Saturday, April 28, 2012

Seven Seconds

At long last I have stumbled into the oasis in the Desert of PR-less-ness! In spite of a long hiatus from track races, my first 5k back on the track yielded a much coveted PR by 7 seconds. "Psh, 7 seconds, that's it?!" you might say. In 7 seconds you could trim a fingernail, peel a Clementine, tie a shoe, or put toothpaste on a toothbrush, what's so great about 7 seconds? Especially when you factor in the fact that that particular 7 seconds took me 6 (yes, SIX) years to knock off. That averages out to be a hair more than 1 second a year. But the point is, seven seconds in six years doesn't seem like much, but I'm stoked! I will take progress in ANY and all of its glorious forms.

Immediately after finishing however, I was split 50/50 upon Scott telling me, "16:51." 50% stoked that it was my best 5k on paper to date; that one year ago today I honestly thought maybe this was as good as it would ever get, that the tank was near empty, enthusiasm was fizzled, and that at this point I was grasping at straws and investing time into something I wasn't even doing well anymore--the kind of stuff I wouldn't let myself say out loud. To prove myself wrong, even a little, was extremely satisfying to say the least. But then I was 50% surprised, not necessarily disappointed, but surprised in a way that it was not more, not a bigger PR. Yeah, that sounds greedy I know, but in the back of my mind, the more self-defeating part that thinks like a troll on thought, "You've put in thousands of miles since you ran 16:58, that should put you way ahead of where you are now! Heck, let's be real, an entire minute more off of that still lands you as a Nobody in this sport." But you know what? SHUT the f*** UP Troll. 7 seconds may be pretty insignificant to most people, so is 30 seconds, or 2 minutes. But as Scott will say, effort matters more than outcome. A LOT of sweat and tears and questioning go into that miniscule bit of time. And maybe more than a little too much thought; run more miles, do more long runs, take more ice baths, do more core, do more drills, do more strides, get more sleep, eat more veggies, run less miles but run them harder, or that oh-so Great Unmentionable lose a few pounds.

Regardless of the idea that it's a fraction of time, it's an indicator of progress, a huge payoff, a chance to breathe a sigh of relief that it hasn't all been in vain, and a reason to really believe that there can be more ahead. Hopefully this is just a beginning, but you have to live in the present and enjoy what you get--even the little things--when you get it, because who knows when "next time" will be? And give yourself a pat on the back before you get back to work.

As I was watching the rest of our crew circle the track in the 10k in pursuit of their own PR's, I saw a handful of Hansons runners go by, for some reason an interview that I read a long time ago featuring the once-unknown Desiree Davila popped into my head, the one where her coach tells her, "People are going to think that you're wasting your time. You're going to have a lot of years putting in work that no one will ever see. No one will know your name. This is what it is." And she replied, "I know what it is, I still want to be part of it." PREACH IT.

Friday, April 27, 2012

"Never Give Up! Never Give In!"

Sure, it’s easy to say. Short. Simple. To the Point. But in practice it’s much, much harder to act out. For the best of us, it comes alittle more natural. For the rest of us, it’s a challenge. It’s something we have to continually remind ourselves so we stay awake (which hopes that eventually it will come natural).

In similar fashion, like the phrase “No Coasting!” - Now that’s one I’ve been hearing quite often lately, from a Welshman on a mountain bike. He follows me while I run, quietly analyzing my mannerisms, reading me like a book, and just as I think he’s disappeared off to encourage the other group, just when I feel alone on the path in the shadows where no one can see me let down my guard and coast for just a few minutes, I hear it: “Bobby, no coasting!” He says in a quiet, conversational tone, his accent creating a challenge to decipher what exactly he’s saying. I know what he’s saying. He knows that I know what he’s saying. So he says it. Thus waking me up from my moment of self-pity and urges me on forward to run every step until the workout is complete. Steve Jones will not let me coast.

Maybe I should back up a bit, and explain how I got to the point where Steve Jones (“Jonesy”) is tailing me on his bike down the Creek Path. Well, March found me jumping into a few uninspired races and running mediocre at best. I’ll say I was pleased with the efforts of each race, though we all know that’s code for “Screw that, I ran like crap”. The strength gained from the 120 mile-weeks over the winter remained dormant in me, nothing in particular destroyed me (I recovered extremely quick from race to race), though the mid-race Grind-It-Out attitude was missing.

Running is an objective sport. You’re either running good, or your not. There’s no talking your way to a PR or Win, you actually have to Do It. My results were telling me what I had been ignoring for a while: Maybe you should take a recovery week? Or a few? Rationally speaking, I couldn’t expect to continue hammering away and actually race well. I needed to allow my body to absorb all the mileage like a sponge so I could eventually squeeze out all the water when the time was right. Alright, lowering the mileage it is. This was Step One.

Step Two required Guidance. I’ve been running for nearly 20 years, and have accumulated a lot of information from many people. I’ve learned what works for me, and what doesn’t (and I’ll leave room when saying this to the unknown - there’s always more to learn). Being objective - as running is - I returned (here we go back to my first post on Meno’s Paradox) to what has worked well for me in the past: Jonesy.

There are no special workouts, and no glittery workout names. It’s Simple. You show up, work hard, and go home. His program (Fartleck, Tempo, Hills, Long Run, Repeat; variations of this) - and approach to training in general, allows you to simplify, and essentially to Focus: the few things I have made a staple in my own training this year. As an athlete, it’s difficult not to follow his examples (“Attitude Reflects Leadership”), in his Hard, Grind-It-Out racing style. Sure, I could continue to train on my own. But when the question came “Do I Want More”, the answer was the obvious “Yes”. By returning to the environment that produced many of my Personal Records, it was a no-brainer. He’s a man of a few words, but those words carry weight, and when former World-Record holder Steve Jones tells you not to coast, you do not coast, such is the Legend of Jonesy.

So here are, back on the Creek Path, grinding it out while passing sleepy coeds who are heading to class. I’ve got a Welshman on my tail who won’t let me coast. I’m pumping hard, leaning forward and hoping to flow down the path like the mountain water that is doing so effortlessly next me. Somewhere in the haze of pain and oxygen debt, somewhere between Jonesy’s words, I connect the dots and think back to a you-tube video of the man following me on his bike, an epic 10,000 meter battle that still gives me chills watching it. Just when he’s being caught in his final strides, just when it appears he may be falling asleep, he wakes UP as the music crescendos, and fights back for the win.

“Jonesy, No Coasting!”, yeah, I don’t think anyone really had to ever tell him that…