Mind of a Runner: Chasing a BQ, women in coaching, crazy goals and American marathoners

No books this week, because I’m in the middle of three and didn’t finish any of them. But don’t worry, there are extra podcasts and articles.

This week felt like there was a lot out there, but it might just be that because I’m starting a four-week stretch with four races, including NYC, I’m really in running geekery mode. There are a few different threads running through what I read this week, and I’m going to try and circle back and tie them together into longer posts once I get into taper and have a little more time on my hands.

Races, for the curious, are the Staten Island Half on Sunday (dress rehearsal for NYC), the Runner’s World 5 & Dime (5K and 10K) next weekend (plus running Subbers in for the half the following day) and then NYC two weeks after that. RWF races are going to be like the Bronx — easy efforts that are basically course-supported training runs with medals and a shirt and socks.


Magness and Marcus on coaching: Episode 81 — Embracing failure with Brian Barraza

Brian Barraza is the Houston steeplechaser who was winning at the NCAAs when he tripped going over a barrier late in the race, fell and injured his shoulder. This interview with him starts there, but goes a lot deeper into dealing with failure and mental training in general. Since Steve Magness is Houston’s coach, this interview has an interesting dynamic because we can hear Brian’s perspective, and also Steve’s insights as his coach.

Top Takeaway: Reframing a bad day/workout midway through can make a big difference in the ultimate success.

Line that stuck with me: “Wherever you train your mind to go, that’s where it’s going to go.”

Running Rogue: Episode 95 — Boston or bust?

The first half of this is Steve and Chris reacting to the new 2020 Boston standards. But the more interesting part, for me, was the second half, talking about how to approach training for a BQ in light of the change and what it means going forward.

This podcast is also why I didn’t finish any of the books I was reading. It was too interesting to wait until later, plus it ended up being the Sub-30 Club Podcast of the Week after Professor Badass and I were kicking around some possibilities because she and Fatman Chronicles needed ideas.

As somebody who has a long-range (5-10 year) BQ goal, this was actually super helpful. I’d originally (pre-adjusted standards) figured five years was a good timeframe to work on a BQ because that would coincide with when I moved up an age group and got a little more time. So after the news broke, I was wondering “So now how do I set my goal when  it could get moved right as I improve to where I can hit it?”

Where I landed on that is worth a whole separate blog post, but I will note that the discussion Steve and Chris have works for any major goal. Throughout that section, I kept thinking “This is why so many Subbers have gotten the sub-30 5K — it’s the same principles at work.”

I’d said right after the BAA adjusted the standards that yes, I still planned to chase a BQ, and this podcast episode gave me some useful tools and thoughts on how to do that despite the uncertainty of the future BQ standards in the longer time frame I’m working toward.

Top Takeaway: There’s a mental magic in setting a goal and working toward it, regardless of what that line is.

The Morning Shakeout: Lauren Fleshman

I originally picked this because I use Lauren’s Compete practice log/journal, but got a fun surprise in the middle — a discussion of how Maurica Powell, one of my high school track teammates and formerly assistant coach at Oregon, is now the director of the Washington XC/track programs and how she’s breaking the mold of women being relegated to underpaid assistant coaching positions on NCAA teams.

Maurica was (I believe) the first eighth grader in school history to earn a varsity letter, and she was a leader on the team on and off the track even then, so this doesn’t surprise me one bit. Her now-husband Andy ran for one of the other schools in our league and also was outstanding. She went on to win six state titles in high school and was on our State Class C champion indoor team, then was a two-time All-American at Stanford. The Powells are considered a huge part of Oregon’s rise to a power program (and the driving force behind it, by some accounts), so I’m wicked excited to see what they build at Washington.

The podcast covers a lot more ground than that, including a great discussion of running and writing that I want to go back and listen to again at some point.

Top Takeaway: Lauren Fleshman seems like she’d be a fascinating person to spend an hour or two with over a cup of coffee because she has so many facets to her life that seem to interact and inform each other in intriguing ways.


Why we need more female coaches

The Morning Shakeout got me poking around online, and I found this piece on the lack of female running head coaches, both at the NCAA and professional level. The story it tells is no different than in many other fields that have been dominated by men over the years. Although really, it’s 2018, people.

Top Takeaway: Change is coming, but slowly.

Line that stuck with me: “When you hit 30 percent of women in leadership, the whole conversation changes—the whole culture changes.” — Nancy Hogshead-Makar, civil rights lawyer and CEO of Champion Women

American women place 4 in top 10 at Chicago

I was tracking the elite field from time to time between tracking Sub-30 Club friends running Chicago and I remember thinking “Gwen Jorgensen is the only name I know” for the American women. But on a day missing the big names in American marathoning — Shalane, Des, Amy, Jordan, Molly — the women still turned in a strong showing. This, more than anything, says a LOT about how deep the American women’s field is, and likely will be for quite a while.

Top Takeaway: The 2020 Olympic marathon trials should be really interesting with the depth we’re starting to see among the American women.

Bloggers reflect on their favorite part of the NYC Marathon course

Coming off Queensboro and heading into Central Park were the two parts of the course people flagged the most as favorite parts. I’ve run both in training, and I get why those jump out to people. After Saturday’s run from mile 21 through the finish, I’m thinking my favorite part might end up being coming off the Madison Avenue Bridge from the Bronx onto Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for the final miles.

Top Takeaway: The crowd support and travel through the five boroughs should make this race interesting, no matter how much it hurts.

Line that stuck with me: “You’ll have tough moments when the doubts creep in. But you’ll also have moments when you’re elated.”

What does it take to run a sub-3 marathon

I’m a huge data geek, and an article a year or two ago that looked at the training habits of marathoners who BQ vs. ones who don’t was fascinating, so I saved this link as soon as I saw a tweet with it.

One early stat mentioned was that sub-3 runners hit an average of 52 miles during peak training week, and 5+ hour finishers did about 20 miles during peak week. For context, I’m expecting to finish in 6-7 hours, and my peak week will be about 30 miles. That said, my 30 miles is probably more time training than those Sub-3 runners doing 52 miles.

In fact, the next breakdown showed sub-3 finishers averaged 5:22 of running a week, which is probably what my weekly average works out to over the whole training cycle. So I was thinking “They’re not accounting for the difference in time between a sub-3 runner mile and a 5+ runner mile. Analysis fail.”

Except the average training time for the 5+ marathoners was 2:30. So yes, they definitely are not doing as much training as a group.

That said, I would be really interested to see how the data breaks down if you used “average weekly training time” for the category and then looked at how the finishing times broke down across that. That would equalize for speed and might provide more useful information about optimal training load.

At any rate, even without that, lots of fascinating tidbits in here that make me wish I had the raw data to run some cross tabs on it.

Top Takeaway: Looking at this, I feel pretty well prepared compared to the “average” BOTP marathoner. Thanks, Coach B!

Line that stuck with me: “For the fastest runners, the taper doesn’t suddenly drop off a cliff three weeks out, after what typically is the weekend for the longest run.”

Audience: Geeky runners

Everything you fight has power over you. Everything you accept doesn’t.

This headline caught my eye because it reminded me of the yoga practice of non-attachment. The further I read, the more the comparison seemed apt, and the best way I can think of to explain it without just repeating everything author Srinivas Rao says is this example:

When I was going through yoga teaching training almost 10 years ago, during the section on sound yoga and mantras, one in particular resonated with me: Om Namah Shivaya. It’s a call to Shiva, the Hindu god known as The Destroyer, but the meaning is roughly “We celebrate the dance of energy that is creation.” Sometimes, you have to destroy what exists to allow something new to blossom there.

When I moved to North Jersey about 15 months after I started running as an adult, I was able to shed a lot of pre-running-life habits that weren’t serving me well by virtue of changing my entire routine. As I look toward goals beyond completing my first marathon, I know that achieving those goals is going to mean letting go of some things in order to make space for what I want to create.

Line that stuck with me: “A focus on progress gives you power. A focus on perfection disempowers you. When we’re obsessed with perfection, we overlook progress and fail to appreciate our accomplishments.”

There’s never been a better time to be a woman runner

I quibble a little with the writer’s assessment of the women’s domination of the Central Park running loop — it always seems to be divided roughly 50-50 to me when I’m there, as I was Saturday. But her overall thesis seems accurate: it’s a great time to be a female runner.

(Also, there seems to be a theme running through this week’s reading, but I can’t tell if that’s driven by what’s out there or by my interest level in the topic.)

Top Takeaway: More women are running at all levels of the spot, not just the elite levels.

Line that stuck with me: “Though not everyone can win the marathon, the wins that come along the way—the community, the anxiety relief, the endorphins produced—serve as evidence of progress in motion.”

The 10 best New Balance running shoes

New Balance was the first sneaker company to make running shoes in widths, and they still make pretty much every shoe they sell in widths, as well as a full range of sizes. They’ve been my go-to brand for shoes for almost 20 years now, so I was curious to see if my favorite 860s or any of the other models I wear would make this list. (Nope.) It was interesting to see which ones did, though.

Top Takeaway: This was more a “top 10 neutral NB shoes,” which was interesting since I’ve always felt they have more stability and motion control options than some other brands.

Female athletes face crazy expectations. They can be overcome

This focuses a lot on Melody Fairchild, a distance runner I’ll admit I was not familiar with, but it’s one of many recent articles reassessing the focus on weight above all for runners. It’s geared to women runners, but male runners also have these issues.

Look at the success of Bowerman Track Club, and especially Shalane Flanagan’s recent dominance at an age when many elite runners are reaching the end of their careers. I have to wonder how much her focus in the past few years on eating real foods, including good fats, and sharing that mindset (and meals) with her teammates is a factor fueling their success. She certainly gives it a lot of credit in her cookbook.

Top Takeaway: Have we been shortchanging runners, especially young runners, for the past few decades with America’s warped obsession with food, body image and weight? (My question, not the writer’s, to be clear.)

Line that stuck with me: “Running is here for you not just to reach your potential as a runner but to touch your potential as a human.”

How to fully commit to goals that terrify you

This is another article that has nothing to do with running, but at the same time feels like it has everything to do with my quest to improve as a runner.

When the author says “You must be exposed to new universes to realize it’s possible to expand far beyond the current sphere in which you’ve found yourself,” all I could think was “Sub-30. Totally.”

Earlier this week, Professor Badass said she made a point to be very outspoken about both her BQ quest, and the process to get there, even when it was ugly, because she wanted people like her to know that goals like that were achievable (and what it would take to reach them). Her quest has inspired more than a few of us to also chase the unicorn. Meanwhile, I’ve had two Subbers tell me in the last couple of weeks that watching me train for a marathon has gotten them to set running a marathon as a goal. It really matters seeing what’s possible.

There’s a lot here, so all I’m going to say is go read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Top Takeaway: “The only way to get to the next level is to let go of who you’ve been.” Simple, yet incredibly difficult. Another Om Namah Shivaya moment

Line that stuck with me: “When was the last time you innovated and disrupted your own life?” That one is going to stick with me for a while.

Molly Huddle and the perks of running dangerously

This is an older article, from after Molly Huddle set the American record in the half, breaking Deena Kastor’s 2006 record by nine seconds, but still a good one about taking calculated risks when racing.

Top Takeaway: This was never said straight out in the article, but I came away from this feeling like Molly could be really dangerous in the marathon once she’s run one or two more and really started to figure out the distance. She was third in NYC in 2016 (her debut), then had a rough Boston. I’m going to be really interested to see how she does at New York this year and if her two previous outings have helped her figure out the distance a bit more.

Line that stuck with me: “You know you’re going to get pulled along for the majority of the race, and you just hope you can hold it together enough at the end so that when you fall off, you still run fast.”

Shalane and Des discuss NYC 26 days out

NYRR had a conference call for reporters with the two top American contenders at NYC 26 days out from the race, and there were some really interesting tidbits in there, including Shalane talking about how long she intends to continue professional running.

Top Takeaway: Des talking about the benefits of changing things up after 13 years using the same approach is something I’ll file away for the future.

Line that stuck with me: “We just have to be realistic with the timeframe we’re under and what she’s capable of.” Shalane was talking about Gwen Jorgensen, but it feels like it’s something I often struggle with.

Shalane Flanagan on how to achieve peak performance

The subtitle on this one is eight life lessons from one of America’s best marathoners. One of those life lessons, as it turns out, is on the back of most of my Sub-30 shirts and on my RoadID: “Trust Your Training.” (I got it from an NCIS:LA episode, but Shalane is more inspiring than the NCIS crew. Even Nell.)

Top Takeaway: The bit about motivation being contagious is another piece to add to a pile of things I’ve been collecting that all seem to revolve around a similar thesis about why American women’s distance running is doing so well now, and what we can learn from that as recreational competitive runners.

Line that stuck with me: “I can literally look to my right and left and say to myself, ‘This woman is such a badass.’”

How to automate a habit

I’ve been subscribing to James Clear’s emails for a while now, and I’m looking forward to reading his new book, “Atomic Habits,” when it comes out Saturday. This is an excerpt from the book, and a good look at the types of things he writes about.

Essentially, he explains how we’re geared toward automatic things, and technology makes it easy to automate things. The trick is automating your life to make your goals easier to achieve, and he has some tips on how to do that.

I laughed at his social media tips, but that’s also because I have to be on social media for my job. Locking myself out of it for everything except weekends just isn’t possible. But he makes excellent points. Now my challenge is figuring out how to automate the habits I want to build, which might start by hiding some apps on my phone.

Top Takeaway: Automating as many decisions as possible makes a huge difference in succeeding at anything, especially the hard things.

Line that stuck with me: “The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impossible to do.”


Last week: Confidence journals, mental training and tips to achieve your goals

September: What I was reading and listening to

Road to NYC 2018

Mental vs. physical training

Bronx 10-miler race report