What I Know Now: Lessons from Ten Years of Lacing Up and Hitting the Road

Dear Adam,

I’m writing to you exactly ten years from. For you it is the morning of Sunday, May 15, 2011. You’re grumpy. It’s probably 5 am and you’re not a morning person. Outside it is cold, maybe 50 degrees and drizzly. You are not feeling too enthusiastic about running 13.1 miles in it. You are not feeling particularly enthusiastic about running 13.1 miles, period. You don’t know it yet, but that grumpiness you are feeling, it’s about to melt away.

You won’t know it for a few hours but this is going to be one of those dividing lines in your life and that fact is going to hit you out of the blue. Usually these dates come with some sort of planning like a wedding or a birth. Not today. You have spent the last four months training and largely disliking it. You’ve been sore and tired and irritated that this takes time away from your friends and family, from bars and staying out late and just sort of doing whatever you feel like. You have not been able to fathom why anyone would do this for fun. Ah buddy, you have no idea how many hours you will soon be giving up to the simple act of tying your running shoes and heading out to repeat the tedious and glorious act of putting one foot in front of the other over and over and over again.

Enjoy these last few moments as the old you because by the time you walk back inside the side door at home hours from now you will not be the same person anymore. You’ll be sore as hell. You’ve be exhausted. You’ll be so hungry that nothing in the fridge is safe. And you’re going to be trying to find new races to run. The hour and thirty-nine minutes and forty-eight seconds you spend on that race course are going to change you. You are going to cross the finish line and bawl your eyes out, dumbfounded that you were able to cover those 13.1 miles, relieved that after a year where so little seems to have gone right, this one thing did. You will be a runner. I’m serious. From this moment forward that will be how you see yourself, as a runner.

Below is a little list. It’s my black book, your black book, of insights, lessons, and stories from ten years of chasing the high you are about to experience. There’s been so much good. Plenty of bad too. It has been a decade of big wins, misery, pain, comebacks, triumphs, and growth. Not everyone will understand all these points. That’s ok. It’s for you; you created it. It’s been a wild ride and the best part, and I know you still won’t believe me quite yet, is that a decade later you cannot wait to see what the next ten years on the run hold for you.

  • You have no idea what you are about to unleash at a moment when you’re so uncertain that this is even for you. I know I already covered this in my little introduction, but it is true. You truly do not think this running thing is for you. Part of you debated skipping out. Who the hell runs in weather like this? You’re going to brush past that uncertainty. It will be one of the best decisions you ever make.
  • Trust the timing of life events. I know this sounds new agey, but hear me out. The invitation to start training for that first race could only have happened the year it happened. A year earlier and you’d still have been in grad school, putting in 16-18 hour days and unable to fathom training for a half marathon. A year later, and the Christmas party where Jen first asked you to train with her never happens because Jen and Bob (not their names) are no longer married. For some reason the timing just worked.
  • You ran a race pace run yesterday. The pace of your warm up miles was faster than the race pace you run in that first race. It is amazing the progress that can be made in a decade.
  • The benefits will exist far beyond running. You are going to discover a love of hiking that comes directly from finding new routes to run in the Cuyahoga Valley. You’re going to come to love cooking and gardening because you’re going to value eating well to fuel your workouts. You’ll discover meditation as a means to improve your performance and it’s going to bring a calmness and presence to your life that opens you to possibilities that previously would have been drowned out by anxiety. The decision to run is going to be a stone thrown into a pond and the ripples from it that continue improve your life a decade later are still expanding outward.
  • And the thinkers you’re going to discover…. You have always grown through your reading and with running that will continue. You’ll read about great runners, yes, but you’ll branch out and read some tremendous thinkers and learn from their work on individual facets of performance. Charles Duhigg and James Clear will introduce methods for building better habits and although you still chafe at having too much structure, building good habits is going to unlock some big performance upgrades. You’re going to be introduced to Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg and their easy to understand approach to building marginal gains to improve performance. You’ll trust them so much that when they recommend other writers you’ll buy those books without question. That’s how you’ll discover David Epstein’s Range which will help you shift your mindset on the skills you’ve developed through jobs that most people would look down upon. That will help you gain the confidence to pursue nutrition coaching. Brad’s struggles with mental health will lead him to recommend Mark Freeman’s book You Are Not a Rock and that book will completely shift how you feel about your own struggles with anxiety and to formulate a plan to make small, daily progress toward understanding your thoughts and acting based on the things you value most. Maybe you would have discovered some of these people even without running. But it will be running that introduces you to many of them. Again, those expanding ripples.
  • Don’t wait until you’re ready. You are never going to know everything you want to know. Work hard, ask important questions, try and hope to succeed. If you fail, be humble enough to learn and courageous enough to dust yourself off and try again.
  • Stress + rest = growth. It really is that simple.
  • Embrace the suck. There’s no way the repetitive nature of running can lend itself to runs being great every day. A lot of days they suck. A lot of races are going to suck. Just keep showing up. The payoff is worth it.
  • If a lot of it sucks why show up? Because hard does not equal bad.
  • Train to your lifestyle. You will learn this way too late. Sitting for long periods of time while you’re teaching is going to lead to quite a few injuries and cost you most of 2013. Working for long stretches in the service industry is going to lead to imbalances in your back. It’s not enough to strength train just for your running. You have to make sure you train to handle the impact that your lifestyle is going to have on your running. The sooner you learn this, the faster your running will take off.
  • Running is going to make you a better coach. Coaching is going to make you a better runner. The coaching side will help to remind you as a competitive athlete that there’s a bigger picture your training and progress often cannot be forced. It must be earned and learned, often through hard lessons. Your work as a competitive runner will help calm down the impatience you have as a coach. When you are living the ups and downs of competition it will be much easier to have empathy for what your boys are experiencing.
  • Canadian geese are, understandably, assholes once their chicks hatch. Give them as much space as you can when you run past them. Seriously. They hiss and chase and bite.
  • When you visit someplace new, head out for a run. You can cover more ground than walking and can experience more intimate details than if you drive. Years after you run Charleston in the early morning hours you’ll still be able to smell the barbecue that restaurants were starting to prepare that day.
  • Compare yourself only to previous versions of yourself.
  • When you feel off or in sustained pain for more than a month seek an expert opinion. You won’t want to spend the money but the money will more than make up for the bad moods and anguish you feel when you are not confident in your running.
  • When it comes to the extra stuff, keep it simple. Mobilize a few tight spots. Do a few exercises to strengthen your core, hips, and butt. It is easy to get caught up in wanting to have the perfect strength and mobility program. But running takes up so much time already that if you try to be perfect you’ll just never do it consistently and then you’ll never enjoy the benefits. Small actions repeated daily will take care of what you need.
  • Consistency compounds. Show up when you don’t feel like it. Des said it best.
  • People make the race. You’ll feel this when you get to the start line today. There’s nothing like the energy of a race. All those runners. Spectators taking time out of their schedules to cheer on strangers. When you run your first race after the COVID pandemic (that’s a whole other letter, just be ready for a wild ride in 2020) it will be the feeling of being around people that you treasure most.
  • What they say about being kind to strangers because you never know what someone is going through is absolutely true. Chris from Michigan is going to see you near your breaking point at Mile 24 of your first marathon, frozen, hurt, and unsure if you can make it and tell you “Let’s take this in together.” It will be one of the nicest of most special memories you ever make on a race course.
  • Speaking of memories on a race course, don’t buy photos from Marathon Foto immediately after a race. It’s a racket. Three months later they’ll let you buy three photos for the price of one. Just be patient if the photos are that important. And really, the post-run snapshots with family and friends are more meaningful anyway. Oh, and the beer. The post-race beer is definitely more meaningful than spending $50 for a picture.
  • The beer is meaningful even if it is washed out Mich Ultra.
  • You’ll be amazed at how many people have orbited near you for so long that never crossed your path that suddenly you can’t imagine your life without. This comes out when you trade race stories.
  • We’ll see. You are going to have setbacks and swear that they’re the worst thing that could have happened. They’ll often set the stage for something better. You will have triumphs and believe you’ve cracked the code to running the perfect race and instead the bottom will fall out. Eventually you’ll get wise and take the good and bad in stride. What does any given moment mean? We’ll see.
  • Carry a notebook with you and leave it in the car to jot down all the random thoughts that enter your head when you’re out running. You’re going to do a lot of thinking out on the run and if you don’t have that notebook you’ll forget most of it.
  • Progress isn’t linear. In training you’re building a floor and a ceiling. If you train well and don’t get hurt and you’re a little lucky, your race will get you close to that ceiling. Sometimes the race is going to be much closer to the floor. Do not despair. You still put in the work, you still grew, and that floor can be the foundation for a much better race performance next time.
  • You’re going to start running during a golden age of American runners. Their talent is what is going to bring them to your attention. Their authenticity is what is going to make you love them. The part of you that has often felt unsure of yourself around others is going to think about this often.
  • A New York Marathon and Boston Marathon champion and Olympic medalist is going to see you wearing a Boston Strong t shirt one day and, when you tell him that you haven’t made it to Boston yet, he’ll tell you that you’re going to make it there someday, that he believes in you. This will sustain you through the worst that running can throw at you.
  • Years after he wins Boston in 2014, a year after the attacks, you’ll still watch highlights of his win and tear up. God I love you, Meb.
  • You’ll also think of his story as a refugee fleeing war-torn Eritrea and how him winning all that he won as a US citizen represents the best of what America can be.
  • You’re going to experience so much pain. Sprains, tears, pulls. A dog is going to bite you on a training run. You will see an x-ray of your spine where it looks like it is taking a detour around a car accident. Rotated hips. A hip flexor strain is going to ruin your first marathon and you’re going to trudge to the finish line in 25 mph winds and snow. Thunder snow, actually. On one run in 2012 you will literally feel your right glute twist itself into a tangle of spaghetti. This will introduce you to the pain cave that you enter when you roll with a lacrosse ball. Calf cramps, stomach cramps; a spasm in your hamstring so intense that you cannot flex your leg.
  • In overcoming that pain you’re going to discover you’re more resilient than you could possibly imagine. It’s like Alfred says in Batman Begins: “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
  • Shortly after your race today you are going to discover the Boston Marathon and that you have to qualify to enter the race and you will drive toward this goal with a single-minded determination from this moment forward. When you get your first BQ in 2018 you will believe without reservation that you’re in. So when an email comes in September of that year telling you that you missed the cutoff by two seconds, well, you’ll see. After your heart falls back into your chest where it belongs you’ll lace up and run. The day called for an easy run so that’s what you’ll do. In the worst of times, there is always you and the road.
  • Don’t hold onto the goal too tightly. That email will not be the first time you miss out on Boston. It will happen again a year later and at that point, so close but not quite there, you will start to lose sight of why you love this sport. You will start to run through pain you shouldn’t run through. You will lose your love of the simple act of heading out the door to run. Then when that pandemic I told you about hits and races are cancelled, you’ll lose all love of running entirely. Without a race to run and a BQ to pursue you’ll just stop. It’s ok. You’ll get over it. The love of hiking I told you about? You’ll turn to that and remember what it is like to do something for the sheer joy of loving it, without hope of external reward. That reminder will take you back to running. Today you’re more in love with the sport than you ever have been.
  • Do not construct your identity around results. When the races go well, you’ll feel invincible. Many races, however, will not. You will fail, but you will not be a failure. Failure is simply feedback. Learn, process, go again.
  • Trust the process. Enjoy the process. Trust that you’re a badass that can handle when the process doesn’t deliver what you wanted it to.
  • Focus on what you can control. As much as it will upset your Type A personality to give up control of anything, the sooner you realize that energy wasted on things you have no control over takes you out of the moment the happier you’ll be and the quicker your performances improve.
  • Continuous disappointment makes eventual success that much sweeter. It is going to take you four years to break 1:30:00 in the half marathon, despite coming really close two years earlier. That continued disappointment that drags you down early? I promise it melts away when you finally clear that hurdle you’ve spent so much time pursuing. Acceptance into Boston? Ten years later you still haven’t gotten there, but you have an inkling of what it’s going to feel like when you someday open that acceptance email.
  • Running is going to break that paint by numbers, I-know-how-this-is-going-to-work-out living you did in your 20’s. You train, you race, and when it doesn’t go well you discover how simple the next step is. You get up and go again. I know the you standing at that first start line isn’t going to believe me, that it can’t be that simple. You’ll someday see that it is.
  • The shit you’re going to run through. Driving rain, snow, wind so strong you feel like you’re running in place. Wind so strong that you have to hurdle a trash can bowling down the road at you. Did I mention snow? Thunder snow. Sub-zero wind chills from a polar vortex that force you to bundle up like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. On that day your scarf will push your breath up into your eyes and frost over your glasses. Maybe running outside that day wasn’t a good idea. Cyclists who won’t move over for you. Cars that run you off the road. Did I mention that dog biting you?
  • Pain in one area of the body is often a result of neglecting something far more important elsewhere. This is true in life too. Worry less about fixing the pain and more about solving the cause of it.
  • Not where you want to be? You’re not ready. This sounds cruel. You’re going to put your best effort into a training cycle and then not get what you deserve. The hard work is not wasted though. You’ll have learned and, if the race didn’t go well, find a weakness somewhere that needs attention. That’s how you get to where you want to be. How do you know when you are ready? I’m not sure. You just sort of know it.
  • You’re going to be in better shape at 38 than you were at 18. Given what soccer doubles used to look like, this is going to amaze you. Just celebrate it.
  • Cormac McCarthy: Scared money can’t win and a worried man can’t love. (Thanks to Scott Fauble showing off his tat on Instagram for directing me to my 2021 mantra)
  • Herb Brooks: Great moments are born of great opportunity.
  • You’re going to embrace a new relationship with fear. You won’t stop being afraid. You won’t stop being anxious. You’ll just recognize that you can be afraid (the feeling) but you are not actually afraid (an identity). This is how you’ll learn to overcome the worries that weather or an injury or calf cramps are going to derail the race of a lifetime after a year of training. You won’t, as a friend simply stated, let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. This way you won’t waste mental energy on fearing what could happen and simply have faith that your efforts are enough to make happen what you want to make happen.
  • Starting a running podcast with your friend Andrew is going to add so much value to your running. It’s going to introduce you to a running community that has otherwise been hard to build while working when most people are playing. That community will mean more than you can imagine.
  • Run toward what brings out the best in you. You’re going to give up things as you get deeper and deeper into running. It will take up more time. It will demand more energy. You’ll stay out later less often. You’ll drink less. Some friendships that we held together by those things will fall by the wayside. You can’t stay in one place forever. The people that stick around for who you grow into though? They may not fully get running, but they’ll get what it does for you, so they’ll be there to celebrate the great races and comfort you after the awful ones. Running is how you grow into that next chapter of who you are meant to be. The ones that come along for the ride? They mean everything.
  • It may just be you on the race course, but a team gets you to the starting line. Friends will be sounding boards for training questions. Family and friends will be gracious when marathon training takes over your life, when you can’t stay out late on a Saturday night because tomorrow is long run day. When you’re still living at home after you leave teaching, you’ll have to run 16 miles before working a double and come back from the run to find that Mom cooked breakfast. Actually, poor Mom and Dad probably know as much about my training as I do because I have to externally process things. When you go on vacation the people you love will accept that days sometimes have to be structured around the ten-mile tempo run you need to get in. They just accept it without question because it is what you need to do to get to the start line ready. This means everything.
  • This is how you’ll figure out life. This is the great thing about a sport that requires so much time and effort. There are no shortcuts. There is plenty of time to work and play and try and fail and succeed. Within all those miles and that experience, you’re going to figure out a lot about what makes you tick and what makes you, well, you.
  • There’s always another run. Good run? Bad run? Go to sleep. Lace up tomorrow. We go again.

Losing Races in 2020 Helped Me Find a New Love of Running

I’m sitting in my favorite bar, a glass of half-drunk local beer in front of me, my dad to my right, my friend Andrew to my left, celebrating my birthday. I don’t normally care that much for my birthday, but today I’m celebrating some small wins. None of what I’m doing right now was possible this time last year when Ohio was locked down and I was absolutely terrified of drowning in the uncertainty of those early days of the pandemic. Would I be able to keep my apartment? How would I pay my bills? What the hell was the world going to look like in two months? In time those answers would begin to work themselves out and while the world of February 2020 is nowhere near back, indeed may never truly be back, the day I am having fills me with gratitude after what we’ve all experienced over the last twelve months.

I’m not sure I can remember a more impactful lap around the sun. The hamster wheel screeching to a half is cliche and yet it perfectly encapsulates the experience of the last twelve months. Whatever your life looked like in February 2020 it ceased to exist a month later and whatever fears, sickness, and/or losses ensued, there was also plenty of time to reflect and take stock of just what had not been working for us. Let me interject right now that my COVID experience has been extremely fortuitous. I did not lose my job though I learned quickly how to navigate uncertain financial terrain. I did not get sick and the few that are closest to me that did were spared the worst. When I speak of the opportunity to reflect and change amidst the unwinding of the last 12 months, I do so knowing full well that my circumstances make it far easier to put a positive spin on the year than those who have suffered far worse than I.

For those that know me best, that know that my identity as a runner is at the core of who I am, the notion that a year without racing would be a good thing would have sounded impossible a year ago. Yet it was a godsend. It led to what felt like a literal breakup with running that began in June and would not end until the calendar flipped to 2021. For a decade my sole drive has been to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Twice I have met the mark and missed entry into the field by less than 40 combined seconds. My last rejection letter is one of the last things I see before I leave my apartment for any run. To get so close and still fail has served as a powerful motivator, but one that in time became toxic. Rather than enjoying running I began to crave the certainty that certain benchmarks provided. If I hit this interval split, if I could run this tempo pace, if I could build to and maintain this level of monthly mileage now, surely, this cycle would be the one that got me to Boston. Armed with this drive toward certainty, I started to lose sight of what was right in front of me: the signs of overtraining, nagging aches that became full-fledged injuries, and even apathy toward lacing up. I still loved that I was a runner but I no longer had the same love for running itself.

This all built up to a planned 10-mile run scheduled for Father’s Day last year. The run was to replace one of my favorite races of the year, the Towpath 10-Miler, which was to be held virtually. My run started fine, the first five miles clicking by until the familiar aches, pains, and postural instability returned, sapping me of the energy and power I can bring to bear when I’m at my most fit. I finished the run, stumbling through the last few miles, and saved the run to my watch so I could review the grim ending, noting what I already knew, that the latter miles had lacked the promise of the early pace I had set.

On the drive home I was reminded of an article on, of all things, relationships, written by Mark Manson, known to most by his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. In the article, one on how to get over an ex, Manson writes, “Relationships don’t end because two people did something wrong to each other—they end because two people are something wrong for each other” (emphasis his). The “train-obsessively-to-find-certainty-so-this-cycle-will–finally-resolve-my-disappointment” approach to running had entered this territory. Maybe the sport itself was not wrong for me, but my approach to it was. While I did not resolve to stop running it was exactly what happened. I would not lace up for another 100 days.

Instead I hiked. Living near the Cuyahoga Valley and numerous Metro Parks, I had a wealth of gorgeous trails within driving distance to explore. Hiking required little planning beyond knowing which park or trail to drive to. I no longer had to worry about goals, splits, race paces, any of the minutiae of training. I could simply show up when I wanted to, hike the trail, enjoy the sights and the sounds, and snap as many photos as I could. It was bliss.

Somewhere during my hiking spree I had temporarily stopped to look down at the Cuyahoga River and I remembered that my running had once been like this. In 2013 I had lost almost an entire year to a finicky case of IT band syndrome that eventually became so frustrating I took a similar sort of break from running. By 2014 I had slowly begun to work my way back into steady training, the fear of the telltale pain on the outside of my knee never far away. The conservative approach I had brought to training then probably held me back in the early going but it also introduced me to the simplicity of being grateful for every run that ended pain free. As those pain free miles built up I noticed the telltale signs of improved fitness returning. I could run further. My resting heart rate decreased. My turnover rate improved. I felt powerful. I knew I was back when, despite starting back with the 1:45:00 pace group in the Cleveland Half Marathon that spring, I found myself surging past the 1:40:00 pace group halfway through the race and finishing running under 1:35:00. That consistency having been built, I would go on to finally sustain a training cycle that helped me break 1:30:00 that fall in the half marathon for the first time, one of my earliest running goals. It had all begun, though, with simple gratitude for the process of running, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Runs, all runs, were to be enjoyed and with enough consistency the sort of training that can make great things happen would be within my reach. Overlooking the Cuyahoga River, bathed in sunlight, I resolved to make another go of running when the calendar flipped, only when I was ready though, and to fix my attention solely on enjoying my run when I did.

I am three months into this renewed approach. I have carefully built my mileage, building back into the routine slowly. Where I was once running four days a week, and content to blow a run off if I didn’t feel like it, I am back to running six days a week as I once did during marathon training. I don’t feel pressure to do that though; I want to get in those six runs a week. I am not sure where this running will take me or when. The goal of another BQ remains, though I do not know when I will be capable of making that happen, and I am comfortable with that uncertainty because I am living a core value of simply enjoying this sport that makes me happy and that I can feel brining out the best in me. Largely I feel strong, a new strength training program devoted to my mid-back helping me build a more powerful posture, long a weakness of mine. There’s a hitch in my stride though, some sort of imbalance that has plagued me for years and that I am finally seeing a physical therapist for. It will get fixed eventually and I’ll be back to the runner I once was. I’m not sure when, but I know I will.

I better appreciate now that there will be further obstacles and that I have the tools and the patience to navigate them. I am grateful for my goals and driven to meet them, but I have rediscovered the peace that is knowing you can only control what you can control; meanwhile the journey will take care of itself. On a day of celebrating small victories, this feels like a much bigger win.

Impact Running Newsletter: Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 15

A week that has been notable for how normal it has felt in relation to most of my other weeks since mid-March. I actually hung out with friends after work on Monday and went to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s Asian Lantern Festival on Monday. Quite the change from my normal routine of working, strength training, and sleeping.

As I continue my running rebuild I have stumbled on a problem that I need to solve in the next month or so or seek therapy for. I have been strengthening my mid and low back to improve my running posture and it led me to notice how much more solid and aligned I have felt but that it is a feeling I am not able to maintain consistently. When things fall apart it results in right shoulder pain that seems to pull my upper body toward the left, leaving me with the out of whack feeling that has plagued my running for the last few years. The good news is I have stumbled onto the solution with the question being whether or not I will be able to consistently get myself aligned so I can resume running with confidence. 

Running

‘Fat Talks,’ an Investigation, and a Reckoning: How Collegiate Runners Forced Reform

Wesleyan University track and cross-country alumni blew the whistle on former coach John Crooke for engaging in the same sort of coaching behavior that Mary Cain levied at Alberto Salazar. Crooke, who abruptly retired two weeks ago, held fat talks with his runners, asking them to log their eating habits for review, but to keep those meetings secret from other runners. Just as Cain’s performance began to suffer when Salazar shifted her focus to eating, Crooke’s teams struggled as well, suffering performance declines and struggling to retain runners on the team. 

How “normal people” can train like the worlds best endurance athletes

This TED talk from Dr. Stephen Seiler goes into detail to reveal how exercise physiologists have been able to better understand the impact that variable training intensities have on elite endurance athletes and how that understanding can benefit non-elite performers. Though the thesis of his talk, that training too often at hard intensity is counterproductive, was not a new concept to me, I did find the details around how that conclusion came about interesting. Seiler details the laboratory experimentation that altered researchers’ understanding about endurance training and how that laboratory work led to studies being undertaken in the field with elite athletes where laboratory theories met the real-world demands and experimentation of high-level professional training.

Behind the Scenes at London Marathon’s Kipchoge/Bekele Showdown

I enjoyed this interview with Jos Hermans, the founder and CEO of Global Sports Communications, who shares his thoughts on the upcoming duel between Eliud Kiphcoge and Kenenisa Bekele in London. Hermans lays out the challenges that COVID have posed to professional runners, who have had to train without the support of training groups and professional support staff, a challenge that could impact the race in October. I also thought Hermans had an interesting take on the two runners, feeling that Bekele is actually the more talented of the two while it is Kipchoge’s consistency that has made him the king of the roads. Given the dearth of live competition in 2020 coupled with the challenges of training in uncertain times, the race in London should be exciting and may provide a twist or two.

Performance

Fitter & Faster Podcast: Jay Dicharry On How To Stay Injury-Free

As I’ve cast around for strength training plans in the wake of COVID and my avoidance of the gym since March I nevertheless find myself gravitating back to Jay Dicharry whose Running Rewired served as the basis for my strength training last year. This podcast interview focuses on triathletes, so some of what he discusses will sound foreign to runners, but his main message remains an important one for runners to heed: maintaining endurance and power requires a body capable of long-term postural stabilization.  

Overtaxed by all the unfinished tasks hanging over you? There is a solution…

This article looks at the concept of open loops, your brain’s way of storing any unfinished business left on your plate. The problem with these loops is that when left untouched the brain, eager to close those loops, begins to obsess over them, creating anxiety, which can effect your daily life or your training. Author Oliver Burkeman posits an easy solution, one that should free your brain from that pesky anxiety and keep those unfinished tasks organized and accessible.

Perspective

Never press “pause” on your health and fitness again. This free tool is your secret weapon.

This infographic seeks to end the “all or nothing” approach to improvement. The strategy, from Precision Nutrition, asks you to scale improvements in various areas of your life, creating a graduated list daily actions, starting with the smallest form of action you could take toward an improvement (lace up your running shoes and head out the door for a jog to the end of the street) and progress up to the biggest action you could take (commit to 18 weeks of following the Hansons marathon training plan). If you hesitate to take action because you do not have the perfect plan thought out (one of my biggest weaknesses) then this concept is one you should take the time to explore and grapple with. I know I will.

This Week’s Quote

Success is never final. Failure never fatal. It’s courage that counts.

       -John Wooden

A Small Request

This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.

Impact Running Newsletter: Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 14

This week’s edition is a day late and I apologize for that. My brother was in town for the first time in almost ten months, which was the last time I saw him and I spent three days enjoying the simple pleasure of having most of my family together. That meant I had to spend the early week playing catch up and it was only yesterday that I had the time to sit down with the different links I had set aside to check out and forward along to you.

Unfortunately in that time we have seen the cancellation of Ohio State’s fall football season. I am an OSU grad and I bleed scarlet and gray. The thought of a fall without the Buckeyes to watch leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, even moreso when you consider that imperfect as any response to COVID was going to be, the examples set in many other corners show that sports and indeed more normalcy in general were possible with a more focused response than what we have experienced inside the US. And of course the cancellation of the football season is but one disappointment that is going to be felt throughout the country this fall. I do not expect my friends coaching high school sports will have seasons when all is said and done and the loss of college sports does not stop at football either. Volleyball, soccer, and cross country teams, just to name an additional few, are all coming to terms with cancelled seasons. My heart goes out to them.

That said there are some interesting reads and listens in this week’s newsletter with several running topics related to the changes and opportunities COVID has provided runners. The Cal Ripken interview I link to is lengthy but chock full of pearls of wisdom for any competitor. Finally, Ramzy Nasrallah captures far better than I the sorrow and anger over the cancelled college football season. Let’s dig in.

Running

London Marathon mass event canceled; Kipchoge, Bekele still to race

Finally some good news in the world of running where the norm since March has been one race cancellation after another. The London Marathon, which usually runs in April, had been pushed back to this October with its fate hanging in the balance. The decision was finally made to go ahead with the race, though with elites only much as the Tokyo Marathon did in March. That gives us the tantalizing matchup between Eliud Kipchoge, almost a year off his sub-2 endeavor, and Kenenisa Bekele whose time in last year’s Berlin Marathon was just two seconds slower than Kipchoge’s world record time (remember that Kipchoge’s sub-2 performance due to its engineered parameters does not qualify for world record status). Assuming both are healthy and fit it provides the potential for a spellbinding race between the two. 

Also of note from London is their decision to push back next year’s mass event to October, which presents an interesting window into what organizers may be feeling is and is not possible in the world of racing next spring.

Sara Hall Runs Impressive Half Marathon PR—Without the Hoopla

In the sort of race that unfortunately has to be run in the current conditions, Sara Hall crushed her half marathon PR as she prepares for an as of yet unnamed fall marathon (many suspect it is the London Marathon). The race was dubbed the Row River Half Marathon and staged by organizers of the Eugene Marathon and it offers insight into what races, until a vaccine is found, are likely to look like for professionals. The few participants, Hall, her pacers, and two of her daughters, had negative COVID tests and everyone else involved wore masks. When Hall finished, everyone simply disbanded and went home. A far cry from the large, socially-driven events we are used to.

The Enduring Appeal of the Fastest Known Time

The local running store I frequent has been posting weekly challenges on routes and loops in the area for local runners to run and then post their times for. Such is the idea for those endurance junkies pursuing Fastest Known Times (FKT’s) in which they run notable routes and then post GPS data and even pictures to prove their having truly run them. Such excursions have become commonplace this summer with race cancellations, though, as the article notes, the requirements to register an FKT go against the grain of the typical ultraendurance endeavor where private, solo accomplishment has often trumped public acknowledgement.

Performance

Cal Ripken Jr. On Why You Control Your Life’s Narrative

I was a 90’s kid who loved baseball which meant I had a front row seat to Cal Ripken’s pursuit of Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game’s played record. His talent and consistency made him someone whose insights I relished. Because I rotate through a number of audiobooks and podcasts it had been awhile since I listened to Michael Gervais’ Finding Mastery podcast but when I saw he was going to have Ripken on I could not wait to sit down and listen to the conversation. I was reminded why I enjoy Gervais so much. This is a lengthy discussion, almost two hours, but Gervais is exceptional at honing in on the performance secrets that Ripken hints at with his stories. Given Ripken is best known for longevity it will not be surprising that much of the conversation revolves not around getting to the top performance-wise but rather staying there. Most notable is Ripken’s approach to constantly reinforcing his focus on his strengths at a time when he was considered oversized and more limited in range compared to other shortstops, a practice that allowed him to keep himself centered on his own improvement rather than worrying about his limitations.

Perspective

The Big Chill

Ohio State Football blogger Ramzy Nasrallah far better articulates than I could the despair over the cancellation of the college football season. Whether or not you are a college football fan, more cancellations and suspensions of things you hold dear are likely coming in the coming months and Nasrallah points to the reasons why this is the case. Leadership across the board has left us flailing in the United States as we struggle to contain COVID. Worrisome is that schools that restarted in-person learning have already seen outbreaks and there’s no reason to believe college campuses will be spared the same fate. It is frustrating because it did not have to be this way; Europe shows us how it could have been done. Life this year was always going to be different, the question was always how different. Powering our way through the pandemic as if it is truly not there has simply kicked the can down the road and closed things now that could have been spared with the forward thinking Nasrallah notes has been absent all summer. It’s so damn frustrating.

This Week’s Quote

“This is a time to be selfless. This is when we have to sit back and understand this is not about one person specifically. It’s about everybody. You have to go out there and understand that it’s about your neighbor and your neighbor’s neighbors.”

       – Francisco Lindor

A Small Request

This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.

 

Impact Running Newsletter: Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 13

My brother is visiting this weekend which led me to pause and try to remember when I last saw him in person. The tally came to almost a year; we were in the Outer Banks together for a weekend last August. The arrival of my niece on Christmas meant the family could not all be together for the holidays, a trip to meet my niece was interrupted in January when one of my parents’ dogs tragically ran away, and two trips have had to be put on hold due to COVID. Too many of these moments have been taken from people and as well as I think I’ve adjusted to the need to be constantly adjusting god do I miss normalcy sometimes.

The oppressive heat and humidity of this northeast Ohio summer have receded in recent weeks and left behind a beach at low tide strewn with bits and pieces of an urge to lace up and go run. I’m not sure the will to sustain any sort of training exists yet but here and there is a jagged four-miler or a smooth and colorful eight-miler through the woods. For a little longer I’m resisting the urge to run. Having decided my running house needs a rebuild I want to further solidify the foundation, plastering up cracks, squaring up walls, and replacing ill-fitting stones. But I am interpreting the desire to return to the road as a good tiding.

Running

World Athletics Council makes key decisions on Olympic cross country, Russian Federation and future competition dates

A mixed gender cross country relay could possibly be coming to the Paris 2024 Olympics? Hell. Yes.

The Real-Life Diet of Kilian Jornet, Who Dominates 100-Mile Ultramarathons and Runs Up the World’s Highest Mountains

Kilian Jornet’s idea of fun is ultrarunning up the faces of mountains, and I am talking about the big ones: Denali and Everest to name a few. In this interview with GQ (when did GQ become a running outlet by the way?) Jornet offers refreshingly practical advice on recovery and dieting. If you read this piece and come away thinking, “There’s no way it can be that easy,” just know that at Precision Nutrition, one of the world’s foremost nutrition coaching services (and whose coaching course I have certifying in during the pandemic) the bulk of the programming focuses on exactly what Jornet lays out, mainly knowing your hunger cues, eating less processed food, and having a consistent recovery routine. A consistent focus on the basics can literally help you scale mountains.

Performance

Meditation Science: How Doing Nothing Makes You A Better Runner

In the early days of the pandemic I made my case for mindfulness amidst troubling times. Here Molly Hanson provides a handy tutorial on mindfulness for runners, defining mindfulness and meditation, explaining how a mindfulness practice can improve performance and resilience, and providing examples from professional runners to show how it can benefit your training and racing. If you read this and are inspired to give mindfulness a try, let me recommend the MyLife app and specifically the Relax, Ground, and Clear and Lion Mind meditations.

Want to ditch a bad habit? Then just take it one day at a time

If you have been reading this newsletter the last few months you know that I have been working on building better habits to develop a more focused life following the rapid detox of sorts that was Ohio’s stay-at-home order in the early days of the pandemic. Despite my familiarity with several excellent books on habits and habit formation, specifically Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and James Clear’s Atomic Habits, I have found, as writer Oliver Burkeman has, that knowing the theory and applying it to real life are two different things. Burkeman’s advice on overriding old, bad habits is simple and forgiving: move forward with doing what is right one day at a time. The results will eventually build from there.

Perspective

Type A Blood and Covid: Danger! …Wait, Never Mind

I wrote in last week’s newsletter that I try to approach COVID skeptics with compassion given that we have not lived through something like this in our lifetimes and that scientific information in the pandemic is ever evolving as more is understood about the novel virus. This article from David Epstein is an excellent tutorial of how scientific hypotheses are published, gain traction, and then are revised as more information comes to light. The focus of Epstein’s article is on an early link between people with type A blood appearing to suffer more severe cases of COVID, however his advice could be applied to any number of areas related to the virus, including the much-hyped benefits of hydroxychloroquine and the belief that contaminated surfaces are a major vector of COVID transmission. Epstein ends with important advice on how to handle the shifting understanding further research provides us, something that will be critical as we get closer to what will hopefully be a safe and effective vaccine.

Why We’re All Gardening and Baking So Much

Apologies to Brad Stulberg for always linking to his stuff. I swear I am not trying to build a small following off your work, Brad. This article, though, spoke to me because in the absence of racing the care and attention I would have devoted to training has been applied instead to growing zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers. Stulberg explains why this is true across the country as people turn to various activities such as gardening and baking to fill both their time and psychological need for self-determination. He also suggests, in a theme keeping with my own quest to make some of my pandemic habits stick, that we look at what a new hobby like gardening does for our psyches and then find ways to keep those hobbies in our lives as the world slowly builds back toward normalcy.

This Week’s Quote

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

“You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time.”

       – the late Representative John Lewis

My Podcast

Andrew and I took a week away from discussing how we are rebuilding our running to interview Katie Biro about her experience donating a kidney to her father. The experience leaves Katie, at least as a runner, back at square one and she details her goals moving forward as she starts to consider what her running will look like in the coming months. Visit Rust Belt Running to find out where you can listen to all episodes of our show.

A Small Request

This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.

Impact Running Newsletter: Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 12

I visited my chiropractor for my weekly appointment today and responded to her question, “What’s new?” with what feels like it will be routine answer for the foreseeable future. “Not much.”

I was excited about the start of baseball, especially as soccer in the English Premier League ends for seven weeks. But the outbreak amongst the Miami Marlins makes me nervous that baseball, or football or college sports for that matter, can carry on safely over any sort of prolonged time. Where Europe took virus suppression seriously, the US misused the lockdown period and it feels like a weird holding pattern of sorts will be the norm for the foreseeable future, with periods of required shutdowns of either teams or entire league, schools or the entire idea of in-person learning. I just keep trying to stay safe and limiting ventures out as much as I can.

Gloomy as that sounds I am enjoying the reading and research for my running rebuild. I have been regularly working on posterior chain and core strength and have gotten more consistent with mobility and it feels like there are some tangible results. I will have to see how I feel when I resume running, but for now those small but noticeable changes have me feeling confident about my eventual return to the road.

I also signed up today to be screened as a volunteer for the Phase 3 trial of the Oxford COVID vaccine. I have no idea if I will make it through the screening and I admit to being nervous about the possibility of being a guinea pig in such an important but hurried experiment. However the results from the Phase 1 and 2 trials have me feeling confident about the safety of the vaccine and this is a moment where the entire world is in one way or another at a standstill waiting for the tools that can return us to normalcy. If the study needs volunteers and I can help, I would like to try.

Running

England: New guidelines on mass participation races released

English runners have the benefit of living in a country that took COVID suppression seriously (albeit after a perilous first act). The reward? They can start to look ahead to the potential return of races. While MLB here in the US could not make it a full week without an outbreak spreading through a team, English soccer games have gone on for two months, and without a bubble, with few cases amongst team personnel. Feeling comfortable with that success, the English government has given the ok for the slow return of mass participation events. United Kingdom Athletics and Run Britain have responded by releasing their guidelines on how races can return. I’m not sure that I would personally feel comfortable even within these guidelines, but then I live in one of the virus hotbeds in the world so I’m not sure I would feel comfortable doing almost anything around a large crowd right now. The guidelines are not too surprising: socially distanced start lines, fewer contact points, discouraging runners from laying down at the finish line. The experience would clearly be a different one for the time being.

The Most Interesting Runner in the World

I have only just recently learned about the remarkable running exploits of Tommy Rivers Puzey, an ultramarathoner currently fighting for his life having been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. From the reading I have done, it appears there is nowhere that Puzey hasn’t run some sort of ultra and he seems to bring what I can only describe as an Anthony Bourdain-like curiosity to his ventures, not simply running the local terrain but trying to better understand runners and the running culture in those places. In this deleted chapter from his recent book, Running the Dream, Matt Fitzgerald describes a run where Puzey paced him while sharing a wonderful story about running an ultra up a mountain in Costa Rica. A disappointing finish in that mountain ultra stoked Puzey’s curiosity and led him to an insight that bettered his running and serves as a guide to all runners about balancing life and running.

How to Train Right Now to Make 2021 a Breakthrough Year

Ultrarunning coach Jason Koop shares this piece on how ultrarunners can use the disruption in racing to better prepare themselves for racing in 2021. More time, Koop points out, is something he is always looking for with his runners and 2020 provides just that. More rest and using workouts to tackle weaknesses are two of Koop’s focuses, with several suggestions given as to how ultrarunners can shore up weaknesses in different areas. This syncs up well with my own quest, which I wrote about in last week’s newsletter, to rebuild my running house by constructing a sturdier foundation. Many of my readers will not be ultrarunners, but Koop’s suggestions should emphasize to every runner that this is a year to consider weaknesses and carve out the time to work on them as we wait for normal racing to resume.

Performance

Improving Our Relationship with Failure

Steve Magness notes a performance paradox, that two people can view the same performance in fundamentally different ways. For those who view a subpar result as a failure, it may be necessary to reevaluate the definition of success. Is it based on bettering our previous self or on beating external competition? When experiencing failure we gain an opportunity to evaluate our goals and goal setting. We can create a continuum of possible successes, giving ourselves a range of outcomes to train toward. We can also focus on the process. I am doing this during my running rebuild. Rather than focusing on a distant outcome, for me it is almost always something related to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and instead focusing on the process of putting in the work in several training areas with the belief that sustained work there will deliver the results I am seeking.

Perspective

The Case For Wise Hope And Wise Action

Outlets continue to promote tenuous science and conspiracy theories, the most recent example being the sideshow covered by Breitbart on Monday where a small number of doctors denied the need to masks to stop the spread of COVID and repeated the call for using hydroxychlorquine to treat infected patients. These continued episodes are frustrating. I try, still, to react to those who reach toward such conspiracies with empathy. We are in tough times and without a unified message about how tough these times will continue to be, it is natural that people scared by their own uncertainty will gravitate toward anything that offers a quick exit.

This piece from Brad Stulberg stretches back a month or so but speaks to difficulty of finding stable ground in an unstable time. Gravitating toward one extreme (everything is fine!) or another (everything is awful!) is easy and offers a level of short term comfort. They are not the only options though. Stulberg offers a third, middle path, one rooted in acknowledging the difficulty of the now while resolving to move forward as best as the situation allows. Drawing on the work of a personal favorite of mine, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, Stulberg explains the benefits and practices of this third path. If the weight of the ongoing pandemic has been dragging you down lately, this is a necessary read.

Hope Through History

I binge-listened to this podcast over the weekend and found it engaging and, as the name suggests, hopeful. The series focuses on five trying times from the last century: the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, the German blitz of 1940, polio outbreaks, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Each episode focuses on the good and the bad of the responses to each crisis, offering a road map of sorts for handling trying times.

Much of the current emergency is out of our hands, yet there are lessons we can nevertheless take from these moments. We cannot enact policy as FDR did, but we can be open to experimentation as the scientific and political communities try to navigate the challenge of a novel virus. We cannot rally a nation as Churchill did in 1940, but we can adopt his cleared-eyed realism as we navigate the current situation, eschewing those who would hawk miracle cures and silver bullet treatments. We cannot create a vaccine but we can note that in the lead up to the discovery of one for polio and large number of ordinary people did what they could to help finance research through charities like the March of Dimes. As runners, we can take heart that all of these practices build the mental fortitude to handle training and racing. Clear-eyed reality as a preface to optimism has solved many of the globe’s toughest problems and are equally important to working through smaller challenges as well.

This Week’s Quote

“You don’t have a right to the cards  you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.”

– Cheryl Strayed

My Podcast

As I begin to rebuild my running my co-host Andrew and I are starting a series of discussions on our podcast about the same thing. We will be discussing our own experiences with our running rebuilds as well as talking to professionals in various fields that will shed light on how to improve different aspects of running and fitness. Last week we featured two physical therapists to discuss proactive treatments and practices runners should adopt to improve performance and prevent injuries. Visit Rust Belt Running to find out where you can listen to all episodes of our show.

A Small Request

This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.

 

Impact Running Newsletter: Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 10

With racing cancelled for the foreseeable future (on Monday Chicago announced their cancellation) I have been in a weird spot. My running centers around racing and with them out of the picture I have not had the motivation to run. The last miles I ran were over a month ago. 

The question over what I should be doing or even want to do as a runner is one that has been wrapped up in a yo-yoing back and forth between excitement and optimism about various projects and goals — the sort of focusing that this major disruption to life allows — and the fatigue and malaise that comes from the realization that this moment is anything but normal. I miss normal. 

That said, I am putting this time off from running to good use. Absent the momentum and pressure of race training I am re-examining every aspect of my running practice. Much like one might begin the remodel of a room in a house by tearing it down to stud, I am tearing down my training methodology and starting to rebuild it one piece at a time. The various aches and pains I’ve carried since the late stages of my 2018 Columbus training speak to imbalances that I’ve tried to train through with mediocre results. So I am re-working my strength program. I know mobility is a crucial component for long-term health but I have always been good at finding reasons to avoid regular practice which then found me spending extra time trying to work through various aches and pains. So I am devising a regular, 10-minutes-a-day mobility program. I am regularly meditating. Slowly the foundation is settling.

This week’s newsletter is written in this spirit. Many of these links get back to basics in one form or another, whether it is looking at how keeping a detailed training journal (something I do, but not well) can help with motivation and detailing training breakthroughs and obstacles or providing an interesting look at how you can organize blocs of time during your day to make room for important work. Let’s dig in.

Running

5 Reasons to Keep A Training Log and How to Do It

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you are mailing in certain practices until you take a long hard look at them. While I keep a training log, and have for years, too often I pass up updating it on a daily basis in favor of filling it in at a later date using the information stored in my Garmin app. Sure, the relevant information is transferred, but other important subjective information is lost when it is not automatically recorded. As I surfed my usual sites to find links for this week’s newsletter I found this helpful how-to on keeping a training log from Matt Fitzgerald. If you are new to running, it is a good tutorial on how to keep your own log. If you are a veteran runner like me, it may provide new ideas on what to keep in your own log. Despite my up and down consistency in filling mine out, I still do go back and mine my old logs for clues about what was helping me run well or what I was doing wrong when I was dealing with injuries. Logging my runs, workouts, and physiological information regularly is the best way to make sure I am building and maintaining the foundation I am seeking to build. Fitzgerald has some good ideas on what is worth tracking.

In 2020, Virtual Racing Becomes a Reality

I love race day. I love being around other runners. I love the crowds. I love the buzzing anticipation at the start line. There is something about the in-person experience that just cannot be replaced. When Columbus Marathon race director Darris Blackford explained the decision to cancel this October’s race, one reason he gave for not conducting a virtual race was that the race experience simply cannot be duplicated when everyone cannot be together. Agreeing with that sentiment, I have been a skeptic of virtual racing.

I appreciated the new perspective this article from Amby Burfoot provides on virtual racing. He details the efforts made by bigger organizers such as Boston and New York to launch virtual races as a way to deflect the losses from cancelled events, as well as less heralded creations (a virtual run across Tennessee from Barkley Marathon creator Laz Lake expected to garner 200 entrants but instead grew to 19,000, helping to support the charities that Lake’s masochistic events support). Something I had not considered is that virtual racing has inspired a new group of runners who had previously avoided racing. Their reasons range from nerves about participating with so many other people to wanting to avoid the hassles of travel. Virtual racing is still probably not for me but it is good to see that in the middle of this disruptive time that so many runners, novices and veterans alike, are finding ways to enjoy the sport. 

Performance

Rise above it or drown: How elite NBA athletes handle pressure

First, I will love any article that begins with an inside view of Steph Curry’s hurried late-game shot against Kevin Love from Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. The story of that missed shot serves as the entry point for examining how Curry, and several other current and former NBA stars, prepare to handle the pressure of intense moments. Two points stand out from this lengthy read. First, the role of immersing one’s self in the moments that create discomfort. By envisioning those moments and practicing through them again and again one can build more efficient neurological wiring that is better able to handle the pressure. Second, the role of tuning out outside noise in order to calm the mind and create a deeper focus on why a pressure-filled moment is important to the competitor. 

Why I’ll Always Be an Ocean Person

One of the insights from this article is the role of nature in recovery. Simply being able to look outside at a natural setting, or even having pictures of nature on your computer, can help reduce stress and enhance recovery. Beyond that, this article examines why humanity is attracted to water, an attraction that is likely tied to our prehistoric brains when the absence of readily available water meant that finding it signaled life and safety. Though we are past those days, we still have a craving for water and for the sense of calm it can provide. Plus, if you are anything like me, you could use a good vacation given everything that is going on. The beach and the lapping of the ocean does sound heavenly. I’ll be right back. I have to listen to a recoding of waves hitting the sand.

Perspective

Are You Using Social Media or Being Used By It?

I’ve been using this space lately to create a conversation around the use of social media. This article from Cal Newport is interesting because it lays out crucial reasons why people should examine their social media use and details how social media companies engineer their platforms to compulsively suck users in. Capturing users is the name of the game for social media companies; it is the basis of their business model. The average user spends two hours a day surfing social media. Going back to my stated goal of rebuilding my running practice to include regular strength and mobility work, I have had to recognize that while I do not spend two hours a day on Twitter and Facebook, I spend more time on them than I should. I cannot say that I do not have the time to regularly mobilize and strengthen. I simply have prioritized other things, like compulsive social media use, over them. If you are in a similar boat, this article lays out ways you can better utilize your time while also enjoying the benefits of social media. You do not have to completely eliminate social media from your life, something I was considering several months ago. You simply have to better understand what you want out of your social media use and make a few small tweaks to create the experience you want and enjoy the benefits you want.

This Time-Management Trick Changed My Whole Relationship With Time

Another aspect of my running rebuild is planning how I utilize my time. During the stay at home order in Ohio it was easy to make time for my priorities because I had plenty of time at my disposal. Having gone back to work I have found that I need far more structure to make sure I fit everything in. The time management technique in this article, one of dividing your time into 25 minute chunks punctuated by quick breaks, may not be for you, but it raises excellent points about utilizing your time by focusing on the things that really matter to you and avoiding the pitfalls of trudging through lengthy “productivity” sessions that end in fatigue and mindless scrolling or binge watching shows. As the article’s author Dean Kissick asks after laying out his new practice of time management, “By changing my relationship with and appreciation of time, the technique has brought me to some profound existential questions about whether I’m wasting my life — my fragile, fleeting life — on activities I neither care about nor enjoy.”

This Week’s Quote

Post traumatic growth is when we change and evolve in good and healthy ways as a result of trauma.

It often involves finding meaning in our pain.

It can help to think of post-traumatic growth like kintsugi, a type of Japanese pottery made from broken ceramics. Artist use precious metals to put the pieces back together, and the repaired version is considered more beautiful and desirable than the original item—especially because the process takes quite a bit of time.

Some people tend to come out on the other side of trauma better off than they were before, while others don’t. 

We don’t totally understand why this is, but one thing that crops up is that those who find meaning in suffering tend to be more resilient.

     -From a post by Precision Nutrition

A Small Request

This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.

 

Impact Running Newsletter: Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 8

This has been one of those weeks where I realize just how worn out I am. I have not had many moments like this during COVID, but the last two weeks have presented me with multiple reminders of events and gatherings I would have been enjoying in a pandemic-free world: the Towpath 10-Miler on Father’s Day, a Rolling Stone’s concert the Friday after, a series between my beloved Cleveland Indians and the cheating Houston Astros that would have been taking place this week, and a 10k in the small city of Medina that I have run almost every July 4th since I first started running. Then on Monday I received an email from the Columbus Marathon, one I expected, that this fall’s race would not be taking place either. In a year where so much has already been lost the hits keep coming. 

I am also finding it hard to keep ahold of the positivity I felt at work where a slow start to June ended on a much more positive note. No, the restaurant I work at has not come close to reaching it’s pre-COVID numbers but their have been signs of improving business, progress that I fear could be wiped out as the country sees surging cases in the continuation of a first wave that never really broke. 

I have much to be thankful for, I understand that. One of my co-workers lost her 25-year-old niece two weeks to COVID; I have faced no such loss and I knock on wood and pray that that will continue to be the case. Yet what was evident at the outset of this pandemic remains true: this is a world-shaking event that is reshaping life and will leave a residue for years to come. On many days I handle that reality well. In the last week I have lapsed a bit.

Sorry for that bummer of an opening.

I really do love this week’s newsletter. This past weekend would have been the running of the Western States 100, a race that has captivated me since I first read Dean Karnazes’s book, Ultramarathon Man, and the first link has a great feel good video on runners pushing to finish the race in the last hour before it’s 30 hour cutoff. I have an interesting workout/challenge you can attempt, especially in this time of cancelled races. I float two ideas, both applicable to running and performance, about giving yourself the permission to be bad at something as well as why fake toughness is not the ticket to conquering tough times. I let Kelly Starrett make a case for an evening mobility routine and I wrap up with something completely non-running related: how an overture about a Russian victory over the French in the 1800’s became synonymous with July 4th. Let’s dig in.

1. Golden Hour: The Best Hour in Ultrarunning

If you want a feel good running story in this year of mounting race cancellations, this is 17 minutes well worth your time. This short documentary follows several runners in last year’s Western States 100 who battle to complete the grueling 100-mile race within the last hour before the event’s 30 hour cutoff, the golden hour. Much like the Boston Marathon, the Western States 100 is an event one must qualify for and even then far more applicants qualify than the race can handle, meaning entry is not guaranteed. The runners interviewed make it clear the race is itself their reward often the culmination of years of training and waiting to make the field. The scenery is gorgeous; the course literally runs over mountains, and the last five minutes are gripping as we wait to see who will make the cutoff.

2. Workout of the Week: Ken Cooper’s 12-Minute Fitness Test

Speaking of race cancellations, I received notification this week that my fall race was cancelled and suddenly find myself unmotivated to train for a marathon and looking for a new challenge. This workout caught my eye because it is 1) different from any other sort of running I do, 2) a challenge I could use to pit myself against friends or to measure progress down the road, and 3) would allow me to estimate training paces for future marathon training. The workout is simple: find a flat course and run as far as you can for 12 minutes. The results will help estimate VO2max; in fact it was first designed by an Air Force doctor to do just that without the need for lab equipment. The article includes the formula for using your result to determine VO2max or a link to a website to do the calculation for you. 

3. (It’s Great to) Suck at Something

This article by Karen Rinaldi summarizes the message of her book, which I picked up a copy of last week, on the subject of daring to be bad at something. The message is one that could have spoken to me as a young soccer coach, as a runner who had just bombed his first marathon, and even today as I try to teach myself how to play the guitar. I wrote in last week’s newsletter about how I am trying to keep hold of practices and habits that I established or re-established during Ohio’s stay-at-home order and learning guitar is atop that list. When I had near unlimited time to practice it was easy to allow myself to be bad but now that time is more limited I feel a pressure to progress that has sometimes dulled my enthusiasm. Rinaldi’s point is worry less about this pressure and to enjoy the freedom to be bad at something if you enjoy it. That message takes me back to my early running days when I was enjoying the new practice of race training but often doing it poorly, running tempo runs too fast, arbitrarily increasing or decreasing mileage, sporadically performing strength work, and running poor races as I ignored pacing guidelines. I simply did not know what I did not know. Rather than worrying about perfection or beating myself up over poor performance (not too often anyway) I learned from being bad and slowly and steadily improved. Even now, in my tenth year of running, and with two BQ’s under my belt, I still see areas for improvement, or rather, still know that there are things as I runner I still suck at. But I still love it.

4. Kelly’s Evening Routine

Mobility is one of the core areas of my running I try consistently attack though my discipline over the years has waxed and waned despite its obvious benefits. I would prefer to do my mobility work in the evening to relieve the knots and tension from the day’s workout and the impact of a tense shift on my feet. However, I often default to sitting down to a meal, a beer, and tv after work. Here, Kelly Starrett, who is my go-to person for mobility work, discusses why a nightly mobility program is helpful, not just for restoring health to soft tissues, but also for helping to prepare the body for a good night of sleep which can boost recovery and further enhance performance.

5. The Dudes Who Won’t Wear Masks and Fake Toughness vs the Real Thing

“Strength without flexibility is rigidity, and flexibility without strength is instability.”

I have been thinking about this quote often in the last few weeks as COVID-19 cases have once again climbed in the US. During the pandemic I have tried hard to keep an open mind about the theories I have seen friends and acquaintances float on social media. I remind myself that this is a once-in-a-century event that challenges our models about our control over the world and that it is reassuring to find conspiracies or scapegoats that can explain away an evolving and complex situation or to plug ahead with bullheaded thinking revolving around the idea that if we do not make a big deal out of COVID-19 it will cease to be a big deal. This has been especially prevalent in the debate around wearing masks, despite strong, mounting evidence that masks help prevent the spread of the virus. The debate seems to reflect a misplaced sense of toughness, which reminded me of Brad Stulberg’s excellence article on fake vs real toughness from several years back. I return to my understanding that this is a fluid, unprecedented situation and not everyone is going to suddenly walk in lockstep on what may appear to many to be common sense safety measures. However, during times of uncertainty the response cannot be to simply double down on a stance and call it toughness, end of story. When I was coaching soccer, if my team was hemorrhaging goals, it would have been crazy to double down on current tactics and training techniques and defiantly say that everything was fine. If your current training for a road race leaves you routinely dealing with injuries, it’s not being tough if you defy the notion that you must make any alterations to your training and run through the pain. Consistency, for a time, is needed to establish a baseline against which progress, or a lack thereof, can be measured. Eventually change becomes necessary if progress stagnates or does not occur. Then you must open up to new information and adjust an approach to a situation that is not working. These are uncertain times, I get that. Following a losing strategy in the name of looking strong is not going to make these uncertain times any easier to bear or end them any sooner.

6. The Co-Opting Of Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’

In better times I would seeing the Cleveland Orchestra perform this weekend at the gorgeous Blossom Music Center, the highlight of which would be their performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. While you may be unfamiliar with the entire piece, you have likely heard its climax (you can listen to my favorite version of the full Overture here). What is odd though is this work, now synonymous with American Fourth of July celebrations, has absolutely nothing to do with July 4th or even America. Instead, Tchaikovsky’s piece is about the Russian defeat of Napolean during the Battle of Borodino. The interview in this article details the structure of the Overture (if you can ever see it performed live, I highly suggest sitting close to the orchestra as the Overture, which is a musical representation of war, appears to be a literal battle between different musical sections) and how it made the leap from a celebration of a Russian war victory to one of American independence. What does this have to do with running? Absolutely nothing. Ah the joys of writing your own newsletter. 😀

A Small Request

This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.

Impact Running Newsletter: Links Worth Clicking to Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 7

For the second straight week I sat down to write the introduction to this newsletter and had it interrupted by news of another race cancellation, this time the New York City Marathon. My fall race, the Columbus Marathon, has not yet cancelled but with COVID-19 numbers continuing to spike across the country it is only a matter of time. My motivation has been flagging since last week and though I am sitting squarely in the middle of what should have been the second week of my fall marathon training bloc, I have not run in a week. I just do not have the motivation to subject myself to the rigors and sacrifices of marathon training without a true race awaiting me. I will keep running, likely training to race under 40 minutes in a 10k this fall (a Thanksgiving time trial?), a goal I have long targeted. For now, I am enjoying working in my garden, hiking, and studying for my nutrition coaching certification.

Without any sort of advance planning this week’s newsletter naturally came together to focus on the two stories that have dominated life for much of the last few months. It begins with a continued focus on anti-racism and racial bias, unintended or not, on display during this year’s Olympic marathon trials. It then transitions into looking at post-lockdown life and, if it served as a bit of a rapid detox program for you, ways you can keep hold of the lessons, practices, and habits you might have begun as you re-enter a more normal routine. Let’s dig in.

1. Ali On The Run Podcast Episode with Courtney Carter

This podcast episode caught my eye after I saw Aliphine Tuliamuk comment on one of the central points that podcast guest and running blogger Courtney Carter makes regarding the television coverage of the US Olympic marathon trials in February: that it skewed away from covering the race’s African American runners. It is not a new phenomena. As is pointed out in the latest edition of Mario Fraioli’s excellent newsletter, in the days after Meb Keflizighi’s 2009 NYC Marathon victory, writer Darren Rovell opined that it was disingenuous to dub Meb’s victory an American one (he later apologized). Keep in mind that while Meb may not have then been the household name he would be after his 2014 Boston victory, he had already represented the US in multiple Olympic games and medaled in the 2004 marathon. Across the board in all aspects of life biases, both obvious and subtle, are being re-examined. I admit that I was unfortunately ignorant of Tuliamuk’s status as an elite contender for an Olympic berth despite her inclusion in the HOKA NAZ elite team, one of the most publicity-minded running teams in the world. It is a reminder that those who love running and comment on it need to be more vigilant in how they cover the sport and tell stories that cover the full spectrum of those who run and represent the US. 

2. The Danger of a Single Story 

This old TED Talk from 2009 has been on my mind as of late and I think captures why the frustration that Tuliamuk expressed in the tweet I tagged above, and is being expressed right now by people throughout the world is necessary to acknowledge. Novelist Chimamanda Adichi articulates the need to view society and cultures as a tapestry of differing and overlapping stories rather than a singular coherent narrative. If you find yourself grappling with how to understand this current moment and fit it into the narrative you have carefully constructed during your life, this is a good starting place.

3. An Antidote To Quick Fix Culture and How To Make The Good Changes From Quarantine Stick

Though COVID is far from gone in the US, lockdowns continue to ease and the shock to the system that was the rapid lockdown response recedes further into the past. The death toll and economic impact of COVID-19 cannot be minimized, but the rapidity of the stay-at-home orders and their length did provide benefits, almost acting as a rapid detox program from busyness and consumerism. I used the time to reintroduce positive habits into my life, divorce myself from destructive ones, and to pick up practices that I had long wanted to make time for, like learning the guitar. It also gave my time to reflect on how I spend my time and if I am best serving my purpose.

However as work has picked up and demands on my time have increased, I have found it harder to stay on top of these new practices. As I pick up speed on the hamster wheel I want to make sure I do not lose sight of the benefits the interruption to normal life provided: time to reflect, a commitment to more meaningful work and relationships, getting rid of clutter (in all forms), and prioritizing what is truly important. 

These two articles from Brad Stulberg, though written almost five months apart, represent two solid pieces of advice about how to continue to do the work that will allow you to keep hold of the positives you may have developed during your area’s respective stay-at-home orders and while COVID continues to alter the normal flow of life and commerce.  

4. The Lost Satisfactions of Manual Competence

The early days of the pandemic gave me plenty of time to contemplate what I was putting out into the world (it is one reason this newsletter now exists) and what I could better do to promote what I perceive as my purpose. In this article from the always intriguing Cal Newport, Newport shares some thoughts on how the pandemic, with its tectonic disruption to normalcy in life and work, offers a shift away from digital busyness and an opportunity to slow down and pursue more meaningful work.

5. This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened

This article highlights why I am so committed to making sure I maintain the progress I made in my life, and running, during the early days of quarantine. I read this article from James Clear a few years ago and it serves as a reminder that incremental but consistent progress in various areas of any practice, be it running, business, or areas in your personal life, can lead to change that is greater than the sum of the individual actions. Clear uses the example of British Cycling, which committed in 2003 to implementing a program built around making small gains in a variety of areas to facilitate larger overall gains, to make his point. In my own running practice I have seen the most success when I have committed to consistency in areas outside of my running; short but consistent bouts of strength training, ten minutes a day spent on mobility, consistent sleep, and better nutrition. With racing cancelled for the foreseeable future I am rededicating myself to working to build a stronger foundation in my key running practices utilizing the model Clear describes here.

A Small Request

This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.

 

 

 

Impact Running Newsletter: Links Worth Clicking to Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 5

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

          -James Baldwin

For two weeks now I have been trying to listen. There is so much that I do not understand, and that is my fault. I need to do better. I have to do better. So I have tried to listen. 

In the title to this newsletter I state that the links I post are selected in the hopes that they may improve your running, your performance, or your perspective. That last word may seem out of place for a space that is built on improving athletic performance, but I have always linked quality performance with a commitment to searching for a wider and more empathetic perspective. When I coached high school soccer, always at small, undermanned schools, I believed the only way to build a consistently winning team was to have the boys grow to be greater than the sum of their parts. I spent time trying to get them to care as much about their teammate’s success as much as their own. Running is an individual sport, yet I look at someone like Shalane Flanagan and the Shalane Effect, and see the same dynamic at play, that being giving and caring about the success of those around you brings the best out of everyone. So is it true in our society. 

This edition of the newsletter is about listening and perspective. Each of the articles adds a brush stroke to the picture of this moment we are in. They are from perspectives that are not my own and each led me to think about this moment in a slightly new way. So too do I hope they will do that for you. Let’s dig in.

1. America Doesn’t Benefit Everybody

For years professional athletes have spoken out against systemic racism, most notably Colin Kaepernick whose kneeling during the national anthem before and NFL game sought to bring about awareness to police brutality but also generated backlash from those who disagreed with his gesture and misinterpreted its meaning. (If you are still unsure about from where Kaepernick got the idea to kneel during the anthem, please listen to the former Green Beret who suggested it as an appropriate form of protest.) Since then other athletes have contributed their own views to the cause, often being told to stay in their lane. Lebron James was told to shut up and dribble. In this article, Michael Rosenberg asserts that athletes, many of whom spend part of their lives at the very bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole, only to then by rocketed skyward when they sign their professional contracts, are exactly the sort of people whose perspectives we need to listen to as they can speak to multiple audiences on the impact of racial and economic inequality.

2. Racing to Stay Alive 

Marielle Hall, was a 2016 US Olympian in the 10,000 meters. Her column is wide-ranging. Listen to what she says. To her frustration as a runner who loves her sport and profession but who knows black families are having to have conversations about not running, about not being in the wrong places lest it lead to misperceived intentions and violence. To the cruelty of that fact, as COVID-19 ravages through black communities with underlying health conditions, that running, an exercise which can prevent and reverse such chronic conditions, may not be safe. To the frustration of being an elite black athlete who feels she must tiptoe around racial issues, expressing frustration but not appearing too mad lest it send the wrong message. 

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge

“I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years.” 

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” In this op-ed, NBA hall of famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shares his insight on why that is so. Listen to him; his frustration is evident. Jabbar explains why the video evidence of Ahmaud Arbery’s death, George Floyd’s death, and other recent recorded examples of racism have spurred the protests we have seen over the last two weeks. He acknowledges the difficulty white people must have with signs of violence, but also notes that when black families see racist acts perpetuated against their own, when their votes seem to have little impact on the structures that support racism, when their own president calls them thugs, frustration searches for and needs an outlet. He is clear that he does not condone the violence that some cities saw in their protests, but he is clear that when people are ignored long enough they will do what it takes to get their message heard. 

4. I’m a cop. I won’t fight a ‘war’ on crime the way I fought the war on terror.

I can’t quite remember when I first became aware of Patrick Skinner on Twitter, but I remember the story that made him someone I wanted to follow. Skinner was a CIA operations officer during the War on Terror and, feeling that “we focused on who and what we were fighting against instead of who and what we were fighting for, and in the shade of that difference, a rot grew,” he left the CIA and came home, believing that he could best fight for what he felt we should be by serving his community. He became a police officer and has tweeted about his career, and what he wants to bring to his career, ever since. In this op-ed Skinner lays out the failures within policing that have brought us to this flashpoint: the language (a war on crime), the outfitting and training of departments to act more as soldiers than as servants, and the instinct to throttle up a situation rather than to de-escalate it. He details steps he has taken in his role as an officer to break from this mold. He explains the difference between blame and responsibility and then he takes responsibility noting that he may not be at fault for the conditions that have led to this moment of tension in the country, but he is responsible to help try to fix it. When we talk publicly about the need to reform police departments, and that we need good cops to do it, this is an example of who we should look to and listen to. 

5. I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet.

I thought long and hard about posting this, not because I disagreed with its premise, but because I worried bringing a discussion about climate change into a running newsletter was too far a stretch. However, an idea from author, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, stuck with me: the time consuming nature of racism. “Racism, injustice and police brutality are awful on their own, but are additionally pernicious because of the brain power and creative hours they steal from us.” Throughout the column Johnson notes the ways, large and small, that attention spent on reacting to, worrying about, and fixing racism takes time and energy and focus away from issues, hers is climate change, that are pressing and urgent; these are issues that require the collective attention and brainpower of a diverse set of problem solvers. Much of the attention around racism focuses on the acute; state violence, judicial and financial inequality. Johnson’s message looks at one of the outward ripples, though it is no less important. It is a reminder than when the television coverage of yet another killing moves on to something else, the tendrils of racism remain and extend into the offices and living rooms and kitchens of people of color all over the country. Those of us who don’t have to live that are obligated to be aware of it, to listen, to help fix.