I sat down yesterday and typed out a 1500 word rant about focusing on what is important, but decided not to publish it. I just didn’t like it. The primary intent of the post was to highlight all the things that we/I/you spend too much time thinking about or dealing with. Secondarily, it was my hope to illustrate how placing our focus on the non-essentials hinders our pursuit and enjoyment of what is truly important. As I proof-read the post, I realized I sounded like the jaded, grumpy guy down the street who hates the idea of anything new or different. That is obviously not the attitude I wish to convey and I am proud that I managed to not hit ‘publish’ for that post. Also? It was 1500 words – way too long-winded for anyone to get through. Instead, I wish to write a brief post on the essential elements which are critical to successful running, training, and racing.
I’ve had the good fortune of helping out with the Western State Colorado University Mountain Sports Trail Running Team over the past two years. This competitive group has grown from 2 runners to 9 runners to 20 runners! Psyched to be traveling with 20 to the Moab Trail Marathon in 3 weeks. We started the program for many reasons, but first and foremost the goal is to provide a program for University-aged students to pursue trail running (instead of just road running or golf course xc running). We have people running 5km trail races, and athletes attempting to run 100 milers! From this group, I frequently get the question: “What’s your advice to get better and improve as a runner?” Increasingly my answer focuses on the essentials:
1. Run more often than not. This is obviously very individual, but the principle remains the same. You want to become a better runner? Run more. I believe there are some refined principles mixed in here too. I typically suggest 1 day off per week, and at least 1 month off per year. The idea is to prioritize your running though. Cliff diving will not make you a better runner. Guitar playing won’t make you better. Daily 2 hour dinners with friends won’t make you better as a runner.
2. Run fast on a weekly basis. Again, depends on the person, but let’s think about the principle for a second. You want to run faster? You gotta train faster on occasion. This can vary based on goals, but even 5-minutes a week of sprinting can have a major positive impact on your mechanics and metabolism. Rev it up at least once per week. Jogging 13-minute miles every day for hours on end won’t make you faster. Trust me, I’ve tried it.
3. Sleep is important. When I was in college, I was an early-to-bed kind of guy. A friend and roommate of mine was making fun of me one night as I was getting ready for bed at 9:00pm. He said – “Dude, you can sleep when your dead.” I looked at him and fired back: “Dude, you know I’m going to bed 3 hours before you, but will wake up 5 hours earlier tomorrow morning, right?” The point? Perhaps more important than the actual number of hours of sleep is the routine associated with bed-time, sleeping, and wake-up time.
4. Sleep rant continued. Back in June, I went to the ‘Leadville Night’ at Runners Roost in Denver. I was on the athlete panel doing Q&A with about 200 people. The question of recovery came up and most everyone answered with: “When you train more, you need to sleep more.” I thought about it for a second and realized that this advice does not work for non-professional/full-time runners. Why? If you work full-time, have a family, and a house to take care of, the truth is that the more you train the LESS time you have to sleep. Anyway, the idea is to prioritize sleep and realize that it is essential to training, recovery, and performance. 11:00pm SportsCenter? No – not essential.
5. Eat real food. Alright, this is where the political, zealot, quasi-religious, cult-like arguments begin. Is pasta real food? What about gluten-free cookies? Those are good for you right? And, no ‘blended mocha shakes’ are not considered coffee, just because there is a shot of espresso in there. We can argue all day long about Paleo vs. Vegan vs. Carb Loading vs. Low Carb vs. Grains vs. Pop-Tarts, but the real goal for everyone should be to eat real food (fruit, vegetables, seeds, unrefined grains, healthy dairy, and quality meats). The essential take-away? Cookies for breakfast (even if there is a ‘whole grains’ logo on the box) is not a good idea.
If you have aspirations for future success as a runner, focus on these core essentials and view every other decision through this simple lens. What about if you are a long time runner who is currently struggling? Get back to the basics. Revisit the fundamentals, and don’t stray from these essentials. Here’s to focusing on what actually matters. Eliminate the clutter and focus on the essentials. Thanks for reading. Live well. Train well. DC