Wednesday, 24 July 2013

#107 Ask Me Why

Having achieved a relative degree of success in distance running (remember, elitist NOT elite), I'd like to think of myself as a bit of an 'expert' as well as a role model to other runners out there who wish to be the best they can be. I run for myself and my own success, for those who support me and help me succeed, but also for the growth and success of the sport of running. And yes, I am very sure it is still a sport.

Through running, I hope to show that becoming better is possible as long as one is willing to do what it takes to succeed. This is not an easy or enviable task. In distance running, achieving success takes a whole lot of discipline, dedication, commitment, consistency and perseverance. It also requires personal and social sacrifices, self-restraint, occasional pain and discomfort, and the experience and wisdom to learn and re-learn what works for you.

I'd like to share but a few of the important lessons/'rules' I've learned from my own experience running, in hopes that it can help make you a better runner too. In no particular order, three random 'rules' of running...

#1. Nothing tastes as good as skinny FAST feels!

I am 171cm (5'7'') and currently weigh about 59kg (130lbs) making my body mass index (BMI) a very lean yet entirely "normal" 20.2. Normal is considered any value between 19 and 25. Body mass index is calculated by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in metres) squared; BMI=kg/(m*m)). It is certainly not a perfect measure of individual health or fitness but is a useful measure of population health as well as for getting my point across.

And my point is that if you want to be a better runner (which to me means running faster and further), you have to have a low BMI and body weight. Full stop. When it comes to distance running (success), weight DOES matter and as a rule, the lower (and leaner) the better!

Yes I am skinny. But that is also why I'm as fast as I am today. Know that I did not get this way by obsessively counting every calorie, following a strict diet or refusing to eat certain foods (although I have done all of that in my past before I found running and can attest that it's not a good habit to form). Rather, I simply run and train A LOT. And while I do pay attention to the types and quantities of food I ingest, my weight and my appetite pretty much seems to take care of itself. I eat what, when and how much my body desires and it usually works out pretty well.

Of course diet and proper nutrition are a huge part of running success (which is why I feel the need to include it as one of my rules) and absolutely needs to be carefully considered in order to be successful. But I feel that constantly obsessing about it and dictating what food is "right versus wrong" is mostly a waste of time. To each their own as long as it works for you. However, a little bit of self-restraint and the use of will-power is necessary from time to time and running long distances in not an excuse to eat everything and all in sight (despite what was written in 'Once a Runner': "If the furnace was hot enough, anything would burn..." Frankly, you nor I run nearly enough to get the furnace that hot).

Diet should be considered synonymous with fuelling for your runs and workouts. And as with filling your car, some fuel is obviously better than others. Eating higher quality food means feeling better before, while and after running. You don't have to do this all of the time, but the 90% rule (eat well at least 90% of the time) is one I generally feel works and will go far to maintain your sanity, as well as your desired shape and weight.

I also feel strongly that using running (or any form of exercise) as a means to control and modify body shape is inherently dangerous. Although it was certainly one of the original reasons why I started to run; it has long ceased to be a reason I continue and am committed to run now. Eat to run; don't run to eat.

#2: No man runner is an island.

I used to run almost entirely on my own. I would decide each day how far and how fast I wanted (if at all) to run and would (usually) do it. In the short term, I got better as I continued to run more. But eventually I hit a plateau and couldn't seem to get any better no matter how far or how fast I would run. So what did I do? I joined a group/club.

Running with a group is humbling. You quickly realize how little you actually know about what you are/were doing or where you were going. By running and training with others, you gain access to a wealth of experience from those who have likely also been in your shoes (not literally of course) and have made the same mistakes you have. You will quickly learn what more you need to do as well as what you should probably no longer do and will likely begin to see improvements very quickly.

If you are lucky, you will find mentors and peers who wish to share with you their own interpretations of what it takes to succeed and who will genuinely be interested in seeing you accomplish your goals. Just as world records are rarely (if ever) accomplished without a rabbit or other world-class athletes, training in a group is a great way to reach and then exceed your own limits, both physical and mental.

Having a group means having like-minded individuals constantly push (or pull) you to be better. To help set and establish realistic goals and then train together to achieve them. They become a source of external motivation and provide new incentive to keep improving. They help ground your expectations but also heighten your ambitions.

I've found that my own expectations as well as those from others have definitely increased over time. This means that I no longer just run for myself or my own sense of accomplishment, but rather I am motivated (dare I say pressured) to perform at a higher level based on the expectations of others. This is both a curse as well as a blessing. It's great to have external pressure driving me to be better and makes me want to perform consistently and to my best ability. On the other hand it can also be stressful and intimidating to always 'have to' perform and do well based on the expectations of others. Some people thrive off this type of pressure and are said to have a high 'ego orientation.' In a sport as social and diversified as running, we all have some degree of ego that needs to be satisfied. Running with a group will both support and satisfy that ego and give but another reason to succeed.

Of course, it helps to find a group that not only help you succeed in running, but that you also get along with well and who become a close part of your social circle. I have indeed been fortunate to find just that group and am forever indebted to the 'Black Lungs' for helping me become the runner I am today and for motivating me to be an even better runner tomorrow.

In addition to those who directly help you succeed (your teammates, training partners, coaches and competitors), a huge amount of credit and appreciation is owed to those who support indirectly. Friends, family, partners and pets who tolerate the tremendous amount of time and energy that goes into training.

#3 Moderation Consistency is the key to life running success

This rule is perhaps the most important, but also the most difficult to explain.

Quite simply, you need to be consistent with your training in order to be successful. Consistency doesn't mean running every day but it does mean approaching each day with a runners mindset (think like an elite, even if you aren't one) and seeing how your actions impact and influence your running and training goals. What you eat, how long you sleep, and how you deal with stress, illness and injury, are all important parts of the long-term consistency that is vital for running success.

Approach distance running as a long-term commitment (it takes approximately seven years to fully peak and reach your potential) and while you can't ignore or undermine the importance of daily and weekly training; it is really the monthly and yearly consistency that matters most. Setting realistic yet challenging short and long-term goals and creating a plan to stick to them is of utmost importance. Set-backs will happen and you need to accept that not every run or workout will go to plan. Missing a day, or even a week of training is not the end of the world. Only by having a long-term focus and an attitude of perseverance will you be able to deal with the short-term grind that is necessary to experience long-term success.

Finally, a good and well thought out training program is essential for achieving success. If you want to accomplish something, you need a plan of action. A training program is just that and will incorporate all of the fundamental aspects of a good plan (easy, aerobic, long, tempo, intervals, hills, etc.) in a logical and progressive pattern that maximizes success (while minimizing risk) over weeks, months and even years of training. Easy and recovery days are as, if not more, important than the hard/intensity days so be sure to take it easy when you can and enjoy it! You can't run hard/fast all the time (or even most of the time) so be realistic about your goals and expectations and when necessary, seek the advice of an experienced other (see rule #2 above).

And so, there you have it. Three random 'rules' of running success. I hope you found them insightful and potentially useful for your own training. All the best and happy running.