Thursday, December 1, 2011

Have You Earned It?

We have become a culture that believes in silver bullets. We spend billions every year on pills that cure this or that, on fad diets, exercise gizmos and gadgets. Nearly every single day I see an article posted on the internet with some "secret" to running. How this workout will help you run faster or these drills will make you a better runner. I find myself less and less likely to take these seriously. Much of what is out there is simply the same old stuff repackaged with a sparkly new bow on it. No matter how hard you try to make a pig look pretty in the end it's still just a pig. Now if you are a brand spanking new member of the running community I can see there might be some benefit to gain from digesting these offerings. Here is a sample from the Twitter and FB postings I have recently seen.

"Efficiency is key to improve your performance. Use this guide to power your workout."
"Secrets from the Savannah:
What the Diets of Elite Kenyan Runners Teach Us About Optiomal Nutrition"
"Improve Your Running Indoors This Winter"

As Jason Fitzgerald recently pointed out in this honest article at Strength Running there are no secrets. His excellent article was the spark for my thoughts here. The closing line is a classic: "I’m more interested in getting you to take action and put in the work than giving you training porn."
Bryon Powell of iRunFar, in his excellent ultra running book Relentless Forward Progress, writes:
"Ultramarathon success is built on consistent training... Aim for relentless forward progress in training."
Ultra runner extradinaire Geoff Roes authored this excellent post on his blog Fumbling Towards Endurance. "I think it's a lot more important to be consistent over the course of months and even years than it is to be consistent over the course of days or weeks."
Consistency is the key. Period. End of story. After several years of being inconsistent I am finally in a position, over the last 18 months, to make running a regular part of my life. I added speed work and tempo runs, I have researched fueling and hydration, I eat up shoe and gear reviews and try new drills and techniques. The result? My times have improved. In three marathons during that time I have dropped 99 minutes off my PR. I now have a legitimate chance of placing in my AG at any local race. Why? It’s not switching from Gatorade to Nuun or wearing Pure Project shoes in place of the Brooks Beast I started in. It’s not the foam roller I now use or the S! Caps or post run protein packed smoothies. It’s the consistent miles. Those things perhaps help me stay healthy by decreasing the wear and tear on my body physically. These may help me recover more easily to be better prepared for the next day. I think they do. However, I am convinced that without all the fluff, if I had been just as consistent with my running I would have still seen improvements. Maybe not to the extent that I have but  to some degree it would have been there.

I am amazed at this time of year, when the weather begins to turn cold, how few runners I see out on the roads and trails compared to just a few weeks ago. And then they come out of the woodwork in early Spring frantically trying to prepare for the local half marathon at the end of March. Will their times improve? Maybe. Will mine? You betcha ass. Why? I am willing to work harder in the cold, dark hours of winter. If you're inclined to leave the running shoes in the closet when it is too hot and humid, or it is raining buckets, or it is dark outside, or it is 15 degrees and snowing with the wind blowing, fine. I completely understand that. But those guys you saw with the headlamps Sunday morning running in the dark, slogging it out in the chilled drizzle getting wet and muddy... That was me and some other dedicated NWA GOATS out earning our due. And you know what? Runners like that will likely have an edge on you come race day. That's the guy who regularly sets a new PR every season. That's the guy taking home the hardware that could have been placed on your trophy shelf.

Now don't get me wrong here. I don't run to collect medals, t-shirts and accolades. I don't run to see who I can beat on race day. In the past year I have been in just 7 races (a 5k, a 10k, a half marathon, two marathons and two 50k races). I run to push myself. To find out what I am capable of doing. It gives me focus and clarity. It keeps me sane and it helps keep me healthy. But at some point I have to measure myself against something more than the clock. A race gets the competitive fire in my belly stoked up like I could never do myself on a training run. If improvement is what you seek then take responsibility and accept that there are no shortcuts.

My secret? Keep something dangling out there in front of you. Maybe it is a specific race. Perhaps a best time on your favorite course. How about the numbers on the scale you step on in the morning? Keep a carrot on a stick. For me, an epic race that requires me to stay consistent over the winter works. Last year it was the Cowtown Marathon. This year it is the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler the first weekend in February. For my first "real" ultra there is little doubt that I will have to be consistent over the winter to be ready to toe the line down in Texas. I anticipate the following thought lingering in my head throughout those cold runs. It is some advice offered from a grizzled ultra runner recently: “Don’t be greedy with it. It takes times to grow as a runner in this sport. You have to earn your way into it.”

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