Being a Competitor

It’s hard to believe we’re at the half way point of 2014 Indoor season. The time has flown by, and the countdown to conference is on. As of Monday, February 10, 2014 we have two throwers that have earned their way to the Conference meet, and another not far behind. I would love every thrower to make it to conference and compete, but I know there are some areas where there is room for improvement. The most important mindset almost every successful athlete has is the need and desire to compete.

Whether an athlete is going to the conference meet or not, they still need to be pushing themselves to be a competitor. Being a competitor means more than just participating in a meet. Being a competitor is about being aware of the situation and getting the best out of every throw. A great competitor knows they could be three feet behind the leader going into the last round, and they can still have a chance to win the meet. At times that may not be a realistic thought, but a true competitor doesn’t let that self-doubt enter their mind.

I could go on for days about certain qualities competitors have, but I’m not going to ramble too much today. I’ll do my best to keep posting to keep you updated how our team does, and how the season is going. Remember- keep pushing, keep grinding, and keep competing.

-Steven Ricke, Assistant Track Coach (Throws)

Harambee: All Pull Together

The Following is an excerpt from “Running with the Kenyans” by Adharanand Finn:

Unlike athletes from other parts of the world, such as the Jamaican Usain Bolt, Kenyan runners rarely seek out the limelight.  Even when they win gold medals, they always bring their teammates with them on their lap of honor.  The teammates, who may have finished in last place, can often seem as happy as the winner.  Kenyan runners will also often race as a team, with one of the athletes sacrificing his chances of winning to act as a pacemaker for his countrymen.  All this selflessness is simply a reflection of how Kenyans are raised.

“Very few of the Kenyan champions come from a sheltered family unit,” Toby Tanser explains to me one day, sitting on the grass in our garden.  “Instead, they are brought up as part of the wider community of a village, almost like pieces of a bicycle chain.  They soon learn about harambee.”  Harambee is a Kenyan tradition, in which a whole community will come together to help itself.  It literally means “all pull together” and is the official motto of Kenya.  “when a Kenyan wins a medal, or a large amount of money,” says Toby, “he reflects on the journey that took him to that moment, and he realizes, perhaps better than we do, that no person achieves without the help and support of those around him.”

-Page 140, “Running with the Kenyans” by Adharanand Finn (2013)

How different is this mindset from ours?  I know that there is a great temptation to view our sport as an “individual sport.”  We can qualify to the state meet as an “individual.”  We can earn a scholarship because of “our” merits.  We should not dismiss our accomplishments as being insignificant or think it selfish to receive an award for personal achievement.  But we should remember that we are where we are because of the people in our lives who helped and supported us along the way.  The medal may not have their name on it but lets try hard to see all the people who went into equipping us to be the one to win it.  And let’s also look around and see how we can help those around us and support them on their quest for the prize as well.

Rest vs. Rust

This is the time of year when most distance runners are either at or eagerly anticipating a much deserved and needed break.  The state meet is over, track feels a long way off, and most of us have been running almost everyday since the beginning of June.  Now is definitely a good time for a break.

In our sport, taking a day off is an unfamiliar experience.  Our “easy” day is usually comprised of a 5 mile run.  To the average non-runner that does not sound like a very “easy” day.  But we must remember that we need rest now and then and not just for the physical benefits.

After the cross country and track season it is good to take a week or two and get away from things.  No need to go to practice, maybe even take a day where you do nothing at all.  Be a regular student for a day, go home at 3:00 pm and wonder what people do every day do from 3:00-5:00 pm.  But don’t get used to it.

I encourage my athletes to stay active when they rest.  Go shoot hoops, play ultimate frisbee, go for a walk, etc.  This is called active rest.  Some even choose to go out for a light jog.  The important thing with rest and the nonphysical benefit of it, is to refresh us mentally.  You need to rest in a way that physically, mentally, and emotionally prepares you to be hungry and excited about getting back out there and building up your mileage for the next season.  If you start training for the track season three days after your last cross country race you are risking getting to January and already feeling bored and tired.  The reverse is also a bad idea, taking two or three months off in between seasons.  Don’t wait for official practice to start before you start running and building up your mileage.  For a distance runner cross country starts in June and track starts in November (or earlier December) no matter what the official practice schedule says.

One disclaimer to all this.  If you finished your season nursing an injury, there are certain injuries that sitting around and doing absolutely nothing for two weeks, could be the worse thing for you (there are other injuries where that might be one of the better things).  Make sure you talk to someone who is knowledgeable about sport injuries when planning your down time after the season.

When we race we race hard.  Now its time to rest, so lets rest hard.  Resting is an important part of our year-round training.

Peaking?

It is that time of the Fall where every cross country runner is hoping and preparing to run their best races over the next few weeks.  Peaking, tapering, sharpening up.  There are probably a few more “terms” that are being talked a lot about right now.  So how can a distance runner be ready to run his or her best when it matters most?  Is there a special workout that needs to be done?  What percentage should mileage be reduced by?  Should we be approaching races with a different strategy now?

All of this depends are where you are at in your development as a runner.

“The magic workout”

There’s no such thing.  This is the point of the season where we begin to test and adapt to simulating what goal race pace is during our workouts.  Perhaps the distance of the workouts is shortened, likely the intensity is also picking up.  But in all this, we should still be trying to run as comfortable and relaxed as possible (but also at a faster pace).  The more relaxed and comfortable we can run at a quicker pace, the more prepared we are going to be for the start of that big race coming up.

“Backing off mileage”

Commonly called tapering.  Most distance runners generally don’t hit their peak mileage the week before or the week of a big race at the end of the season.  But they also don’t cut their mileage down a great deal either.  Remember, in any distance race the vast majority of what we are using is developed through our aerobic training (those easy runs, the long runs, the accumulation of getting out and running each day over months and months).  This is our bread and butter and we never want to get too far from this.  Over the season we’ve established a routine let’s stick to it and back off a little so as to feel a little fresher but not too much because we need to stick to what makes us strong and stay in the routine.

“Changing our mental approach?”

In the early portion of the season we are more focused on training, banking that work for later.  So we won’t be able to run our absolute best, nor do we want to (we can only be “peaked” and ready for our best races for a small window of the year so we plan out our training so that happens at the end of the season).  But when we race, we are still competing.  Whether it be against one team or 20.  Even a time trial in practice is a great opportunity to practice competing.  So we should approach each race ready to give what we have on that day.  Now, as we come up to the last few races of the year we don’t have to change our mentality.  We already have the right approach and race day preparation.  We keep the routine and now that we have planned our training to enable us to chase PR’s at this time of the year all we have to do is jump in the race and compete and the rest will take care of itself.

Disclaimer

All of this works great if you started running consistently in June.  It works better if you’ve been running consistently in and out of season for a few years.  If you are just jumping into running when school starts you won’t see quite the same benefits from this end-of-season preparation.  Instead the greatest factor is to continue to get more fit each week. If you are able to have success with this approach, that should tell you that if you prepare and train in the offseason you can go to a whole new level.  That should excite you.  The prospect and hope of the potential not yet grasped is what should drive any athlete to continue in their perseverance.