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January 2018 training recap

January 2018 training recap

Hot damn. January, you were fast.

Admittedly, I’m one of those people who actually likes the whole “new year, new you” vibe that comes with the territory of a new year, but I don’t particularly buy much into it. I’m of the mindset that if you want to make some sort of lasting change in your life, do it whenever you want; it doesn’t have to be a certain month of the year, time of the year, day of the week, or whatever. I mean, honestly, if you decide that you want to start running, there’s no reason why you can’t take that first step on a random Tuesday afternoon in April, ya know? That said, I do appreciate January because for a lot of people, it’s that kick in the pants, that “fresh start,” that they want/need to start chasing down big goals. It’s inspiring to watch and be a part of.

And yet … I didn’t really begin this year or this month with any audacious goals to speak of. After a very light month of running following CIM in early December, I knew January was going to be a return to business as usual: lots of commute miles with my kids, regular workouts, routine long runs, the SOP. Add to the running stuff a very busy month with my eldest’s school,  planning a big event for Girl Scouts, and lots of activity with her GS troop — it’s cookie season (yay!), but dear lord, it’s a labor of love — along with the usual life stuff, including potty training (which has gone really well, thankfully), and here we are, one month down and 212 healthy miles later.

part of this month’s 212 miles

Everyone’s busy, I get it, but when you’re a SAHM, it can be really easy to silo yourself away from reality and stay within the four walls of your home day in and day out. It has been really gratifying to feel like I am contributing in a very direct way to my community, to her school, and to the lives of many families right now, as cheesy or ridiculous as that may sound. Sometimes I wonder if I am shortchanging myself — personally and/or professionally — by staying home to raise my kids, but I think right now I’m at a bit of a sweet spot or at least approaching it. If December was mostly about resting and recovering post-CIM and post-holidays, January was all business, all the time, and an ongoing exercise in re-routinizing priorities again, both running-related and otherwise. It was a good month overall.

back to biznass

A funny thing about the commute mileage with my kids: I put a challenge out there to A that if she rode her bike to/from school for 15 days in January, I’d take her to a salon and get her nails done. She was totally on board from the get-go and actually, pretty enthusiastic about it. We had been talking about goal-setting a lot recently (see above note related to selling GS cookies), and I know she loves to ride her bike, especially after school, but sometimes — like with any of us — the motivation can be lacking. I am not that parent who is adamant about my child being in particular sports or activities, “following in my footsteps,” or even sharing in my passions, but it’s really important to me to instill in my children what a healthy lifestyle entails: in this case, playing outside more often than not. When we’re run/ride commuting to school, we’re not going particularly fast or particularly far, but I think it has become an important and meaningful (and enjoyable) part of her day, and like a lot of us can relate to, she often says how good/strong she feels when she’s done. That’s money, man. The new added challenge has been to practice addition and subtraction on the fly, which is actually harder than I would have anticipated. (PS She hit her 15 day goal!)

I’m obsessed

Sunday is the my first race of the year and the first PA race on the calendar, a 10k in Sacramento, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m not really certain where my fitness is, but I’m willing to figure it out. The PA races are generally a good time, so I’m looking forward to seeing what my team and I can do. It should be fun in a red-lining, uncomfortable way. 

just a handful of us (PC: WRC)

Aside from the commute mileage with the kids, most weekends in January I posted my long runs on trails, and I think that has helped my mental and physical fitness along. Trails make me care less about my pace and more about time on my feet, and I think — regardless of technicality — they can play a huge role in preparing your body to be able to withstand the rigors and intensity of training, for marathons or otherwise.  Plus, it’s so pretty. 

Sunday morning sunrise service (PC: Janet)


Different place, yet still the same pretty (PC: Janet)

The yin to the LR on trails’ yang has been running in ovals during swim practices each week, and that, too, seems to be working advantageously for me. It’ll usually shake out to one night being easy ovals and the other being a workout, and selfishly, it works fantastically for me because it means I don’t have to endure a 3:xx a.m. wake-up during the week. I can usually run my workout (with no/an abbreviated CD, depending on the mileage I ran during the daytime) and still manage to catch the end of swim practice.

If variety is the spice of life, I feel like my January’s running is like a veritable spice cabinet… or something. Tenuous metaphor. It’s past my bedtime.

…and when the oval is locked up, adjacent parking lots will do


Bring on February!


Reading: So many good books right now, some of which I’ve already reviewed here. If Our Bodies Could Talk was an enjoyable non-running-related read that I found completely endearing and entertaining; Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg’s Peak Performance was informative; and Joe Biden’s Promise Me, Dad left me bawling in almost every chapter. I’ve started another running-related book that I am honestly so excited to recap if for no other reason than I want more people to know about it and read it for themselves.

Writing: More, hopefully; that’s the goal, anyway. When I taught first-quarter, first-year college students writing, rhetoric, and discourse, I told them that writing is a skill that people tend to improve with practice. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll become the next pivotal American author, but you’ll probably find that writing frequently lends itself to lots of ideas and fodder for future writings. You write to … beget more writing, ultimately, even if you think your original stuff is trash. (It’s ok; we all think that). So often I say that I want to write more in this space, but I ultimately don’t. This year, my soft goal is to write something here once a week. I think I can do it and still be able to thoughtfully contribute to whatever the discussion is at the time (or not… I mean, who knows). I have tons of ideas; it’s just a matter of routinizing my writing as I have other areas of my life. 

Anticipating: The first PA race on Sunday and both my parents and my in-laws coming to visit in February. It’s going to be an excellent month.

Listening to: Nothing much, TBH; I kinda feel like I’m on a podcast hiatus and instead am just reveling in any silence that I can get.

Watching: Honestly, not much, again. Whenever I’ve had downtime this month, I’ve been more inclined to put away my phone and pick up one of the books that I’m reading. However, C showed me this awesome video from Burger King explaining net neutrality to people (weird, right?). If you haven’t watched it yet, go nuts.


Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg’s _Peak Performance_

Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg’s _Peak Performance_

I feel like the longer I’ve been a runner and thus immersed in this big ol’ running community, the more commonly I hear people — people who don’t currently run — lament that they could “never be a runner,” to which the common retort I hear is “if I can do this, anyone can.” When my friends talk about their simply unfathomable-to-me athletic accomplishments, like crazy fast times, super high weekly and monthly volume, long-ass and intense races like IM or ultramarathons, they, too, will often say that being able to complete those gargantuan feats ultimately boils down to mind over matter. Once they’ve made up their mind to do the thing, not much else will be able to stand in the way of them and said thing. It’s a choice, to be sure, but it’s a choice filled with a shit-ton of intention and deliberation, as well as innumerous decisions day in and day out to support that choice for weeks, if not also months (or years) on end.

With endurance events like marathons, halfs, and ultras becoming increasingly popular over the past 5-10 years, maybe it’s not so coincidental that there seems to also be an uptick in sports psych books that focus on the mental side of the game, the “if I can do this, anyone can” part. If anyone can allegedly do this stuff, what is it, exactly, that makes some of us more successful than others? If everything else is equal, if you take athletes who are physically primed for their race, have all their other variables set to a positive outcome (like not having any glimmers of injury or overuse, having gotten a sufficient amount of sleep, arriving to the race appropriately tapered, and having consumed a healthful diet, among others), how or why do some athletes just crumble, and others thrive?

From my armchair analysis and recall of the literature that’s popped up in the past 5 years, it seems that many subject matter experts would say that an athlete’s mental training — and capacity to mentally endure the going when the going gets really, really tough — is what will differentiate him/her from a competitor. The training that you post in the days/weeks/months preceding your race matters — absolutely — but your physical strength will only take you so far. When shit hits the fan and starts to fly mid-race, your mental game is what will ultimately save or sacrifice you.

Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg’s Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success (published in 2017) is yet another contribution to this burgeoning sports psych canon for us laypeople. We plebeian athletes probably don’t have ready access or disposable income to reputable sports psychologists to make us killer weekend warriors and AG athletes, but damn if we can’t pick up a book published by Velo or Rodale and hope for the best. (A quick aside here to say that I got my copy from inter-library loan and that my commentary isn’t sponsored in any way; I just liked the book — and thought it worthwhile enough — to share about it).

this is laughably not helpful. Sorry.

You probably recognize Magness’ name from his time writing for both Running Times (RIP) and Runner’s World, his Science of Running blog, his coaching numerous World Champs and Olympic athletes, or the small fact that he was a whistleblower (along with Kara Goucher) against Alberto Salazar and Nike’s Oregon Project, circa 2015. He’s an exercise scientist and from my perspective, one of the most reputable out there. You may know Stulberg from his extensive writing contributions at Outside, New York, or Runner’s World, among others, when he wasn’t working at McKinsey and throwing down hugely impressive accomplishments, like reporting to the White House before he was 30. These guys know their stuff, and this work, especially when taken together with others like Angela Duckworth’s Grit and Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It? can be really helpful to any of us who want to figure out ways to get our mental game on par with that of our physical. It’s so much more than mantras and power songs; there are systems involved, lots of intentional choices that we must make, and a fair amount of self-transcendence that will help us get to the top of our game, whatever our game may be.  

The shitty thing about mental training, or in general, about breaking through plateaus and going beyond ourselves, for lack of a better phrase, is that it can be really tough. Captain Obvious here, for sure, but really, if you’ve ever done anything remotely “hard” in your life — whether it’s something in your professional life, an athletic pursuit, red-lining in a race, or hell, even trying to raise children who will grow up to be thoughtful and kind contributors to society — you know that sometimes — or realistically, most of the time — it’s far easier and more convenient to give in and quit than it is to stay the course and work hard. Sure, there may be some things in life that come more easily to us than others, but for the most part, if we want to improve, we’ve gotta put our head down and be willing to work for it. Many of us want to improve at something in our life (our professional duties, our athletic pursuits, whatever), but when it comes down to it, few of us really are willing to do the dirty, grinding work that begets real, meaningful, quantifiable or qualifiable improvement. It’s easy to dream big dreams; it’s hard to roll up our sleeves and go all in.

all in. (PC: Saurabh, methinks)

What’s weird, too — if not bizarre — is that for as positive/optimistic as many of us are, we tend to be profoundly adept at being horribly negative at the same time. We wouldn’t skip a beat in encouraging our friends on their own pursuits — work hard! You can do it! Relentless forward progress! — but when it comes to us realizing our own, we can think of a thousand different reasons why we’re going to fail and why we should just not even try, while we’re still ahead. Complacency is complacency for a reason, right? Whether consciously or not, we tend to self-sabotage, and if we’re not careful, we may start careening toward a dark place void of just about anything. Sound familiar? 

In PP, Stulberg and Magness break down their ideas to “sustainable success” into three parts that focus on growth, priming, and purpose. In their words, PP teaches its readers “how to elevate their performance by optimally alternating between periods of intense work and rest; priming the body and mind for enhanced productivity; and developing and harnessing the power of a self-transcending purpose.” Admittedly, a lot of that sounds a bit wishy-washy and likely would have induced some eye-rolling on my part, had I not recognized Magness’ name and known his work. Stay with me, though. It’s not all keyword tiles on the Business Bullshit Bingo card; there actually is a lot of good stuff in there.

A lot of the information they give is pretty pragmatic, more focused on systems ops than anything, but some of it might surprise you. You likely already know the value of having a workspace that’s primed for your work, and you probably are well aware that it’s important to figure out when you work best — night versus day, for example — and to structure your day accordingly, or as much as you can anyway. Rituals, schedules, and predictability matter for a reason; this type of stuff is pretty straightforward and stuff I can remember teaching my first year, first quarter undergrads as a TA in their “welcome to college/here’s how to not fail out” seminar. You likely also already know or have experienced the value of surrounding yourself with the “right people” in your life, folks who will be supportive of you and your endeavors. Magness and Stulberg talk about all of this stuff in detail and provide the data and research to corroborate their claims (and even some neuroscience connections, when applicable, which was pretty interesting to read).

As runners, we probably know or have heard of the importance of the stress + rest = growth/adaptation cycle, but what surprised me was seeing how the authors applied the same principle to other aspects of life, ones that aren’t at all athletics-based, but are places wherein you have room to grow and consequently achieve a greater performance. In running, we can’t expect to work work work work work all the time, every day, all day and have a breakthrough; this is why runners who basically “race” most of their training runs wind up injured. Indeed, it’s during our periods of (deliberate, fruitful, purposeful) rest when we really reap the rewards of our hard work. So it goes, too, for non-athletic pursuits. (This is why so many major tech companies have designed their campuses the way that they have. It may be less expensive to just have a sterile, nondescript cubicle farm, but they know that their best engineers aren’t going to have their eureka! moment when they’re toiling away at their desk).

not toiling away in a cube.

The authors provide a good amount of data and footnoted research that back up their assertions, and sprinkled in throughout the text are vignettes that feature people’s stories — athlete and layperson — that illustrate the point at hand. Unlike Fitzgerald’s book, which (IIRC) used an individual athlete’s extensive case study as each basis for his assertions, in PP the people profiles are considerably shorter and seem to serve more as augmentations to the principles. In essence, PP is more about the data and research findings and less on the story-telling, but I can assure you that it’s a completely accessible read. For as data- and science-driven as it is, it’s not like reading an annotated bibliography or anything like that, nor does it necessitate graduate-degree knowledge to understand their claims. PP and Duckworth’s Grit are on the proverbial same page in that way, and they both apply their findings to an array of disciplines, not restricting themselves to athletics or running, in particular. Anyone who would stand to benefit from improving their game — whatever that game is — could benefit from reading PP. Really.

Getting ourselves mentally stronger is really hard, and to be honest, some days it sucks. I mean, what can we expect? With running, when we are trying to get in shape to perform the best that we can for a particular race, sprinkled throughout the good/great days are ones that are less so, ones that are more along the ok/bad spectrum; not everything is the proverbial unicorns-shitting-rainbows. It can be tempting to think that all we have to do to increase our game is to read a bunch of sports psych books like PP, and voila! We will become Olympic-caliber! Of course, though, it doesn’t work like that. The only way we can increase our mental muscle is, well, just the same way we increase any of our muscles: by intentional and extensive use. It’s so much more than duking it out through a grueling workout and repeating some mantra that we’ve haphazardly made for ourselves; there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved. PP walks you through that behind-the-scenes stuff. 

More than anything, we have to allow ourselves to put ourselves in positions that we know will tax us (knowing we might fail, but hey! that’s ok! It’s part of the process) and just keep the thing, the thing, and do the damn thing, knowing that we’ll be ultimately better for it. It’ll be in those instances that we’ll be able to use the tips and knowledge we glean from books like Peak Performance, Grit, or How Bad Do You Want It? to work toward becoming more mentally resilient and more closely aligned with actualizing our potential.

improving is tiring, but surrounding yourself with the right people mitigates it tremendously.

At this point, I can’t say that this book has changed my life or anything comparably dramatic (I just finished it a day or two ago), but I can say that I felt it was a worthwhile use of my time, which is laudatory in and of itself. Some of their findings I’ve heard and read before, sure, because I enjoy the subject matter and have read others’ works that focus on the same, but I learned a lot of new information as well. I have a solid racing calendar that’ll be starting soon, and between that and all my other engagements, I will have plenty of opportunities to apply some of the PP findings to my own life. There are lots of things that I’m not at this point in my life — an Olympic-caliber athlete, a full-time working parent, an entrepreneur, or a full-time student, for example — yet I am wearing enough hats in my life in other respects that can lend to some personal growth and challenge, should I decide that I want to do more than skate by and hang with the status quo.  

I think that’s the underlying crux of the book: this type of stuff is for everyone. You don’t have to be the best in your class. In fact, it’s a safe assumption that you’re probably not. That makes you … normal.

You can, however, probably do more, or do better, than what you’re doing right now. That’s also ok. That also makes you … normal.

The onus is ultimately on you to take the first step, and Peak Performance can be your guide in the process.