I was trudging through a horse pasture the other day (I was doing some archaeological field work) by myself, and one of the many things that popped into my head were some of the things that have helped me in my running (like the ability to trudge through horse pastures). I came up with nine things (and Endorphin Dude came up with one more) that I think have really helped me be a better runner.
Since I brought it up in the opening paragraph, I will start with being an archaeologist. The perception of being an archaeologist is sitting in a dusty library or hanging out in the desert excavating an Egyptian pyramid with a paint brush. However, most of the time archaeology is performed by doing survey. In California and the Southwest US, that involves walking across the landscape looking for stuff (hopefully, old cool stuff). In the Southeast, it involves an added element of physical exertion in the form of digging holes.
Most of the work happens in the summer, and if you want your project to stay under budget you need to get it done. Even if it is 100 degrees out, or if it is raining (which happens a lot in the South in the summer). This experience helps me during those really sucky runs, especially when my feet hurt or the weather is awful. Just keep on going. Can you dig it?
We all know that running really isn’t a cheap activity. Despite what people said, “All you need is a pair of shoes” we all know that we spend (probably way too much) money on running clothes, GPS watches, race fees (oh, the race fees), and a myriad of other things, but it still cheaper than golf, scuba diving, snow skiing/boarding, race car driving, skydiving, and restoring old cars. So, by being cheap, I don’t do any of these other activities (well, except a little bit of old car restoration) and can focus on running.
Another thing is that I hate wasting money, so I train hard so that I am sure I will finish a race that I paid for. Not running the Mickey Marathon because I was bedridden with some violent stomach bug really sucked because of the wasted money (and not getting the Goofy Medal. Another example is when I did the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, I trained really hard. I made sure that the hills I biked were steeper, longer, and farther than the actual course, same with my runs. The swimming, was a bit less, but I did make sure I could swim the whole distance in open water before the actual swim (more on Alcatraz in a different post). I did really well on that race, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, because I trained my butt off.
That said, triathlons are expensive. More gear, higher race fees, more training, etc, means they are definitely not cheap. But I would love to do them again.
I am a math dork. There really isn’t anything more sexy than a guy who can do pace calculations in his head while he’s running an ultra marathon, right?
But really, I do math in my head while I run. I figure what my pace needs to be finish a distance in a certain time. I figure out the error between my Garmin and the actual distance at each mile marker (I am pretty consistent at 1% over the actual distance, which is 0.25 miles during a marathon, but I calculate it at 2%), and how fast my pace really needs to be. Then I figure out how much faster I need to (or slower I can) run for the rest of the race to meet my goal. If nobody is around me, I usually talk this out loud.
This also keeps me distracted from whatever pain I am feeling at the moment.
Stay at home Dad
Being a stay at home parent is great for running. Why? Well, if you want to get in a run and get the baby to go to sleep, you can kill two birds with one stone (Don’t throw rocks at your baby – bad idea) and put the baby in the jogging stroller and go for a run.
Speed work has nothing on trying to push a stroller up a hill with a head wind. Especially if you are competitive and are try to maintain a specific pace (I like keeping my pace under 8 min miles as much as possible), once you can do it pushing a stroller, you can do it much easier without it. Like the back of my shirt says, “I am faster when I am not pushing a stroller.”
I would also say that being a parent in general has helped with my running. Sometimes, getting out for a run is the only thing that keeps my sanity in check. A run allows me to decompress if I need to.
Wait, what? How can being lazy make you a better runner?
Well, during races, being lazy helps you run more efficiently by cutting the corners of turns. By taking the most direct route through the turns, you run less distance, and you get a lot closer to the actual race distance. Also, by being lazy, I have figured out more efficient ways to do things, like run faster going down hill – make gravity work for you.
I should note that being lazy backfires on me all the time when I am lazy about not putting on sunscreen or body glide or taping up my nipples.
Growing up on a Farm
Yep, growing up as a farm kid has helped me in many ways. I am used to running around on uneven ground, pastures, and roadways (paved or not). Since we didn’t have any street lights, and the porch light only went so far, I got pretty good at seeing at night. If there is at least a half a moon, I really don’t need a head lamp. I wear one anyway, mainly for other people to see me. Growing up on a farm also taught me how to read the attitude of animals. Not just dogs, but cows and horses too. And, yes, I have come across a cow while running before. It has also helped because the closest person my age was a mile away, so if I wanted to see a friend, it was a trek. I also got used to entertaining myself, so I do quite well running by myself for long periods.
Another aspect of growing up on a farm is that the job has to get done, no matter what. It may be torrential downpour, or snow, or gale force winds, but the animals still need to be fed, wood needs to be brought inside, and if something breaks, it needs to be fixed. Like running, especially during a race, I need to get to the finish, and come hell or high water, I am going to cross that line.
Scuba Diving in a Drysuit
I have often said that diving in a drysuit was one of the best preparations for being a long distance runner. So, a little insight into scuba diving. When you wear a wetsuit, the water enters the wetsuit (hence wet suit), your body heat warms up that water, and it forms an insulating layer between you and the cold water on the outside. A thicker neoprene helps keep that water next to you warmer. A drysuit on the other hand, does not let water into it (get it, dry suit). It traps air, and you wear nice warm clothes underneath it (think full body suit of fleece material). If you are a secret agent, you can wear a tuxedo. In theory, everything stays dry. Here is why a drysuit has made me a better runner:
You. Do. Not. Pee. In. Your. Drysuit. EVER!
There are two types of scuba divers: those who pee in their wetsuit, and those who lie about it. But a drysuit is a whole different thing. I had to train my bladder to not let go, despite being surrounded by water, for fairly long periods. This has also allowed me to run marathons without potty breaks (or wet shorts).
Being the Scrawny Kid
Being the scrawny kid helped me in several ways. First, it made me be a faster runner as a kid. That was the only way I could get away from bullies. Second, it made me want to prove that I could hang with the big kids. If I was knocked down playing soccer or some other sport, I jumped back up and kept going. I didn’t want to show weakness. This gave me a “never say die” attitude, and has made me better at continuing through pain, tiredness, and general feeling of not wanting to go on.
I am no longer trying to be as good or better than anybody else, but I am still not giving up.
I asked Endorphin Dude this question. He said it was his imagination that helps keep him going during his marathons and 100 milers. When the going gets tough, he said it’s his imagination that pops crazy visions in his head and keeps him entertained during the long runs. This explains why he was talking about wrapping cellophane around baboons and painting them green when we ran together at AR50. He may have just been a slight bit delirious when he said that though. he had been running for 10 hours at that point.
Yep, having a bunch of running friends (both in real life and Facebook) have made me a better runner. I have gotten lots of great advice, tips, race suggestions, and a multitude of other things that have helped me along the way. Also having non-running friends is great fun as well. I mean, who else is going to look at you in bewildered amazement when you tell them that you just ran (enter distance here) and they say, “I would be dead after one mile. You’re crazy. Don’t your knees hurt?”
What are some of the things that have made you a better runner? Put them in the comments, I would love to hear them.