Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Running Secret

I’m naturally a competitive person. As such, I don’t really like to share personal training secrets that might help the competition and level the playing field. But, in honor of Take It and Run Thursdays, I’m going to share with all my running fans the key to my running success. I came up with it last summer with the help of my running mentor. It took me some time to fully grasp the concept, but once I did and was able to apply it wholeheartedly, my performance on the road, especially in races, has grown in leaps and bounds. So you want in on my little secret? Okay, here it is, in exactly thirteen words:

The Secret to Running Success: Run Your Own Race and Know Your Limits.

Sounds simple enough, right? But what does it really mean? Like all great works of literature (okay, it’s a stretch…a BIG stretch, but I’m claiming poetic license here…), it is subject to personal interpretation. To me, it means trusting your running instincts, and letting them guide you in terms of how much to run, how long to run, and when to run. It also means not allowing some external force to lead you to run against yourself, and at the same time, setting personal boundaries and trusting them to keep a balanced life. I know I’m being somewhat abstract in my explanation, so I’ll give you a concrete example from my own running history so maybe you’ll all understand better what I mean.

Like most newbie marathoners, I used to live and die by my training plan. Before my first marathon and even a few half-marathons afterwards, I would spent an insane amount of time reading and researching every kind of training program and plan I could find. And after picking one (usually for some insignificant arbitrary reason), I’d stick to it like glue and would never allow myself deviate from it. If it called for a six mile run on Friday…I’d run exactly six miles. If it called for a long run on a day I was working late, well then I’d run outside at midnight. If it called for a seven miler followed by a five miler the following day, and I happened to be sick the first day, I’d invariably run 12 miles the next day just to make up the miles. I made it through the first marathon okay, but I really didn't enjoy the process of training. Every session felt like a chore that needed to be done. Boring! The next summer, when I decided to choose a tougher plan with a steep increment in mileage, life became even more miserable. I’d dread doing all those long miles and would be relieved when it was over. Eventually, I got so worn down by the grueling schedule, that I almost decided to quit the sport. That’s when my running mentor stepped in, took a listen to my crazy training plan and told me to stop the madness (yes, this was the beginning of running schizophrenia as you remembered it.)

Since then, I’ve learned to see a training plan not as some magic formula to instant running success, but as a general guide to good training. I’ve learned to use my own knowledge, my own experience, and cues from my body to tell me how long and how hard I should be running. If I feel sick or injured either physically or psychologically, I allow myself to miss one or two days without feeling guilty about it. Also, I have learned that I must set practical real-life limits on my running. Whether that is not drinking more than one beer the night before a race, or not running on mornings when I’m expected to round early on patients in the hospital, I know that I must abide by these rules to protect my passion and keep my sanity. I believe these self-imposed boundaries are what separates us from lower animals who do not have the capacity to control their urges or limit their aggression.

At the end of the day, we are all intelligent and creative individuals. How we choose to lead our personal lives and by extension, our running lives ought to be reflective of that fact. Isn’t that what running the good race is all about?

(Disclaimer: Disclosing my personal training secret fulfills my good deed quota for the year. Be appreciative, runners, but don’t tell me if by adopting this running mantra, you start training better than I do and ultimately beat me in a future race…)


Run For Life said...

UGH! Blogger ate my long winded comment.

Just catching up on the last few posts: congratulations on an awesome 4 miler! Even more accolades on being able to overcome your BM envy (not that I blame you one bit!)

Those Central Park pictures are awesome, thanks for sharing. :)

As for your secret, I think it definitely is one of the tougher concepts to truly grasp but once you do it's such a rush. Don't worry though because I highly doubt I'll be running a 2:30 marathon anytime soon, lol.

Christine said...

Uh oh! I think you better watch out!! Christine is going to be on your tail at the next race...if you look back and see pink hot know you are in TROUBLEEEEE! haha.

Anyway...I totally agree. This week was HORRIBLE for me school instead of taking 2 days off..and running 4 inbetween I ran 2 and 2. Running gives me energy and helps me study..but somedays I just dont have 40 minutes to give up. Splitting it up sometimes helps me.

Nibbles said...

Once again, you manage to skillfully condense an entire running book's worth of wisdom into one concise post! Blogs like this are one of the reasons why I let my Runner's World subscription lapse.

Amy@RunnersLounge said...

So true. I remember many years ago running a race that I was dead last and repeating the phrase, "run your own race" for at least 12 of the 13 miles of it. It's the only thing that got me through without a breakdown.

Ryan said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing. It's funny that at first you can't listen to your body because when you first start the body is just saying "Stop!" After a certain point, you are right - you really have to pay attention.

I added you to my list of New York City running blogs at RunYourCity. I've seen your blog on a few blogrolls. Now I know why.

sRod said...

Same boat as Ryan here. In the beginning you can't listen to your body because it's only saying "stop." Being able to listen to your body instead of your head is one of the more difficult things to learn.

KimsRunning said...

I was lucky enough to find a trainer who told me from the beginning to listen to my body. I completely understand what you mean. Just the other day I was telling him I didn't think I was a true runner because sometimes I'll see a flower or a creek and stop and tale a look. Sometimes I walk during a song on my iPod because I want to really hear it. I forget to time my rund half the time. He told me I'm a happy runner, still a runner. I do enjoy myself out there. I also ran a full marathon after 4.5 months, never having run before in my life.

mashar said...

Ah Running Laminator -- I am the young grasshopper that has learned much from your wise words! Unfortunately, when it comes to running I know my limits all too well! :)

Non-Runner Nancy said...

I'm sure you've said something like this on my blog at least half a dozen times. Very nice words.

Shilingi-Moja said...

I agree with your 13-worder. I don't have a lot of racing experience as an adult but I learn a whole lot faster as an adult than I did 40+/- years ago as a teenager. After running a decent 5K and missing my goal on a tough half-marathon, I decided to consciously run my own race for my first 10K. That meant starting slower than the front third of the pack and letting people pass me. Then I slowly picked up the pace. That mimicked my normal everyday runs. It worked -- I beat my goal time for that race by 3-4 minutes and my "ultimate" goal for a 10K by 1:31.

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