Yesterday I paced the Colorado Springs Half Marathon and today I paced the Denver Hot Chocolate 15k. When pacing, you get all sorts of random running questions, but inevitably get two comments/questions pretty consistently:
1. "How do you DO this? I could never run an even pace or know what finishing time I'll hit!"
2. "How do you train for something like this?"
My answers are always:
1. "Lots of practice. I've put in TONS of miles, and I'm naturally a pretty even runner!"
2. "I don't train. I've just run enough that my body knows what to do." (For the record, if the person asking the question is actually looking for advise/help with training for their next endeavor, I then elaborate on how I got to where I am today and provide insight for them...)
Both of these responses seem to blow people's minds (though anyone who has run as much or more than I have will know exactly what I mean by these answers)...and that's partially why I respond that way (as a pacer I try to make people smile/laugh/think/whatever to distract them from their own running/pain so that they can keep moving and be successful, so If my silly antics can get them "out of their head," I consider it a success). And my response to the first question is the honest truth, not sugar-coated or modest - I HAVE put in the miles, and have always run quite even splits during races...it's just a skill that I was blessed with. They may not be fast splits, but they're even! But the second statement...
Well, it's not false when it comes to the "standard" definition of training to which most runners subscribe. But it's also, by no means, meant to imply that I spend most days sitting on my bum...or that I've just "magically" learned to run faster this year. I work my bum off in a way that isn't often discussed in running forums (though quite a few runners train in this manner as well).
What does this mean? Well. Last year I stuck to a typical running plan. It nearly killed my love for running, and definitely dampened my spirits overall. It wasn't worth it. Not even a little. So I re-assessed and decided to take a different approach this year - FUN when running - getting back to the reason I stared running (to get outside, be fit/healthy, and have fun with friends) and to get back into the gym (where I have a fabulous community of AMAZING athletes who support my crazy running habit and accept me and my wimpy little T-Rex arms).
I went into this year with precisely one set running goal - to run a sub-27 minute 5k. There were, of course, a few others floating around my head, but I refused to set a timeline for any of them as I'd learned that timelines created undue pressure for me. I decided that those goals would happen whenever they did. Instead of setting additional running goals, I incorporated my one running goal into my goals for the gym. Ironically, I've only crossed off that one goals to date:
As I was thinking through all of this after giving my standard response to those "top two questions" during the race this morning, I realized that I rarely actually explain what I *really* do to train...you know, my "magic trick" that has made me a faster and stronger runner this year than ever before. (And I realized I was past due for a new blog post, so combine the two, and here we are!) So...
Simply put, I HIT THE GYM!!!
I'm a CrossFitter. Yep, one of those nut-job meatheads who just throw around heavy weights, do crazy things in the gym, and always get hurt! (That totally describes me, right?) HA! I really am a CrossFitter, but the bad wrap that we get is not actually the truth about CrossFit. If you belong to the right gym (like mine), the coaches focus on form over weight and respect your needs/wants/goals on an individual basis, while still pushing you to stretch your limits. I go to Lowry CrossFit, and we have a fantastic balance of meatheads (don't get me wrong, these are some of the nicest folks ever...they're just crazy strong too), endurance athletes, and average Joes. And, believe it or not, CrossFit actually compliments running quite nicely (I just dial back the weight during the week leading up to races). My goal between races is to get into the gym at least 3 times a week. If possible, I get there early or stay late to put in some extra work. In June this meant getting there early and doing Annie before the regular class. During August I chose to add in extra work on the Olympic lifts before/after classes.
Annie is a workout where you do double-unders (a jump rope skill in which you get the rope under your feet two times during each jump - it's PHENOMENAL speed/sprint work) and sit-ups (the full thing, not a crunch - a strong core is key for strong running) - first you do 50 double-unders, then 50 sit-ups, then 40 double-unders, then 40 sit-ups, 30 of each, 20 of each, and finish with 10 of each - all for time! When I did Annie in March of this year it took me nearly 11 minutes to complete the full thing. So while this wasn't one of my set goals for the gym, I decided that in June I would do Annie at lest 8 times. Some days this was awful, and others it was very rewarding...and I managed to shave nearly 4 full minutes off of my time, capping off the Month of June by recording a time of 6:48!!!
Olympic lifts are tricky buggers, and I've always had a "hitch" (in laymen's terms, it's really just a pause in the middle of a move) in both my clean and my snatch...and that's not something you want stuck in the middle of a lift that's meant to be efficient and use momentum to help lift heavy weights off the ground and to your shoulders/over your head. So I decided to go back to basics and focus on light weight and form. I spent about an hour in the gym before or after each regular class working on these lifts (and the jerk also as it's normally paired with the clean, and since the clean & jerk *is* one of my goals for 2017). I started light. I got rid of the hitch. And now I'm back to lifting as much (or more) as I did before (with more ease), and I'm actually looking forward to starting to add weight and see what I can really do!
In addition to these two focuses, and as I mentioned in both explanations above, while doing this work, I was also participating in "normal classes." These aren't easy, and normally consist of a warm up, a strength/skill portion, and then a WOD (workout of the day). Here are a few examples:
Most people respond with, "wow, I could NEVER do that!" And that's false. They could. Anyone can do this...if you're physically unable to do a move, there are modifications, and you just move at whatever pace is most appropriate for you! Plus, as you can see, a lot of these are quite cardio-based, so even though I'm in the gym, hanging from bars, flopping on the floor, and throwing around weights, I'm getting in GREAT speed work (without the pounding of hitting the pavement/track)!
And I *do* run still. But I keep it light-hearted and have fun with it. I restrict most of my running to the weekends (with an occasional Taco Tuesday run club or short yog with the dog) and/or limit it to races (which I rarely actually "race," and mostly just do for fun and to spend time with friends). I also hike mountains/hills...and then run down (works the heart and lungs going up even though you're not running, and focuses on turnover speed, including airplane noises on any sharp turns, on the way down). And, most importantly, I find ways to cherish the time spent running...
So where has this all taken me thus far in 2017?
1. I'm far happier as a person/runner/CrossFitter/friend/dog mom/sister/daughter/aunt/you-name-it than I was at this time last year!
2. I blew that sub-27 5k goal out of the water (managed to get sub-25)!
3. I PR'ed my marathon time, shaving over 23 minutes of of my previous time. (This was one of those unspoken goals - I wanted a sub-5 hour full, and I unintentionally ran a 4:50:00!)
4. I've been blessed to accompany friends through epic journeys - Badwater 135, first marathons, first 50 milers, and setting PR's to name a few.
5. I've set new maximums for a number of lifts in the gym - push press, clean and jerk, snatch - and am well on my way to setting more very soon.
6. And I OWNED my biggest unspoken goal last weekend - I FINALLY broke the 2 hour mark on a half marathon, running a 1:59:41 despite extreme heat/humidity and a potty stop!
I attribute #6 (another unspoken goal) to all of my work in the gym, the heat training I did before Badwater, my main man Jackson (my IR4 buddy who inspires and pushes me every day), and to the fun times I've had this year that have made me stronger and happier!!
So whether you stick to a traditional training plan...or you want to mix it up...don't be afraid to try new things, and remember that putting in the work will always (eventually) pay off!!!
Melissa is many things...among them, she is a friend, sister, daughter, dog owner, RunJunkEes Ambassador, Colfax Marathon Ambassador, Skirt Sports Ambassador, Lowry CrossFit member, and a mountain girl at heart!
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