Not Quite PR Shape

I've been thinking these thoughts for a while, so I thought I'd write them down. Here it goes:

As I've gained fitness from one training segment to the next, I've experience a different kind of valley during training.  Years ago, before my training was anything serious or focused, I could pretty much pick up where I left off after a marathon and a break from training.  I think the MAIN reason for this is because I wasn't all that consistent anyway, so to take a week or two off meant I was only missing a few runs.  Most of what I was "running" on then was a general fitness I gained through being very active in general with cycling, surfing, tennis, and running. Also, while I was generally pretty fit, I was not a well trained runner with a very high running specific fitness and strength. After races, I could pick up running again where I left off right before the race when I was in my best running fitness to date and begin building on that from the start.

Since I've upped my training and really gone after being the best runner I can be, I've noticed that I don't quite get that same luxury that I once had.  After gaining significant fitness and strength as a runner in 2016, most of 2017 was spent in a different place- fitness wise.  I spent months at a time in the spring/summer and through the fall training with less fitness than I had gained the year before. I managed to string some good workouts together (through injury) only to tie my 5k road PR. I had another solid 6 weeks of training only to run a pretty awful half marathon in June. In the summer, I had some great workouts, only to run about 30 seconds off my half marathon PR in October.  If you follow me at all on social media, you'll know that all of this culminated with a HUGE marathon PR to end 2017. But throughout the majority of the year until I neared the marathon, I wasn't fighting to make huge leaps in my fitness and previous bests; I was fighting to get back into the fitness I once knew.  I spent the year in Not Quite PR Shape.

I had a lot of time to ponder during training runs and this thought was in my head a lot, but not in a discouraging way.  The closer you get to your physical and mental limits, the harder they will be to maintain.  With higher peaks, it's only natural to have deeper valleys.  It's ESSENTIAL to drop into that valley in a healthy way to let your mind and body reset. You can't stay at the top the whole time. That means 2 things:

  1. You'll have to spend some time climbing back up.
  2. You've been there before. You know the way. You'll make it up again and if you just stay the course, you'll likely get there a bit faster and be ready to go a bit farther.

As I ran around in Not Quite PR Shape, I was content. This meant that I was getting better. It comes with the territory of trying to make the jump from a local standout to regional or national standout runner. It comes with the territory of becoming an elite runner and I want to be elite in every sense of the word. I want to move onward and be so good that I will no longer be associated with the term "sub-elite" or "elite B." Those are not for me. So I thought of all the truly "elite" runners who run around most of the year, most of their careers in Not Quite PR Shape, just trying to get back to the fitness they once had and inch forward just a bit. I thought of the world record holders, and former world record holders, and Olympic medalists, and defending marathon champions starting a new training cycle, feeling sluggish and slow and heavy, grinding out workouts, working hard to run splits just a little slower than their best workouts last year just to get back to where they were before and culminate their season with hopefully a bit more fitness than they've had before and a maybe a slight PR or recapturing a title.  I've surely got more to gain than those at the very top of the sport, but I'm happy to have at least made it to a level that I share in the experience of spending large chunks of training just under what I know I'm capable of waiting for my fitness to come around again. I'm happy to slowly claw my way back up to the next peak just a bit higher than my last.

If you find yourself in a valley after a big race and break, you just may be doing something right. And don't be afraid of the decent.  If you try to run along the top for too long, sooner or later you'll fall off a cliff (Ok, this analogy is breaking down, but you'll get hurt or over-cooked and end up taking a break the hard way and lose even more fitness).  Trying to stay at the top is an act of fear of losing fitness you've worked for.  Accepting the valleys as they come is an act of confidence that you can and will steadily climb your way back up again and go higher.

Motivation is a Must

Motivation: the reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way; the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

I believe that if you were to take a good look at ANYONE who has been very successful in ANYTHING, you would find that they have a great deal of motivation.  No one continues to work tirelessly as something without a reason.  For continued, heartfelt effort there must be a motive.  The more important the motive is to someone, the more they will put in consistent effort.  Their desire and willingness to put forth such effort will increase.

Motivation is the thing that makes one runner call another runner "hardcore." When you are motivated, other will ask you, "How do you do it?" referring to mileage, early mornings, grueling workouts, refraining from beer or sweets.  There is more than a willingness to set the alarm, run the miles, finish the last rep fast, or forego the IPA.  Deep down there is a desire. When you're motivated, you can come to realize that you would rather get up while it's still dark, drive to the track and grind out a workout because you want your whatever it is that is motivating these actions more than you want the sleep, or the comfort, or the beer.

And so, the simple question is: What is your motivation?

 In the first mile of Carlsbad 5000, I decided to keep the pace fast and "honest" because regardless of winning or not, I wanted to run a fast time.

In the first mile of Carlsbad 5000, I decided to keep the pace fast and "honest" because regardless of winning or not, I wanted to run a fast time.

Motivation can come in many forms.  Three people can all pursue the same career while being motivated by different things; one person can be motivated by money, another by personal interest, and the other by a desire to help people.  In running, there are countless motivations: weight loss, healthy lifestyle, racing your best friend, racing your former self racing your competitors, $$, healthy lifestyle.  Maybe you have a goal: to run the Boston Marathon, to run a sub-5 minute mile, to finish a 5k or a half or a full marathon.  Maybe a Boston qualifier is just not a motivating factor for you right now, but you're running a half marathon this summer with your cousin Lindsey and it would be greater than winning Boston if you could beat her! Your motivation is going to be at least a little bit different than everyone else's, so find what motivates YOU!

Stay Motivated

If you have a goal, and you're motivated to achieve said goal, (and that goal is realistic), then odds are you will achieve it! "Done. I ran a 5k like I wanted, so that's it for me I guess." Ugh! No! As you pursue and achieve goals and your running progresses, so must your motivation.  If I was still motivated to run a sub-2:45 marathon (a feat I once doubted I would ever do) I would not be nearly the runner I am today.  I'm sure I would have lost ALL motivation and would have never discovered the runner I can be.  Instead, my motivation shifted forward, to new goals.  The same day I demolished my sub-2:45 goal I set both immediate and long term goals.  I've smashed through those immediate goals and am still working on the long term goals.  Actually, the long term goals I set that day are currently my immediate goals and I have since set NEW long term goals.  These goals keep me MOTIVATED.  Finding what motivates you is something to practice not just once, but again and again, week after week, year after year.

 Well, I wast tracked down in the last 1/2 mile to finish 5th with what I thought was a 3 second PR, but my official time is 15:07 which ties my current PR... Looks like my motivation will be the same going into next week's Triton 5k, where I'll be running for sub-15 once again.  (This pic was after about 3 minutes of hanging onto a case of bottled water because I couldn't stand up.)

Well, I wast tracked down in the last 1/2 mile to finish 5th with what I thought was a 3 second PR, but my official time is 15:07 which ties my current PR... Looks like my motivation will be the same going into next week's Triton 5k, where I'll be running for sub-15 once again.  (This pic was after about 3 minutes of hanging onto a case of bottled water because I couldn't stand up.)

Press Into The Pain

You already know your answer. Whether your mind is reluctant or eager, you will press into the pain. How much will you press into the pain? How will your mind and your body respond to this pain? Is your fitness where you thought it was? Hoped it was? Are you going to be tough like you told yourself you would be?
— Happily Stuck In The Middle

This is what it all comes down to. This is the defining moment.  This is what we train for. This is why we log the miles, practice fast paces, do strength work, and visualize daily this very moment during it all.  This is what defines the outcome: a narrow victory or a narrow miss. Will it be 2:59:50 or 3:00:42? 14:56 or 15:03?  3:59 or 4:01?  Will you run Boston or not? Will I be a Trials qualifier or not? Win or 2nd place? Move on to new goals or refocus on the same?

Sure, we don’t always get the opportunity in a race to even reach this point.  We don’t reach the fitness we would like to aim for our A goal on race day.  Maybe race day is simply just a bad day and you know it the whole time.  I’ve had plenty of races like this. BUT this is not always the case.  I’m convinced that we (myself especially included) don’t quite reach a goal or perform to our standards simply because to race, to really race our own selves and run our absolute best, is SO hard and requires SO much mental effort. Our mental effort can’t just match our physical exertion, it must surpass it! It must overcome it!  If we are really nearing the limits of our physical ability, our muscles that scream with pain will also whisper to our minds to manipulate and do everything to find the slightest relief and make you slow down.  To give in to these whispers is to narrowly miss what you’ve worked for tirelessly.  So if you’ve tirelessly worked, don’t get to race day and tirelessly underperform.

On Independence Day 2015, I was blessed enough to win a small road race, Old Pro’s 10k.  Plenty of people saw the video of the finish on Facebook or my photo on Instagram. No one heard my thoughts during the race, and few have heard about it.  Here’s a summary: At mile 5 I had pulled away from my teammate and the rest of the pack with no significant move, but just an honest, fast pace throughout the race. One would think that leading would give a boost of energy, that the thought of a victory and a trophy and to return as the defending Champion would all provide a strength I’ve not known before.  Surely, they help a little bit, but lactic acid doesn’t care if you’re winning or not. You muscles don’t care if you’re still on goal pace.  The pain in your body doesn’t care if a Boston qualifier or the American flag and the Olympic Trials await you at the finish line.  The mind still hears the whispers and the whispers are quite convincing.  “What do you care about this race?” “Is winning today really that significant?” “So what if they close well and track you down?” “You’ve probably got the win, just cruise in. Do only what is necessary. You really can’t go faster than this anyway.” I can literally remember thinking this, “Why do you even do this? Why do you even like this sport? Why do you even care about this?” I HAD THESE THOUGHTS WHILE I WAS CURRENTLY WINNING!!

That day, I could’ve run faster.  I know I could’ve.  I was not good at Pressing into the Pain.  When the hurt came, there were moments I faltered.  I won, but I didn’t run the time I knew I could’ve. I wasn’t tough.  I wasn’t strong.  I wasn’t courageous.  When I was called to press, I didn’t press the way I had visualized.  I listened to the whispers.  I believe visualization and mental practice are extremely important in this sport.  It is so easy to visualize kicking to the finish at the end of an easy run, or a short workout.  Maybe my downfall is that I don’t practice this enough in the latter half of my toughest workouts and longest efforts.  The art of racing and discovering what we can really do is to set a goal that will put us on our best day in a position that we must use all of our mental efforts to be courageous, tough, strong, and press into the pain so much that those watching will start to think that we actually like it. At the end of the day, or the end of the race, you do like it. You like it. You like the goal. You like the pursuit. Somewhere in there you like the pain. So next time, when you’re presented with the choice,  Press into the Pain.

 

For guidance to run your fastest yet contact me HERE.
 

Running in the Dark

This is the time of year when people see their fitness begin to fade.  They notice a decline in their commitment to get out the door. They seem to miss runs and cut runs short more often. It's getting cold (well, in San Diego, its not quite cold yet, but it's also not toasty warm at 5am). It's getting dark earlier, and it's staying dark longer.

I've had a lot of "Ugh!" thoughts lately as I head out for a run. The workouts remain easy to be motivated for, but just the workouts won't get me to my goals. The easy runs that start before dawn.  The weekday long run that start WAY before dawn! The day's second run that starts after sunset. These are the run that get us to our goals. They can't be skipped. We MUST get out the door. Once we're out there, they CAN'T be cut short. I consider myself as motivated as anyone when it comes to running.  As I begin each early morning run alone in the dark with a sigh, a chill, and two stiff and sore legs, a lot of thoughts run through my head. Eventually, as I warm up, I come to the right kind of thoughts. The thoughts that remind me of what my dedication will get me. That on December 4th, all this will be worth it. On the good days, I get to the even better thoughts that go past December 4th, past CIM or any other race I'll do in the future and just think of how much I love being dedicated. I love being the type of guy that will push past the thoughts of getting out of a warm bed and the first few miserable strides (sometimes miles) just to get to the good thoughts and the good strides.

I think so many people miss out on pursuing something far enough that they get past the bad thoughts. Past the cold air. Past the after work fatigue. Past the darkness. As I write this, I know that tomorrow morning before the sun has even thought of rising over the mountains, my feet will be on the pavement. I won't wait for it. If the sun decides not to rise tomorrow, I'll find out sometime in the middle of my long run.

Yeah, in this wasteland
where I’m livin
there is a crack in the door filled with light
and it’s all that
I need to shine.
— Needtobreathe

(Happily) Stuck In The Middle

The build-up. The anticipation. The grind. Rep #7 of a 15x 1 minute Fartlek. The easy 6 miles before you start to pick up the pace and finish hard in a long run. Mile 4 of a 10 mile steady state run. Miles 1-16 of a marathon. The morning of a race.

As runners, we spend so much time in the middle. There are so many miles, so many steps, so many thoughts, between the beginning of a training cycle and the end of a goal race. There is so much time spent in each run to anticipate what your body will feel like later, the discomfort and often times outright pain your body will experience in only a little while and that only you have the power to stop it or press into it. You already know your answer. Whether your mind is reluctant or eager, you will press into the pain. How much will you press into the pain? How will your mind and your body respond to this pain? Is your fitness where you thought it was? Hoped it was? Are you going to be tough like you told yourself you would be? It’s not IF you will begin to hurt, but HOW will you hurt? THESE are the questions that build anticipation, anxiety, excitement, fear, and motivation because they all ask the same question that can only be answered in the heat of the moment. We write the answer when the anticipation is over and you are nearing the end of yourself, squeezing all the remaining juice out of your muscles, and screaming on the inside for the finish line. Then the finish line comes and it’s all over. A dream race, a goal achieved, a disappointing performance, or a bad day all have one thing in common: the end. It’s done.

The amount of time we spend in the middle makes the end what it is, whether the overflow of tears is happy or sad. Without the middle, the end wouldn’t be so significant. We know that to reap, you must sow. But sowing doesn’t always mean reaping. Sometimes we sow for months, we labor, we sacrifice, we hurt so that on the one day we have to we’ll be able to run fast enough and hurt enough to see our biggest goals achieved, but it doesn’t always happen. That’s why the middle is what it is. That’s why I LOVE the middle. I LOVE the anticipation. Not knowing the outcome can be so nerve racking that some can’t handle it. I LOVE IT! The unknown is blissful hope (or hopeful bliss). In many ways, the middle is my favorite part. I think it’s why I enjoy the longer races more. The early miles of a marathon where the pace is only mildly uncomfortable and there is still a long way to go. Then the hurt begins to creep up so slowly. You know that it’s only a matter of miles before the pain seeps into your legs until your muscles and body are flooded with the hurt. I used to hate the middle. I hated the anticipation and just wanted to be in the hurt locker already. Not anymore. I embrace the months, the 1000’s of miles, the morning of, and the early miles of a workout or race just waiting until the hurt sets in.

In a week I run Rock’ n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon.  If all goes well, all signs point to a PR.  Then I’ve got 9 weeks to get specific with marathon training for California International Marathon.  Loving the journey to the start lines. Excited for the journeys between Start and Finish.

If you or someone you know is looking for guidance or a running plan tailored to your specific needs and goals, I’d love to help. Contact me at thecarboload@gmail.com.

 

Purpose

Not all workouts are aimed at running really fast, really long, or really hard.  They shouldn't be anyway...  If I set out to tear around the track or push over the Red Line of my lactate threshold every day, my body will soon deteriorate.  I will never recover and, honestly, I will not get the highest yield of benefits from my training.  What then? If I'm not performing a hard workout, do I have a "purpose" for an easy run?  Is that why they're called "junk miles"?

I do no more than three hard workouts a week: a long run, a speed workout, and some form of a tempo workout.  In total, these runs take about 4 hours each week.  When I'm running my best, I'm running about 12 hours every week.  Why would I want to run 2/3 of my weekly training mindless and without purpose.  Now, I do love to get outside, forget about anything else going on in my life, and just get lost (mentally, not geographically) in a run.  One great benefit of running so much is the ability to make my way down the beach or through winding trails for hours and really just enjoy running (see Love the Run).  BUT in pursuit of high goals, to get the very most from myself, to challenge how fast I can get in a season, a year, and in my lifetime, eight hours out of twelve on the road every week is far too much to spend mindless! Far too much wasted time that could be spent mindful of SOMETHING toward my running goals. Furthermore, how detrimental that could be to form and mental strength.

Finding Purpose

Finding a purpose for a workout can be easy at times, but more often it's tough to define.  It's rarely as simple as Tempo, Speed, Long, or Easy.  If that were true, you would see runners all over the world doing the same workouts every week.  Instead we see teammates training for the same race doing different workouts with different purpose to focus on his/her specific needs.  Runners are doing all different kinds of interval and tempo workouts of various distances, times, and efforts.  Recognizing that every run should have a purpose is only half the battle.  The hardest part is recognizing WHAT that purpose should be.  It could be based on a certain pace, heart rate, effort, distance, or infinite combinations of any of those to cater to your very own needs in pursuit of your running goals.

Actually, after writing this, I can't say that it's simple enough to write down in a blog post.  Everyone is different.  Every season is different. Every week of carefully planned runs is different.  All I feel like I can say right now is "purpose is important" and it's worth the effort and research and thoughtfulness, if you have big goals for yourself, to find out what your purpose for the day should be each time you tie your shoes.

I will try my best to give you a few thing to take from this and implement a purpose to your running everyday.

Keeping up with the easy running even while traveling.  I often let my mind wonder a little more while running on vacation... there's lots of new things to look at!

  1. 3 Workouts A Week. Earlier I said that I do "NO MORE than three workouts a week." This means that sometimes late in a training session I do only two!  The Purpose of this is recovery.  To allow your body to recovery from hard efforts will help you get the most out of your next workout.  If you're not properly recovered, you won't perform well and get the most benefit out of your next workout.
  2. Easy Running. If we're only doing three workouts a week, why run 9 times!?  Why not just rest to recover faster?!  Actually, to run slow and easy will help you recover even faster. Your heart rate speeds up getting more blood flow to your muscles which helps flush out acid built up from your last workout.  PLUS running again soon trains your mind and body to recover quickly to get ready for your next run, even if it's an easy one.  PLUS PLUS if you're running easy enough you won't be overworking your muscles, but you will be training them and your respiratory and circulatory system.  Not running on non-workout days wastes a lot of days that you could be raising your aerobic and muscular capacity.
  3. When You're Running Easy. As mentioned above, your easy runs through the week provide a lot of time to focus on form.  Improvements in posture and cadence can go a long way in improving running form and are the easiest to monitor on your own.

After years of training as studying the sport, I have gained more than just knowledge.  I have gained, through training myself and other, insight and understanding of how our bodies and minds progress as we train.  If you're looking for guidance in pursuit of your goals (or know someone who is), I'd love to help you reach them.  Visit the TRAINING page at thecarboload.com and let me know how I can help coach you past your current goals and onto the next.

Consistency Is Key

It is true with anything, if you work at something consistently, you’ll see results.  It’s more true with running than with anything else.  It’s been said many times.  There is no secret formula or ingredient, no single workout, no special coach, or magical combination to improve your running.  Whether you are novice or elite, the same is true: consistency is key.

The only magic in our lives as runners is the magic of consistency. Not every run will make you feel great.
— John Bingham

The most important and beneficial things always seem to be the toughest.  It’s easy to push yourself during a track workout with 30 other people at the track.  That’s just one workout! Even if you go weekly to a track workout, that’s just one a week!  Pushing yourself to the limit on race day (in many ways) is not even the hard part.  You have to put in a lot of work before you get to race day.  Your limit on race day is only a reflection of the work you put during the months leading up to it.  It takes a consistent effort.  The hard part is getting out of bed early the day after track when your friends aren’t around, or the day after your long run, or the day before, or all of the above.

Consistency means:

  1. Aerobic Fitness. The more time you spend in an aerobic state, the more fitness you gain.  You don’t have to bust your butt (nor should you) every time you run.  Most of the time, you just have to be running.

  2. Running Muscles.  While cross-training can be a good supplement to avoid overuse injuries, build muscle, or just change things up, the more time you spend working running specific muscles and motions the stronger your running will be.

  3. If you don’t use it, you lose it.  Aerobic fitness and muscle strength builds on itself.  One speed workout or tempo run every 3 weeks doesn’t allow your muscles to move forward at a steady rate.  One lazy week every month or a few lazy days per week between runs can slow or (depending on what level you are at) even halt progress.

Becoming consistent takes time.  It takes motivation.  You’ll have to find what works for you.  You’ll have to find what motivates you.  You’ll have to be consistent in your pursuit of being consistent.

Three things that work for me:

  1. Big Picture.  I think of my goals, both short term and long term.  I know that to reach them I can’t afford to be inconsistent.

  2. Schedule.  I get into a pattern with a good rhythm that can be challenging, but also works well for me.  If I have to move a run to another day or cut a run for injury or time constraints, I can either work it in or just forget it, but I have the schedule to fall back on next week.

  3. Break Boring.  I recognize the temptation to fall away from something I’ve been consistent with and I trick my mind into being motivated to get back to it, i.e. new shorts, the use of my iPod, new route, new workout, etc.  Basically, anything I can easily change to make what has become mundane with consistency NEW and EXCITING and INTERESTING and FUN.

Carlsbad 5000 where I had taken the whole week off leading up to the race because of a minor injury. While I was feeling the effects of short-term inconsistency, I was happy to pay the price out there for the sake of not making things worse long-term.  That plus going out too fast made for a rough day!

HOWEVER, if you’re consistently running on an injury or overcooked legs, that is a detriment to your training. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO FOCUS ON LONG-TERM CONSISTENCY OVER SHORT-TERM CONSISTENCY.  If you are unsure whether to run through a certain injury or fatigue, it is always best to take off a day or two (or more even), skip a workout, or cross train a little bit on the front end than overdo it and miss more time later on.  This is always a tough call to make because we all want to be as consistent as possible and every situation is different.  Every injury is different, every training cycle wears on us in a different way or at a different rate.  We often think about how we don’t want to slow our progress and more often we are in denial that we are in need of a small break.  BUT with a focus on the your long-term goal and using CAUTION when questioning a certain pain or fatigue level, you’ll actually be more consistent throughout your training cycle because you won’t be forced to take more time later.


I’ve done this right so many times and I’ve done it wrong so many times.  I’ve run through injuries that I shouldn’t have, but I’ve never regretted taking a day off to save myself from injury.  I’ve run workouts while sick, but I’ve never regretted postponing a workout and running easy until I feel better.  While consistency is a key component of gaining fitness, it is an ongoing battle to focus on long-term consistency rather than the short-term.

 

Believe In Yourself

Last Friday I ran a debut track race, the 5000 at the Aztec Invitational.  After a slow start to the season, battling a few illnesses and minor injuries, this was my first real test of the season.  Knowing I wasn’t in top form, I still believed I was in shape to run a PR (previously 15:07… foreshadowing…) so my #1 goal was to run sub-15, with hopes to surprise myself with a little more.  My hopes for the season were initially to be in 14:40 shape by this point, but I was keeping an open mind given that I hadn’t done a true tempo workout in months other than two road races with unimpressive results.

Just chilling behind the leaders in the first few laps.

Playing it smart in 3rd position.  Letting others lead.  Running even splits.

The first mile went out right at goal pace (4:45) and we were hitting consistent splits.  It was about that time that my teammate, Nick, gave me an encouraging word as we rounded the bend of the track, “Tyler, you’re the best runner out here right now!”  Those words sent my mind racing (pun intended). My first thought was that “he must see something on our faces or in our strides that I can’t see” and then I thought “he actually believes that.”  Those were the good thoughts.  Then my mind went south, “I don’t know if I am…”

Fast forward. I ran 14:56 and finished second. Eleven second PR. Out-kicked by 3 seconds.

Rounding the last corner.

I look back now and believe that I could have beat that ONE guy in front of me. Maybe I didn’t have as good of a kick as he did, but I could have pushed at 1200, 800, and 400 to go.  I could have made him HURT! I could have pushed the pace! Maybe, maybe not, but that’s not the point.  The point is that when Nick told me that I was the best runner on the track, I didn’t believe him. I DID NOT BELIEVE IN MYSELF.  I was content to sit in second, race for second, kick just enough for second, let him pull away, and say “He’s better than you today, Tyler.”  Far too often I get deep into a race and my self-doubt dictates the outcome.  It’s easy to believe in your goals halfway through a midweek long run, before a race, or after a good speed workout.  It’s hard to believe yourself when the Pain Train is starting to roll and you have a long way to go.

It’s amazing what our own thoughts and beliefs can do for our performance.  Think about it.  How much you believe the food will be good will dictate how readily you try a new restaurant.  How much you believe in your ability to perform at a job will dictate how confident you are in an interview.  In my own life, how much I believe that God is real and good dictates how much my decisions are based on faith.  What you believe has such a huge impact on your actions.  I think back to other races that I have executed well and my belief in myself was much higher early on, at the halfway point, and late in the race.  Racing well isn’t just about training your body- it’s about training your mind to push your body to it’s limits of fitness and pain! If your mind isn’t performing, your body won’t either (not to its ability anyway). Nick’s words will ring in my ears for a while. I’m grateful for them and I realize I have much to learn about believing in myself.  It won’t be until I actually believe in myself that I’ll begin to tap into my full potential.

My man, Nick, about to run a 1500 after coaching me through the 5000.  (Notice I'm instantly fueling with a Hammer bar and Recoverite.)

Kimberly not only took all the pics, she also cheered so loud that other dudes started to cheer for me too!

A Long Shot: Jax Bank 1/2 and Missing the OTQ

January 3-- I stepped up to the starting line surrounded by 50 athletes all aiming at running an Olympic Trials Qualifying time (OTQ).  Some had hit the mark and were aiming higher, some had run an OTQ and were there to help the rest of us who were trying to make the standard for the first time.  I was one of those who had yet to run the OTQ standard and was thankful for the others who's plan was to help me hit the pace.  This was my first real shot at it and it would be my last as well before the deadline on the 17th.  This was the first time I felt like I was in good enough shape to even attempt to qualify.  For me to qualify would be a long shot and I knew it.  I knew it when I made the goal to qualify 2 years ago after I ran 2:36 at NYC marathon, and I knew it was still a long shot as I stood on the starting line.

"Long shot."  I use this term, because it was unlikely. Potentially conceivably possible, but still unlikely.  In my mind, when I made the goal at the end of 2013 to qualify for the 2016 trials, I knew that it would take a lot of work. I'd have to run a lot of miles, perform very tough workouts and PR in the marathon by 18 more minutes or in the 1/2 by 13 more minutes.  I was a long way away, but I was determined to give it everything I could to get there in time.

Just over two years later, as I prepared to race I thought about that term, "long shot."  While it was still a term I used for myself, the context was drastically different.  Before, it was a long shot that I even gain enough fitness, or that I ever get the opportunity to toe the line with the intention of qualifying.  But there I was warming up, doing a few strides and shaking my legs behind the line next to dozens of athletes ready to run 4:57 pace for 13.1 miles or until their body no longer allowed it.  In many ways I had already succeeded.  My fitness was right there.  I knew I'd have to have a good day, but I was so thrilled to be there as a "long shot" when I could have so easily not been there at all.

Running with the group in Jacksonville was one of the greatest racing experiences of my life.  The feel and the energy of the group was incredible.  Runners yelling "Watch the lines!" (because it was wet and they were very slippery) and "Right!" or "Left!" as we approached a turn.  I've never seen such support from competitors during competition.  In reality, whether we finished before or after any or all of these men, we knew the only competitor that day was the clock.  Our first 5k was perfect (15:24).  First 10k, perfect (30:50, a new PR...).  I went through mile 7 in 4:57, still on pace and still rallying to get back in the group that was slowly creating distance from me.

The group moved on up the road and by mile 8 I knew that my tank didn't have enough fuel to get me to the line under 65.  I knew I was running a sure PR, so I pushed with the other stragglers and held on to just miss going under 67 minutes.  I had done what I drove to Florida to do: attempt an OTQ.  I left nothing on the table, nothing in the tank, nothing to regret.  There was no use attempting again on the 17th.  For the last 6-8 months, the question was no longer "Can you get in shape to run under 65?" it was "Can you get in shape IN TIME?"  My fitness had just not progressed quickly enough.

I won't lie.  I was immediately very disappointed.  I wouldn't say devastated, but I was hurting as I realized I wouldn't be running in LA on February 13th.  For years, my highest goal and most motivating factor to lace up every day was toeing the line at The Trials.  For the first time since I began really running I have had to make NEW goals, different goals, to continue improving.  Four years is too long to have a goal of qualifying, and qualifying is too low to aim for a four year period.  After letting it all settle in for a month I'm able to see all the good things much more clearly.  I'm proud of myself for the work I put in over the last 2+ years and the strides I've made (pun intended).  I'm thankful for the abundance of God's blessings that allow me to pursue this sport on any level, and especially to aim so high.  I look forward to this year.  I'll get to direct my focus to new things, learn a lot, and set a new standard for "the best shape of my life."

Post-race with Kimberly, who ran to get in a good effort as she prepares for Tokyo Marathon. Her support for me is so selfless and consistent it makes me cry when I think about it. Trying to be 1/2 as good as she is at it this month. Can't wait to be in Tokyo cheering on the best woman I know!

Running and Traveling. Traveling and Running.

I’ve just returned from an eight day trip from South America enjoying time in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay; and Santiago, Chile.  While one of my favorite ways to see a city is by running through it, it can be tough to run on vacation.  Most of my recent trips abroad have been for marathons. I’ve only needed to do some light running around leading up to race day, race, and then enjoy the rest of the trip while recovering.  This time was different.  I’m right in the middle of a build-up to get in the best shape I can for a half marathon in mid-January to give one last attempt at an OTQ.  Improvement in running is all about consistency. There is no gain (for me, anyway, or for anyone with high goals) in interrupting a training cycle or losing fitness while away.  Soon I’ll be traveling for the holidays and I’m glad to have the experience of this trip to help prepare my mind for another week of training while traveling.  

Running along the river in Santiago, Chile.  Cinder paths lined the river for miles.

There are lots of great things about getting away and lots of challenges.  Just because I like to keep a positive attitude, I’ll start with the Pro’s:

Change. Traveling gives a chance to break away from a running routine and routes that can quickly become repetitive and mundane.  Run new routes.  See new scenery, new people.

Experience.  If you’re training for a race, you’ll most likely be running that race on unfamiliar roads in a somewhat unfamiliar climate.  Increasing your fitness is all about your body’s ability to adapt to different stressors.  Running for a week while traveling can give you experience running in an unfamiliar environment with many different elements at play.

Travel.  Running isn't the only thing in life.  Traveling brings us great experiences and knowledge of the world and its cultures.  It’s fun and exciting and adventurous.  Regardless of what running is like while you’re away, you are blessed to have the opportunity to travel.

I wouldn’t call the opposing side “Con’s”, just things to look out for and not to let get you down.  They’re just extra Challenges:

Time.  If you do vacation like I do, you pack your days full of sightseeing to get the most of your time while you’re there, especially if you’re visiting a cool new city for the first time.  This doesn’t always leave lots of time to run. Solution: Commit to running in the morning.  Most of us are used to waking up extra early for work to run in the morning, anyway.  Most days you won’t be waking up half as early as you usually do still, but you’ll get your run out of the way and won’t think about it the rest of the day.

The President's house in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Kim and I celebrated a year together while traveling!

Quality.  I rarely do really tough tempo or speed workouts alone and when I do I know not to expect the same results.  Tempo efforts are especially tough for me.  While on vacation you’ll be running solo, tired, in an unfamiliar climate and on unfamiliar routes.  I don’t see these as reasons not to do workouts all together.  Solution: Keep an open mind. Run intervals and tempo efforts based on time and feel rather than distance and pace. Do speed work on a nearby track if possible to provide familiarity.

Quantity.  This past trip, I expected my weekly miles to suffer as well.  Fortunately, I was able to sneak in two double-run days and still run just over 100 miles.  But not every trip will you have the opportunity to run as much as you do in your normal routine.  Solution: Stay as consistent as possible.  Be sure to start off on the right foot and run the first chance you get.  When you have time, don’t cut your runs short.  Since your quality of runs will most likely suffer, put effort into maintaining quantity so that the week after your vacation doesn’t have to suffer too!

For me, keeping mileage and intensity up while traveling is important.  I don’t want to lose fitness and I need to continue to put in effort throughout my time traveling.  Overall, I had a pretty crappy week of tired runs with unimpressive tempo and interval workouts.  BUT the day I got back I had an excellent long run and later that week I had great interval and tempo workouts.  I’m positive the effort I put in the week before helped create that great week of running.  For you, things may be different and that’s OK.  If you have goals, don’t let them be hindered by travel. Likewise, don’t let your goals hinder you from traveling.  If you like to just run, then running is a great way to explore a new place.  Find what works for you, make a plan if you need to, and enjoy your time away.

Ask not "How fast?" Ask "How?"/ Recapping Berlin Marathon

Since the Berlin Marathon I've been doing a lot of thinking and evaluating.  With a PR it's often easy to be satisfied, but with missed goals it's easy to be disappointed.  At Berlin I did both.  It is always a goal to PR and I will never be completely dissatisfied with a race that is faster than I've previously done.  But I had other goals.  I have the reach goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials, and I had a more manageable goal of sub-2:20.  Running a 2:23 in Berlin put me right in the middle.  It was a 3 minute PR in a 5 month turnaround from London last spring, which I view as a huge improvement.  But it was well short of the 2:20 mark and not even close to an OTQ time.  Did I perform well?  Did I have a good day or a bad day?  With so many mixed emotions I've felt the need to evaluate my performance not just on HOW FAST I ran, but HOW I ran.  Looking at my run in Berlin in this light has taught me to better evaluate races and workouts in the future, learn from past races and improve upon weaknesses.

The Positives

Just before half way and about a mile before the elite women group caught me.

In April, 2:26 was all I had.  It was a long awaited PR, and it wasn't a small one.  I bettered my previous best by almost 10 minutes and while my ultimate goals are much higher, it was a time of looking back at my old goals that were nowhere near my current ability.  London was a huge step for me, but Berlin was already on the schedule 5 months away.  After 2 weeks of recovery (no running at all, zero steps), and two weeks of easy jogging, four months doesn't leave tons of time for big improvements.  As I look back on how short that training segment felt and how the summer just flew by, I'm amazed at the amount of improvement I was able to make.  Three minutes off of 2:26 in five months in many ways is as big of an accomplishment as the ten minutes I took off my previous PR which stood for two years.

The Lessons

In the lead-up to Berlin, with such big goals, I couldn't let my goals dictate my race.  I had to learn to be realistic and run to my fitness.  I knew it would be of greater benefit and outcome if I raced to my current fitness and not my dream goals.  Knowing this I had to learn to be more perceptive than before and evaluate my fitness accurately so that come race day I wouldn't get ahead of myself.

During the raceI decided to run mainly on feel.  I knew what kind of shape I was in and I know what marathon pace feels like.  Performance in a marathon is largely reliant on what type of day you have.  With a good day there is potential for a great marathon.  With a bad day there is certainty that the outcome will be bad.  Running by feel was the best decision I could've made.  I still checked my watch out of curiosity occasionally and I checked as I went through each mile, but I wasn't a slave to anything it said.  Most of the time it was right on with what I thought I should be running and at half-way I was pleased with the way I had run so far.

When I look back at the first half it's all positive, but looking at the second half, I start to criticize and doubt myself.  I put myself in a great position at the half and just didn't perform the way I would've liked or expected in the second half.  I was content to not look at my watch in the first half, but knowing how I felt that whole first half, I wish I would've become a slave to the watch later on.  Maybe if I had known how I was fading I wouldn't have continued to rely on feel which seemed to be failing me as my legs fatigued.  It is easy to look back after your heart rate goes down and your legs aren't on fire with lactic acid and think that you could've pushed harder or run faster.  But on the other hand, I have finished marathons more fatigued, more sore, breathing heavier, and recovering slower than Berlin.  I can't help but ask, "Could I have run faster?"

I may never know...  I do know that I've taken away lots of positives from this summer and fall of training and racing, made huge improvements, and I'll be sure to learn to harness all the speed and strength I have in future races.  I know that just by asking myself "How fast?" I'd be missing out on lots of learning opportunities and will always ask after a race "How?"

Did a little traveling after the race in Sofia, Bulgaria (above) and Istanbul, Turkey (below).  So glad to have been able to share race day and the trip with Kimberly (TrackClubBabe@trackclubbabe).


Race Week Prep

With less than a week until the Berlin Marathon, I’m faced with a lot of decisions that could help or hurt my performance on race day.  Whether you’re running your first race or your 100th, the week of the race can bring up lots of questions.  What do I change and what do I keep the same? How much do I run and when?  What do I eat? Here are some answers to help out with what to do the week of the race.

Run.

Depending on the distance of the race your taper off of regular mileage will look different.  Generally, longer race = longer taper. But that’s a whole topic in itself.  Regardless of the length of your taper, the important part is what you focus on.

Focus on: Race Pace.  Instead of full workouts, sprinkle race pace into your runs in increments that don’t exhaust your muscles.  The point is to learn and remember what race pace feels like.  All the fitness you can gain for race day has already been gained.  You will see no fitness gains during the week of your race- so anything too intense will only hurt your performance on race day.

Everything else stays the same only with less volume.  If you typically run 5 days a week and do an easy run the day before a hard workout, run 5 days and do an easy run the day before the race. If you typically take a rest day, then rest.  The day before a race is not the time to try a shake-out run for the first time!

Eat.

Eat what you normally eat.  Don’t eat new foods that could upset your stomach, etc. and could leave you playing catch-up to feel normal by race day.  If you don’t usually eat pasta, don’t eat pasta the night before the race. (If you’re not currently in race week when reading this, it’s a good idea to try pasta or other meals the night before more intense workouts, like a long run, to see if it works for you as a pre-race meal.)  Your last meal before the race should be race morning.  Especially for longer races, get some real food in your stomach right when you wake up on race morning.  This ensures plenty of time to digest but won’t leave you feeling hungry by the time the gun goes off.

Focus on: eating familiar foods and eat on race morning.

Sleep.

Sleep. A lot.  I’ve never heard of someone feeling less than ideal on race day because they slept too much on Thursday night.  You will NOT sleep well on the night before the race.  If the race is important to you, you’ll be nervous and wake up frequently through the night.

Focus on: getting lots of sleep throughout the week.  If you’ve been sleeping well the 3 previous nights, you’ll be rested and unaffected by your tossing and turning the night before the race.

Extra tips:

  • Dress warm.  Not on race day, but the week before.  No matter the weather forecast for race day, I overdress the week leading up to the race.  Today I ran in long sleeves even though it was 70℉ at by the end of my run.  If race day is even remotely hot, I’ll stay a lot cooler in my singlet and if your body stays cooler it performs better.

  • Dress Rehearsal.  Know what you’re going to wear on race day, practice it, and have it clean and ready to go days in advance.

  • Prepare early.  Don’t wait until late at night or early on race morning to organize all your race day gear.  Have everything ready to go before dinner.  You don’t need that added stress!

  • Enjoy the taper!  Most people stress the whole time during their taper phase.  Not me! While race week does bring lots of nerves, I love running during taper phase.  The work is done.  There are no more hard workouts or high mileage weeks to push through.  I make sure that I really enjoy the easy running portion of my taper.

  • Be flexible.  If something small has to change, don’t freak out! I like to take Friday off before a Sunday race and do an easy shakeout with some strides on Saturday, but because we’re flying to Berlin on Wednesday I don’t have an option to run then and I don’t want to take off Wednesday and Friday.  So I won’t run Wednesday and I’ll run really easy on Friday instead to make sure my legs are feeling normal after the long flight to Berlin.

  • Space it out.  I typically do a harder workout 3 days a week (which is almost every other day), but during taper I only do two a week with two easy days in between.  Don’t stack workouts back-to-back, even if it’s typical for you to do more effort on weekend days.

 

 

Love the Run

Running is not always easy to love.  Whether you are training hard for a goal or just running for enjoyment or fitness, at some point, you will not be saying “This is great!” or “I really want to go run for an hour!”  Even as running is known as a sport that’s not so lovable, more and more people find themselves taking up running and sticking to it.  Even more, they find that they love it!

Are we just sick and twisted?  Do we just love torturing ourselves?  Quite the opposite.  We love ourselves.  We want to take care of our bodies and minds.  We want a high quality of life.  We want to see just what we are made of.  We want to go for goals we once thought impossible.  And actually, to contradict myself, we borderline torture ourselves so that when things in life come up that are not so ideal, we will be better equipped to handle them.  Regardless of what reasons you have found (or are still trying to find) that make you love to run, what is most important is that you do, in fact, love it.  It’s important to FIND your love for running.  It’s important to REMEMBER your love for running.

Find your love for running.

 If you’re new to running, don’t give up until you love it.  Begin to notice the small things that have changed since you started running like decrease in stress level and anxiety, deeper sleep, and better appetite.  You may notice higher mental acuity and physical energy levels, and physical strength and endurance- not just when you’re working out, but through your work week.  Your overall health will improve and immune system strengthen.

Do you love the feeling of getting in a good sweat?  The time to think or pray?  A hobby to care about?  The community of runners around you all seeking the same things?  Race day hype?  Striving for a goal?  Have you been a runner for years but don’t know what you love about it?  Whatever it is, find it.

Remember your love for running.

Once you have discovered what it is, remember it.  At some point you will forget it.  All of the important benefits of running are lost without consistency.  When you are struggling to get out of bed in the morning or feeling tired after work, the thought that you “should” run will hardly get you out the door.  The thought that, deep down, you “want to” is more likely to get you to lace up.  Sometimes the “should” and the “want to” are the same thing, but it’s the difference in thought process that produces different outcomes.  It’s important to remember how you “want to” run when you really don’t, because the more consistent you are, the more you will love running down the road (pun intended).


This morning I went for a run.  Yesterday, I ran 20 miles; today, the plan is to run 20 as well, but broken into two runs.  With headphones in my ears, I plan to purposely run extra slow and easy and be cognizant of foot-strike, arm swing, cadence, and to make my left and right sides more identical and efficient.  I’m coming back from tightness in my left quad, left plantar fascia, and currently running on a bruised pinky toe in the very thick of marathon training.  At mile 5, I stopped (not literally, I stopped thinking about my form, etc.) and thought about how, in the midst of all this, I just loved being out there.  I looked out across the Pacific Ocean.  I looked up to the sky and noticed the air.  I thanked God for the blessing to get to be where I was at that moment.  I thought about how I loved being in the very middle of my marathon build-up, the grind, the all-out pursuit of my goals that even two years ago I thought would be too far out of reach to even consider.

The Life and (Finishing) Times of Tyler Underwood

For me, it all started long ago in a far off land called Tennessee.  My dad was a very gifted and hard working runner and all-around athlete in his day.  He would say that he was more “gifted” than I am, but I am a lot “smarter.” (Thanks Dad!)  I’m not sure who said it first, but I’ve heard the quote many times: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”  I’m not saying my dad didn’t work hard, but I’d rather be a “smarter” runner than a “gifted” runner any day.

As a kid, I began to follow in my dad’s footsteps running XC and track, but took off my running shoes to pick up a tennis racket every day for four years of high school.  In college, with competitive tennis at an end for me, I began running again just for fun and fitness.  This long, untimely break in competitive running has made my approach to running very unique.  I didn’t have the years of coaching in high school and college to develop my fitness level, running economy, or knowledge of the sport.  I didn’t start running competitive road races as a recent college graduate as most runners at my current level.  I started like everyone else, from the middle of the pack.  Slow.  Worried about completing, not competing.  I was an average runner, with average goals, but they were my goals and that made them important.  Those goals, the goals after that, and the goals after that, eventually led me to where I am now- looking to chase down a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials Marathon.

I ran my first half-marathon my sophomore year of college, in the spring of 2007.  That day I decided I wanted to be a marathoner as soon as possible, so I signed up for a marathon and ran it a month later. It took me 4 hours 12 minutes… I’m almost ashamed to say it out loud (or in print).  Fast forward a year later, same marathon, 3:25.  And less than a year later, 3:07.  Fifteen months after that in 2010, a 2:55.  After a move across the country and no marathon in 2011, I ran 2:53 in 2012.  The slowing progress was a reflection of my lack of dedication.

Shaking out the legs in London during race week.

I was in the best shape of my life in the fall of 2012 and set to run the New York Marathon before it was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.  I was so upset to not get the chance to race, but it left me motivated and hungry for a PR.  I went back to NYC the next fall and ran a PR of 2:36.  So much for slowing progress!  In Boston the following spring, after hitting pace for a 2:30 finish for 21 miles, I hit something else… THE WALL.  One long year later with a few ups and a handful of downs I made the trip across the Atlantic for the London Marathon.  Once again in the best shape of my life, I was looking to redeem myself, surpass my dad’s marathon PR (I was less than a minute off at NYC), and come away with a huge PR.  And that I did.  I fell just short of a lofty goal of sub-2:25, but still PR’d by almost 10 minutes.  2:26:23.  I’m more motivated than ever to see how much I can improve and how far I can push my limits.


My running history is unique.  Few people have had personal experience pushing themselves to reach such a variety of running goals.  I’ve never had a coach.  I’ve never followed someone else’s plan.  As I’ve progressed, I’ve gained more and more knowledge of how to run faster, be more efficient, and train harder- all while avoiding injury and maintaining a love for the sport.  My degree in Exercise Science has given me valuable knowledge about the body and how it functions.  While 5 years in running specialty retail has taught me about the running community and what it lacks: knowledge.  The biggest thing stopping us from being fit (or fitter) is a lack of knowledge.  Knowledge is power.  With the right knowledge, you can train to reach goals you haven’t even made yet...