by: Chris Compson, Endangered Endurance Running Co. owner/coach
There are thousands of articles written about the lessons that new runners can learn from their more experienced peers or their hero elites. From modeling our training and nutrition to favorite socks and sports bras, there seems to be no limit to the advice given to novice runners from the mouths and closets of the seasoned veterans. While there is certainly a point to learning from the best, or even just the slightly better, Newbies offer more to the veterans than just bolstered race entries and throngs to clean up the last of the post-run bagels.
Lesson 1: Embrace occasional recklessness
It happens at every race I’ve ever witnessed or entered. “That guy.” The guy, or girl, who goes out at a break-neck and potentially suicidal pace, running well faster that he/she has ever run in practice or a race before. Veterans in the lead pack watch this happen and chuckle waiting for the impending implosion when they will casually sweep past the remains of this momentary hero. As a coach, I spend countless hours working with athletes to avoid this very situation. However, there is a lesson here. Perhaps the oldest lesson in running. If you want to run fast, you have to run fast. If you want to achieve something you never have, whether it be a personal best time or conquering a new distance or challenge, you have to do something you have never done. You must embrace some recklessness. The more seasoned and proficient we become at something, there is a tendency to become ever more methodical, ever more scientific. It is amazing the number of times I have to tell highly accomplished runners to “not think, just run.” At times we become obsessed with hitting perfect splits, or measuring our efforts so precisely that we never put ourselves in the danger zone where greatness is found. Watching this year’s London Marathon, everyone commented that Mary Keitany was running at an unsustainable pace. Surely she would implode in a disastrous second half, all the announcers commented. But Mary Keitany didn’t implode. Sure, she suffered. And sure, she didn’t hold the world-record pace through to the finish line. But by embracing some recklessness, she went on to run the second-fastest women’s marathon of all-time.
Lesson 2: Hide in the Gym
As a high school coach, I work with athletes of every ability and experience level. From individuals who have won state championships and competed in national-caliber events to athletes who arrive for the first day of practice in a pair of Air Jordan’s and jeans. The spread of personalities and performances is one of the great joys of working with this diverse group, and also one of the great challenges. For the “Air Jordan” group, undertaking the task of running daily is, in itself, a monumental effort, and at the age of 15 or 16, one that is often avoided. When one of my Newbies is unaccounted for during a training session, I can almost guarantee they will be found in one place…the gym. My Newbies will occasionally replace the daunting task of their first interval workout or hill repeat session with an activity they feel more comfortable doing, such as lifting weights, working on stability exercises, or going through our core strengthening circuit. Though I wouldn’t recommend any serious or seasoned runner avoid running workouts by hiding in the gym, my Newbies remind the state champions of the importance of doing the supplemental work that leads to successful, injury-free training. As we gain experience and accolades, a common misperception that we no longer need to focus on stretching, strengthening, or stability often sets in. We are successful runners because we run, end of story. However, hiding in the gym, within each of my Newbies moving through another yoga pose, is the foundation of a successful runner being built. And while I will certainly reprimand their avoidance of the key to running (…running), I also tip my cap to their acknowledgement that there is more to running well than just running.
Lesson 3: Experience the Joy
I have run numerous races with first-time runners/racers, and inevitably, their reaction after crossing the finish line is the same. “That was so much FUN!” This exclamation is usually proclaimed breathlessly, with arms raised, heading for the water recovery station. Watches may, or may not have been stopped, but the statement does not hinge on first checking the finishing clock. The statement is undermined by an asterisk stating, “see race splits for confirmation.” As veterans and elite runners, we often determine the level of satisfaction with any race or run based on the objective reference of a finishing time or average pace. We could have felt fantastic and enjoyed every moment of a competition, but if we missed a personal best by a few strides, our entire view of the experience is almost instantaneously shifted. Likewise, feeling miserable throughout and miraculously achieving a new record results in immediately signing up for the race the following year. What the Newbies blissfully ignorant exclamation reminds us is that running and racing is meant to be about more than just the stopwatch. It is meant to be about a shared experience, an internal challenge to test our limits, a communal celebration of the human spirit, and occasionally a really sweet swag-bag! Newbies remind us that the reason we began doing this, and continue to pursue this wild passion, is that it is darn good fun.
So thank you Newbies for all your flaws and fantasticisms, may we all learn from your wild and winding road.