Things work better for me when I’ve got a goal in mind. The harder the better (to a point). It helps me stay focused and motivated.
Thoughts about my next running goal have been going through my mind for a while now. So much so that I’m concerned I’m not being open to all the possibilities. And maybe I’m not being realistic either.
But at this point I’m feeling pretty strongly about my next running goal, so I might as well get it out there.
My new running goal is a 50 mile race.
That being said, I’m reluctant to commit to anything right now. It’s just too early. I’d like some time to relax and just enjoy running and riding my bike, without worrying too much about a specific goal.
So I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance the need to start training for a 50 mile distance with my desire not to get too locked in too early.
Here’s the tentative plan:
Aim for a spring 2013 50 mile race. That ought to give me enough time to adequately prepare for it. I’m already exploring a few possible races, but registration hasn’t even started so I’m under no pressure to make a decision.
Start training now, focusing on getting out every day to do something. The tentative training plan looks like this:
- September-November: build a base, go longer, start to develop strength
- December-February: focus on strength and speed, maintain base as much as possible
- March-April: increase distance again, lots of long tempo runs
All of this will include lots of hill work and climbing (as much as possible here in NJ).
I’ll probably take checkpoints at various times throughout the next few months, and I won’t hesitate to adjust my goals if things aren’t going well. However, I need to be serious enough that I don’t just blow off training. I guess that’s part of what I’m trying to assess–how serious am I about this? I need to be serious enough and enjoy it enough that it doesn’t take plunking down money for me to be motivated. It has to be intrinsic. If it’s not, I’m backing off.
I’m really stoked about taking a crack at 50 miles. There is no reason why I can’t do well at that distance. And it’s cool to be thinking about a new distance and a new kind of race.
One thing I’m pretty sure about — I don’t see myself going back to road marathons any time soon. I’m just too intrigued by running trails and longer distances right now.
Beyond the 50 mile race in the spring, I’m not sure what’s out there. Thoughts of a better run at Pikes Peak are percolating, as are thoughts about even longer distances. And every once in a while I think about a triathlon.
But all of those are for the future. I don’t even want to spend a bunch of time thinking about the 50-mile race. Sure, I will come up with a plan or approach to training. But I’m not going to obsess about it.
Rather, I’m looking to just take it one day at a time. Just stay in the moment, enjoy my workouts, take care of myself (eating, sleep, stretching, etc.) and look to make progress each day.
The die has been cast.
The next act is set to begin.
The clock is ticking.
The credit card is out 250 bills.
The reckoning will begin 155 days from today (August 18-19).
Today I registered for the 2012 Pikes Peak double.
I’ve been thinking about the double for a few months. I swing back and forth between thinking I can do better than my last Pikes Peak marathon (just under 4 hrs, 32 minutes) and wondering how in the world I ever did that. I don’t know which thought is most accurate. Probably both ends of the spectrum, and everywhere in between.
I don’t necessarily like the idea of establishing goals this early, but I can’t seem to shake these numbers from my mind.
- Regular goal: Complete the double in 7.5 hours total
- Stretch goal: Complete the double in 7 hours total
I don’t think it’s unreasonable if I look at my previous marathon. I did the marathon in just over 4.5 hours. If I add a 3 hour ascent and keep my 4.5 hour marathon, I’ve got the 7.5 hours. If I can shave a total of 30 minutes from that, I’ve got my 7 hours.
I can’t help but think that my first trip to Pikes Peak was lucky in a lot of respects. I can’t explain it beyond that. I don’t think I could have run much faster that first time. Even with the getting lost and the falling, I don’t think I could have done better.
I think I can run faster this time because I’ll be smarter about my training. Looking back, I think I left a lot of fitness on the table. I could have done a lot more training and got a lot more fit. But I didn’t know any better.
Then again, I could just have a bad day on the mountain.
That’s part of the fun of it, though. Just having that goal, that difficult challenge. Knowing you could really have a bad day.
A lot of Pikes Peak in 2010 was about the past. My dad had passed away late in 2009, and this race was for him. To make him proud. I kind of felt like I was running up to him. It also (coincidentally) fell on the 21st anniversary of my mom’s death. So I spent a lot of time thinking about them, wanting to do my best to honor them.
This Pikes Peak, 2012, is about the future. It’s about my dream. My dream of what life should be. Life should be the best you can make it across all of the various dimensions…family, fitness, friends, work, play, how you live, where you live, everything.
How many steps can I take in the direction of that dream between now and August 18th?
It’s always a bit daunting to think about the training plan for a full year. What follows is my best attempt at it, as of now.
This is probably a bit of a ramble; I hope to get it more clear over time as I learn more.
The first question to answer is the goal. Right now I’m pretty settled on attempting the Pikes Peak double on August 18-19. So that goal will drive the training for the next 6 months. Beyond that, I’m thinking about a 50 miler in the fall. I haven’t picked that yet, but I think training for the double will be a good start towards training for the 50 miler.
From here on out, I actually wrote this post backwards. That is, I started at my race date and worked my way back through the months. I’m going to use terminology that is based on Renato Canova, mostly because it makes a little sense to me.
I don’t claim to be an expert in this. In fact, my previous attempts at periodization have been pretty lame. Now that I understand it better, I’m going to really give it a shot. I know it can help.
February-April (~8 weeks): Fundamental phase. In this phase I plan to do a lot of aerobic intensity runs, ride my bike, and do short but intense workouts that focus on running form and strength. I need to be careful, however, that I don’t over cook it as I return from this bad foot. The idea here is to build aerobic fitness and start to build strength.
April-May (~8 weeks): Special phase. In this phase I plan to raise the intensity of my long runs, start running longer tempo. One big thing I’ll be watching during this phase is how much my speed drops off as I start to extend hard efforts for longer and longer distances.
June-July (~8 weeks): Specific phase. In this phase I plan to dial up some very intense workouts that simulate race experience. My running will focus on long runs and tempo runs. I plan to sprinkle lots of hills in, and run tempo days before long days, to get a feel for what it will be like to go out and run with intensity on two straight days. One workout that I’ve been cooking up for this phase: 13 HR-governed miles on a treadmill at 12-15% grade, then go right outside and run another 9 on flats as a progression run. This is a great example of a workout that simulates a lot of what I’ll experience at Pikes Peak. Perhaps it’s too hard. I will need to be careful.
Late July – August: Taper and race.
My 2012 training will be different from prior years in some very specific ways:
- More workouts. In prior years I’ve basically worked out 5 days a week and taken 2 off. This time around I plan to work out on more than 5 days per week. Hopefully 7 days per week.
- More targeted workouts. This includes lower intensity as well as more specific tempo runs and hill work.
- More strength work. This includes outdoor stuff at my house (splitting wood, moving rocks) and work at the gym.
- More cross training, especially bike riding, jump rope, rowing and swimming
- Experimenting with two-a-days, which I haven’t done since I was training for triathlons in the late ’90s
My new job will entail some travel. I find that to be both bad and good. The bad is that it can disrupt the schedule. This is especially true for the long cross country flights I will need to take from time to time. The good is that it offers opportunities to vary the training and alone time to focus on it. As an example, next week I’ll be traveling a bit. I’ve already been thinking about a double on one or two days, since I won’t be home and since I’ll probably miss a day or two with flying. I’ve already purchased my jump rope which I view as a hugely important piece of my travel gear.
I’m looking forward to the year.
One thing I learned about periodization is that it’s almost like you’re using each phase to get ready for the next phase. You’re building up so you can handle the rigors of the next phase. This year’s plan is very different from previous years for me. Hopefully it will work or I can adjust as I go.
“I know there’s a balance, I see it when I swing past.”
John Mellencamp, Between a Laugh and a Tear
I’ve been thinking about my goal for my next race ever since my original goal went out the window.
Like most things, I’m probably thinking too much about it.
I’ve been wondering whether I should set my goals based on a rational process or whether I should just discover (or uncover) them. If the key to achieving a goal is being motivated and committed, it’s better to just listen to what my “inner self” is saying. Those urges, and the stuff I find interesting, will probably motivate me more than anything I can cook up.
At least it’ll be better than saying I want to do something that seems reasonable until I actually have to get out and do it.
Along those lines, here is a preliminary list of concepts that I’ve been exploring, the things that are most interesting to me right now with respect to running:
- Dial in on a new nutrition strategy. I’ve written a lot about my eating habits and my exploration of Paleo. It’s occupied much of my attention over the past 3 months. I believe nutrition is the foundation of fitness.
- Explore new training strategies. These strategies include higher mileage running, shorter but more frequent strength work and different allocations of workouts over the course of a week.
- Rest (sleep) more. This isn’t overly complicated, but it does take more time!
- Enjoy the experience of running. No explanation required
Looking at this list, I think my current focus is on resetting the foundation of my running. I did well in a couple of races in late 2010 and early 2011, and that led me to think bigger for the upcoming years. But to get to those bigger goals, I need to build a better foundation. I might have been able to PR on my old running foundation, but it was showing cracks. I don’t know if I could have gotten much farther beyond a PR.
Recently I’ve also been thinking about whether I should (or how I can) bake running more effectively into my every day life. Be more steady and consistent about it. Get to the point where it doesn’t dominate for too long, and it doesn’t hibernate for too long either.
Right now the effort I put into running is a bit too extreme—it’s either unsustainably high or ineffectively low. I emphasize 1-2 races a year and put a big effort into getting as fit as possible to race them. Then, after a race, I let go and decompress. I need time to recover from the effort I put into the race. I don’t run much and I regress in my level of fitness. Then, for the next race, I end up re-covering a lot of fitness ground that I’ve let lapse.
Compare that with what might happen if I focused more on the every day aspects of running as opposed to 1-2 races. What if I just ran because I love to run instead of because I need to get faster for my next race? What if I didn’t completely restrict eating junk food, but I didn’t go overboard either? Could I create a sustainable running/fitness workload that I could manage for extended periods of time?
I wouldn’t stop racing. But instead of using races as the prime motivator for all things fitness, they would be more like checkpoints where I would test my fitness.
I don’t remember ever cramming for a test during my four years in college. Not once. I didn’t have to cram—I had a routine of consistently studying and dedicating time to learning. Taking a test was just a checkpoint along the way. I didn’t need to find extra time to do it. The time was just there.
I don’t remember ever worrying about a test either. In my opinion, I either knew the stuff or not. If I felt like I knew the material and still bombed the test, that was ok. If I did great on the test but didn’t feel like I knew the material, that would be a problem. My thinking was longer term than the next test.
These weren’t the thoughts of a normal college kid, but I still did well in school.
I’m thinking I should adopt a similar perspective on running as I had on studying. That is, the first priority is to create a good, sustainable set of habits. When races (tests) come, I’m going to rely on those habits to carry me. I can do really well with a good, sustainable set of habits. Sure, I might need to increase the intensity before one or two particularly big races, but I won’t do it for long enough to burn me out.
Adding it all up, I wonder if my goal should be to create a set of fitness habits that I can sustain for longer than 4 months. It might mean running shorter distances more frequently. It might mean getting away from a complete restriction on junk food (followed by the inevitable binge). It might mean I run in the middle of the day sometimes (instead of only in the morning). I’m not entirely sure what it means.
As for this race in November, I’m not going to set a time goal for it. I’m going to run whatever I can. If I can create a set of good, sustainable fitness habits by the time the race arrives, that would be a good enough outcome for me. I’ll get back to worrying about my PR in 2012.
My fitness is terrible, but my running slump is over.
I’m on a regular schedule now, increasing the distance and looking forward to increasing the intensity. I’m being careful so I don’t get hurt. Most important, I’m looking forward to every workout. My eating and sleeping habits are improving. I’m out of the rut I was in.
Autumn’s perfect running weather is right around the corner. I can’t wait.
I’ve got a brand new set of goals for 2011 and 2012. Do they qualify as BHAG’s? Pretty darn close. I’m nervous, and I’ve already started re-thinking my training and recovery strategies. I’m not sure I should publish these since I’m still not 100% committed, but here goes…
My new list of races and goals:
November 2011: Marathon (Kansas). As fast as possible (I may not have time to get fit enough for a PR)
February 2012: Marathon (Alabama). Get my PR, potentially break 2:50
April-May 2012: Races TBD. Weekend of back-to-back racing. Saturday marathon, Sunday 50K. I’m looking to find a marathon and 50K within reasonable travel distance
August 2012: Pikes Peak double. Ascent Saturday, marathon Sunday
Fall 2012: TBD. Either ultramarathon (50+ miles) or marathon PR
The centerpiece of my new goals is an old friend that inspired (scared) me to big breakthroughs in 2010 – Pikes Peak. I intend to race the Pikes Peak double in 2012. I’ve never done anything like that. And just finishing isn’t good enough, I intend to compete.
Future posts will cover the training implications of all these races. Training for a PR is different than training for a Pikes Peak double. Right now, my main concern is getting this PR, so that’s my initial focus.
It’s nice to be thinking about serious racing again.
What caused the slump?
Understanding what caused my running slump probably isn’t important. But I’m obsessed with improving, and diagnosing the root causes of this slump will help me get better.
While running slumps are common, the cause of this running slump is not ordinary. It’s related to the intersection of running and life. The two can’t be separated, but in my case they became too close for comfort.
For a while now, I’ve been wondering whether I’m in the right career. I’ve been reading a lot about “following my passions” and building a career based on what I love. My biggest passion is running. That passion has led me to some modest success – I’ve done pretty well in races over the past few years.
I started this blog as a first step in transforming my running passion into a career. When I decided to start this blog, I fully intended to make money from it some day. I figured other runners would actually be interested in hearing my secrets to running success. Interested enough to pay for them.
I didn’t expect what happened next.
Once my “passion” became the seed for a new career, it ceased being a passion. I stopped thinking about running for the fitness and challenge, and I started thinking about running as work. I started thinking about ways that I could turn running into a business. Not what I was looking for.
I also started to believe my own marketing hype. I lost my humility. In my attempts to position myself as an expert, I inflated myself to the point where I thought I was invincible. I thought I could get by on eating like crap, running poorly, and sleeping poorly. I forgot what fueled my previous success.
It’s taken me a while to figure this out. I had to do some soul searching. But discovering these connections is huge, and ditching this blog over the past couple months helped me get out of the slump. I’m back to running for the right reasons.
What’s next for this blog?
Against most conventional blogging wisdom, I’ve disconnected this blog from Facebook. Disconnected it from Twitter. Disconnected it from LinkedIn. Those connections were lame attempts on my part to get people to read it.
I’m no longer writing this blog with the aim of getting readers.
I’m writing this blog to capture my thoughts and feelings as I pursue running breakthroughs. It’s like a journal or advanced training log. I enjoy the process of writing and it helps clarify my thinking, so I don’t see a need to stop writing altogether.
I plan to use this blog to capture my learnings and document the places I find useful information. Sometimes I’ll probably just capture some feeling I had during a training run or an inspiration I got from somewhere. Writing for those purposes will be useful for me; perhaps it will be useful for others too.
I’ll probably end up posting more frequently. In the past, blog posts have taken a long time because I’ve tried to make them perfect. Ironically, I’ve had trouble developing content that I thought was compelling for readers. I don’t expect to have that problem any more – I’m getting unstuck. If it’s compelling for me, it’s good enough.
I’m guessing that plenty of other people are searching for that running breakthrough. If you’re one of them, you might find some value in what I write. That would be great. But I’m no longer worried about anyone else who might read this stuff.
I’m just happy to be back running again.
It could mean the difference between setting your personal record and falling just short. It could help you finish strong in your first race instead of shuffling through the final miles. It might keep you injury free or help you conquer the most challenging course you’ve ever run. It could help you get in the best possible shape without neglecting your family, work, and other responsibilities.
Yet you probably don’t have one.
A training strategy is an essential tool for runners, but most runners don’t take the time or effort to develop one.
The primary resources of any runner – time, energy, and physical capabilities – are limited.
A training strategy guides how you allocate these limited resources to achieve your running objective(s). It helps answer questions such as:
- How much time should you allocate to running vs. other workouts?
- What kinds of running workout should you focus on?
- How much time should you allocate to rest and recovery?
In this post I’ll outline how a training strategy can help you and what a training strategy looks like.
Why do you need a training strategy?
When I got serious about running marathons, I ripped a “training plan” article out of Runner’s World magazine. The training plan outlined about 18 weeks of running. It prescribed a run for each day of each week, with a rest day sprinkled in here and there.
I dutifully performed the training workouts prescribed in the plan, fully expecting to achieve my goal in my next marathon.
I failed miserably in my next marathon.
While the magazine-article training plan was useful, I needed more than it could offer. I needed insights and guidance that were uniquely tailored to me – my performance level, my strengths and weaknesses, my preferences and habits.
I needed a training strategy.
The key to a training strategy is its unique focus on the individual. Since each individual runner is different, each of us will have different training strategies. Here’s what a training strategy offers:
- A Reality Check. A training strategy includes an honest assessment of your performance level, mindset, strengths and weaknesses as well as the amount time and energy you have available. It includes a review of the past 12-18 months for previously hidden performance trends and issues. This reality check provides a baseline for your training, especially if you identify and acknowledge poor habits or a weak fitness level.
- Balance. A training strategy considers all the elements that influence your running performance, including workouts, rest and recovery, and nutrition. These aspects must be effectively balanced to improve your performance. For example, your performance will suffer if your rest and recovery is not sufficient to support your workouts. By considering all aspects of your running performance, a training strategy ensures that you have enough balance to succeed.
- Day-to-day decision making support. Life is unpredictable; it’s rare for an entire training period to pass without disruption. Perhaps you or a relative is sick or you start a new project at work and you can’t spend as much time training as planned. These unexpected events force you to make choices about how to tweak your training. A training strategy narrows your focus, allowing you to make more informed choices. You maintain the most important aspects of your training and, if necessary, compromise less important aspects.
A training strategy provides the context necessary for achieving your goals. The training strategy should complement (not replace) your training plan. Based specifically on your unique situation, a training strategy helps you make the right choices about what to include on your training plan as well as how to adjust it over time as your situation evolves.
What does a training strategy look like?
A training strategy can take whatever form is most effective for you. It can be informal and simple (five bullet points on the back of a napkin), or it can be formal and comprehensive. The key is accessibility – your training strategy should be easily accessible so you can frequently revisit it (revising it when necessary) during your training period.
Keep the contents of your training strategy minimal at first. You can expand the contents over time as you gather information. The minimal essential elements of a training strategy are:
- Short description of your objectives. A statement of your objectives; this will provide the basis for your strategy. What are you trying to accomplish? What are the biggest challenges that your objectives present? Are these new challenges, or have you faced similar ones in the past?
- Individual Assessment. An analysis of your fitness level, recent performance, strengths and weaknesses relative to your objectives. The assessment should help you identify potential areas of focus for your training. Your analysis should review the past 12-18 months to spot any emerging trends.
- Priorities. A short list (five or fewer) of focus areas that will make the biggest difference in achieving your objectives. Example focus areas include “Build the endurance to maintain my pace late in the race” or “Make sure I get enough sleep to recover sufficiently” or even “find something I can eat while I run.” These priorities should be explicit choices to emphasize certain areas of your training plan, recognizing that you will put other areas on the back burner if needed.
Don’t spend a lot of time developing the first version of your training strategy. It’s better to get a first version down quickly and update it periodically as your training progresses. You can adjust your strategy as you evaluate the results of your training.
Once your training strategy is in place, it should be easier to develop a training plan. If you already have a training plan, use your strategy as a sanity check – make sure the training plan is focused on your priorities. The training strategy and training plan should be in synch – the training plan should be the tactics through which you implement your strategy.
This post discussed the “why” and “what” for a training strategy. In the next post, I’ll walk through “how” to develop one, using my own strategy for an upcoming marathon as an example.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear feedback. Do you currently have a training strategy? How has it helped you? Do you see value in creating one? Is there something else that should be included in a training strategy? Please post a comment and let me know your thoughts.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
John F. Kennedy, May 25, 1961
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969
Despite being made over 50 years ago, JFK’s “moon shot” speech still resonates with people, and still feel its impact today. JFK’s ambitious goal transformed NASA, jump-starting the Apollo program and spurring the nation’s top scientists and engineers to dramatically re-think US plans for space exploration. It’s a classic example of a BHAG (pronounced bee-hag), or Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
BHAG is a business strategy concept defined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, which compares successful, visionary companies with similar but less successful companies. Collins and Porras found that successful companies shared a common characteristic – they all had ambitious, clear and inspiring longer-term objectives. Collins and Porras termed these objectives “BHAGs” and suggested that a good BHAG greatly improves a company’s chances for long term success.
Collins and Porras suggested that a BHAG is nearly impossible to achieve without consistently working outside of a comfort zone, displaying commitment and confidence, and believing that the goal is attainable even though it seems out of reach. A BHAG should be:
- Action oriented
- Bold, compelling and gripping – it should require no explanation or interpretation
- Clear (who, what, where, by when)
- Longer-term in nature – it should require the achievement of smaller goals along the way
BHAGs have driven many innovative and successful companies, including:
- Amazon.com: Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.
- Ford: Democratize the automobile.
- Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
- Microsoft: A computer on every desk and in every home.
- Wal-mart (in 1990): Become a $125 billion company by 2000.
BHAGs work because they inspire people to action, stimulate innovation and progress, and cause businesses to re-think the way they operate.
A BHAG for running works the same way. It stimulates innovation and progress in your training, causing you to re-think the way you operate (your training, rest/recovery, and nutrition).
My biggest progress as a runner resulted from three specific BHAGs:
1. Qualifying for Boston. After finishing my first marathon in 3:32.05, I set a goal to qualify for Boston (which required a 3:10). I started taking training seriously:
- Increased long runs from 18 to 23 miles
- Started finishing long runs at marathon pace
It took me 12-18 months and 2 marathons to qualify for Boston.
2. Breaking 3 hours. After qualifying for Boston, I decided to run a marathon in under 3 hours. This goal led to the following changes:
- Introduced tempo and speed work
- Reduced running and introduced cross training
- Introduced a focus on recovery (stretching)
It took me 2.5 years and 4 more marathons to break 3 hours.
3. Pikes Peak 2010. I set a goal to finish the 2010 Pikes Peak marathon in under 4:30, a top 2% finish according to 2008 and 2009 results. I’m not sure what inspired me more – the time goal or fear of the mountain. Either way, this goal led to more progress:
- Introduced course-specific training
- Introduced core strength workouts
- Increased focus on weight management and eating habits
After 6 months of training, I missed my 2010 Pikes Peak time goal by less than 2 minutes. If I had allocated 2-3 more months, I would have achieved the time goal.
Each of my BHAGs led to running breakthroughs, forever changing my approach to running.
A BHAG for running shares the same characteristics as a BHAG for business:
- Action oriented
- Bold, compelling and gripping – it should require no explanation or interpretation
- Clear (who, what, where, by when)
- Longer-term in nature – it should require the achievement of smaller goals along the way
You have many options if you’re considering a BHAG for running. Setting a PR might not be enough, but a PR that’s 10% below your current PR could be a BHAG. Racing a longer distance or extremely challenging course could be a BHAG, especially if you attach a time goal. Or you could target a large improvement in your age group place.
Ask yourself these questions to determine if your running goal is a BHAG:
- Do you get nervous thinking about it?
- Are you concerned that you might not be able to achieve it?
- Do you find yourself thinking more about running once you set it?
- Are you changing your training, rest and recovery, or nutrition based on it?
If you answer yes to these questions, your running goal is a BHAG.
On July 24, 1969, NASA realized JFK’s BHAG when Apollo 11 splashed down off the coast of Hawaii. NASA spent over 8 years working to achieve JFK’s BHAG. Most observers say that JFK’s BHAG accelerated the progress of space exploration by decades.
That’s the lasting impact of a BHAG – it gives you a sense of urgency and inspires you to re-invent yourself. Every runner needs that once in a while.