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On Saturday night I ran the USATF indoor championships 3000m. I ran horribly. I finished DFL (dead you can figure it out last) in 8:17 my slowest time this winter. So you might expect that since I ran so badly at the national championships, missing my A goal for the race by just over a second per lap my indoor season must be a failure, I must be crushed. I have received a number of emails and facebook messages and comments on my blogs of condolence and advice on how to get better. What I need to do to get out of this funk. Thing is, that isn’t the case at all. Funk? I just ran the worst race I ran all winter, my splits were all over the place I chocked in front of my hometown crowd and I gave up and jogged in the last 600m at half marathon pace. Yet I was still 3 seconds faster then I had ever run that distance before this winter. That is a heck of a statement about the improvement I have made this year.
Now most people, myself included, judge a season by its conclusion, by our performance in our most important competition. Clearly this is a sport that is about being our best on the biggest stages. But from the beginning I knew that wasn’t the case for THIS SEASON. Why? I don’t have the physical tools to run well at a national 3000m championships. I can’t run under 14 seconds for a 100m without a flying start. Heck at the start of the winter I had never run under 14 for a 100m period. I had never run under 28.6 for 200m. My mile PR was a full 16 seconds slower then the winner. Other then Crouch, who to my knowledge hasn’t run a mile this winter in which he is breaking out in a big way, he was a 15:11 5k runner at the start of the winter, I was at least 11 seconds slower in the mile then any other runner entered. I knew the deck was stacked and frankly thought I was a long shot to qualify anyway.
I have long thought I have the tools to run under 2:10 in the marathon but I honestly believed I would never get to experience a major track and field meet. I certainly never thought I would qualify for a USATF championship on the track. Want an example? After my break through in the marathon and half marathon, where I ran 2:15 and dropped my half marathon PR from 1:07:28 to 1:04:14, I decided to chase fast times on the track. I knew I had never run very fast but I was so much better certainly I had to be ready to run at least respectable performances at these distances. I ran a number of races that spring the two most notable were a second to last place finish at Mt. Sac in the 10k in a PR 30:27 and a exceptional 14:22 5k at Penn Relays. Now I ran poorly at Mt. Sac and should have broken 30 but to be totally honest there was no way on God’s green earth I was going more then 1 or 2 seconds better at Penn.
The point of all this is that in November after hobbling though the NYC marathon I realized two things. First I need to fix my hip hamstring issue, without that my career is over. Second I needed to work on my speed and get in the best shape I can in spite of the hip/hammy. I am doing everything I can to fix the hip/hammy and for only the second time in two years actually feel optimistic that it MIGHT be headed in the right direction.
But in terms of the second goal I am THRILLED!! I set major PR’s at every distance I raced this winter. I got myself into some of the best shape of my life and did it with little or no compromise. My old PR in the 5k was 14:20 set off of a light 90 mile week or so in a series of 90 mile weeks. I ran 14:04 this winter off of over 130 mile week in a block of 130 plus mile weeks. I took more then 4 seconds off my mile PB, took 12 seconds off my 3k best, again all while pumping out heavy miles and tough workouts. I know for sure I’m fit enough to run better then these times which truly amazes me. I know 8:08/14:04 isn’t even fast enough to be an All American in college so why am I so thrilled with these times? First I know I can go better and that they are just an indication of where my fitness is and where it is headed but more importantly, they were not the end, they are the means to an end yet to come. I’m a pure marathoner and these are events as one close friend said to me, “that are totally unsuited to you.” If I can run like this I will be a monster when I get to my events. To be honest I have long felt that with my skill set good life time goals were 8:00/13:45/28:20/1:01:12/2:06:34. A mere 5 seconds per K slow down with each increase of distance. Now I’m not there yet, I was 6 seconds slower per K over 5k compared to the 3k. But if you look at my performances in terms of those time expectations you should start to understand why I would be so excited to run what I did. A quick disclaimer, those are not equivalent times for everyone only for those very slow pure marathoners among us. To put it another way I always thought I was pretty untalented I have since learned that I am actually very talented, it is just that my talents are all seen in marathoning, those are equivalents for people like that.
For the season I give myself grades. This season isn’t over but since I’m in the middle of a big transition in my life I’ll give myself grades for the cycle that I just finished. Coaching A-, I made break throughs across the board doing training that was in many ways new to me and I learned an immense amount about myself and proper preparation for 3000m to 10,000m. The only negative is that I wasn’t totally prepared for XC nationals, in retrospect I think my poor performance there was mostly do to coming down with a cold but I still could have done more to prepare for the longer race, but I only found out I was doing it with two weeks to go and by then I could have only added stuff that would have hurt me so I can’t hold that against me as a coach, that is a management failure.
Athlete- B+ I ran very well and very consistently at distances I’m frankly not comfortable, staying focused while taking beatings from athletes I would expect to run circles around at longer distances. I did race poorly at indoors and I didn’t race nearly tough enough at xc. I have always been a big day performer and have grown to just expect my best performances on those days. This didn’t happen twice and so I need to revisit these races in my mind to see why. But I do believe that it was small detour off course and not a change of course.
Management- B- I got into every race I wanted, but I paid a ton of entry fees, lost tons of money, didn’t make any. The biggest prize I won all winter was a box of chocolates. I did get myself into every race I wanted to run but very last minute with XC which I could use to improve on.
The point of this whole thing is simple I worked hard this winter and achieved exactly what I set out to do and as such it is a huge success. Too often we as athletes and coaches lose sight of the forest through the trees. Peaking is key to success but I never set out to peak this winter so as such to expect my best performance on a particular day is foolish. Am I happy I had my worst one at nationals? Hell no!! But that is a risk I took by treating all the races the same and focusing on simply using this as a training season and I am thrilled with the results of that choice.