My Garmin was on the fritz recently and before I could fix it I was thinking, ‘Weren’t we all better off without this technology? Simple Cavemen didn’t run with iPods or Fitbits.’
Well Cavemen were stupid and we weren’t better off without all this technology. At least not as far as I’m concerned. I love all the stupid little details that my Garmin tells me: the map of where I’ve run or swam to strokes per minute and how many times my feet hit the ground. Some of the stuff, like my foot cadence, have no reference for me. I have no idea if my foot cadence is Olympic quality or back of the pack. For me at least, the tech has improved my performance by keeping me honest. Cold hard GPS facts tell me what my pace is instead of me just feeling fast.
Last blog I wrote about my favourite races. This blog I thought I’d write about the most annoying race experiences I’ve had, in particular, other racers. This being said, I must preface it by saying that 99% of the people I have encountered while running races are terrific. It also should be noted that I think, most people who do endurance races are pretty stoic and pleasant people. They’re the guest at a wedding that smiles quietly and tends to ask questions to others instead of talking about themselves. Except for a lot of Ironman participants. It’s been my experience that a lot of Ironman finishers love to talk about the Ironman…..
Since Valentine’s Day is still in my rear view mirror, I thought I’d write about some of my favorite races, how I trained for them and what I learned.
I work as a teacher at a sports school in the south of France. In the morning the kids go to school and in the afternoon they train for four to five hours in tennis. Some of the kids are quite talented and will go on to be professionals. Others less so but are still competitive. All of them benefit enormously from being physically active and outdoors for most of the day.
Right now I’m in a low for training. My back is still keeping me from doing what I love to do and I am starting to beat myself up about it. The roughest point was this week. In an effort to try and improve my back, I thought I’d try a yoga class. Fifteen minutes into it, I realised there was no way I could get through it. When I left and the door had closed behind me, a wave of laughter went through the class. I was the butt of a yoga class joke. Ironic since yoga has been the butt of my workout jokes.
The good news is that everything else in my life is on a high. Personal life, job and family life all couldn’t be better. I wouldn’t mind if my next door neighbor and his barking dog were to move away tomorrow but other than that, I have it pretty good right now.
I have spent most of my life arranging my professional life around my personal life. Some would say, like my mother, that I am an underachiever but the truth is that once I started working in the real world I did not see anything that was worth cutting into my training schedule. This is also due in part to the fact that physical activity is tied to my mental health. If I cannot train regularly I start to slip into a depression.
Over the years I have learned the values of pushing myself when it comes to sports. I know that if I put in twenty plus hours of training per week it will pay off. It’s been my experience that this is not true for most things in life especially when it comes to a job. You can work hard at your job and be good at it and then the worst recession in one hundred years comes around and your job and 401K disappear over night. Or somebody you work with just doesn’t like you and you find yourself being subtly pushed out of your job.
With long distance sports their are tangible results. If I work hard and stick to a sensible training plan, more than likely I am going to finish the race. There’s no way in hell I’m going to ever win a race, but I usually will accomplish my goal. Sure, I can have some bad luck on race day or mother nature can throw me a curve in swimruns (frigid temperatures, abnormally rough seas). But even if I don’t finish the race, by the end of four months of training, I feel great.
For me, training has required a self-discipline that I rarely put into anything else in my life. I am not physically built to be a great long distance runner so I need to put in the work just to finish these types of races. Talent is not going to get me anywhere.
Although training has shown me the benefits of working hard for a goal, there is a definite drawback for me. Sometimes its hard for me to differentiate between beating myself up and pushing myself. Pushing yourself is what gets you up at 5AM on a Saturday or Sunday because you want to get in a workout before its too hot. Pushing yourself is going out for that run or swim when you’re tired at the end of the working day or the sea temp is only 12°C and its a cold grey day with an equally cold air temp. Beating yourself up is when you start to get depressed because you couldn’t get in a work out or your training time is a couple of minutes longer than last weeks time. I often find it difficult to find that line between pushing myself and beating myself up.
Pushing myself I see as sharpening the knife and beating myself up is saying the knife is a piece of crap and throwing it out. Right now, I’m beating myself up. But I can easily beat myself even while I’m healthy and all pistons are firing. A 10K training run that is a few minutes off my regular ‘fast’ time can send me down a spiral of what a crappy runner I am and remind me of being an eight year old at camp during an all camp Olympics and finishing last in every event I competed in. Funny now but a definite ego punch all those decades ago.
When I start to beat myself up in those situations I concentrate on what’s going on about me. If I’m swimming slow and start to beat myself up I think about how lucky I am to be able to swim year round in the Mediterranean with all sorts of marine life swimming around me. On runs I stop looking at my watch and start looking at the view and listening to the sounds of a trail run if I find I’m starting to beat myself up. When I want to get my perspective back, I will stop everything and just listen. Even though the trails I run on here are not too far from some pretty big urban centers you don’t have to go far into the woods to hear nothing but the wind or the birds.
So I’m now forming a plan to get out of this ‘beating myself up spiral’. I’m looking at my recovery as I would a race. I’m celebrating every time the back doesn’t hurt and looking at it as a positive step. I’m seeing a new Osteopath and am going to keep in mind that it will improve. And when it does feel better, I’ll have an even bigger appreciation for a nice relaxing 20K training run regardless of the time.
Thomas’s recent blog about moving to Finland and his comparison of training in different countries has inspired this blog.
I moved to France because of Nancy. Seven years later, it has turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life both personally, professionally and for training. Like Thomas, moving to a foreign country has had its challenges. Certainly the language was and still is. But being Canadian, moving here meant I merely had to brush up on my French instead of learning a new language that contains words several syllables long with no vowels.
I’ve been in love with endurance racing since adolescence. At about the same time I started to like long distance running, I began to like girls. Most of my long runs were spent trying to figure out how I could get girls to like me when I was a kid. Then I met Nancy. Coincidentally, I met her at the time of training for my first Ironman. I consider both, two of my biggest challenges.
It’s official - I’m injured. An Osteopath, General Practitioner, and wife have all told me I’m not to do anything for the next week. It’s torture. Every runner I see on the Prom seems to be taunting me. “Nice day for a run. Too bad you can’t Achy Backensuck. Later Loser.” And off they go with not a care in the world at a pace that seems to be an Olympic qualifier.
I’d like to say that when it comes to sport that ‘age is just a number’ or ‘like wine, you just get better with age.’ But since I am writing this post while lying on my stomach because a recent bout of sciatica is so painful that the act of sitting feels like I’m being cattle prodded in the butt, then I can’t drag out those cliches. There are advantages to being an older athlete but there are also disadvantages. For anybody under the age of forty who is reading this, here’s what you have to look forward to.
The day before the 1000 Lakes race, I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pant leg and dipped my foot into one of the lakes we’d be swimming in.
Having just spent the last four months training in 20°C water and 30°C land temps in the south of France along the Med, there was no way my foot was prepared for 8°C water. Turns out my entire body was not prepared for less than two digit land and water temps even with a wetsuit on. Our team (my beautiful and inspiring wife) and I DNF’d on race day. But I’m not disappointed or bummed or angry, I’m just happy we got as far as we did. Our training was exceptional and proved to us that we could make the cut off times. The cold really threw us for a curve though.
I grew up in a small town north of Toronto. I started running on country roads and fell in love with long distance running when I was twelve years old. I loved (and still do) getting up just before the sun and going for a run in the country. Running in Canada you get everything from 30+°C heat in the summer and minus 20°C cold in the winter. I started challenging myself when I was 13 and would just run for hours on the weekends not really knowing the distances or pace but just seeing if I could run to the next town and back and then set a new challenge. I first heard about an Ironman when I read an article about it in Sports Illustrated when I was about 13 years old. At the time, an Ironman was a disorganized, crazy endurance challenge and I set my sights on doing one. Finally did my first Ironman more than ten years later in Canada out in British Columbia after completing several marathons and several smaller triathlons. I finished. I still remembered how exhausting that first one was. Although I’m not fast, I love the endurance aspect of sports. This led me to the world of ulra-marathons where I’ve done a 50 mile, 100KM and 100 mile race. A few years ago, my wife told me about these swimrun races in Scandanavia. Easily the toughest endurance event I’ve done because you need to not only have endurance but you have to be quick. Then there’s the challenge of nature, the cold and trails. The best thing about it is being a team with my wife and sharing the highs and the lows that a demanding endurance sport brings. One moment you’re telling each other to fuck off and the next you’re kissing at the finish line.something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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