went off, 350 of us had moved quietly as one pack towards the starting line in darkness. Looking around, there were runners of all shapes, sizes and attire. Each of us was about to embark on our own separate journey. We had all traveled separate paths to arrive at that moment, but we all had the same destination in mind. In our final few seconds together there was an unmistakable feeling of camaraderie. As a group, we were about to do something great.

To come together and see those same people in the runners-only recovery area afterwards, we knew we had done it. Our times weren't plastered on our foreheads and nobody knew if you had come in first or last. But you had a Pocatello Marathon finisher's medal around your neck, and that meant something. You had played a role and contributed to the greatness that had been achieved that day.

It doesn't matter where the race is, at what elevation it's run, what the grade of the slope is, or how long it took for everyone to finish, 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles. We all willingly paid money and spent time traveling to this one place so that we could have this experience. It's one to be remembered and cherished. For on this day, we were able to do something most people will never attempt or even desire to do. Maybe they don't think they physically can. Maybe they think it's too hard. Maybe the just don't want to.

Tired and a little beat up,
but still smiling
As I cross the finish line, as much pain and fatigue as I may be feeling, I think about how grateful I am to be able to do such a thing. How grateful I am to experience such a feeling. How grateful I am to be around people who are experiencing the same feelings and are equally grateful for them. I'm grateful that I didn't quit after my first week of running in June 2009, when running 2 miles on a track put me on the ground gasping for air. Or during the winter months, when day after day of rain, wind and darkness did it's best to beat me down. Or after Newport, when I wasn't sure I wanted to run ever again.

I ran my first marathon the first weekend of the summer. Now, 92 days later on the last weekend of the summer, I ran my third. It's been quite a summer. One in which I've come to realize I'm grateful for something that 14 months ago would have been unthinkable: I'm grateful I can run.

Time to find another race...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Running The Gap--Challenges Await

2010 Pocatello Marathon -
Running The Gap
The last time (and only time) I've run a race at a significantly higher elevation than where I live and train was October 2009, when I ran the Run Like Hell half marathon in Bend, OR. At the time I had been running for all of about 4 months, but had knocked out my first half marathon a few weeks before without much difficulty. I was unconcerned with the rate I was adding miles each week, collectively and on individual runs and I didn't worry about silly things like pace. The very thought of walking was, well, an unacceptable sign of weakness--basically I knew what I was doing. 

12 miles of hills, headwinds and a lack of oxygen later, I was hunched over, hands on my knees, sucking air wondering if I was going to be walking last 1.1 miles to the finish line (I didn't, but I wouldn't call it running either).

Fast forward 10 months to today. As I prepare to leave for Idaho tomorrow morning for Saturday's Running The Gap marathon in Pocatello I look back at my 4-month old running self and cringe. So undisciplined. So stupid.

Pocatello will present a couple of challenges:

1. Elevation. The race starts at around 6000ft and heads downhill for the first 14 miles before settling around 4500ft for the remainder of the race. I've solicited advice from some of my Twitter followers and DailyMile friends (thanks jokach and Heather) and done some reading on if I should get a run in prior to Saturday or not. It seems to be split down the middle, but for different reasons. Those in favor of running on Thursday night or Friday morning seem to emphasize the psychological benefits--knowing what to expect on race day. Those against it are more concerned with the physiological effect.

Coach Roy Benson of Running Times offered this advice to a question received by another runner:

"To minimize the potential bad side effects of your late arrival, in order to spare your precious stores of glycogen during this taper period, don’t do anything hard, fast or anaerobic. Just relax and chill out. Then on race day, go out a bit slower than you’ve been planning."

I like that. It makes sense to me. I was already planning to go out slower than normal anyway. I'm still undecided though. I'm staying with my little brother on Thursday night. He lives a block away from a track. It might be too much. I'll probably sneak over and run a few laps on Thursday afternoon (after 11 hours of driving, I'm going to be itching to do something to get loose).

2. Pace. On a perfect day in a perfect world, I'd PR. I'd run the pace I've been training at, break 3:45 and shove it in the eye of all the pace calculators and coaches advising to add at least 1% in time per 1000 feet of elevation. My 4-month old running self would have hit the starting line with this attitude--and probably would have been sitting on the side of the road by mile 6. Truth be told, I don't really have a goal in mind because I don't know what it's going to be like (see challenge #1 above). My goal is simply to find a comfortable pace and settle into it.

Another brother was out visiting from Utah a few weeks ago. I asked him about the difference in running in the two locations. What he said was interesting to me (though some of you are probably going to be saying, "uhh...yeah, R, no kidding). He had just run a handful of miles (in Oregon) before stopping to wait for other family members to finish their runs. When a certain sister got lost in the park, he went back out to find her. He said his legs recovered much quicker in Oregon than after a run in Utah.

Flip that around for me this weekend. I know I need to religiously take walk breaks or I won't make it. 8 minutes on, 1 minute off. Even 2 minutes in the early going if that's what it takes. I can't let my legs get to the "tired" stage too early because they won't recover in the thin air. I've been practicing this pattern during my runs the last few weeks, but I can't just throw it to the wind on Saturday if I find myself behind my 3:45 pace. Why? Because of challenge #3:

3. It's still 26.2 miles. The distance hasn't changed. It must be respected.

With that, I'm off to pack my bags. 4am is coming early tomorrow. I appreciate the advice and encouragement that many of your have offered through various outlets. If you haven't already, you can find me on Twitter, DailyMile or on Facebook. I update each site with various information, but I use Twitter for random thoughts and things I come across, DailyMile is my main training-tracking site and Facebook is where I put the pictures. Be sure to check them out!

I'll post my results on Saturday when I can and look for a recap and a new post early next week!