With the Fourth of July weekend over I have shifted out of my funk and looking forward to running again. I am not sure what I will focusing on. I have thought about training for a fast 10k time trial, something I have always wanted to do but never had time for with marathon training. There is also some appeal to training for absolutely nothing and just focusing on putting in the work to be a more well-rounded, healthy runner. Whatever the focus will be, I am feeling the urge to lace up, and that is a welcome development because for the last month or so I have lacked that desire.
This week's newsletter looks at a new theory on the benefits of training in the heat, turmoil in USATF, the governing body of US track and field, two areas of performance that have always intrigued me — maintaining consistency after the hard work is done and interpreting good and bad results in competition — and finishes up with a question about social media and how and if it is benefitting us or hurting us as we pursue our work and passions. Let's dig in.
Historically speaking my fall races tend to go better than my spring races and while I do not think that is a result of one factor, I have long believed the stress of training in the heat plays a key role. The hypothesis has long been than heat training simulates altitude training, resulting in the body creating new hemoglobin, the carrier in red blood cells that ferries oxygen from your blood to your muscles. While that still appears to be the endgame of heat training, Alex Hutchinson explains in this article how the mechanism might be different from previously thought. Why is that important? The adaptation may take longer — closer to five weeks — than the shorter time period that was previously hypothesized. While that has implications for professionals who may not be able to commit to such a long time period running hard in hotter temperatures, it is encouraging for amateur runners like me who have to fit a run in wherever possible, often resulting in months of training in the heat of the summer.
Much of my focus on the professional side of running has been on endurance road racing but with the Olympics having been scheduled this year I was beginning to devote more time to familiarizing myself with various track and field athletes as it is one of the sports I cannot get enough of during the Games. As I have dug in I have been saddened by the apparent turmoil within USATF, the country's governing body for track and field. Observers lament that the body is plagued by several internal controversies, which this article from Runner's World highlights, and that those controversies result in a the body being unable to properly market and support the sport and its athletes. It is sadly reminiscent of what I have seen reported at US Soccer, where a number of missteps, internal squabbles, and reports of nepotism and harassment led to the men's team missing the 2018 World Cup and have kept youth development stuck in neutral despite the sport's widespread appeal to children. Both running and soccer are sports that are easily picked up from a young age and promote healthy, active lifestyles. It's criminal that two different organizing bodies cannot get their acts together to better promote and market their respective games and athletes.
Must keep this short of the recap will be longer than the post. Basically, start with a good idea, then recognize the need to question, re-evaluate, and do the work. Over and over again.
I have often pondered on one of the inherent unfairnesses in distance running: you spend months, even years training for a single race where factors outside your control can upend all that work. How do we interpret a poor performance? Are you unlucky? Is it a lack of talent? A lack of skill? In this opinion piece, writer Maria Konnikova asks these questions using her experience with poker to explain her findings. Though different from running, poker offers up a useful comparison that runners can apply to their racing. Much like there are knowns (what cards you have) and unknowns (what cards your opponents have) in poker, the same is true in running and racing: we know what our weekly volume was and what our nutrition during training looked like while we don't know what race day conditions will be or if we will experience sudden intestinal discomfort at Mile 20 (it sucks!). How you respond to and explain the swings of the game, or of the race, is itself a skill, and one that if cultivated will make you stronger, more resilient, and better able to handle what is coming next.
A lot of Cal Newport lately in this space lately and this post continues Newport's ongoing discussion with just how useful and important, or not, social media is in the modern world. Here he discusses the experience of professional sport climber, Madison Fischer, with social media and why she eventually decided to quit it despite gaining a fairly large following. At the crux of Fischer's decision is the realization that climbing, and constantly posting about it, had become performative rather than authentic. The audience having been built, she felt a need to feed it and it effected how she interacted with a sport she loved. It is a quick and interesting read and ends with a provocative question: are these services making you a better or worse version of myself? It is a battle I have been waging with myself for awhile now, even as I use social media platforms to try to build readership for this newsletter, listenership for my podcast, and establish some outreach for an online coaching business that is coming down the road. How can I balance them and remain true to myself and focused on my goals? I keep exploring the question.
This Week's Quote
I pulled this quote the other day from the May 21 edition of James Clear's excellent 3-2-1 Newsletter and have been thinking about it non-stop since, largely as I try to craft a more focused post-COVID lockdown existence. The quote, from author Michael Lewis, is one whose running implications are evident but easily applies to all aspects of life.
“As I’ve gotten older—I would say starting in my mid-to-late 20s—I could not help but notice the effect on people of the stories they told about themselves. If you listen to people, if you just sit and listen, you’ll find that there are patterns in the way they talk about themselves.
"There’s the kind of person who is always the victim in any story that they tell. Always on the receiving end of some injustice. There’s the person who’s always kind of the hero of every story they tell. There’s the smart person; they delivered the clever put down there.
"There are lots of versions of this, and you’ve got to be very careful about how you tell these stories because it starts to become you. You are—in the way you craft your narrative—kind of crafting your character. And so I did at some point decide, “I am going to adopt self-consciously as my narrative, that I’m the happiest person anybody knows.” And it is amazing how happy-inducing it is.”
A Small Request
This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.
If you want to read more about Adam's running or about performance, visit his website: www.impactrunning.wordpress.com.