I suppose being swamped at work the week leading up to a marathon is a good thing. There’s no time to check the weather, read other blogs, stop by the running store over lunch, etc.
This morning was my last “hard” run. It was 7 miles with 4 x 4:00 at tempo pace with a 2:00 jog in between. I felt alright. My legs were a little heavy, which is normal for me at this stage. Come Saturday, I’ll be fine.
Since I don’t have any time, I’ll just take this opportunity to post my latest article for the MDRA magazine.
LESSONS I HAVE (FINALLY) LEARNED – by Chad Austin
My friend Eric Paulson has a motto that probably applies to most of us, at least at one point or another; “Live and don’t learn.” Unfortunately, this motto applies to my running more often than not. However, after 27 years in this sport, believe it or not, some things have actually sunk in. This article describes eight lessons I’ve (finally) learned, when it comes to running.
One of the first running lessons I ever learned was “Your results may vary.” It’s been over 20 years but I still remember his name. Keith Franzen. Keith and I were the same age, but we didn’t go to the same school and we weren’t even in the same conference. Yet I remember his story. Keith started running the summer before his sophomore year and he decided to go out for cross country. He achieved immediate success and missed qualifying for State that year by just one place. Having already been a runner for five years and not having nearly the success as Keith, it was right then that I realized that all runners are not created equal. While it’s nice to be able to compare our performances to our peers, at some point we need to realize that running is about competing against ourselves.
If, like me, you’re not fortunate enough to have similar results as Keith, take solace that we have our own axiom, “Patience is a virtue.” In a Minnesota Running & Track interview, Dennis Barker, coach of Team USA Minnesota, talked about the importance of patience saying, “People are too impatient. Running this year isn’t just about this year. It’s about last year. It’s about the last four years.” Barker went on to say, “People want to be good – right now. They think, ‘Well gee, I trained hard during the summer for three months. I should run a great Twin Cities Marathon.’” That reminds me of another guy I know. Whenever someone runs a good marathon, he’ll ask, “How many miles did you run in the 12 weeks prior to the marathon?” It’s like he thinks it okay to sit around all winter, as long has he has 12 solid weeks of training before his goal race. He’s from Wisconsin, so I’ll cut him a little slack.
While patience is very important when it comes to distance running, it’s even more valuable when it’s mixed with consistency. Whenever someone asks me for advice on how to improve their running, my answer is almost always, “Be more consistent.” That doesn’t mean having to run every day, never cutting back your weekly mileage or never taking any downtime. Those things are key components in any program. Even with those components mixed into your training plan, my guess is that most runners could find ways to improve their consistency.
Consistency also ties in nicely with another lesson I’ve learned; “It’s easier to stay in shape than get in shape.” Since every runner has probably missed or skipped out on running at one point or another, we’re all probably aware of this lesson. Of course, sometimes maintaining consistent training can be a difficult task. However, if you’re able to mix consistency with patience, you will amaze yourself by how much you are able to improve.
Keep in mind that consistency can also be a double-edged sword. Being a math guy, running appeals to my love of numbers; miles per week, month and year, number of days in a row, pace, splits, intervals, etc. It’s very easy to quantify this sport, which makes it easy to think that more is better. As a result, “Gotta get my miles in.” has probably hurt more runners than it’s helped. Sure this is a great slogan when you’re feeling good and everything is flowing smoothly. However, it’s not so great when you have an ache or pain or when you know something is not right or when you’re just dog-tired and you continue to press on just to make your logbook look good. Now that I think about it, I can’t remember showing my logbook to anyone – EVER. And it’s not because it’s top secret. It’s because no one cares. Think about that the next time your body is telling you to get some rest, but your mind is telling you to be consistent and get your miles in.
I love hills. I don’t actually love running up hills, but I love what they do for my running. I’m not talking about developing strong leg muscles or mental toughness. The main reason I love hills is because I’m a head-case and as Frank Shorter said, “Hills are speedwork in disguise.” When I run speedwork on the track, I always end up comparing one workout to the next. As soon as I get home, split after split is compared to the previous workout. That’s great if you’re constantly improving or if other factors like weather, diet, sleep, stress, etc. don’t factor in. But they do. Hill running allows me to get in quality running without worrying about my splits. Instead, I’m able to focus on effort without all the mental baggage.
The one lesson that I wish I had learned when I first started running is the “10% rule”. This is the “rule” that states that you shouldn’t increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% from week to week. It goes hand-in-hand with having patience. But while this rule of thumb comes in handy for beginning runners, I feel it needs to be amended for more experienced runners; “If you’ve been there before, you can get there again – quicker.” By this I mean, if you’ve been at a certain mileage level recently and then back off for awhile, you can build back up to your previous mileage more quickly than by adding 10% per week.
One final lesson was actually taught to me by a basketball coach, but it applies to running just as well; “Always be happy but never satisfied.” I think of this lesson any time I hear someone say, “I ran a PR, but…” But nothing, be happy, but don’t be satisfied. Maybe their statement hits home with me because I can remember back to my best year of running. I was setting personal records at every race, yet still disappointed because I wanted to run faster. Unfortunately, an injury ended my season much too soon. I went from being disappointed with a PR to being happy because I could run pain-free for 20 minutes. It took me two years to regain enough fitness and confidence to set another PR.
I’m sure after all these years in this sport, I’ve forgotten more than I know. At least I’ve remembered eight key lessons along the way. Your results may vary. Get fit by being patient. Stay fit by being consistent. More experience allows you to ramp up your mileage quicker, but beware of just making your logbook look good. Head for the hills. Be happy. And, your results may vary or as Dr. George Sheehan would say, “We’re all an experiment of one.”
BIO Over the years, Chad Austin’s patient, consistent, hilly mileage has allowed him to get fit, stay fit and even run fast enough to make him happy. But he’s not satisfied, so he continues to seek out new lessons, which is usually forgets.