Monday, January 3, 2011

Runner's Burnout

I mentioned to a friend Chris Solinsky's ridiculous 26:59 10,000m, not to mention the last 800m in 1:56. My friend asked if high schoolers  would be inspired or discouraged upon hearing of a pro runner’s extraordinary times?

Speaking from experience, I became very discouraged at that age when my progress wasn’t as rapid as I felt it should be, especially given the strenuous workouts and intervals upon intervals. So I burned out and didn’t run competitively for 20+ yrs.

However (Key point), NO ONE told me that the best runners hit their peaks in their late 20’s, or that many, many top runners don’t show much promise until college or even later. Kenny Moore never won a race in HS, Frank Shorter didn’t become a top American runner until late in college when he started doing twice-a-days, etc…

The Rupps and Prefontaines and Adam Gouchers of the world are the exception rather than the rule.

Maybe advise the young runners to enjoy the sport for its own sake and not worry/obsess about results. If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen, but only with the right amount of easy workouts and adequate recovery. It’s not always a linear progression, so you can’t gauge progress based on how quickly or regularly the improvement comes. And for God’s sake, don’t measure yourself against anyone else; it’s not fair to you, and it doesn’t help. If you can only do 6 repeat quarters at 70 and someone else does a dozen at 62, it’s better to gradually build over time rather than try to get it done in one season.

I always thought 3 mile easy runs were for the birds. Now I know better, 30 years later.  

To wit: last yr I ran up to 12 miles at a shot in training for the Eugene Half Marathon, with a base period of 3 months, before I got injured (too much too soon). I seized up in the race and struggled mightily in the last 4 miles. This year, I did 3 months of 3 runs per wk, none more than 3 miles until late Feb. Then I built up SLOWLY to a whopping 6 miles. I think I did 10 miles total in my biggest week.

I was very apprehensive at my relative lack of fitness on race day. So I started slow, picked up at 9 miles, and tore up the track in the sprint to the tune of a final 200m in 32 seconds. Ended with the same overall time as last year, but in a MUCH better physical/mental state.

Oh yeah, I was sick for the two weeks prior to the race and ran maybe twice. Tapering is not a myth.

Lesson learned: the build phase must be gradual, low stress, and it cannot be rushed. Extrapolate over several years, and great things can happen. If it works for a 45-year old, then a high schooler has very few limits.

Meanwhile, I’m starting my 7 yr old daughter on a steady diet of squat thrusts and mountain climbers. If she builds up the locomotive muscle groups now a la Sebastian Coe, it can only help later. J

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