Time for a little help from our friends

Posted: April 4, 2013 in Pace and Racing, Training
Tags: ,

It is often and rather famously said, that doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. The proverb applies more to life in general than it does to the sport of distance running, but as running in many ways is a perfect metaphor for life, the principle applies.

Since 2011 I have set more goals than the typical 45 year old guy walking around on the planet. I’m a keenly aware of that fact. Amazingly I have been able to plan the work, work the plan and reach or exceed every one of those goals on my list when it comes to distance running with the exception of one.

I am not the most talented runner, this is a fact not opinion. I have to work extremely hard at the sport and earn every second that I take off of the race clock. For others it comes much easier. That is not to say that I am complaining. I think most coaches would rather work with an athlete that works hard, is dedicated and is willing to put in the hours and suffer the pain to get as close as possible to their potential.

While other runners may have more natural ability, they are not willing to pay the price in reaching their full potential – or ever really approaching it. Good enough is simply good enough, and that is as far as they are willing to push themselves.  I’m not about to start preaching about the virtues of trying hard and failing vs. using your natural talents to succeed. Trust me, it is all about the succeeding piece for me. It is about race day, goal setting and goal achievement. I don’t publish my weekly training mileage and carry it around like some badge of honor. It’s simply the means to an end.

I train to run races. Period. End-game.

As I write this I am sitting on a United Airlines flight – seat 12B to be exact – on my way to South Carolina for the 2013 Cooper River Bridge Run. Myself and 39,999 entrants will be toeing the line Saturday morning and testing our metal at an incredibly difficult 10 Kilometer Race that spans an enormous bridge, usually combats strong headwinds and will push each of our limits.
It is our first large race of 2013 after a brief set-back to start the year due to injury, but as of right now we are just about 95% all the way back to our peak fitness in December. It simply is a matter of continuing to get our miles in, rebuild our stamina and endurance to the previous standard. The body is fine, the mind and spirit are there, we’re just tuning up the engine a little bit more. It’s a process, but one that is nearing completion.

But this race is the end of an era for me as it will be my final race as a self-coached runner.

On Wednesday I had lunch with a tremendous coach in Austin who has worked with many of the runners I compete against at local events for several years. She is in her own right a tremendously talented runner, now nearing age 50, and has forgotten more about running, training and racing than I will probably ever know.

I have come to the conclusion that I have at best three more race seasons to run my best ever marathon. Whether that means 2:59, 2:55, 3:02 I really have no idea. That is what we are about to find out.

But I simply cannot keep doing the same things over and over again and expect a different result.

Instead I am willing to admit that I need a little help to get over that final goal that I have been carrying around with me since the Austin Marathon in 2011. I want to run a marathon in less than 180 minutes. In fact, I would trade every Age Group Award, finisher’s medal, PR, ribbon and trophy I have ever been fortunate enough to acquire to find myself with one more mile to go at the Steamtown Marathon on October 13th and 6 minutes, 52 seconds to get there.

I am willing to scratch, claw, fight, hurt and bleed to do it.

But pushing hard on race day has never been our problem. There is plenty of fight left in this old dog.  It is in the approach to getting to that position through training where I have not been able to dial things in perfectly at the marathon distance. A race where the smallest of errors are magnified significantly, where heart, guts and hard-work can only take a runner so far.

I need an edge. A new weapon in my arsenal. Someone who is going to simply tell me what to do and when to do it. Someone that will watch me run two times a week – providing a set of eyes that can step outside of my own head and tell me if I am pushing hard enough, need to back off, need to change up our training strategy – and finally, someone who one week before Steamtown is going to give me an honest number to shoot for on race day that is not one that I have arbitrarily self-selected to define me.

Whatever that number is, is the number we are going to go get. If it is 3:03 or 2:59 or 2:56 – I am willing to go out on race day and make it happen. But it is going to be based on more than my own definition of “excellence” – it is going to be based on her years of experience coaching athletes, predicting race-day potential and pushing athletes to the edge of the cliff and then pulling them back just in time before they risk injury or a flat performance.

The final piece of the puzzle is I am going to have training partners for the first time ever. There are reasons why the top distance runners train in groups – providing someone to push you in workouts, someone to help you suffer through grueling sets of repeats and intervals. My good runner friends Andy and Scott are both part of this training group. There have been race days that I have run with them, others when they have run away from me and the rare performance where I’ve been able to hang on and beat them.

Well now perhaps we can work together and push each other to new personal bests and times that to this point have seemed untouchable. What do they know that I do not? What can I learn from them? Is there really more inside of me that I just have not realized or tapped into? All great questions.

I used to feel as if accomplishing my goal time in the marathon by myself and not with the help of others was going to somehow legitimize it more. I’m not sure where that notion formed in my mind, or why it did, but it has definitely been a part of my runner psyche for some time.

The reality is that without the help of my swim coach there is absolutely zero chance of me completing last Fall’s Half Ironman. ZERO chance. Trust me, I was there when I tried to swim my first 25 meters, you were not. When I say zero, I might actually be overestimating my chances.

Without my friend Ed’s advice and the help of the guys at Austin Tri Cyclist to fit me for my bike, put me in the right gear and help with nutrition, there is no way I ride a 2:38 bike split over 56 miles and podium in Kerrville.

The run part? O.K., that was all me last year. But it is time for that to change.

So this weekend when we toe the line in Charleston I am going to take a moment to run my fingers over Dom’s initials on my shoes like I always do and think about all of the races we’ve run together since he got sick back in the spring of 2009. I guess I really never was truly alone out there in the end.

We just recruited another member to the team this week Dom. So what if we need a little bit of help to get to that point at Steamtown this Fall. That is still going to be the greatest mile I will have ever run, win, lose or draw.
26 weeks to race day. 6 months to make it all come together. Time to go to work.

  1. Winston Kenton says:

    I have to say, this plan works for me! I ran 2:55:41 as a college coach who ran with his athletes every day. Now, you can see on dailymile for yourself what me, Patrick, Matt, Mike and Greg are doing for one another. I like your plan and think it is just what you need. And when you’re in Wichita, you’ll have our little group to run with too!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Winston! I’m pretty excited about the process and if nothing else, it is going to mix things up a bit – which will force me out of my comfort zone …. hopefully by October 2:59:00 won’t seem like such a big deal and maybe 2:56 or 2:57 is where we are lined up to be. Either way, it is going to make this cycle pretty interesting 🙂

  2. Robin says:

    Have a great race this weekend. I think your plan is a great one, and an opportunity you should definitely take advantage of if you can. I have some natural ability, that much is clear. I always said that if I didn’t have to work and my life was not as busy, I’d do that too, get a coach. Just to see how good I could really be. So awesome and hats off to you. Share with us your new found wisdom 🙂

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Robin! I’m really excited to see how some increased speed work translates across the various distances. I’m closing in on a time where I really need to “specialize” in a particular distance as I get older whether that is the half-marathon or the 10K, 10-mile, I’m not really sure. But when I do give up “racing” the marathon, I just want that 2:XX:XX in my ledger. I will be sure to impart any new-found knowledge through this process, of course we are all different in how our body’s and mind’s react to stressors – but it should be fun to watch if nothing else 🙂

  3. Once again Joe, you’re willing to mix it up and see what happens. I’m continually inspired by you. Best of luck at the 10k and I look forward to hearing how the coaching happens. I’ve thought a lot about doing the same thing but have to continually prioritize and right now my eye is on recovery and injury-prevention. We should catch up soon!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Thanks Lara! Still searching for that perfect combination – they say running is a lifetime sport. A friend of my Dad’s is racing tomorrow with me at the Cooper River Bridge Run. He is 83 years old. Talk about inspiring – not sure I’ll still be racing in 38 years, but I’d like to think I might 🙂

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