I am a pretty big believer that one should not wear headphones while running outside. If you are indoors on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike, then go ahead and listen away. But when you are exercising outside I believe there are a variety of reasons why headphones should not be worn.
There is a safety issue. Headphones prevent you from hearing an approaching runner, cyclist, or motor vehicle that may pose a danger to you. It can also keep you from hearing a warning cry from someone. One of the more high profile accidents occurred in 2006 in San Francisco’s Presidio. Ashlyn Dyer was believed to be running and listening to her iPod when she was the victim of a hit and run accident. For safety reasons alone, I think it is best to ditch the headphones.
Another reason to run without headphones is that a big part of running is engaging with those around you in conversation. Nothing says “leave me alone, don’t talk to me” more than headphones in your ears. If you are running alone, I think the solitude of being at one with the road and scenery around you is quite peaceful and best enjoyed when undisturbed by music or a podcast.
I know that some runners use headphones to disengage from the activity they are doing – running. As an experienced runner, I think it’s important to be engaged in the activity of running. Monitoring your breathing, checking your form, and thinking about your pace are all things that a runner would benefit from doing, rather than “zoning out” and hoping the run will be over before you know it.
The two major governing bodies of the sport in the Unites States, the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) and Unites States of America Track & Field (USATF) both advise against the use of headphones.
The RRCA decided in January 2009 to instruct race directors that to be covered by the RRCA insurance policy, races must not actively promote the use of headphones. In fact they suggest either stating: 1) The use of personal music devices is strongly discouraged or 2) The use of personal music devices is strictly prohibited.
USATF’s latest stance on headphones was released in a statement in December 2008. This statement specifically said that events, “may allow the use of portable listening devices not capable of receiving communication; however, those competing in Championships for awards, medals, or prize money may not use such devices.” The rule had previously banned the use of headphones by all runners. This amendment maintained that headphones be ban for athletes competing in a USA Championship, but left the use of headphones under other circumstances up to the race directors’ discretion.
One race that is following the RRCA guidelines is the Oakland Marathon. On their race website, they specifically state that the use of personal music devises is strongly discouraged. They go on to say that, “those competing in the Oakland Running Festival Marathon will not be eligible for prize money, prizes, etc. if they wear a musical device while competing…IF YOU ARE CAUGHT WEARING A MUSICAL DEVICE, YOU WILL FORFEIT ALL PRIZE MONEY, PRIZES, ETC. You will retain your overall position in the race, however.”
At the 2012 Oakland Marathon the first woman across the finish line was later disqualified from the first place prize for wearing headphones. That meant that the second woman across the finish line, Pamakid runner Monica Zhuang, received the first place award, which was a trip to Hawaii. The first place woman is still listed as the winner of the race, but she had to forfeit her prize per the rules that were publicized on the race website. This woman was written up on SF Gate as an impressive race winner, winning for the second year in a row, this time just six weeks after giving birth to a baby girl. In the pictures of her crossing the finish line she is not wearing headphones, but in a pre-race photo on SF Gate she has headphones on and in some of the mid-race photos on MarathonFoto she is wearing headphones. The speculation is that she started the race with headphones and took them off at some point mid-race. Someone either saw her during the race wearing the headphones and reported her or after the race someone spotted the photos and reported her. Either way, she is not getting the first place prize.
I congratulate the Oakland Marathon race director for sticking to their policy and enforcing the rules. I have been told that in 2010, the race winner also had to forfeit their first place prize because of a headphones violation.
You can say that I am “old school” but for safety reasons, for the benefits of engaging in running, and simply because it’s the rules, I think leaving your headphones at home when you are outside running or racing, is the way to go.
I had the opportunity to have my running assessed by the staff at RunSafe. RunSafe, to quote their brochure, “is a comprehensive sports wellness program designed with the runner in mind, focusing on personalized advice, injury prevention and performance optimization.” My assessment took place at the Orthopaedics lab at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Mission Bay campus. It was two hours in length and included: video analysis of my running gait, nutritional analysis and consultation, strength and flexibility assessment, and foot dynamics and footwear assessment.
Four runners were assessed at the session. Before arriving we filled out a comprehensive online questionnaire about our training, racing, nutrition, and running shoe history and habits. We were then assigned to one of the four stations, where we spent fifteen minutes with the clinician before rotating to the next station.
My first station was video analysis. I ran on the treadmill for about seven minutes while they filmed me running from the side and from behind, both zoomed in on just my lower legs and with a wide shot that showed my arms relative to my legs. Since I’ve been using the Saucony Kinvara for races, I asked them to film me running in those shoes, too, to see if there was any difference in my mechanics when I run in more minimalist shoes.
My next stop was the registered sports dietician. We discussed the importance of pre-race/pre-workout fueling and post-race/post-workout recovery foods. While I may not always do a good job, I am well versed in these two topics so we didn’t spend much time discussing this
.. We did, however, have a nice conversation about using energy gels during a race. I am not a fan of the taste and hassle of energy gels and she suggested that I might prefer having four Gu Chomps instead of an energy gel. We also talked about coffee and she (thankfully) said that two cups a day probably wasn’t negatively affecting my running. She believes that the dehydrating properties of coffee have been overblown and that a cup in the morning before a race is not a foolish choice.
The third station is where I discovered weaknesses and imbalances all over my body. It’s easy to have the attitude that as long as you’re not injured, things must be working perfectly. Well, that is not the case. Left knee tracking inward, left glute not firing, muscle tightness in the lower back. Those were just some of the findings. The physical therapist in charge of this area had me perform all sorts of diagnostic tests. What I particularly liked was that almost all of the tests were new to me. I had no idea what she was testing so I couldn’t “cheat” to try to “pass.”
The last station was foot dynamics and shoe assessment. It doesn’t take a specialist to identify that I have almost no arch in my foot – what those in the business call a “flat foot.” I walked on a heat sensitive ink board to make an impression of my foot. As if there were any question, this further confirmed I have a flat foot. Based on this, the specialist figured I would probably need an orthotic or at least a more supportive running shoe to compensate. Strangely, however, I prefer lightweight training shoes and I do not use orthotics. Since I don’t have any symptoms of plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis, the advice was to continue with the shoe choices that have been working for me.
At the end, the staff got together to compare their individual findings. While they did this, the three other runners and I waited in the lobby talking to the dietician. After about fifteen minutes they brought us back into the lab where we viewed each of our treadmill running videos in slow motion (the Dartfish video had excellent resolution) and received personalized recommendations.
The next day I received an e-mail with a pdf file full of exercises that I can do to improve on my areas of weakness (there were twelve pages worth of weaknesses!). Three days later I received a DVD in the mail of my slow motion running on the treadmill (excellent family movie night material).
All in all, I would say that the RunSafe program was excellent. It costs $400 but I think it would be well worth the expense for any runner looking to improve or for the runner with a history of chronic injuries. The program is designed for the serious runner who already trains a fair amount and is looking for other ways to improve their times besides “just running more.” Seeing yourself running in slow motion is a rare treat. We all know that “core and strength” work can probably help us improve as a runner. What most of us don’t know is what exercises to do. Every edition of Runner’s World and Running Times has a new list of exercises. You can find hundreds of exercises online. But these are all just examples of good exercises. After the RunSafe assessment, the participant will know which exercises are particularly good for his or her specific shortcomings.
I thank RunSafe for confirming that I’m an anomaly. I’m a flat footed runner with no orthotics, who doesn’t use very supportive shoes, and doesn’t have any injuries. My excellent biomechanics and running economy compensate for the flat feet, seemingly incorrect shoe choices, so-so nutrition, two cups of coffee, and multiple strength and flexibility shortcomings. But thanks to RunSafe I have some new tools in my arsenal to keep me running healthy and, hopefully, fast too.
One day to go. Not much more to be done. It’s just about game time.
Think positive thoughts. You can’t go back and do more training or control things like the weather. Focus on things you can control in the final 24 hours. Think happy and positive thoughts about being out there doing an activity you love (or at least like) with 9,000 other people.
Look at the course map closely. For many of you who run often in Golden Gate Park this is as close as it gets to being a “home course.” As you look at the course, pause to think about what it physically looks like in that area. What will you see when you’re out there? What landmarks can you look for? Nothing makes the miles go by faster than knowing the course. Without going crazy, try to constantly have something you are looking for during the race. This isn’t hard when you are super familiar with the area. To combat the monotony of the Great Highway, I suggest looking ahead only to the next stoplight. The stoplights are conveniently staggered a quarter mile away from each other. It gives you a psychological boost to be “seeing what you’re looking for” every one to two minutes because you feel like you are making progress. If your landmarks are every mile mark, you pass a mile mark, you run two to three minutes, don’t see the next mile yet, and start looking around for it. Then you spend the next two to five minutes looking for the next mile mark, constantly checking your watch, and consequently feeling like you are going to be out there forever! This can be quite discouraging. There is value in having a landmark to look for pretty frequently.
Spend some time visualizing yourself running fast on the Great Highway. Close your eyes and see yourself running strong and passing people. Imagine that it feels effortless and yet you are running very fast. Tell yourself how fit you are. Remind yourself how hard you’ve trained. Tell yourself you can do it. Heck, hum the Chariots of Fire or Rocky theme as you visualize. In high school, I visualized my cross country championship race over and over every night for weeks while listening to “One Moment In Time.” The race played out just like I had imagined it and to this day I have a hard time differentiating what I visualized and what I actually experienced in the race.
If you are nervous, keep this in mind. There are 1.3 billion people in China and none of them (unless you have a close relative there) are going to go to http://zinsli.com/results/ on Monday to see if you PR’ed. I also like to remind people that they’ve trained hard and they deserve to run well.
When I race, I have my game face on. I’m competitive and I care about how the race goes. That’s just how I am. I’ve been told (and the pictures and video back this up) that I get that same game face on when I coach. (Side story: At my wedding reception we had Sacred Heart Cathedral kids helping. Right before we got started Tomas, my assistant coach and wedding reception master of ceremonies, came to me and said, “Don’t worry about anything. Everything’s going to go great. Ethan has his game face on. He looks like he did before the CCS Finals.” As the coach who taught Ethan to have a game face, it was, in the middle of a busy and memorable night, a proud moment.) Anyway, if it works for you, have your game face on. After all, Sunday is the Super Bowl. And you did pay $40-50 to be on the starting line. Why not have that focused game face on that tells everyone that you are about to go out and race as hard as you can.
Good luck, everyone, it’s just about game time!
Race Day and In-Race Nutrition.
If you want to spend time pondering nutritional things this week, think about:
- What are you going to eat race morning and at what time?
- Do you plan to take water at the water stops? (Hint: this is a trick question, the answer is yes!) Which water stops? And do you have an idea of where these stops are located on the course?
- Do you plan to take the electrolyte drink that will be available around mile 6.2, 8.4, and 11.1?
- Do you plan to ingest some sort of energy gel during the race?
There are as many pre-race food combos as there are runners. Do what your body is used to. Don’t try something new because it’s race day. What do you eat before you go for a morning long run? How much time does your body need to digest it? My wife needs to eat a more substantial breakfast before a run than I do and she doesn’t need as much time to digest her food as I do. I used to eat very little before a race (half a Power Bar and water) and I tied to finish eating two hours before the race started. Now I have found that my body likes a little more pre-race fuel so I have two pieces of toast with peanut butter at home approximately two hours before the race starts. Then upon arriving at the race, about an hour before the gun goes off, I eat half a Cliff Bar. Do what is right for you and your digestive system.
You need to stay hydrated to keep running your goal pace. The course map indicates water stations around miles 1.7, 3.2, 4.5, 6.2, 8.5, 10, and 11.5. Taking water is important because your body does not function well when it is not fully hydrated. It’s often on a cold and wet day when people sweat less and are less thirsty that they forget the need to drink water during the race. Don’t be one of those people. I suggest taking water at, at least three of the water stations if not more.
3. ELECTROLYTE REPLENISHMENT – SPORTS DRINKS
As the race progresses, even in cooler temperatures, your body is losing electrolytes via sweat. Maintaining proper electrolyte balance keeps the cells in your body communicating properly and is a key to preventing dehydration. It is said that electrolyte replacement becomes a factor after exercising for over an hour and a half. To replenish electrolytes there will be electrolyte drinks available at three spots on the course (mile 6.2, 8.4, and 11.1). I recommend sipping a little electrolyte drink as long as you are used to drinking something besides water during a run. If you are not used to drinking anything besides water, those carbohydrates in the electrolyte drink may not sit well in your stomach.
4. CARBOHYDRATE REPLENISHMENT – ENERGY GELS
During the first hour to hour and a half of the race your body produces energy from glucose in the liver and muscles, and the breakdown of fats. Thanks to the high glucose level in the bloodstream, fat metabolism occurs rapidly. But sometime around an hour and a half to two hours the glucose stores in the liver and muscles get depleted and the blood glucose level begins to drop. Fat metabolism still occurs, but because there is less glucose circulating around it occurs at a much slower rate. Pretty soon, if nothing is done to provide more fuel, you will run out of energy and experience the proverbial “hitting the wall.” To combat this runners often consume an energy gel mid-race*. Energy gels contain complex carbohydrates (glucose) in an easily and quickly digestible state. They enhance performance by raising your blood sugar and giving your body an immediate fuel source. Again, in a race of an hour and a half to two hours you may not require energy gels. You should know your body and whether you need it or not. As you get closer to two hours and further from an hour and a half you may benefit from a carbohydrate or sugar boost mid-race. But don’t try this if you haven’t done it in practice on the long runs. Any benefit from the gels may be countered by stomach distress. The race does not provide energy gels, so you’ll need to carry your own.
Race strategies and split calculating.
First of all, be sure you’ve looked at a course map, preferably one with the miles marked. You don’t have to memorize every mile mark but try to have a general idea where some of them are. You will race better when you know where you’re going.
I suggest you break the race into three sections:
1. Start to Mile 4 (Panhandle back to JFK Drive) – Conservative; about five seconds per mile slower than your goal pace.
2. Miles 4 to 7 (downhill through the park) – Use the downhill in the park from the museums to the beach to run a little faster. Gravity should help you to run five to ten seconds per mile faster than you ran for the first four miles.
3. The last HALF of the race, Miles 7 to the End (Great Highway) –See if you can hold the pace you were running downhill through the park or go faster (if so, hello big PR!). If not, lock on to your goal pace and you should still be right around your goal time.
Half Marathon split calculations
1. Establish best case and medium time goals.
2. Think about the range of per mile paces you are likely to be able to run in the last 6.1 miles. Have a best case and medium scenario. The time range between best case and medium should be :05-:15 per mile (e.g. 6:00-6:15). Perhaps a good mile pace to consider is your 8th mile at Waterfront 10 or the 8th mile of the Lake Merced workout on MLK Day.
3. Calculate how long it will likely take you to run the last 6.1 miles.
4. Based on your overall time goals and your two last 6.1 times, calculate a range of times for when you should arrive at the 7 mile mark to still be on target.
5. Pick the middle of that range as your target 7 mile time, knowing that you have some play on either side of it.
6. Calculate the per mile pace to hit this time for 7 miles.
7. Add :02-:07 per mile and that’s your target pace for the first 4 miles.
8. Based on that target pace, calculate what your 4 mile cumulative time split should be.
9. Try to be :05-:10 faster per mile for miles 5-6-7 than you were for miles 1-4 (it is downhill).
My goal times as an example:
2. 5:54-6:04 (per mile for the last 6.1 miles)
3. 36:00-37:00 (to run the last 6.1 miles) [5:54 X 6.1 = 36:00; 6:04 X 6.1 = 37:00]
4. 42:00-44:00 (range of time at the 7 mile mark) [1:19:00 - 37:00 = 42:00; 1:20:00 - 36:00 = 44:00]
5. 43:00 (goal 7 mile mark cumulative time)
6. 6:08 (average mile for the first 7 miles) [43:00 ÷ 7 = 6:08]
7. 6:10-6:15 (per mile for the first 4 miles) [6:08 + :02 = 6:10; 6:08 + :07 = 6:15]
8. 24:40-25:00 (goal 4 mile mark cumulative time) [6:10 X 4 = 24:40; 6:15 X 4 = 25:00]
9. 6:05 (per mile for miles 5-6-7) [6:10 - :05 = 6:05 or 6:15 - :10 = 6:05]
Final points to remember about the half marathon:
- Be very patient for the first 4 miles.
- Use the downhill to go faster for miles 5-6-7 but don’t attack this section as much as it’s been recommended in the past.
- The goal is to get to 7 miles around this time with as little effort as possible.
- Almost half the race is on the Great Highway. You can still catch a lot of people and make up a lot of time (if you didn’t go out too hard).
- Negative splits are the key to success in distance races.
- The race starts when you hit the Great Hwy. Do your fastest running then. Start aggressively passing people. Catching and passing people is an exhilarating feeling. Passing the first person is the hardest. Once you pass one person, you’ll then try to pass more. With each person you pass, you’ll feel better and better and the fast pace will become easier and easier.
The 5K is a fun run and the course isn’t certified. That being said, I have run the course and because of the downhill it is a fast course. The 5K course is marked on the above pdf course map with dashed lines.
The start for the 5K and half marathon are at the same time and same place. The 5K course makes a sharp right turn after about 400 meters. Line up on the right side of the start line so you won’t have to cut across traffic to make the turn. Be on the lookout throughout the race to make sure you are on the 5K course! The first mile is pretty flat. The only uphill of any significance is right before the first mile mark as you go from MLK Drive up to Stow Lake. On this course you can really hammer out a fast last mile…which means, don’t be afraid to press the second mile (which also has lots of downhill)….you will have more left at the end than you think….gravity will be your friend and help get you to the finish line.
Dress for success.
The first Sunday in February in San Francisco can be quite unpredictable weather-wise. It might rain. It might be unseasonably warm (70’s). Check the weather forecast and then still prepare for all conditions.
What shoes will you race in? Most people can get by with regular training shoes or lightweight trainers for a half marathon. You’re probably on the pretty elite side if you have racing flats for 13.1 miles. Don’t forget to pick the right socks. Your lucky race socks are the obvious choice if you are superstitious. The sock should certainly be made of wicking microfibers so they don’t rub you raw if they get wet from rain or sweat.
You want to have something that keeps you warm (top and bottom) to warm-up and stretch in. This can be a longsleeve shirt, a sweatshirt or jacket, or sweatpants. Don’t bring your whole wardrobe because you need to put it somewhere before the race starts but do wear something to stay warm. I cringe when I see runners wearing what they plan to race in standing around one hour before the race starts shivering or jumping up and down to stay warm.
If it’s wet, a good way to stay as dry as possible (and thus as warm as possible) before the race is a garbage bag with holes cut out for your head and arms. Or an old rain poncho. Use something that you don’t mind throwing away right before the race so you can keep it on as long as possible. Your goal before the race is to stay as dry and warm as possible.
Staying warm during the race is key. Heat escapes through your extremities (feet, head, hands). You can’t do much more than wear your shoes and socks on your feet. For your head, a beanie is wise. If it’s raining, a hat with a bill will shield your face from the rain. For your hands, gloves.
Wearing something to cover your arms is often desired. This can be tricky. You can wear a shirt under the singlet for warmth. If you go with a long sleeve one, try to have it fit snuggly so you aren’t catching extra wind with your baggy sleeves. A downside to these undershirts is there’s no going back…it’s pretty hard to take it off mid-race. A new way to combat this shortcoming is to wear arm warmers over your arms. If you get too hot you can take these off like gloves and stuff them into a pocket or hand them to someone. Another option is to wear something over your singlet (long sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, or microfiber shirt) that you can take off mid-race and tie around your waist. If employing this strategy, remember that you are supposed to have your race bib number prominently displayed on your front at all times.
A lot of people wear tights to keep their legs warm. It’s a personal preference thing. I think people who normally wear tights are used to it and like it. It has to be really freezing out (single digits) before I wear tights. I always have this (probably irrational) fear that I am going to get hot and be uncomfortable in tights.
The trend of wearing compression socks has two advantages and two disadvantages. Advantage one is that the socks, which come up to just below the knee, give additional skin coverage and thus added warmth. They also provide compression to the calf muscles. This compression is both advantage number two and disadvantage number one because the compression can become uncomfortable in the later stages of the race. The last disadvantage is the fairly obvious fact that if you start the race wearing compression socks, you are basically committed. There’s no taking them off mid-race.
If it’s raining, face it, you are going to get wet. All you can hope for (besides running so fast that you run between the rain drops) is to finish as quickly as possible and get out of the elements. Early in the race, I try to avoid puddles and go as long as possible with dry shoes and socks. But once they become saturated, I stop wasting energy and going the extra distance to dodge puddles. Remember, too, that if it’s raining your socks are probably going to get wet and muddy and may possibly never look the same again. If ruining a pair of sentimentally favorite socks is going to be devastating, don’t use them if it’s likely to be raining.
I advise people to make sure their top, whether it’s a shirt or singlet, be made of a microfiber/wicking/dry release material. These types of fabrics pull moisture (i.e. sweat) away from your body. It’s more comfortable to not be in a drenched t-shirt, wicking the moisture away from your skin decreases the chances of chaffing, and these fabrics help keep you cool on a warm day.
Carbo-loading and other pre-race nutrition concerns…at least my take on these topics….there are certainly other opinions out there and I do not claim to be a nutritional expert.
A lot of people ask me about carbo-loading. For the half marathon distance (an effort of 1:20-2:00 for most of us), carbo-loading isn’t as vital as for a full marathon. But still, I will answer the question.
The original concept of carbo-loading (by Ahlborg in 1960) involves an exhaustive workout one week before the race and a low-carb (10% carbs) diet for three days (to deplete the body of glycogen) and then a high-carb (90% carbs) diet for three or four days. This is to achieve a effect known as glycogen supercompensation. Nowadays there are other scientific methods of carbo-loading that are not as extreme.
“Traditional” carbo-loading for typical runners is eating pasta the night before a race. This method may not have the same physiological effect as Ahlborg’s method, but at least we all feel we are doing something nutritional to enhance our race performance. And by default, if you are eating pasta, you are not having a steak the night before the race. I think the traditional pasta meal before a race is part of running culture. The Sacred Heart Cathedral cross country team has a pasta dinner when we have team dinners before a meet. I believe there is much value in having a routine and eating something familiar. And if you believe the carbohydrates Saturday night are somehow going to make you run faster on Sunday, who am I to dispute it?
Don’t overeat on Saturday night. Don’t try a new pasta recipe or a new restaurant. Just eat something you like, and that you know agrees with your body (nothing too greasy or that leaves you really really full). And reap the psychological benefits of knowing you have carbo-loaded in your own way.
Welcome to Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon and 5K Fun Run Week. This is a week many of us in the running community look forward to every year.
Some final week workout thoughts:
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – I leave it to you to decide what you should do. Rest is important but I suggest sticking to your routine. Don’t over do it, but if you normally swim, bike, do yoga or run go ahead and work out, just don’t go extra hard or long.
Thursday – three options:
Option 1 (medium run finishing with some “up-tempo”:
- Run four miles at an easy pace.
- Run the next mile at half marathon pace.
- Run a final mile 10-15 seconds faster than half marathon pace.
This is a total of six miles of running, with only the last two miles being at a harder effort.
Option 2 (tempo and 300’s):
Two mile warm-up, then three miles at tempo/Lactate Threshold (LT) pace, and then 4X300 with 100 meter jog recoveries. Run each 300 a little faster than the previous one.
Option 3 (track workout):
- Two mile warm-up
- 800 – easy (half marathon pace)
- 6X300 with 100 meter jog recovery (keep the recoveries short, the point is not to run the 300’s super fast).
- 800 – hard (think of it as the last 800 of the race)
- Cool-down – one mile
Friday – I always suggest taking the day 48 hours before a big race off and getting plenty of sleep.
Saturday – Pre-race: three miles easy and four to six striders. Striders are 80-100 meter sprints at 70-90% effort. The goal is to loosen up the muscles by getting the blood pumping to your legs and breaking a sweat. Then shut it down and save it for race day.
Sunday morning – Some important things to keep in mind for pre-race Sunday morning:
- The race starts at 8:00 A.M. Calculate how much time you need to get dresses, have breakfast, drive to the race, park, get to the start line, and warm-up. Then add in some extra time. Figure out what time you need to get up and set your alarm clock now.
- Parking. Remember that it’s a point to point course. Ten thousand runners means not a lot of extra parking spaces. Car pooling and public transportation are highly recommended. Check the website for event details like parking and transportation information.
- If you want to park by the finish line there are two main lots, either on the Great Highway or up above the Cliff House. You can either run to the start (approximately two miles) or take the race provided shuttle. Shuttles depart from the bus stop above the Cliff House and the corner of Fulton and the Great Highway, beginning at 6:15 A.M.
- If you park by the start line you can either run back to your car for a cool-down after the race or take one of the shuttles that will run up Fulton from the Great Highway to 8th Avenue. This post-race shuttle leaves from Fulton and the Great Highway and will run from 8:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to:
- Get in line for the port-a-potties.
- Check your sweats.
It may be a little Type A to plan out all this stuff but having a plan and giving yourself extra time to park, ride the shuttle, go to the bathroom, and check your sweats can really pay off. If you are meeting friends, have an exact meeting spot and time. You want to minimize stress before the race. Planning this stuff out is one way to do just that.
Since 2008 Andy and I have spent pretty much all vacations, certainly all major vacations, traveling to watch our favorite Olympian compete. We’ve been to Eugene, Oregon countless times, and Des Moines, Iowa to watch the national championships; China (not just Beijing) for the Olympics; and Berlin, Germany, and Daegu, South Korea for the World Championships. We’re planning to be in London for this year’s Olympics. From all this track related travel, and because I live with the Chanman, I’ve learned a thing or two about professional athletes. This holiday season I learned a bit more by spending a week at elevation at “Fantasy Track Camp.” At some point when Shannon was planning her winter elevation training she invited Andy and I to come visit her in San Luis Potosi, we took her up on the offer.
I arrived in Mexico already knowing that professional athletes are focused individuals, that being the best in the world requires a lot more than just running – and that those things are very time consuming. I didn’t feel a need do any serious sight-seeing and expected that wouldn’t be on the agenda. Shannon has traveled the world to compete but her job is a lifestyle, one that doesn’t often include taking in the sights. I’m sure that Andy and I have seen more of every city we’ve traveled to, to watch her compete than she has. I arrived in serious need of some real down time, so it was easy to come without any expectations, with a fat book, and let the week just flow. Even so, I learned a couple of things from our week with the professionals.
Part of what I love about running is the adventure. I love exploring new places. I enjoy the beauty and challenge of a trail run. I don’t want to run in the same place too many days in a row. I want to see new things. Even though I understood that structure and routine are important for a professional athlete, I was still startled to discover how important. We ran eight times, in only three places – and one of those places while familiar was obviously not a regular part of the routine. We visited a very large park a number of times. I explored a different route with each visit. The others focused on accomplishing their specific workout goals on the flattest most convenient route. We went to a familiar although out of the way place for a long run. I enjoyed the scenery (as much as I could while searching for foot prints to make sure I didn’t get totally lost – since the backsides of everyone else were a distant memory). The others focused on their pace and how to run a course that minimized running into the wind. The hills I love to challenge myself with at home were something the group drove to avoid. We went to La Loma Altitude Training Center and I mixed in swimming. Bolota Asmerom was perfectly content, and consistently fast, running lap after lap after lap on the one mile trail woven between the pool, track and tennis courts.
This all makes sense. For me a run is a break from work, a physical challenge, a release from sitting in a chair, a reward in itself. When you’re training to win, and training involves: running, generally conditioning, strength, treatment, mental preparation, and recovery your goals and objectives are to get it done, done well, maybe with some free time left.
For the first time in my life, mystical “Double Days” make total sense. Since I first heard the term some fifteen years ago I’ve associated it with really hard core runners working to rack up the miles. But I lined that up with an ultra-marathoner or marathoner type of hard core. Tough. Really long. It turns out a few miles here, a few miles there, a few miles later in the day. All on the same one mile loop can add up to a substantial run. One that was less challenging and exhausting than those miles would have been all strung together. I might try this again.
The last thing that startled me was diet. I expected the group to be somewhat uptight about their meals. While I would say that everyone in the house paid attention to their diet, the pros ate more meat and eggs than I do. Not uptight. They’re worried about getting the right amount of protein and other nutrition; I’m worried about keeping my cholesterol low. I felt that we all want to be the appropriate weight. The pros consistently ate small portions slowly and stopped. To win they need to; There is some pressure with this profession. I struggle with that one; I’m working on it again.
I’m so glad that Shannon, Pablo Solares, Bolota, and Nick Alvarado worked us into their routine for a week. Andy enjoyed the San Francisco and track talk. It was a gracious, generous, interesting group. We had fun, really relaxed, and I will take an even deeper perspective with me to my next professional track meet to watch my favorite runners tear it up on the oval.
In cross country running, as in all sports, confidence is a key factor to success. This has been readily evident this past season coaching the Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) cross country team.
In 2010, both the boys and girls teams qualified for the state meet. Leading up to the meet we were quite nervous. It had been nine years since the girls last qualified and five years since the boys last qualified. Never in school history had both teams qualified the same year. After so many near-misses I almost expected something to derail our dream of both teams qualifying. Every time I thought about the meet, my mind would come up with possible obstacles to our goal. When both teams did in fact qualify, it felt like a dream had come true.
This year, the team really believed that both teams would qualify for state. There was a lot less hoping it would happen and a lot more confidence that it would happen. “Calm and confident” was our mantra the week of the qualifying race. The 2010 team’s accomplishment was monumental because it proved to us that it could happen. This year every time I thought about the meet, I came back to the same conclusion, despite the strong competition, we would qualify. Negative thinking did not enter my mind the same way it had last year.
Breaking through the barrier last year made this year a whole lot easier in qualifying for state. Last year there was doubt in our minds whether or not we could qualify (“oh, qualifying both teams for state, that’s something that happens for other schools”). This year there was no doubt in our minds that it could be done and we had confidence in ourselves that we would do it. Success can become habitual and when one does something habitually, they develop confidence it will keep happening.
Confidence is an essential key to success, especially in high school cross country. As the coach, I feel it is my job to instill confidence in the runners. It starts with giving the team good training. Knowing that one has run enough miles, done enough hill workouts, run the proper combination of tempo runs and intervals, and done enough drills, striders, and strength exercises gives the runners confidence that they are physically prepared for the challenges of championship races. It’s the coach’s job to structure the training and to remind the athletes of all the good work they’ve put in.
It’s also important to have the right competition schedule leading up to the championship meets. You want challenging meets that push the runners but also some lower key meets where your athletes do real well to boost everyone’s ego a little bit. Having enough recovery time between meets towards the end of the season is also key because you want the runners to feel sharp and that they are “peaking,” not falling apart as the season comes to an end.
I add to the athletes’ confidence by giving them the sense that they are well prepared mentally. Leading up to championship races, we study the course, simulate race conditions and scenarios at practice, study race splits, and review race plans. I believe that when the SHC runners toe the starting line, they feel an extra boost of confidence because they know I have studied every tactical detail to give us the best possible chance for success during the race.
Being confident does not mean thinking the race will be easy. Confident runners know that the race, just like always, will be challenging and that there will be difficult moments, especially late in the race. The confident runner is confident that when they reach this point of the race, they will summon the courage to run through the discomfort in pursuit of their goal. I think this is what separates the good from the great runners. When I watch the less experienced SHC runners race, I never know what’s going to happen over the last mile. I hope they can push through and keep competing but I’m not sure. When I watch our varsity race, there is no doubt what’s going to happen in the last mile – they’re going to be fearless!
This past season I went to great lengths to point out that our team’s success did not require anyone to run out of the ordinary. If everyone ran like they had before, we would make it to state. All season long we had run hard against tough competition and each time we had done fine. There was no reason to expect anything different at the Central Coast Section (CCS) Championships, as long as everyone approached this race like they had the previous ones.
Standing at the starting line of a championship meet like CCS can be nerve wracking. As a coach, you can’t make that element go away. What I can do is remind the runners to think about things they can control. They can’t control how fast their opponents run. They can’t guarantee a particular time or a particular place. Those elements are what tend to make you nervous at the starting line. Instead, I get the team to focus on things they can control – which primarily is their effort. I told them, “You’ve done this before. It’s no different. The gun goes off, you start running. You start breathing harder. You hear cheering. You start to get tired. You push through. You sprint to the finish line. You know the drill. It’s the same formula you’ve done many times this season already. CCS is no different.”
Confidence. It can make all the difference in a race.