Is it goal-setting?
Tracking every run with a Garmin and uploading it to Daily Mile?
Not at all.
Running with a smile on your face?
Well, sometimes. But that’s not much of a secret anymore.
So what is this secret holy grail that will make you a tremendous runner? It’s so simple, the vast majority of runners overlook it. Us barefoot runners have a foot up on the competition because we are at least aware of this concept.
The most underrated secret to becoming a great runner is…. knowing yourself.
That’s right… know yourself. I often quote George Sheehan, and one of his most famous addresses this very issue:
“Life is the great experiment. Each of us is an experiment of one- observer and subject- making choices, living with them, recording the effects.”
Okay, maybe it’s not such a secret. Sadly, not many runners actually follow Sheehan’s advice. We spend countless hours researching new training plans, ideas, shoes, gear, and crosstraining plans. We are searching for anything that will make us better runners. That’s a good thing.
The problem- we don’t really experiment. We completely change our entire routine. We do this for a time, then we move on to the next new thing. We see this in trends during races. I recently attended a local race where at least half of the runners were wearing compression sleeves. I silently wondered how many actually found them to improve performance.
We also see this when people begin low heart rate training, Crossfit, paleo diets, POSE running, or any other new idea that comes along. All of these has value, and all may provide a good place to start. However, we should be open to the idea of introducing new elements that will customize these concepts to better suit our own uniqueness.
We should treat everything as an experiment. If some things work, we should repeat them. If they do not work, we should abandon them. Through this process, we come to know what works and does not work for us as individuals.
If we apply this process on a regular basis, we usually end up with a strange hodge-podge of training plans, mismatched gear, and unorthodox racing strategies. They are customized plans that are tailored specifically to us. That is how we can guarantee success.
People often ask me about my training, gear, etc. I laugh for two reasons: First, I’m not fast. On a good day, I may finish in the top third. It’s not uncommon for me to finish near the bottom. Second, everything I do is specifically tailored for me. Through experimentation, I’ve found the right combination of variables that allow me to perform at my peak based on my available training time. If anyone were to copy my exact plan, there’s a pretty good chance it would be a complete disaster. Likewise, if I were to copy someone else’s plan, THAT would be a complete disaster.
Over time, I’ve changed many elements of my training routine over time. here are a few examples:
- I used to do a lot of leg exercises, now I do mostly hill repeats,
- I used to do 400m repeats for speedwork, now I do occasional 5ks,
- I used to eat Ben and Jerry’s ice cream during ultras, now I eat primarily Gu,
- I used to use a “get as many miles as I can before needing to walk” race strategy, now I use a “conserve energy early on so I won’t have to walk” strategy.
Each of these original strategies worked, but I eventually found something that worked better. Here are some tips to systematically introduce new variables:
- Cast a wide net. Look for new ideas to test in unusual places, not just the pages of Runners World. Recently I’ve been experimenting with some tactics used in the orienteering world.
- Don’t make wholesale changes. Pick one or two variables to change at a time. This makes it relatively easy to determine what works and what does not work.
- Give each variable sufficient time. The exact amount depends on the variable. When I first tried handheld water bottles, I hated them. After three runs, they became more comfortable. The added convenience of the water bottle versus a hydration pack has been a huge advantage in races.
- Occasionally revisit old ideas that failed. Sometimes some things work well at different stages of our running careers. Just because something doesn’t work today doesn’t mean it will not work in the future.
Trying new things in a systematic manner helps us find what truly works and does not work for ourselves as individuals. If we really want to take our running up a notch, experiment!
What about you? What elements have you tried? What is one thing you’ve tried that doesn’t usually work for others but worked for you? How about the opposite- something that works for most but didn’t work for you?