Smooth Flow

In the words of Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years… It’s the mileage.” This season, I’m really enjoying getting back to the racing frequency I thrive upon. But, to hold it together I gotta do a lot more “stuff”—in the time between all those training runs and races—than I used to. It’s clear, if I don’t keep myself tuned up, I’ll easily drive myself right into the ground and onto the injured list. Consistency is king and not just with my running—quality sleep, time on the yoga mat, walking/hiking, and meditation have come to represent the very oil that keeps my ’74 diesel engine humming right along.

Sleep’s the big one. Unlike yoga, hiking, or meditation, you can’t just choose not to sleep. Simply put, if you’re living in the year 2017, you probably need more quality rest. Like at least 7-8 hours every night. And if you’re in training mode, you’d likely significantly benefit from 9-10 hours. As my own coach I’ve fought myself on sleep for years, trying to do things like two-a-day-runs (one in the early morning before work and another in the evening) but I always find myself draggin’ ass by late in the work-week. Yeah, I might’ve hit my totally arbitrary mileage goal but everything suffered as a result (yes, the running too). The lack of optimal sleep catches up with all of us. Every year in June, after the school year ends and my life slows way down, I marvel at how healthy I start feeling, consistently getting 8-9 (sometimes 10!) hours of Zzz. As coaches are fond of stating, sleep is the greatest performance enhancing drug there is. And, it’s free! Oh, and legal!

“Live like a clock.” Ideally, we want to maintain routine sleep patterns. That’s a tough one with a wife who works a different work schedule than I do. In the end, we do the best we can. For me, the trick seems to be starting the bed-time routine early enough that I’m in bed, asleep, at a time that gonna yield 8 hours of quality rest, before getting up for work. Bagging that extra REM-cycle from an additional 90min of sleep can really super-charge your day, your workout, while keeping your immune system strong. Living like a clock may not be sexy or fun, in that it requires a fair amount of discipline, but the body does thrive on the predictability, having the same bed and wake times; and workout time for that matter. Live like a clock and appreciate how your body just starts humming along…

Tender Loving Care. All of the athletes I coach are used to seeing “TLC” as part of their daily training plan. This is an informal session that I like to see placed at the opposite end of the day from an athlete’s formal training session. If an athlete generally works out in the evening, then they choose a morning TLC activity that most supports their current state of run recovery. Yoga, foam-rolling those hots spots, walking, hiking, cycling, legs-up-a-wall, and meditation are all great TLC activities that effectively complement our running. They can be as short as 5min or as long as you like. Commit to daily TLC. As my athletes will attest, your body will thank you!

My appreciation for yoga was born out of my experience taking classes during the period of time my wife worked part-time at a local studio. I was fortunate to have had a skilled and mindful instructor who helped me make some serendipitous connections between yoga and my ultra-running practice. Specifically, more conscious and consistent engagement with my breathing as well as developing an evolved ability to deal more effectively with discomfort, which is at the heart of being successful at achieving our goals in endurance sports. If you’ve never done much yoga, I suggest you ask around in your area where the best instructors are then take a few classes to get the basics under your belt. You want a level of proficiency in your practice at home. Taking a few classes not only teaches you how to do poses correctly, they also help you internalize how to flow through poses while remaining connected to your conscious breath. Trust me, you’ll be a better runner for it.

These days, I no longer take classes but, nonetheless, I try to get on my mat daily, for at least 15-20min. Moving with my breath, I like to deliberately flow through the classic poses—downward and upward-facing dog, the various warrior poses, sun salutations, tree, happy-baby, etc. all the while mixing in some core work like side-plank and boat. Depending on available time—like right now during my summer vacation—I’ll transition into my foam-rolling routine immediately following yoga. And after this, roughly 10min routine, I’ll move into meditation. It’s like a zen triathlon—yoga, foam-roll, meditate!

“Mind is everything. Muscle – pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.”  -Paavo Nurmi

 

Just as running is surely not about staying in a comfortable state, yoga is about regularly “getting out on your edge,” as my instructor oft repeated. Unfortunately, growth just doesn’t happen in your comfort zone—dammit!—so I first meet myself where I am on the day, and depending on my current state of run-recovery, will push myself to explore that edge while I’m on the mat, holding poses for longer and longer, breathing deeper and deeper, working mindfully to become more present, making each pose increasingly uncomfortable. In ultra-running, we call it “embracing the suck.” Yoga helps my mental game by repeatedly callousing the mind to discomfort, all while refocusing—and refocusing— on my conscious in-n-out breaths. Naturally, being more conscious of my inhales and exhales helps me get more oxygen-rich blood to my working muscles. And I’ll surely need optimal breathing habits at my next event in Steamboat Springs, CO in September—Run Rabbit Run 100mi, where I’ll be running for extended periods above 10,000′.

 

Next up is hiking. No lollygagging! Currently I’m designing a training plan for myself where I will rarely—if ever—run on consecutive days. I mean, I’m old. I’ve been at this endurance sport game for 20 years. I don’t need to be running around all the time. The base is well established. “We are what we repeatedly do,” says Aristotle. I need to focus on crushing it, when I do run, ’cause that’s what I’m trying to do in racing. All the running I do this next training cycle will be of the highest quality—no bullshit runs. I’m taking the notion of “keep your easy days easy” to the next level by always making my easy days fast-hiking days, since fast-hiking is something I’ll want to be especially proficient at in Colorado come Sept. To become truly proficient at anything, you must consistently engage in deliberate practice.

These sessions are gonna be awesome active-recovery too. I anticipate most hikes will be done in a 20lb weight vest. My rule for the vest is no running while wearing it, but emphasizing effective fast-hiking/climbing. Hiking in the vest will make my body stronger, allow me to get out into the woods on my non-running days, and build my climbing strength, without all the run-specific impact of doing a so-called “easy runs.” I’ll reap the benefits of all my fast-hiking in my Sunday long runs, as well as during my 100mi of running through the Routt National Forest of northern Colorado.

As a side-note, walking, in general, is something we should be mindfully seeking to do, as often as we can. I think runners generally have the “take the stairs” mentality already. I like to get out walking a dog or two fairly regularly, as time permits. I walk to and from work regularly and find time to go on walks with my wife, Amanda, as well. I appreciate how walking slows things down and I can absorb more of the subtleties of the world around me.

In closing there’s a new TLC practice I’ve recently adopted—meditation. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve needed some training wheels, so to speak, with getting some consistency going with an effective meditation practice. A while back I heard Rich Roll on his podcast, plugging the Headspace. Rich smooth-talked me into doing their free trial—ten 10-min, guided sessions. Earlier this year I shared the Headspace app with some athletes I coach, and it was one of them that inspired me to keep revisiting it. I have to say I’m sold on the value of meditation and have now worked up to daily 15-20min daily sessions. Curiously, the practice does indeed seem to create a little more “head-space.” It’s encouraging greater productivity and creativity—the desire to be more productive; more creative. I’m even handling set-backs in a more mature, care-free way. My personal intention for doing meditation is to be at peace with myself, outside and inside the athletic arena. With a quiet mind, I’m free to perform at my potential, whatever the activity. As with my running, I’m excited to stick with meditation, for the sake of continued spiritual growth.

For years, the banner quote on my blog has been from one of my favorite thinkers, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, from his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, “Control of consciousness determines the quality of life.” It’s pretty clear: we either consciously work to control the mind or, we’re slaves to it.

To me, Robert Frost’s idea that, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence” is the ideal to which we should all aspire, although I continue to fall short time and time again. Fall down 7 times. Stand up 8, right? The practice—or art—of meditation creates some space in our heads; some room in that human prefrontal cortex to proactively respond versus merely reacting to stressful stimuli. The potential for an increase in overall quality of life though?—priceless.

Engagement with the present moment is powerful stuff that adds more richness to all aspects of our lives. In their new book Peak Performance, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magnuss write, “It’s another example of how achieving excellence in seemingly distinct pursuits—running and meditating—ends up having a lot in common.” Therein lies the magic of connecting the dots between one “self-renewing compulsion,” to quote Dr. George Sheehan, and another. The act of trying-to-evolve in one aspect of our lives lends itself—more than we may realize at first—to becoming more evolved in another. So, I encourage  you to make regular deliberate efforts, to sleep, pose, hike, and meditate yourself toward becoming the best version of yourself possible. Let it not be about perfection, rather, let it be about mindfulness and ultimately, equanimity.

In closing, I’ll share with you how I’m managing to squeeze in all this activity, in addition to my run training during my normal 40-hour work-week. The secret is mindfulness and frequency—maybe a little discipline—not duration. Just think, if you do 10min of meditation every day for a week, you did an over an hour of meditation that week. Keep it up and you’ve got four hours a month you’re now investing in your own mindful practice! Could this increase the overall quality of your life?

Sleep. If you’re getting to bed early enough, avoiding caffeine after noon, and getting your electronic devices out of the bedroom, you should generally wake feeling refreshed and ready to take on your day. If not, it’s back to the drawing board. Waking feeling truly rested is habit numero uno! Realize that your running, yoga, meditation, etc. will all encourage restful, quality sleep. The only time I don’t get good rest is when I shoot myself in the foot by doing something dumb—like drinking a cold-brew coffee at 2:30 in the afternoon!

Yoga. Soon as I wake up I do my morning routine then soon roll out the yoga mat. I always start out in child’s pose and begin the work of quieting my mind. During the work-week, I’m usually on the mat for 15-20min before I have to start getting ready for work. It’s important I leave time to fuel my day with a healthy breakfast. Recall, I’m not doing these things because I want to, I’m doing them because they energize both my work-day and my run training.

Meditation. I’m finding that lunch is the best time for me to do this during the work-week. I’m only allotted 35min so I have to proactively stick to a routine—eat lunch, respond to some emails, then with 10-15min before kids come back for 4th period, I put my legs up a wall and meditate, using the Headspace app and my ear-buds. Boom! I’m recharged for a productive afternoon. Note: Sometimes, I just take my lunch outside and walk-n-eat. I try to remember to drink a bunch of water upon returning to the classroom. I find that drinking adequate water throughout the day really has energizing effects and really encourage higher quality running after work.

Hike. About 4pm to about 6pm during the week is prime-time for training. As I’ve stated, I’m alternating between high quality fast-running and weighted hikes. Again, the hikes serve to both help me actively recover and prime the legs, as well as strengthen my body. Don’t run in the weight-vest, especially down hill. I like to wear my Hoka One One Speedgoat 2’s, as they offer superior protection/cushioning for my feet.

Foam-roll. After a robust dinner with plenty of time to relax, I’ll roll out the yoga mat again and roll out my back, glutes, IT-bands, calves, and achilles. Sometimes, I’ll just bang this out while we’re watching Netflix ’cause sometimes I get too tired to do it right before bed. When I’m lacking in motivation to do it, I remember, “5 minutes. Just do 5 minutes.” When I spend more time—like 10-15min—on the foam-roller, I’ll zero in on any hot-spots I might have at the time, like an angry achilles, or a tight glute or IT-band. I certainly know where my problem areas are and staying on top of those every single day generally keeps my run-legs pretty darn happy.

Tahoe Rim Trail 50mi on July 15th. Flowing through Diamond Peak aid at mile 30.

A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda. I love you!  |  Thanks to all of the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport.  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support, innovation, and producing the best shoes out there—#speedgoat2 #timetofly!   |  Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for the cheers on-course and always sending out the good race vibes! | Thanks Inside Trail Racing for putting on so many great events in the Bay Area and beyond.  |  Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me effectively manage all of my issues and keeping me out there pluggin’ away! >>> 🙂

5 thoughts on “Smooth Flow

  1. Great article. Totally reflects my situation. At 45 years of age and 27 years of running and riding, I’m thinking are my 200km weeks necessary?
    The volume is leaving me with fatigue, I can’t then do quality, hence I’m slowing.
    Answer after your article, which was reinforced the other day, crush the days you run (25km tempo) easy watt bike the day before and after. Next run is longer and easier (4 hours) then bike again. The next run is hard again.
    I think sometimes we get in the habit of continually running where the actual act is actually harming us, especially if you are trying to perform with years of experience. Admitting we are slowing sucks, if I could run all day and everyday I would, but the last 3 years, eventhough I have fought it has made me realise I’m flogging a dead horse.
    Thanks for your post and I’m going to embrace the crush it active recovery motto👊

    • Thanks for your comment. We change the way we look at things and the things we look at can change. Opening up room for optimal recovery between quality sessions makes a big difference. I’m finding I have good mojo all of the time and all the running I’m doing, I’m more engaged than ever before. Just gotta keep up with our daily TLC chores!

  2. Awesome! If you haven’t already, listen to Brad Stulberg and Steve Magnuss on The Rich Roll podcast, entitled Peak Performance. I’m reading their book by the same name now. Lots of exciting nuggets of wisdom in there. 😀

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