On a recent trip to visit family in Utah, I went on an early morning recovery run and wound up in the ER. After a long day of travel and a poor night’s sleep, I arose early to run and found myself struggling to maintain an 11:00/mi pace (for me, that’s very, very easy under normal conditions). Initially, I rationalized that I was probably dehydrated from the flight, and that I was now running at 5,000 ft elevation when I live and train at sea level, and that I was tired from not sleeping well. All of those factors were valid reasons as to why I’d struggle, so I pushed on, trying to shake off the extreme fatigue. However, I only made it around the block before deciding to stop and walk back. During that 5 minute run, my heart rate had skyrocketed and I had to sit down on the curb 3 different times just to catch my breath.
Something wasn’t right. And I knew it.
Last month at Ironman Maryland, I raced in the most humid conditions I’ve ever been in. It was 99% humidity at the race start, and dropped off to 90% at the end of the day. It was warm, muggy, and all together pretty painful, with the conditions wreaking havoc on the field of the almost 300 athletes in my division. In the end, I was 5th in my division, but I was only a few minutes off second place, 83 seconds off 3rd place and 9 seconds off 4th! 9 measly seconds over the course of an almost 10 hour race!
Over several weeks, I’ve thought back many times to that race, assessing where I could have made up those seconds. Had I done a few things differently, I could have been second in my division on the day (the first place guy in my division won the entire race outright- an example of how competitive it is in my group).
Over the course of almost 10 hours, there are dozens of choices to make, and any number of details that can contribute to either success or failure.
Recently, my client Kate (a Southern California grandmother of 9) summitted Kilimanjaro. There were months of preparation, both physically and logistically, just to get to Tanzania. Once there, the hard part began and she had to put on foot in front of the other and push on for 7 days straight. After she arrived back in LA where she lives, she and I discussed her adventure. I asked Kate what was the biggest factor in her success on the trip (some in her group didn’t make it up). She answered without hesitation: The guides.
With 2020 in the rearview mirror, the entire world is breathing a sigh of relief as we get this most difficult year behind us. So much has changed in just 365 days, with a global health crisis dominating so much of our lives for what has seemed like an eternity. Entire countries have been locked down and huge events such as the Olympics, the Boston marathon, and the Ironman World Championships (along with almost every other athletic event) have been cancelled or postponed. On a smaller and more personal scale, families have been separated for weddings, funerals, baptisms, birthdays, and holidays. In short, it's been a really hard year.
Yet, as with all hard things, there are a few lessons we can learn from maybe the most globally challenging year in our lifetime.
A few weeks ago, an “Elite only” version of the London Marathon was held. On a typical British day, some of the best runners in the world battled the cold, the wind, the rain, and each other to see who would be crowned champion. Kenyan superstar Eluid Kipchoge was the heavy favorite. The Olympic champion, world record holder, and the only human to ever run 26.2 miles in under 2 hours, had not been beaten at the marathon in 7 years.
He placed 8th.
The Marine Corps Marathon happened here two weeks ago, and it was anything but optimum conditions. With rain, 98% humidity, and soaring temps, it felt more like racing in Florida than in Northern Virginia. Ironically, the unofficial Marine Corps motto is “Improvise, adapt, overcome”, and that is exactly what tens of thousands of runners had to do in order to complete this most challenging of races.
“Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” is a great mantra for not only the Marines, or for running the MCM, but for ALL exercise endeavors.
Have you ever had an important fitness goal you discovered you just weren’t going to reach? One TFE athlete made that discovery last weekend. By exercising 3 important principles - focus on what you can control, adapt your goal, focus on small victories - she turned what might be called a failure into an unexpected success.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to meet with some of the best coaches in the fitness industry at the Endurance Coaching Summit in Boulder, Co. earlier this month. It was a two and a half days packed full of incredible information about everything endurance fitness related; from cutting edge technology, to the latest and greatest from the world of performance nutrition, to what the best in the business do to motivate, inspire, and develop their athletes. Of course, the goal of the entire conference (and every coach and fitness professional there) was to find out how best to improve performance in their athletes. Seasoned athletes and weekend warriors alike want to get the best out of themselves and perform up to their potential, whether that means qualifying for the world championships, or simply giving their best effort in the gym twice a week. We all want to see positive results. We want to see improvement.
Of the hundreds of events I’ve competed in, I’ve dropped out of a race exactly one time. Only once. I had traveled west to race the Utah Half, a half-iron distance triathlon. I was racing in my own backyard in front of my family and friends and I knew this course well!
My fitness level was at an all-time high, and this was a tune up event prior to racing as a guide for my friend and blind triathlete Richard Hunter in Ironman Florida. I was ready. I was fit. I was confident. I was certain I’d make it onto the podium, and bask in the accolades and cheers of family and friends...but it sure didn’t work out that way. A lower back disc issue flared up during the bike ride and caused me to slow to a literal crawl on the run. Rather than risk further injury and jeopardize the chance to guide Richard, I dropped out. All that work. All that time. All that money. All wasted. I didn’t even finish! I hung my head in shame as I limped back to my bewildered friends and family.