Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Comparison Trap

It’s been a while since I have blogged but I have been thinking about this topic and its effect it has had on me as a runner most of my life and thought it might be a good topic to talk about.  In life it’s human nature for all of us to compare ourselves to other things in our life.  Sometimes we compare ourselves to other people or sometimes we just compare ourselves to other points in our life to see where we are now.  We take a singular moment in the past and compare it to now without thinking about any of the other factors in play, or we take another person through our view of their lives and we compare ourselves.  Both are unhealthy habits and truthfully never tell the full picture.  As runners we constantly are comparing our old results to our current results.  Workouts, races, even easy days we look back and think that we have not progressed or we are getting worse all because of single moments along the way.  Then we look at other runners and compare ourselves and we end up in a negative spiral sometimes for no reason at all.  This is something I like to think of as the comparison trap and it puts an unnecessary amount of pressure and stress on your life when it is rarely needed.  And this stress sometimes causes us to get further away from our goals.

We have all done it as a runner, we have run a race that didn’t go according to the plan we had in our head.  We trained really hard for a race we have run in the past and leading into it we expected big progress or results but on that day, in that singular moment in time we ended up running slower than expected.  In fact maybe we ran slower than we did a few years ago.  Well how is that possible?  In the past few years I have trained this much harder, ran faster times at these other distances, I SHOULD BE THIS FAST NOW.  Instantly we start doubting all the progress we made and think we are actually getting worse, that all our training hasn’t helped.  Then a teammate or other runner may run faster than you at the race and they are progressing it seems quicker and all we can think about is what has gone wrong.  The problem is from the get-go we aren’t operating with all the facts we need to, we are trying to compare apples to oranges and we are destined to most of the time end up with a comparison we don’t like.  What’s funny is, if the reverse had happened and we ran faster I bet most of us would be somewhat modest and say “Well I just had better weather today, or I just felt better this time that’s all”.  Ultimately by trying to compare these two incomparable things (our teammate vs us and a time in the past vs now) we end up with results that sometimes help us lead to a unconscious feeling we already believe, that we aren’t getting faster and maybe we can't anymore.

So why shouldn’t we compare two race results, on the same course several years apart or why would it not be a good idea to compare myself to my teammate?  I know this course I’ve run it before and I train with my teammate I know their training.  Well simply because we are taking a current situation and trying to assume it is the same as in the past, that all the conditions in our life are the same.  When we ran this race several years ago we had differences in our life.  We were a different person, we had different stresses in our lives, heck we had a different training load then we did now.  How you feel on a certain day can never be an exact comparison to a different day.  Life is complicated and to assume you had the exact same conditions in your life between weather, stress, and training several years apart is not rationale.  As for comparing yourself to someone else, this is just something we as humans do way too often.  We look at someone else and assume we know their story and know what they should/shouldn’t do.  We as humans barely are capable of understanding ourselves and our actions, do we really think we can ascertain this information about another human being from our interactions with them.  This type of comparison is by far the unhealthiest and then leads us down a road of jealous and envy.  I am sure if all of us came to a room and put all our problems on the table most of us would very quickly take our problems back and run before assuming we could handle someone else’s.  So instead of comparing yourself to someone else or an older version of yourself, just look at your current life and know that if you continue to grow as a person you are always progressing and getting faster.  Keep believing that there will always be bumps in the road because of other factors but ultimately they will subside if we allow them to and don’t let them fester.  And to always focus on encouraging and supporting those around ourselves instead of comparing ourselves to others because in the end envy will lead us down a dark path.

As for my running lately, I’ve done two races since the NJ Half Marathon where I have placed 5th in the Germantown 5 miler and where I placed 4th in the Bel Air Town Run.  I’ve been ramping up training for the summer and have a busy race filled summer so look for me out at many races just testing my limits and having fun.  And lastly as I haven’t announced it here I have been selected to be a part of an awesome Elite training team sponsored by Rabbit and will be running for the RabbitElite squad for the 2018-2019 year.  It’s an exciting new journey and I look forward to all its adventures and bringing all that Rabbit offers to the running community to all of you.

As always thanks for reading and here are some recent photos!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

NJ Half Marathon Recap

In probably one of the best races of my life I was able to take 2nd place in the NJ Half Marathon last week in Long Branch, NJ where I spent most of my career competing at Monmouth University.  For one of the first times in my post collegiate career I was able to stay competitive and actually race a competitor instead of just clicking off splits on a watch.  I will write another post about my entire training cycle and compare it to the last time I ran a half marathon but for this post I really just want to focus on the week leading up to my race and the race itself and how I was able to run such a great race.

In the 14 days before the race as I mentioned on social media I started getting some serious foot pain, especially with some numbness on the top of my foot and some nerve pain on the bottom of my foot.  Nine days from the race my coach and I got so worried we had me take completely off from running until I saw my podiatrist, which couldn’t happen for 6 days.  We thought I might have a stress reaction or something worse that might sideline me long term if I pushed through.  So for 6 days during my taper I ran 0 miles, I did some light cross-training, tons of foam rolling, but all the while I tried to stay positive.  As always having a great support crew around me helped me stay positive as they kept me from getting too negative about missing some time.  I just kept trying to remind myself that I was in the best shape I have ever been in and missing a couple days wouldn’t change that.  On Thursday I finally got the diagnosis from the Dr. and it seemed like some incredibly tight calves were causing tightness on the top of the foot and therefore causing the nerve on the bottom of my foot to act up and causing me some discomfort.  So the way ahead was I could still race but the recommendation was to use trainers and to focus the next couple of days on getting my calves right.  I was relived and my coach was very supportive about me still wanting to race but cautioned me to taper expectations due to all the time off.  I got in a run Friday and a run Saturday, neither of which felt great but I was ecstatic to just be healthy and able to race!

So off to NJ I went with my wife and daughter who are the most amazing support crew I could ever ask for.  We headed back to Long Branch, NJ where I spent 5 years in college, met my wife, fell in love with running, ended up working Post College and spent two more years living down.  Needless to say The Jersey Shore and Long Branch particularly have been a huge part of my life to date.  We visited friends, some of our favorite local establishments and we got to take Chloe to visit Monmouth University where Kelly and I met and she fell hopelessly in love with me at first glance.  After picking up my bib we headed to a baseball game down in Lakewood and then in my usual pre-race routine enjoyed some delicious NJ pizza(yes it’s better than MD pizza) and had a beer of course to ensure another PR(A beer for a PR, it’s a thing).  Got to bed early as we had an to get up at 430 the next morning, but in reality I never sleep well the day before a race.

For the first time in my life I had the privilege of being an elite runner in a huge race, with the biggest perk just being access to an area to sit and relax pre-race and also a private bathroom.  I can’t begin to express how much stress this took out of my pre-race routine.  If you ask a lot of my friends, I may sometimes be a bit anxious before a race, which is usually why I like to attend races with some of my calmer friends to offset me.  I got in my warm up and I was pain-free which was great but I still didn’t feel great, I had stayed positive this long so no reason to doubt myself but I had wished one of these runs would have felt better.  I met some friends from the DC area in the elite area I know from previous races and chatted with them a little bit before heading down to the start line.  I was the calmest I have ever been at the start line of a race because I think deep down I knew at this point I was playing with house money.  I had an amazing season so far with several breakthrough PR’s, training really smart and just enjoying everything so much more.  Seven months ago my hamstring pain was so bad I wasn’t even sure I’d ever run pain-free again and started doubting I’d ever be running fast again, so in the minutes before this race I just remembered where I was and how far I came.  Six days off from running would hurt but I was going to run with so much happiness and joy and just leave it all out there and at 7:30 am the race began.

Immediately a kid with no shirt and basketball shorts running the marathon sprints out in front of all of us and I wondered if Graham Peck had entered this race and didn’t tell me.  Three of us in the half all grouped up and the runner running the marathon had 10 seconds on us by the mile and we just kept seeing him drift away.  As we rolled through the first mile in 5:30 I felt alright, not great but not terrible and the weather was pretty good so I just focused on the competitors around me.  I wanted to run a PR at this race but my biggest goal was I really wanted to win.  I knew one of the other runners with me had run 1:09 in the half before so I knew I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to win this race but on race day anything could happen.  For the first 3 miles I just stayed in the back as the other two runners controlled the pace, nothing really for me to do in the first couple of miles anyway other than just try and get comfortable.  At 3.5 miles in I took the inside around a corner and went to the front and started pushing the pace a bit and ended up breaking loose the 3rd runner so it was just down to the 2 of us.  Rarely in my life have I gone into a race with someone faster than me and pushed the pace but I really wanted this more than I have wanted anything in a while.  For the next four miles the two of us took turns pushing the pace and surging and then backing off and ducking behind the other runner.  I was ignoring all clocks, all splits on my watch all of that was silly background noise, I was focused on one thing and one thing only.  Winning this race.

Around 8.5 miles in I was starting to feel a little tired, to this point I had done a lot of work leading this race but here I am now so no reason to squander an opportunity especially since a few days ago I wasn’t even sure I’d be here racing.  We went past a water stop and I decided to make a surge right through it, hoping to catch him off guard, as I surged I got a little separation but in a very short amount of timer he was able to quickly close that gap and was right back with me.  I think the first bit of doubt creeped in my head at this point that maybe I couldn’t win this race and like the good runner he is, he was quickly on the offensive.  For the next 1.5 miles he surged a bunch of times and I tried to counter all of them the best I could staying with him and keeping it close until right before 10 miles when my body just finally couldn’t react to a move and a small gap turned into a huge gap real quick.  I fought back as best as I could during the 11th mile to not completely lose too much time, and hope maybe to make one last move.  As I moved through mile 11 I had fallen back 15 seconds but my body was not reacting as I had hoped.  That bit of doubt I let creep in before plus all the many surges and moved I made earlier were catching up with me.  As I turned into the last straight-away home along the shore, a mile stretch (the moss mile) I had run probably 100 times in college my body was giving up.  I was pushing hard but everything was catching up and 1st place was out of grasp.  I just focused on landmarks on the side of the road to get me from point to point and ultimately to get me to the finish line.  About 800 meters out I started tightening up a bit and as I pulled through a strange chute of barriers leading us onto the boardwalk and I somehow took the wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of the barrier.  Luckily a volunteer saw me and was able to open up the barrier to get me back on course with like 200 meters to go, because otherwise I was going to try and jump over it(what’s with me and going off course in race).  I surged hard into the finish line with a new PR of 1:13:31 and 2nd place and I was pretty dead, but so overwhelmed with joy on how tough I ran.  I met a couple new friends post-race sharing in the race experience and got some fun prizes including some roses and new shoes!  More importantly I was the first runner to the beer tent so that’s a pretty big accomplishment of course!

As I look back on this experience and this race day I am just so proud of myself for doing the right things leading up to the race.  Conventional wisdom makes it easy to say I should have just run through the injury and I would have been fine but instead of being the idiot I was that sidelined me for 9 months with hamstring issues, I got an appointment and got checked out.  I’m also proud of myself for staying focused and not giving up on this race when it would have been easy after 6 straight 0’s to call off the race and look for another one.  Instead I took the fitness I had and the toughness I have built up and ran probably one of the best races of my entire career.  And lastly I am just so happy for how much joy I ran this entire race with, I spent most of it smiling as I pushed through pain, thanking volunteers, and just enjoying every moment.  Ultimately the process leading up to the race is all the hard work, on race day it’s just a celebration!

Up to next is some downtime until a summer of shorter distance races trying to stay competitive and work on some speed before I ramp up again this fall for a Marathon and finally getting down into the low 2:30’s.  As always I hope you enjoyed my recap!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Surrounding yourself with the right people and Cherry Blossom Recap

I think one of the major changes in my life over the past several years is surrounding myself more and more with a positive group of people who make me a better person.  A few years ago, I read an article and I have seen more and more of them popping up lately talking about how some of the most successful people in the world attribute a lot of their success and ideas to having a group of people around them that encourage them, promote them and just make them better each day.  An entourage if you must say, which is a great show also.  For most of my life I think I used to take that for granted and sometimes even just ignore when people would say “Great job Nick” when I accomplished something that didn’t seem significant to me.  I think we all have huge goals for ourselves and we feel like achieving them are the only ways sometimes we feel validated but over the past few years having people in my life who support me day in and out with positivity and supporting feedback I think has lead me to an overall better place in my life.

I never thought it mattered who I surrounded myself with on a daily basis when I was younger but as I have grown up into my 30’s I realized who I allow into my life to influence me is a very important decision.  Too often we let people into our inner circle or close group without truly realizing how they may be affecting our lives, sometimes in a negative manner.  Ridding yourselves of toxic people who aren’t there for your best interests, who aren’t there to support you, who are just there for themselves can have a huge impact on your success and general well-being.  In the end you are the sum of who you spend your time with. Make sure that those are people who lift you, inspire you, and motivate you to do and be more. And even as you grow up you might change friends but that’s just part of life.  In the end trust that the hard work, positivity, and keeping your sights high are things you can’t risk deviating from if you want the life you dream of.

My latest race was the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler on April 8th, and it was my first time running this race although I have spectated it on numerous occasions.  The weather forecast called for really cold conditions but my training was really solid and I felt great.  I decided to sleep in my own bed the night before and ride down with some friends the morning of, which turned out to be quite easy thanks to some secret parking locations from the always clutch Pete Mulligan.  We grabbed a quick warmup and wore way more clothing then I figured I’d ever be wearing for an April race and jogged over to the start.  Due to people lining up way to early it involved a good deal of pushing through people to make it towards the front area but finally made it before the gun went off but being 30 minutes after my warmup I was barely warm anymore.  So off we went and I tried to be pretty calm and follow coach’s advice and settle in a little slower for the first mile and smile often!  So I let a lot of competitors I know go and settled in and rolled through the first mile in 5:28, after that mile the little pack I was in started to break off and 3 people surged ahead so I followed them for the next 3 miles and rolled into some solid splits 16:48 through the 5k 21:35 for 4 miles but then fell off that pack a little as we rolled through 5 miles and I came across in 27:04, which was right where I wanted to be halfway through a 10 miler.

However, as I continued I just never felt like I ever got in a good groove and after 5 I let my mind wander for a little bit taking in a bit too much of the scenery and not focusing enough on the grueling task at hand as the pack ahead of me started to gap me by a wide margin.  I ran by some of my friends who took time out of their morning to come down and cheer in the cold and I snapped out of it and tried to get moving again to catch that pack, coming through 10k in 33:41, which is my fastest 10k since 2002!  Right after 10k my teammate Maxime caught up to me, while wearing headphones of course and got me to go with him.  For 2 miles we ran together but I could not find a consistent pace, we’d run stride for stride but then I’d chop up my strides and fall back only having to surge again to catch up.  Right around 6.5 my hamstring started to tightened up and I could feel me having to adjust my stride, but with 3.5 to go I was not going to let that ruin my day.

Around 8 Maxime started to pull away and again I was left to my own devices to get to the finish line, 2 people rolled past me during the last 2 miles and both times I took the energy I had to go with them for as long as I could but my pace was slowing.  My slowest two miles were my last two 5:36 and 5:42, the last mile is basically the only uphill mile on the entire course.  I worked really hard getting up that hill knowing I was siphoning time that I spent the first 8 miles earning at this point.  As I saw the clock I knew a PR was in the cards and I pushed hard into the finish line closing in on 54:44 a 14 second PR.  As I look back I think I know I left some time out there but ultimately on a day where things didn’t go perfectly to be able to still PR and run tough is a big win.  I took some time to celebrate with my teammates who all accomplished many great things that day themselves and then we hit up some DC breakfast and headed home.  On the road to NJ Half Marathon this 10-mile PR was a good stepping stone and with a couple weeks left I am feeling more confident than ever to go after a shiny new half PR on 28 April.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Team, Squad, Fam, whatever you call it. Why it is important to me

For me, my entire running career has taken place while I have been on a team (speaking of which I should write my Running Origin Story one day).  I started running in High School and immediately joined the track and XC teams and continued my career into College and ran D-1 at Monmouth.  Once I graduated college I completely stopped running for about 8 years until moving to MD.  There is about a 7-month period where I trained without a team until I met Ryan McGrath and joined the Falls Road Running team and that has been my existence of my running.  So, for me when I think of running, I have always thought of it as a team sport (it is).  The things I know about running are all social and revolve around being a part of something bigger than just me.  In High School and College, we represented the school and we ran with school/team pride to do our best (but in reality we ran for each other the most) and now post collegiality I run for Falls Road.  Obviously, I race myself to run a faster time and to improve but I thrive as part of a group for so many more reasons than that.

For all my life I’ve known group runs, track days, trips to races, and pre-race meetings with the coaches.  We were all there together competing against ourselves but we were a family.  If you’ve never raced in high school or college and didn’t get to experience this, to me it was always amazing.  We were all humans we all didn’t get along but we all pushed one another to be our bests.  So, when I started running post collegiality those first 7 months I felt lost.  Yes, it was good to get out and exercise and lose weight but running to me was always linked to this competitive team idea and it was hard to shake it.  Probably one of the reasons once I found Falls Road my competitive fire returned so quickly.  Everyday in HS/College I would grab a group of teammates doing a similar run and catch up on the day, talk about college stuff like which girls definitely weren't going to date me, and we’d talk about our goals.  Every track day we’d line up for interval after interval and grind ourselves to exhaustion together.  We’d pace off one another, encourage one another if someone fell back, and all dread the next interval or worry about what comes next for those scary workouts where coach didn’t tell us the full workout. 

So, post collegiality I was so lucky to stumble upon the Falls Road Running Team because honestly from talking to friends and others groups like this don’t exist often.  This group was founded by some amazing people who took a couple of friends who loved running and made this amazing family (I will continually use this word to describe us) that transcends running.  The reason I use family is because we are all more than just teammates who all race.  This group has been what is always so special about running to me, it’s honest like a second family.  We do runs together, we do workouts together, we go to races together but above all else we know and are a part of each other’s lives (maybe sometimes too much just kidding).  Through the years this group has grown up from 20 somethings with no responsibilities to 30-year old’s who are getting married, to having kids and then finding more and more amazing people to join the group who are now going through all those same life events.  We celebrate birthdays, we celebrate made up holidays because Ryan has made it a tradition, baby showers, random happy hours, or just a random event that Graham came up with to make us drink (50/50/50 next year!).  To all of us who embrace this Fam, it gives back so much to us.  We have a loving running store (Falls Road Running Store) that supports us unconditionally from running to life.  We share our lives, the bad and the good with each other, we are there to help each other on runs but also when we need help in our day to day life.  Our love for running is what brought us all together but that is not strong enough to keep us together forever, and because we embraced this love for each other above all else, we have been able to keep this group going for so long.

This past weekend I got to experience once again the joy that is being a part of this special team as we all shipped out to the scariest place in the world the “Eastern Shore of Maryland” to run the Tim Kennard 10 Miler (or 5k, or Peck Family Relay).  Some of us were running a race, some of us were coming back from injuries, some of us were doing workouts it didn’t matter a race was going to be run and that’s what brought us together but the memories (people hate when I use this word) that were made are what I’ll always remember.  We shared drinks together and caught up on our actual lives outside of our splits during the latest workout, we shared a 10pm dinner that I almost fell asleep during, we slept in bathrooms, and lastly, we ran a race.  This weekend I did not race but did a workout with a friend, but when I was finished I took so much joy from hearing the results of all of my friends.  We won money, sweet mugs, ran PR’s and we did it together.  Then as is our usual tradition we took a group photo and then headed off on our separate ways.  But only so separate because once again this week many of us will come together through running to suffer on a run, but also to share our lives together.

The technical term to describe me would be a Highly Sensitive Person, which basically means I have tons of feelings, so to me a lot of this stuff is extra special/emotional because of what this group means to me.  When I moved to MD, my wife and I had no one we knew down here and this amazing group of runners took us in and became such a big part of our lives and helped us get started down here.  There was no trial period, none of the woman didn’t talk to my wife because she didn’t run, it was immediate love and wanting to get to know us.  Even as my family has grown by 1 my daughter has been embraced by this group like she is just another member of a growing family.  We fight like any family, we all don’t always get along but we all share the same love for what we have created and what we want to see continue to do good for many years.  And I know deep down all of us know how special it is to have an opportunity to be a part of something like this because 10-15 years down the road we might regret not having it if it is gone.  And I think it's important once in a while to take a step back and acknowledge that.  I wish everyone is lucky enough to be a part of Squad like this at some point in their lives.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post and if you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to share with me.  Look for me over at the Believeintherun.com website in the coming weeks as I take my talents to the Shoe Review world.  Hopefully with positive feedback I won’t be kicked off the site the first day!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

St. Patricks Day 5k and my training so far

As I am getting back on a regular blogging routine I wanted to recap how my winter is going and my goal races for the Spring and then lastly my past race/week.  This training cycle has been a slower buildup then I am used to, as I spent much of December, January and February just grinding out weeks with long runs and the occasional speed stuff during the week.  I constantly felt like I was taking 2 steps forward and one step back between re-injuries with my hamstring and various illnesses.  At one point after 5 days straight off in January dealing with the flu to instantly be followed up with a stomach virus I was beyond frustrated.  I had started feeling like my goals for the Spring were going out the window and my negativity had quickly started festering.  At this point between the constant stream of positive energy from my coach and me just taking a step back and giving myself some perspective I was able to just acknowledge that this is just the ebb and flow of running.  No training cycle will go perfectly, no plan is perfect, it is just about being able to adapt and keep believing in yourself. 

During this training cycle I’ve had some poor weeks down to 30 miles, I’ve missed several workouts and long runs and even did not hit the times I wanted to on some workouts.  In the past I think that would have weighed heavily on me but this year I’ve been a lot more mindful with my running.  While taking time off because I was sick is frustrating I waited until I felt 100% before starting up again and I think that helped me hop back into it.  Then to follow-up the flu having to miss workouts and long runs because of my hamstring and a stomach virus was hard to stay positive through as I know in the past I would have run through these things but I kept realizing by doing the right thing in January/February it will allow me to be better off in April.  Progression is not always a straight line in front of you as there are many obstacles, barriers and sometimes steps backwards to get you to where you want to go, but the key is to make it all a part of your journey.  The good and the bad of my training so far is what has gotten me to where I am today.  It’s obviously easier to look back with confidence now that I am running well that I made the right decisions, but I’d argue it’s because of the decisions I made is why I am running well today.

I finally raced for the first time since Boston 2017, in a local 5k with some really good competition upfront.  When my fitness started coming around I pinpointed this 5k on a Friday evening as a race I wanted to run to gauge some of my fitness ahead of Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in early April but I told my coach I was unsure if I could run a fast 5k.  Last year I spent a lot of the year doing specific 5k workouts so I had confidence when I ran 16:10 at the Shamrock 5k in March.  So going into this race I was somewhat unsure and I really didn’t set a goal, although if you had asked me I would have guessed I’d run about 17 minutes.  My goal was to just run hard and race a bunch of my teammates who were all very fit right now.  I also got to run a race with my wife for the first time in several years so that was very fun!  Leading up to the race I was feeling really good on my runs and had no real hamstring concerns but I was still a bit skeptical, also this was the first real race I was going to be running with my coach so I was going to basically judge the entire experience on the outcome of this race(I kid).  I was operating on confidence in my ability to get up for a competitive race, and the fitness I have achieved over the past several months which has been very different then past training cycles. 

So Friday night came and it was of course a cold and extremely windy evening so I did my best to ignore all that noise.  Everyone has to run in this so no reason for making excuses or worrying about it.  I felt good on the warmup, tossed in some strides and rolled up to the line extremely calm(well calm for me, which is still probably super stressful for other runners.  If you ever see me at a race see how antsy I am at the starting line.  There are countless photos of me bouncing up and down everytime I get on the starting line).  The race started and it was immediately downhill and everyone was flying, probably 400 meters in I look around and I am back in about 14th place 50 meters back of the lead pack.  The very first thoughts to hit my mind, Am I ready for this, Am I trained properly.  I quickly tossed those thoughts away, (remembering the fantastic book I read “How Bad Do You Want It?) settled in and moved to the inside to run the tangent while several other people went very wide.  As we hit the straight-away into the wind I started to get comfortable and confident again and moved up.  As we hit about 800 meters in I was in the top 5 and settled in trying to get some cover from the wind (there was none).  Andy and Conrad had pulled away a little so a pack for 3-4-5 had opened up behind them and I knew we had a big climb coming up with a lot of downhill to follow.  I knew Ed running next to me was a fantastic downhill runner so I knew after the mile it was time to break up the pack if I wanted any chance.  I came through the mile around 5:10 according to my watch and started working up the hill.  I broke up the pack a bit and came in close contact on Conrad but once I hit the top I lost some focus going down the hill.  Missing out on that beautiful sweet free energy, something I need to work on taking advantage of.  As I rolled through 2 in 10:30 or so I felt good and sitting in 3rd but was not sure what I’d have left for that last mile.  Instead of focusing ahead on running hard I did my usual look over the shoulder worrying about getting caught, which is one of my worst traits I’ve picked up.  This time I managed to hold onto 3rd and pushed into the finish line to run 16:21 but felt I left a little out there from all that worrying about getting caught.

16:21 is my second fastest 5k since college, 11 seconds slower than Shamrock last year and on a cold, windy evening in mid-march I’ll gladly take it.  I had some general concerns I was not ready to push this hard in the week leading up to the race but I felt I did a fantastic job to ignore all that noise on race day and just be confident I was ready to race.  During the race I did not let myself get psyched out or worried, I was very mindful to run the race I was capable of and to execute according to my strengths and I am happy for that.  And above all else I am just happy to be back to running fast after a long 9 months of getting here.  The road back sometimes isn’t all physical, I’ve dealt with a lot of mental demons/barriers over the months thinking maybe I just won’t ever be able to do this competitively again.  The pain just would never go away.  Sometimes as a runner when you get injured and can’t run you isolate yourself a bit, and a lot of my 2017 I did that and I’m sure it didn’t help with me getting back out there mentally.  So getting past all of that for me is a huge win.

My 2018 is just beginning and the best is yet to come, I have some big goals for 2018 and as long as I stay smart, motivated, and focused I think I can achieve them.  I couldn’t be prouder of all my Falls Road teammates and friends who ran so fast and kept me on my toes all race and for the past 9 months.  When I couldn’t run I pulled tons of motivation from watching them all run such fast times and I couldn’t wait to be back out there with them.  As for what’s up next on 8 April I’ll be running my first Cherry Blossom 10 miler going after a shiny new PR and then at the end of April I will be traveling back to the Jersey Shore to run the NJ Half Marathon and give it all I’ve got.  As always thank you so much for reading this and I hope you enjoyed.

Monday, March 12, 2018

So I got a Coach, but how did I get there.

One of the big changes I made at the end of 2017 was hiring a coach and I figured it was a good topic to share my thoughts on and the steps I took to make sure I made the right choice for me (which is the most important factor).  As a runner I spent High School and College with two coaches who I really believed in and trusted their methods and they both got me to succeed ultimately.  I may have under-performed but that’s better saved for a future blog post about things I’d tell my former self.  But to stay on topic for those 7 years I followed the plans laid out in front of me and enjoyed having a coach there watching practice to give feedback.  It was much less stressful to have the workouts already figured out and my only job was to hit the times given by my coach.  So, after my 8 year hiatus I came back not having that luxury any longer so I started self-coaching myself.  Over the past 5 years I had some success.  I was fortunate to learn a lot from fellow runners on workouts and training goals while also reading blogs online to figure out different things. I then followed and executed a plan pretty perfectly for my first 50 miler.  But there was always something missing for me, sure I had friends who would sometimes give feedback like “WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING, YOU’RE GOING TO GET HURT”, but we are runners and we are stubborn.  In 2016 and 2017 the big issue that came to haunt me as the year dragged on was the much-needed feedback loop.  I struggled on two ends with that, on one end I was doing too much and not getting the needed feedback to calm down and secondly, I was sometimes doing workouts and when I hit paces I wasn’t sure if I was running a good pace and should be satisfied or too fast and I should be worried (Not all runners have this issue).  To be fair the second issue came more about after my burn out post Boston where I started second guessing everything.  So, in November of 2017 I reached out and hired Coach David Roche (Swaprunning.com), but the story doesn’t start there.  Let’s get into how I ultimately choose him and then get into why a coach is helpful for me (and might be for you).

Ultimately finding a coach is a pretty big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.  I mean let’s start with the obvious that you are paying for this service but on top of that you are putting a lot of your goals/training in the hands of someone else.  Obviously, we still need to run the race, but we need to trust the process, workouts, and above all else our coach to stay positive to achieve the goals.  Finding David was not something I just stumbled upon, back in 2016 while listening to Ultra Runner Podcast (100% listen to this podcast it is amazing), I heard David come on as a guest and explain his training philosophy.  Basically how he makes his runners take 1 easy day, builds in strides/pickups into runs to keep speed going, 1 workout day and a long run, how he emphasis’s the process not the end result and he spoke with such positivity about it all, it was a great interview I thought.  I ended the podcast thinking that David really shared similar views with me on training (although I failed often to do a lot of these things in my plans).  But for me, my 2016 continued and I was running great so I stuck with doing it alone.  However as 2016 started coming to an end I really dug myself into a hole for JFK50 thinking I needed to overdo it because you know 50 miles.  Instead of sticking to the views I heard from David that I also shared I went overboard and ran myself into an injury and then burnout.  In 2017 I stumbled upon David on twitter and was amazed by how supportive and positive he was about all the athletes he coaches or just others in the sport.  I get it, he’s a coach and he has to be somewhat civil but the level of gratitude and positive energy he showed everyone was amazing.  I then stumbled upon his articles on trail running magazine and once again I just respected his views and they once again aligned with mine. 

So in November before ultimately hurting myself again I finally reached out to David to inquire about coaching services and unlike what I heard from other runner’s experiences with coaches, he didn’t immediately just accept me.  We started with a candid back and forth dialogue where he asked me 5 questions about running and we had a pretty lengthy email chain back and forth on my answers and his coaching style (Like a match maker test!).  His goal wasn’t to just find someone else to pay, he wanted to make sure that we were a good fit.  He explained that his style might a little might be a little different than I was used to (1 rest day every week, time-based workouts, time-based runs) and it was important that I was able to train this way.  His ultimate goal along with mine was to make sure we were on the same page, so he could help me achieve my goals.  I appreciated this and once I joined I was blown away at the community his wife and him have created.  SWAP is an amazing community of runners across the world that support each other with such positivity.  It’s more than just athletes who have the same paid coach, they have really created a place for all of us to motivate one another.  David’s goal was to put us together to share our journeys as a group and his passion is felt thorough out every post he makes.  He even puts out a weekly Race Recap for everyone who ran one over the weekend. 

So that’s how I found David, but let’s get into the factors that mattered to me in my decision:

  1.  Above all else finding someone that fits with me was most important.  A coach won’t just make you faster, the trust has to go both ways. 
  2. Coming from HS/College with a coach with me everyday I wanted some level of feedback.  The Feedback loop is what matters to me, and David offers feedback daily for my runs.  Even if it’s sometimes just a simple “Outstanding run, you are doing great”.  For me personally I know he is reading it, he knows everything going on with me and no harm can come from some positivity.
  3. A plan that adapts.  Anyone can go online and grab a training plan for free, but that plan is basically thrown out of the window after the first week when you need to adapt because of this tweak of a muscle, or this real-life issue.  This also matters to me because as real life crept in I had less and less time to figure out workouts, runs, a plan each week. 
  4. Honesty, I need the truth.  About 5 weeks in having him as my coach my hamstring injury came back really badly on a LR and I mentioned it in my log.  David immediately changed my plan added in a week off and made the recommendation of based on the goal I want to hit and after some downtime I’d only have 3 weeks to train and it’s risky to go after my goal race.  He obviously said he’d support me either way but the truth was after getting hurt I kind of thought there was no time so thanks to his honesty I knew it was the right call.  Without a coach I’d probably have pushed through who knows how much more hurt I would have gotten and if I would have still be hurt today.  Starting the healing clock at this point allowed me to be running pain free in Mid-December.
  5. Availability, David offers up for emergencies a way to contact him if I need advice/decisions/etc.
  6. David supports a mindset of enjoying everything, enjoying the process.  His website is called Some Work All Play (SWAP), his Instagram is full of fun times with his dog.  He embraces life and loves running.  As I mentioned earlier this type of energy rubs off (it’s contagious) and I love seeing it every day in his comments on my runs.
  7. Lastly, while he coaches some of the best runners in the world he never makes me feel like I don’t matter because I’m not a pro sponsored athlete.  I’ve never felt like my goals don’t matter to him, like my time isn’t important.  And you can see that everyday from his twitter as he constantly mentions how all his athletes are doing like a proud father.

After all this and several months later I am still so happy with my decision.  Obviously hiring a coach isn’t for everyone, some people feel they are better writing their own plans or don’t think they could listen to someone else.  I’ll tell you though a good coach cares more about what you want to get out of running then their plan.  David’s goal is not to write me a plan and have me not follow it, it benefits neither of us and isn’t worth either of our time.  The hard part of hiring a coach is putting that trust of the plan to reach your goals in someone else’s hands, which is why I say it’s important decision not to be taken lightly.  Ultimately, we are a team and if I disagree David will work with me but that goes back to trusting one another.  For many of the reasons I mentioned above and lastly just having someone to offer me feedback that I trust (runners are stubborn) having a coach really helped me just focus on the running and less on all the other stuff that took up my time.

I hope this article was helpful/insightful, especially if you have ever entertained the idea of a coach.  If you have any questions don’t hesitate to each out.