What is one of the best ways to sustain passion and avoid burnout in your running? Focus not on the end result – an outcome-oriented focus (which may or may not be in your control) but rather on processes that lead to sustained improvement over time – a process-oriented focus. This is one of several terrific pieces of advice from Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg in their new book, The Passion Paradox, which delves into passion, burnout, and how to best cultivate success in the things you care most about.
Next week is the beginning of my marathon training cycle for Columbus in October. My goals are once again lofty: a new PR, a BQ, breaking three hours. However, from almost a decade of experience running and racing, I know first-hand how important focusing on the process, rather than the result, can be. Factors outside a runner’s control can derail the best of plans. Harsh weather, an unplanned illness, or an unfortunate injury all can spoil the best laid plans. While I love racing, the crowds, the energy, the feeling of putting all that work on the line to challenge for a result, I have a deep appreciation for the process that gets me to the starting line. With that in mind, here are five things I am looking forward to in training as I undertake the mammoth task that is preparing to run a marathon.
1. The grind
The idea of grinding may not sound particularly appealing, but it is one of the things I love most about running. Marathon training is hard, it is a slog, and there are days and even weeks where the sacrifices are easy to question. It is in these moments that I remember that if running a marathon was easy, everyone would do it. Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, has built his team around the notion of pounding the rock, using a quote from Jacob Riis. Riis, a Danish immigrant, noted that when a rock breaks, it is not from the penultimate strike on the rock but rather from the many strikes that proceeded it, strikes that seemingly had done little to affect the stone. This is how I feel about training, that every day, especially those where the grind is bearing down on me, is a strike to the rock and that if I am loyal to the grind, the rock will break for me on race day.
Consistent weather means opportunities for getting out and running in places I have not previously explored. Running upwards of 60 miles involves plenty of monotony. It is not practical to travel to someplace new or scenic to run every six-mile easy run. I find intervals are easiest done near home where I know where different interval distances end. Traveling somewhere different for a long run or a long tempo run though is refreshing. It staves off boredom, makes runs go by faster, and usually leaves me hungry for more running.
3. The chance to further my craft
I wonder if 2016 me would believe that I am doing now. I thought I had it hard then, training for my first marathon. Looking back at my training logs, mileage rarely broke 45 miles a week. Strength training was an afterthought. Mobility work? Non-existent. This summer I’ll eclipse 60 miles a week, tackle midnight lifting sessions, try to commit to mobilizing stiff tissues 10 minutes a day, and spend more time and focus on my diet and visualizing parts of my race. With each cycle I try to push myself just a little further, to incorporate and refine some part(s) of my training to make me a better runner. At the end of this cycle, I wonder what new aspect of my training will have gone from feeling difficult to feeling like it’s just another part of being a runner.
4. The small decision points along the way
In running, the race is the test, not the workout. I have learned over the years to hold back when I train, hoping to finish any workout feeling like I could’ve gone just a little longer, run one more mile, or finished one more interval. It is a subjective way to make sure I go hard but not too hard. You don’t want to be the fittest guy unable to toe the start line. Stopping short of going all out every day is the way I ensure my health even as I keep pushing my body to new limits. Even with that caution, marathon training comes with plenty of little moments that test one physically, psychologically, and emotionally. I’m talking about the days when getting out of bed feels like a chore, when an easy run could be skipped. Come on, it’s only six miles. Is it really that important? Long runs present the moments when it would be so easy, if not an inefficient use of time, to slow down, even to stop and walk the last two miles rather than pushing the pace and finishing strong against the will of screaming lungs and legs seared with pain. I could do my mobility work and soak my aching feet in an ice bath or I could drink those two beers while vegging out for two hours to a movie. I never make the right decisions in these moments 100% of the time. I do succumb to temptation after a bad day at work and forget the mobility for a Sam Adams. I do have a morning where I can’t motivate myself to run the six easy miles I have planned. I do skimp occasionally on my strength work. The goal is simply to be a little better each training cycle, to push myself to put in as much of the necessary work as possible to prepare for my race.
5. The last few hard workouts between peak week and tapering
Some runners fear the taper. Stripped of the hard training that has defined the last few months they find themselves with limitless energy and a maddening lack of places to expend it. Not me. I love the taper. The taper means race day is just around the corner and at the end of a Hansons plan, it has been almost 17 weeks of working toward that moment. I love the week or so before the taper starts, that coming down from the physical stress of peak week, when I tackle the peak mileage of the training plan. I always have a feeling after I tackle peak week that I have survived the worst that training can throw at me and that what remains is like the icing on a cake, the final needed additions to complete the final product. The time comes with several lasts. The last long run. The last strength run. Then finally, a final 10-mile tempo run. There is a feeling of intense satisfaction when that final race pace mile has been clocked. The hard part of another cycle has been finished. It is just a matter then of maintaining the schedule for another ten days, keeping to easy runs to let the body heal from the stress of training. You finish those and then race day awaits.
A final thought
You should continue to strive toward meeting your race goals. Focusing on the process does not mean forgetting that you have goals. I have a map of the Columbus Marathon course on my desk. My goal time, 2:58:00, is on a sticky note on my mirror. Focusing on the process simply means controlling what you can control and performing those tasks to the best of your ability. I know that if I tackle certain elements of my running process successfully I will be on the right track toward being able to meet my goals. If you are new to running, your process could be a simple as building your running habit, making sure that you get out the door four days a week. That was my first challenge. From there, as is clear from what I wrote above, the process has been to slowly identify more areas that I have control over and perform them to the best of my ability. This has not always resulted in faster race times. Some cycles have ended in disastrous races. Progress is rarely linear. It has resulted in faster races times over the course of time though, and in more enjoyment of the sport. Isn’t that really what we are all hoping for? Switching from an outcome-oriented focus to a process-oriented focus is the way to get there.