By Nick Alexander
When I ran track and cross country in high school, I had some great results by being part of a strong program, showing up to practice five days a week, and just trying to keep up. A decade later - I checked the math - it doesn’t work like that anymore. I’m on my own, and my body has changed in ways you can imagine. Let’s just say If I tried to train like I did in high school, I’d have a close relationship with a chiropractor.
I can’t just go out there and log miles anymore. I have to make sure I’m setup properly. There’s the old joke that you know you’re a racing fan if you take the racing line on foot in grocery stores and stairwells. This is so much more than that. Paying attention to my run setup has me feeling like my own one-man racing operation. When I’m running, I am the car, the driver, and the team.
Starting from the ground up, I go out on the right compound. How much grip and tread do I need for how long? Track spikes are my ultra softs (think back to last year when they didn’t last for hours). Regular road shoes are my slicks. Goretex-treated trail shoes are my full wets. If I choose poorly, I’ll have no grip or my feet will overheat.
I figure out how much cooling to run. I check the weather and decide what to wear and whether to bring any water (and figure out how to carry it) or plan a route where I know I’ll encounter water. Being too hot is miserable and dangerous where I live. I try to time the whole session accordingly.
I need fuel, too, in the form of nutrition. Fast food doesn’t cut it and won’t carry me the distance. If I run very long, I’ll need to refuel along the way, so I may need to bring some energy gel (and figure out where to hold it). Hopefully I’ve gotten enough sleep and my nervous system – the ERS - has woken up. I’m a zombie on early morning runs and know I have more power output later in the day.
Over time I develop the power unit, my muscular system including my heart. I become more efficient at cooling and more fuel efficient, which also has the unfortunate logical conclusion that I burn fewer calories per mile. Maybe over time I’ll weigh less, anyway, which will make me faster.
When I’m out there I keep an eye on everything and tinker with aero. I don’t have a lot of power, so I can’t have a lot of drag. I pay attention to my posture. If it’s crap, I’ll end up working harder to compensate. I also need to be careful not to damage the suspension – my shins and joints – so I pay attention to cadence and how I’m landing my feet. I’m monitoring my breathing, heartrate, and mile times to make sure I don’t run out of gas too soon. Unfortunately for the serious podcast listener, if I put in earbuds, I don’t do these things, and I inevitably crash.
Back in the garage I check out the data for useful information. My GPS watch tells me my splits, pace, heartrate, and (too much) more. Over time I understand how hard I can currently run for how long, when, where, and at which temperatures. Mile one is always basically my out lap. I know the next few miles will be faster after I warm up.
All this prep and feedback fulfills one goal: faster lap times and race distances.