A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Impossible? I Don't Want to Hear That Word!!!

I need to address certain issues that I've seen when talking to people about my training. It's been bothering me for some time, so I need to get this out.
 
My first 3 week Build Phase included long runs of 20 miles, 26 miles, and 32 miles during the last 3 weeks. It's been a good ramp-up for me and I'm glad my training has been going smoothly for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning.

But the remarks I've gotten from people this past week, although complimentary, have included a word that has driven me crazy for a good number of years now. And it's about time I address this word and its true meaning directly.
 
Please don't think that what I'm doing is "impossible". I really don't want to hear this word uttered from other people. I've heard it way too many times this past week, and it's been frustrating me. When I hear a word like "impossible", it means they have already given up and have resigned themselves to being satisfied with less.


Believe me, I know most people see training runs of 30+ miles as "impossible for them to do". Nothing can be farther from the truth. Their training might not require them to do 30+ miles of running, especially if they are focused on shorter distance races, but if, somehow, they needed to get 30 miles of running done in a pinch, they WILL find a way to do it. With the right focus, everyone can do it.

What I do is never any secret. I jokingly call these runs "anti-tempo" runs for a reason, they are very, very slow. With the exception of the 20 mile run I did, both the 26 and the 32 mile run I did were done very slowly. Anyone who regularly runs a 9-10 minute miles as their comfortable pace will find a 12 minute mile very easy to them. Multiply that by 30 miles, and I can definitely bet the farm that all of those people will make it to the end of the run, even with a little energy left to get up and do a run tomorrow.

It's really not rocket science at all. And this is the main reason why we ultrarunners run slow...so that we can run long! The foremost on all ultrarunners' minds in a long race is the preservation of his/her body over that entire distance. And that is what these long runs are about. Taking careful steps on the downhills, and walking the uphills is normal on these runs because these methods preserve the body over the long haul.

I just want to say to everyone out there that ANYONE CAN DO THIS, if they put their mind to it.

One of the comments I got this weekend was that "you are a machine". Now this comment I like! Why, because I can tell them right back that they are machines too. Of all the machines humans have ever built, they have never built one that surpasses that of the human body. You have to acknowledge that the human body is the most extraordinary machine that has ever been created. If you treat it right and give it proper maintenance, the body has the extraordinary ability to repair itself. When stressed, the body automatically adapts and responds to that stress so that it can handle that stress.

You are human machines too. That means you are capable of doing far beyond what you think you are capable of. All you have to do is THINK that you can, and, with proper training and focus, you will do.

So please. What I do is no secret. What I do is not "impossible." What I do is not "superhuman". What I do IS HUMAN! Instead of looking up to me, look to me as someone who is still trying to break his perceived boundaries. We are equal. The only thing that is different between you and me is that I have started to realize that I'm the one responsible for setting limits on myself and that I'm trying my darndest to break them. If you start to realize this, I'm sure you'll act the same way also.

Once a person realizes that he's in a prison, he or she will do whatever it takes to get out. Even a prison of his or her own making.

As a coach, this is what I train people for. To make people realize that they can do what they previously thought they couldn't do. To expand their realm of possibilities, to make them realize that they too are capable of extraordinary things. To get themselves out of their own prison.

And I still run these ultras to prove two points:

1) To prove to myself that I am still quite capable of doing more than I've already done. Even after all these years, I'm still in the process of trying to expand my own boundaries. My choice in going to the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this year is that example. I must admit that a side of me is still convinced that doing four 100 mile ultras is "impossible" for me to do. But I'm willing to prove that side of me wrong.

2) To set an example for other people to start waking up and realize that they are capable of extraordinary things too, if they put their minds to it. The bottom line is that you can indeed set a lofty goal for yourself and work to achieve it. Even if you initially feel that this goal is "impossible" to attain. That is the message I always try to convey to people, that nothing is "impossible".

So please, don't say that nasty word in front of me. I might just give you a bit of a slap just to snap you out of that defeatist attitude you are showing me.



Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Grand Slam Journal: Technology and Running, Really?

This is one of the snippets from my daily Grand Slam journal I'm writing in. I figured it was important to share now.

...and now, things have gotten even more sophisticated. In addition to the heart rate monitors they now trust their phones and watches to give them accurate distances. Most of these runners now have some sort of technology taped to their arms as if they are cyborgs. It just feels so wrong on all sorts of levels that I've naturally resisted getting such devices.

As most runners are stuck with technology to tell them right from wrong, I seem to be one of few who have seen what is wrong with these devices today; that they keep people from being in tune with their own bodies. Listen, I don't care what a heart rate monitor says; if you are out of breath after running for several minutes, chances are that you are going too hard. The body naturally TELLS you these things, if you care to listen.

And that is what this whole ultrarunning philosophy is all about, to get 100% in tune with your body. To know instinctively if you're going too hard or too easy. To know your body's behavior when you start to get dehydrated. To know your body's behavior when you need certain types of foods. To know the warning signs of an impending injury. Yes, the body tells you all these things! You don't need a $300 GPS watch to determine what your pace is; if you've run for plenty of years, you should know your pace instinctively!

I am not anti-technology though. As a coach, I do recommend beginners to get a heart rate monitor so that it can help them start to know what is a hard pace and what is an easy pace. It is a good guide to have for those who are starting out, so that they don't make rookie mistakes. But after several years, I tell athletes to start to wean themselves off the technology and start trusting their bodies to tell them the information they need. That is the road to increased self-awareness, and I'm sorry to say that 99% of these people will not transcend to this level.

Call it a fixation of technology. Again, people create their own limits because they slip into another comfort zone and stay there. It is easy to keep that machine on your arm and have it tell you your pace and heart rate. You really don't have to think hard. Just let the machine do the “thinking” for you. But the downside of this is that machines are NEVER perfect, and more often are worse than your body's signals. In addition, machines like heart rate monitors disregard a lot of variables that might affect your energy and effort from one day to the next. For example, running with a heart rate of 155 might feel good one day, but might feel impossibly hard the next day. Maybe that is because you might be coming down with an illness, or maybe you were dehydrated from the previous day's workout. Or maybe your stress levels from work were much higher than yesterday, leading to much tougher run at that heart rate level. Heart rate monitors don't take these intangibles into account.

Your body and its signals, however take EVERYTHING into account. And that is why it is so important to listen to your body if you really want to perform well in races, especially the longer ones. Getting ultimate sense of awareness of oneself should be the ultimate goal for everyone. Heck you're exercising to make your body better, right? Don't you think that getting to know how your body works is part of that program also?

It's not easy for people to understand this next level of training. It is as alien to them as ultrarunning itself. And I guess that is why there are still few ultrarunners in the world. Yes, ultrarunning has gotten more popular, but these 100 mile races will never get any easier for the people new to it. Look, if people want to run 100 mile ultras and still want to run well into their old age, they are going to HAVE to take their training to this level. Otherwise they will be broken before long. And no heart rate monitor or GPS device will help them at this level.
And even shorter distance athletes should be warned about relying too much on these machines. I've also seen a lot of those people sidelined permanently also because they didn't take that extra step to actually listen to their bodies. Yes, bodies do give very accurate warning signals if you run too hard. If they just got their heads out of their GPS devices and heart rate monitors and actually pay attention, they might finally get the message before they get injured.

 (snippet ends)