tips

The Good: 3 Things I Learned While Training On My Own

 

This 3-part blog series is happily titled: The Good… The Bad… and The Ugly… of Running

 

Part 1: The Good of Running shares 3 things I learned while training on my own.

 

In 2010 I finished my college eligibility and was left wondering (like the other 3% of athletes who turn pro Source: Business Insider) Do I want to keep training? If so, where will I train? Who will I train with? And will I have a coach?

 

If you are reading this blog then you already know that answer to the first question was YES!  The next series of questions were a bit more challenging to answer.

 

The first year as a pro was rough.  My college coach gave me a few workouts, but for the most part, I was making things up on the fly.  I was running but not hard. I was eating but not well. I was sleeping but not enough.  I ran 2 races — 2:12 and 2:20 something for 800m.  I’ll let you in on a little secret: if I ever run over 2:20 I NEVER look up the results, so I always run 2:20 something.

 

After a disappointing first year out of college, I knew I needed to change my approach to training, especially if I wanted to call myself a professional runner and not a recreational runner.  So I found a coach, Ben Rosario.  Although he lived in a different state he told me exactly what to run everyday, and he held me accountable.  I found a training partner.   Although he only trained with me for 3 months it was the best three months of my life.  But he left me to get his master’s in mechanical engineering at Stanford.  WHAT THE HECK?  I guess I can’t blame him for moving on.  That left me training on my own.

 

Here are the top 3 things I learned while training on my own.

 

1. Run one day at a time

I went into professional running with one goal in mind – to be the best runner in the world – but I failed to focus on the steps that get you there.  Like any other day I arrived at the track to do a workout. But on this particular morning when I got there I started crying.  I waited 30 minutes to calm myself down, but when I went to warm up I started crying again.  The other thing on my mind was school and trying to be the best student in the world.  I thought there was no way I could do both at a high level. I thought I had to quit one, so I could focus on the other.

These “best in the world” goals had to change and inevitably evolved into – be the best runner and student I can be, today.  My new live-in-the-moment mindset served as my framework for setting intermediate goals.  When I arrived at the track I would close the door to the classroom; and vice versa, when I arrived at school I would close the gate to the track.  I focused on one task at a time… eat a good breakfast, read a journal article, or go for a run.  This allowed me to maximize my happiness and enjoy the journey.

 

2. Say “I think I can” when running up a hill

I think it is safe to say that most athletes are competitive people by nature. I am no exception.  There is always someone who will run faster than you and there is always someone who will run slower than you.  Comparing yourself to others can lead to negative self-talk, bitterness, and can be detrimental to your self-esteem.  Running on my own helped me learn the importance of strengthening my mind and “filling my basket” with self-confidence and self-efficacy.  It gave me the opportunity to practice positive self-talk during a hard workout or running up a hill.  Just like the Little Engine That Could who said ““I think I can” when he was traveling across treacherous mountains to his destination.

 

3. Run through the finish line

Courage is hard to find and everyone is searching for it.  I have yet to meet a person who does not want the quality of bravery.  I would argue that courage is the most in-demand quality a person can have.  I committed to running professionally right after college when the decision was easy, there were no hardships, and everything was looking up.  Over the next year running on my own became increasingly hard.  I often thought about giving up.

 

Then I looked up the definition of courage

 

cour·age

noun \ˈkər-ij, ˈkə-rij\

the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous

 

And the definition of commitment

 

com·mit·ment

noun \kə-ˈmit-mənt\

a promise to do or give something

a promise to be loyal to someone or something

the attitude of someone who works very hard to do or support something

 

Commitment IS NOT the act of making a decision when the decision is easy. It is the courage to make a decision when the decision is tough.  I became inspired by these definitions and courageously committed to professional running.

 

Thank you for reading!

 

3 Tips to Solving Problems (From a Runner)

My blog is about how running promotes personal growth in an array of different areas.  Last month I invested in a life coach (I like to refer to him as my business mentor).  He suggested blogging about how to solve a problem.

I like to start every day with a little make-up because my motto is: “if I fail at something, today, then at least I look good, today.”  So I painted my face and went searching for problems.

At approximately 11am I found my first problem: running for sustained periods of time.

 

PROBLEM: How To Run for Sustained Periods of Time (from an 800 meter runner’s perspective):

Sponsored by OTCE and BSSC, I was given an amazing opportunity — testing my VO2 max.  For anyone who does not know what this looks like, I have provided a picture.

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In scientific terms VO2 max involves exhausting your aerobic energy system while measuring the maximum amount of oxygen utilized during exercise.  But I like to describe VO2 max as running in place until you cannot run anymore while wiping drool off your snorkel-like mouthpiece.

Surprisingly, this test allowed me a lot of time to practice solving the problem — how to run for sustained periods of time. Please keep in mind the following describes my every action and thought throughout the 2-part test.

 

Part 1:

The pace started at 8:30 min/mile pace and every 4 minutes the pace increased until the treadmill propelled me to 5:30 min/mile pace.

The scientist: “I am going to start the treadmill. Jump on when you are ready.”

Me: Wow, this treadmill is moving awfully fast. This has to be faster than 8:30 min/mile pace. [jump on] WOW! that was deceiving. This is definitely 8:30 min/mile pace.

The scientist: “3 minutes remaining”

Me: WHAT? I have only been running for 1 minute. This is going to be a long test.  To help this go by faster I need to start implementing some strategies. Strategy 1… counting. 1, 2, breath in, 1, 2, breath out, 1, 2, breath in, 1, 2, breath out. YES! This strategy is definitely slowing down my heart rate. 

The scientist: “I am going to speed up the pace”

Me: Need a new strategy.  Strategy 2… think positive thoughts. Shannon, great job swinging your arms. Not working. I need another positive thought. I know! Pretend you are on a trail… in a park… Pre’s trail… no… MKT trail.  Look at the pretty trees passing by. Oh! look at that runner with her dog. This soft ground is so nice. Much better.

The scientist: “I am going to speed up the pace”

Me: This trail thing is not working anymore. I am going to need to pull out all the tricks. [look around] I see a line. Shannon, focus on this line. Pretend you are running a fast workout along the inside lane of a track. [look around] NO! Shannon, re-focus on this line. Rememeber, you are running a fast workout around the track.

 

Part 2:

Although the pace was set at a steady 6:25 min/mile pace, the gradient increased by 1% every 1 min. Objective: stay on the treadmill for as long as you can.

The scientist: “You’re doing great, Shannon. Ready to begin part 2?”

Me: I wonder if the scientist is required to say I am doing a great or if he really thinks I am doing great? I think I will go with the latter. [give the scientist a thumbs up]

The scientist: “I am going to start the treadmill. Jump on when you are ready..”

Me: Maybe I won’t jump on. [jump on] Don’t fall… pump your arms… don’t fall… pump your arms…”

 

TIPS On How to Run for Sustained Periods of Time (from an 800 meter runner’s perspective):

Tip 1:

Breathing is not only vital for your existence, but it also helps you sustain an uncomfortable pace for a long period of time. I used a 2-count, but use a method that works for you. Breathing can often help you avoid hyperventilating, and calm down your emotions and thoughts so that you can solve any problem.

Tip 2:

Visualization is an important technique that many athletes use to improve their performance.  I use various visualization techniques to teach myself mindfulness, how to be present in the moment as well as how to increase my confidence during a workout or race.  Try it!  Set a goal and then create a mental image of you achieving that goal. This way when you are working towards that goal you know what it feels like to succeed.

Tip 3:

Sometime not thinking at all is a helpful strategy.  The second part of the test lasted a total of 9 minutes; however, time seemed to disappear.  I credit this phenomenon to that fact that I forgot to think.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined this experience as “flow”.  Flow occurs when you are completely absorbed in an activity that you momentarily forget about everything except that activity.  You can achieve flow by choosing a task that is challenging, yet, realistic.

 

Testing my VO2 max allowed me to practice all three tips. Following the test I felt a sense of exhilaration and enjoyment from the act of stretching my mind and body to their limits.  These strategies – breath, visualize, and flow – are key to sustaining not only a run but solving any challenge at hand.  I challenge you to practice these strategies during your next easy run, routine business meeting, or easy activity, so that way when a true problem is present you are well prepared. Practice makes perfect!

Remember, you do not need to have your VO2 max tested to practice.  Please reply with your experiences.

Thanks for Reading

 

Cite: Flow: Csikszentmihalyi, Harper, & Row (1990). The psychology of optimal experience. Global Learning Communities.