Thursday, October 27, 2011

Visualization - More than Just Imagining Your Best Race

At this point in the Fall, many of you are approaching your league championships or some other final meet of the season, so you are hoping to run your best. Visualization is a technique that can help you with the mental aspect of running races.

I first learned about visualization in the 80's, specifically in 1987 when I was training for a marathon. I really wanted to run under three hours, and I found a book (The Total Runner, by Jerry Lynch) that described visualization. I didn't have a good race (died at about 17 miles) in the marathon, but I continued to use the technique because I was having success in other races from using it.

Without going into the detail of Lynch's book or anyone else's specific techniques, I can tell you a few things to get you started.

One of the main things is that visualization is more than just imagining your race and how wonderful everything will be. What I do is start there. Once I am relaxed (although not too relaxed - I will sometimes fall asleep!) and ready to do some visualization, I close my eyes and basically do a run-through of my race. During that first step, everything goes as planned.

But here's the benefit of visualization: the next step is to imagine various things going wrong: you get a blister; the weather is crappy; someone steps on your foot; your jersey doesn't feel right - anything you can think of that might reasonably happen.

"But isn't that kind of the opposite of thinking positively?"

It could be, except that in this exercise, you troubleshoot whatever the problem is during the visualization. That way, if it actually happens in the race, you will already know how to deal with it, and your race will continue on uninterrupted.

"Don't you have a funny story about visualization, Marty?"

Well, as a matter of fact, in the early spring of 1988, I was getting pretty fit, and was racing frequently. I decided to do a 5k race that was in a hilly park on trails. I did my usual visualization techniques in the week leading up to the race, going through various things that might happen. When I got into the race, though, something happened that was totally unexpected: I was leading. By a lot. Having not anticipated this, I started worrying that I had gone off course, but I resisted the urge to look behind me, knowing that you should never look behind you in a race. I finally decided to just keep pressing on, and I actually won the race by over a minute! My first win! Now I had one more thing to add to my visualizations.

As you get to within a week or so of your race, you should start doing some visualization. Find what works for you, in terms of where and when it works best. Think about how you want to implement your race strategy. Let me know how it works out by posting in the comments.

And don't forget to consider what you might do if you find yourself in front!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Taking Workouts Seriously

As you get deeper into your season, the workouts your coach prescribes will get harder. This is because your coach is trying to prepare you to run your best race(s) at the end of your season, which may be a league championship meet, a sectional meet, or even your state's state meet. These hard workouts - tempo runs, repeats, hill workouts, etc. - are some of your most important workouts of your season.

Treat them like races.

No, that does not mean you should necessarily run them as hard as you do a race. You should run those workouts however your coach tells you to run them. But you need to be prepared for them because you don't want to have that be the day you show up at practice and - oops! - you forgot to hydrate properly, or you ate that greasy pizza slice for lunch only an hour ago, or you're just "not feeling it today."

On the days of these hard workouts, imagine you are running a race at 3:30 (or whatever time you practice). Wouldn't you be extra-sure to hydrate properly on a race day? What would you ordinarily eat on a race day? When would you eat your lunch? Did you go to bed early enough last night?

If your coach hasn't given you a practice schedule, ask him/her what the workout is going to be the day before you do it. Spend a few minutes the night before thinking about how you're going to run it, just like you would if it were a race.

Once you arrive at practice, treat the warmup/stretching/drills like you were about to race. When it comes time to actually do the workout, listen to your coach and do the workout like he/she says.

When the day finally comes to actually run the big race, you'll be ready!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A New Trend in XC - Sock-Footed Running

On the team I coach, we've had a rash of shoe loss this season. One runner lost one of his shoes during two different races, and another runner had it happen once. In each case, the shoe either came completely off on its own, or the runner concluded that's what would end up happening anyway, so kicked it off.

Sometimes, a poorly-tied shoe is the culprit. But in the most recent case, a runner from behind accidentally stepped on the heel of my guy's shoe, so better shoe-tying would not have helped. He kicked it off to the side of the course, then kept running. For over two more miles. His time was remarkably good, as he finished within just a few seconds of teammates who had routinely beaten him throughout the season by a half-minute or more.

This got me thinking.

How long would it take to put your shoe back on? I notice that many, if not most, young runners these days usually just leave their shoes tied and just jam them onto their feet when it's time to run. So if, during a race, your shoe came off (still tied), how long would it take to stop and jam it back on?

I would guess about 5 seconds, maybe 10.

So, knowing that, if it's late in the race, maybe it would still make sense to just leave it off and keep running. But if it was earlier in the race - say, with more than one mile still to go - it might be more productive to stop and put it back on. You could probably get those 5-10 seconds back by having both shoes on, maybe more.

The point of all this is that you should think about what you would do if it happens to you. That way, if it does, you'll be prepared and have some idea what to do.

Monday, October 3, 2011

"I'm Ruuuuuunning in the Rain....."

[Be sure to sing the title of this post to the tune of Singing in the Rain....]

Yes, where I am, we are expecting to get the first rain of the "winter" either today, tomorrow, or the next day. Many of you may not have run when it's raining before.

You are in for a treat!

Your initial reaction will be, "But won't I get wet?"

Um, yes, probably due to that watery stuff coming down out of the sky.

Running in the rain is one of those wacky traditions of cross-country, like hay bales on the course. It's actually pretty fun because you don't have Mom yelling at you "GET INSIDE OUT OF THE RAIN SO YOU DON'T GET WET!" You can actually step in puddles and splash water all over. On purpose!

Seriously, just like other weather conditions, you have to be prepared. You can't NOT hydrate, just because it's going to rain. Your body still needs fluids. Probably less than on a hot day, but about the same as on a regular day.

If it's colder than on a dry day, you might want to wear a long-sleeved shirt and maybe even running tights.
In general, whatever clothing you wear should be made of some kind of man-made fabric (a "wicking" fabric) because cotton will just absorb the water and make you cold. The other kinds won't hold onto the water, so it will be more comfortable. You probably don't have to worry too much about wearing "warm" clothes because running will keep you warm enough in most cases (remember that when it's dry, your body gets so warm that it sweats - you might sweat less when it's raining, but you probably won't get cold). Some people like wearing gloves because your hands can get cold when they get wet.

As in sunny weather, I like wearing a hat, but in rainy weather it's to keep the rain out of my eyes.

Most importantly, you need to have something dry to put on when you finish. You still have to stretch, etc., and you'll freeze if you don't get out of your wet clothes. That means you have to plan ahead. You have to bring a spare t-shirt (long sleeved, if possible) and some sweatpants with you to school.

If it might rain several days in a row, you should have at least two sets of "rain clothes." The wicking fabric will generally dry fairly quickly, so, even if you can't wash and dry your wet shirt, you can at least rinse it out and hang it up - it will be dry within a day and a half or so.

What about those sopping wet shoes? You need to dry them out because you don't want to be putting wet shoes on tomorrow, so here's what you do (even if you already have two pairs that you are rotating): Take out the insoles, set them up on their edges somewhere so they can dry, then stuff the shoes with newspaper. The newspaper will slowly absorb the water from the shoes. Leave them alone for a while, like a couple of hours. Before you go to bed, take the newspaper out and check to see how wet they are. If they're only a little wet, just leave them alone overnight - they should be dry by morning. If they're still pretty wet, stuff them with (dry) newspaper again and leave them overnight. When you get up the next morning, check them again and do the same thing. Don't put the insoles back in until right before you're about to put them on to run again.

Presto! Now you're ready to run in the rain. It's actually a useful thing to do in training because, guess what? They don't cancel cross-country races because of rain - you may as well get used to it. Heck, it's fun!!