In some regards this article will seem briefer than it ought
to, because I’ve already covered a lot of the material elsewhere. I should also note that this is by no means an exhaustive article on all
the running-related techniques, practices, and preparations I follow (e.g. a
typical training plan). This only explains
the factors involved in how I got out of a rut and improved my performance
I started running when I was 12. By the time I was 15 I was pretty good. A few months after I turned 17, I slowed down a lot. Once I started running ultramarathons at the age of 18 I basically improved over time, but at shorter distances (i.e. 400 meters to 15 kilometers, or .25 miles to 9.3 miles) I just struggled. That was the case for about three and a half years.
Then, shortly after I turned 21, I finally ran a 15K that was very close to my best time (which I had run four years earlier). This told me that I was back in business. Several months later I did the same thing in the 5K (3.1 miles). After that, I knew I was really back in business.
Before the collapse, my best 5K time was 20:25 and 15K was 68:34. After the collapse, I could never run 5K faster than 21:50, though I was often around 22:30; and my 15K times were 72:12, 79:14, and then 75:08 (I run one 15K each year). In the last few months, I managed to run 15K in 68:59, and 5K in 20:35. This means I am now very close to my best times after being distant for so long (which I achieved 4 years ago and 5 years ago, respectively).
Along the way to redemption, people subtly suggested to me that my performance must have reached a peak and was now going downhill, or I was simply “washed up” for whatever reason (some of those people include me). I told those people, including myself, that they were ninnies, that you don’t peak at 17 years old and that you are never finished until you give up or die. It took four years of struggle, and I have now proven them wrong.
So, how did I do that?
The Factors of Change
See Is There One True Diet? for the full details. In short, the 80/10/10 diet (i.e. a minimum of 80% of calories are from carbohydrates, while a maximum of 10% are from fats and another maximum of 10% are from protein) has worked in my favor. I have been enjoying it and have no plans to part from it—only to continue improving within it. I haven’t been 100% raw for 10 months now (after being so for 5 months) but I’ve held fast to my rule of only eating fruit until dinnertime, at which point I can eat vegetables, cooked foods, and raw fats (i.e. avocadoes, nuts, or olives; occasionally ) on the occasions that I have them.
Since the start of Fall (i.e. four months ago) I have taken a serious liking to squash. Squash is basically cooked fruit, and it’s fantastic. The night before a race I like to eat 4-5 pounds of squash (i.e. 2-3 smaller squashes or one huge spaghetti squash), though most days I eat half that amount. The night before a race I also refrain from eating potatoes, which I do most nights, mainly for their cheapness. When I feel less of a need to be cheap (or commence my squash farm) I may bid potatoes farewell. We’ll see.
On the note of liking squash, I’ve taken care to eat a lot more in the last few months. It’s important for any athlete to eat a lot, especially on a diet like 80/10/10. For the last several years I’ve always felt that I could be eating more, so I’ve made sure that I don’t have that excuse any longer. This helps me to feel more energetic and robust, and creeping concerns about needing to conserve energy are far less likely to arise.
I have several articles explaining what detoxification is, how it works, and why it’s worthwhile. The running-related benefits of detox are that my stomach hurts less and I am therefore able to eat more and just be in less pain while I run. In the past, gastrointestinal pain during running was a major obstacle for me, and I dealt with it every time I exercised. Detox has also endowed me with greater wherewithal, both physically and mentally. Mentally I’ve been a lot less scared, oversensitive, and whiny since I began successful detoxification, though there is always room to improve in that department.
I started (successful) detox in February 2017.
Aerobic threshold training and Speed training
I wrote about aerobic threshold training in Is Ultra-Endurance Natural? All I will add here is that the big payoff from consistently training in this manner arrives around the two-year mark (that’s what I expected going in and that’s what happened for me, anyway). The two-year mark for me was in June 2017, which was right before I ran my redeeming 15K.
For a brief summary, in this type of training you are not supposed to exceed a certain level of exertion during training (that level being your aerobic threshold, the point at which you switch from aerobic respiration to anaerobic). As long as you stay in your target heart rate zone while exercising, you will steadily be able to perform better at the same level of exertion. It was around the two-year mark that I was finally able to do speed workouts at an acceptable level (“acceptable” meaning not disgustingly slow). From there it was another three months to finally do speed workouts at the level which I did before the collapse at age 17. This means that when I was 16 I usually ran one mile, during training, in 6:20. I finally got back to this point. Around the two-year mark, when I started doing real speed training again (i.e. track workouts, as opposed to just pushing myself to go faster during runs), I ran the mile in 6:50. So, in three months of speed training I took 30 seconds off my in-practice mile.
There’s no need to push track workouts on yourself too early when doing aerobic threshold training. I didn’t bother with them at all until I was 6 months in. I’m glad I did them at that point; but, since I had to stay below my aerobic threshold I was slow, and Coach did not like this (tip: if you’re on a team and you want to get into aerobic threshold training, that’s a consequence you’ll have to deal with until you’re a couple years in. Unless you’re on a DI or DII team, or at the end of your college running career, you might as well start now. Short-term loss, long-term gain). After the 1-year mark, I took a whole year off from track workouts. In the meantime I did go all-out and do time trials in distances 30K and up, but not in anything shorter than that.
Around the time I hit the two-year mark, however, I felt that if I didn’t start doing track workouts again I would just stagnate (this was before I even knew I’d be on a team again, which I was in Fall 2017). I had to push my respiratory system, my will, and the power in my muscles, or I would flounder. The time was ripe. I had paid my dues for two years and was ready to take the game of training to the next level. From there, it did not take long for paying my dues to pay off.
For the first month all I made myself do was one-mile time trials. That’s it. Warm up, run one mile, cool down. I started by telling myself to run in 7 minutes or faster. Within several weeks that became 6:50, and then 6:40. I did this workout 1-2 times per week. After one month I started to throw in a 200m-800m time trial after the one-mile trial (with a full recovery in between, about a 5-10 minute rest). After two months I joined the Cross Country team and had more typical, complete speed workouts (e.g. eight 400m repeats).
This is a technical subject that I could be very detailed about, but for the purpose of this article you get the point: at the two-year mark, aerobic threshold training merged into speed training, which was essential to further progress.
The psychology of running faster works as follows. For starters, you have to measure your performance, and to do that you must know how far you are running and in what amount of time. Otherwise this won’t work. Whether it’s a distance run, a speed workout, or a race, measure your performance and write it down. That way you’ll have records of how you’re doing. Once you write down your time, look at it and ask, I did that: what else can I do? That is the essential question of improvement (I explained this in more esoteric terms in Understanding Reincarnation).
On a similar note, a task seems to go by faster the more you do it. Driving to work or school is an example: it roughly takes the same amount of time every day, but the more you’ve done it the less you have to think about it, and the less of an obstacle or major task it seems to be. Some tasks actually do go by faster the more you do them, and that can be the case with running. Specifically, that is the case with running the same route over and over. Whenever I run on roads that are new to me, they seem to be terribly long. A new route (particularly one that’s 20 miles or longer) feels like a big adventure, which likewise seems to take long. After I’ve completed the route once, however, it goes by much faster the second time. Instead of wondering about whether I’m going the right way, I can just cruise. It’s easier to focus on running itself rather than on the route. Five miles on a new road takes longer than 5 miles on a familiar one. For example, I have a 30-mile route that I’ve done twice. The first time I did it, in late 2015, I was out for almost 7 hours. The second time I did it, in mid-2017, it took 5 hours and 20 minutes. While I was a much faster runner the second time around, the familiarity was also a significant factor in the change of speed. Rather than being out there wondering, “Gee, does this road ever end?” I was able to think, “Yeah, this road ends once I get to that thing. Let’s go.”
Even track races are like that. The first time I ran 10K on a track it felt like a big adventure, with a bit of warfare mixed in (College girls…). The fourth time I did it, I was on familiar ground. Rather than wondering if and when I’d reach the end, I was in control. I just had a better sense of what to do and how to pace myself. The track itself was not new to me: what mattered is that the task was.
The way psychology has worked in my favor has been by working from the top down in regards to distance. Because I was doing much better in ultramarathons than shorter distances for a while, I felt more comfortable with running longer distances. The way forward, then, was to work down to shorter distances, steadily increasing my confidence in my speed along the way. So, in August 2016 I ran a 50 mile race and did okay. “What else can I do?” In November 2016 I ran a 50K (31.1 mile) race and did awesome. “What else can I do?” In March 2017 I ran a 30K (18.6 miles) and did great. “What else can I do?” In July 2017 I ran the 15K I mentioned at the start of this article, which was great. “What else can I do?” Then the 5K followed in November 2017. And now we’re here, in January 2018.
The best example I’ve seen of the psychological effects of performance happened to someone I know. She had a half-marathon (13.1 miles) coming up, and wanted to complete the race in under two and a half hours (2:30:00). Six days before the race I went for a 10 mile run with her, to make sure she got in a long-enough run before the race. We ended up running 10.78 miles in 96 minutes, a pace of 8:56 per mile (I do write these things down, just like I told you to). I didn’t expect us to run that fast, and it made me think. We were only 2.3 miles under a half-marathon: certainly in a race she could hold that pace the whole time. I told her, “Forget two and a half hours. You can break two.” If your average pace is 9 minutes per mile for 13.1 miles, your total time will be one hour and 58 minutes (1:58:00). That is exactly what she did.
You know she didn’t get physically faster in that time. That was all psychology. For weeks if not months, she had been set on completing the race in two and a half hours. Then, just six days before the race, a clear, substantial suggestion was made to her that she could finish in half an hour less. So she did.
That 10 mile run was the key. She normally doesn’t run that far in training, but the decision to run a distance close to that of the race made it possible to gauge what her actual abilities are. That single run couldn’t have altered her physical fitness much, but if she hadn’t gone for that run I guarantee she would have clocked a much slower finishing time.
The takeaway here is, TEST your abilities. Push yourself a bit and measure your performance. Use a strategy that works for you based on your strengths. Give yourself as much time as you need for the effects to sink in, but take the example above and know that this can work very quickly if you understand and roll with it.
Now, the grand finale.
If you have read what I have written about polarity, particularly in my book, you already know what I’m going to say. If you haven’t I’m not going to rehash the concept here, but I assure you this will be enough.
As I mentioned, in Fall 2017 I ran on the Cross Country team. For most of the season I focused on being very tough during races and making sure I beat the people I had to beat. I was initially pleased with my performance, but before long each race was no better than the last. I finally got past the 21:50 mark that I had been stuck in, in the 5K, for over three years, but I was now stuck at 21:30. I knew I could do better than that. What was the way there?
The answer presented itself to me, somehow, by the last race of the season. I had to use a mindset which I had used only once before, in one of the best races of my life, and which I had somehow forgotten since then. The strategy is to have absolutely no fear. Not a drop. You can’t think about beating other people. You can’t desire for them to slow down, much less to fall off the cliff you are surely running across. You can’t worry about yourself slowing down, meeting a certain time, getting a certain award—none of it. It’s all superfluous BS, though you can’t call it BS. The worst you can do is say, “It doesn’t matter,” although even that is a little too negative. Instead what you must do is constantly return your attention to your heart, and focus on your love for others. Not just one other, like your mom or your imaginary girlfriend or your pet snake that turned you into the Hulk. No—your love for the world, or at least the slice of it that is significant to you (Nationalism is A-OK with me, as long as it’s your whole nation!).
The trick is, if you harbor ANY fear, you are done for. You’ll slow down and your thighs will turn into jelly-rocks. Every bit has to be gone (Note: I suppose there is a miniscule amount of fear required for remaining on Earth, meaning that if you lost that you would explode into light and spiral up into the heavens. It’s OK if you keep that, but you can’t get rid of that anyway, so don’t worry about it).
Likewise you can’t be laid back and say, “Yeah man, like, no fear, man. Time to eat some sauce and stuff, man.” No, you must focus on your heart, and feel the desire for others to be strong. Note this does not mean wanting yourself to fail or be weaker.
I focus not only on people as an abstract concept in my mind, but also on the people immediately around me. When I see a group of runners up ahead I may think, “Good job, everybody!” And that’s it. Not even, “I’ll be there soon.” It sounds stupid. But, sounding stupid and being stupid are two different things, and stupid it is not. It works. Somehow, by some force, after I think that encouraging thought, my body moves faster. As I keep praising the group, I keep getting closer to it. At some point I am part of it. Then I think, “Let’s go!” and soon it is on to another group.
There are different techniques I use. Sometimes I give people a thumbs up when I run by them, whether it’s another runner or a spectator. In a 50K I focused on a feeling and an image of sending energy to the Earth, rather than on words. I kinda remembered to do this in a 30K when a veteran handed me an American flag with 2 miles to go, and I felt pride in my country as I ran. When I did this in the aforementioned 5K my thoughts were mostly verbal. I also have a mantra I think to myself which embodies the fearless, giving state I am after.
I never say anything out loud, but it’s like the other runners know what I’m thinking. The competition seems less hostile, though no less worthy. Sometime they’ll cheer me on, too—and out loud!
This is counterintuitive, I know. You want to CRUSH the competition, don’t you?!
Well, the only way I can achieve that is by not trying to do so at all. Not only that—I have to want my competition to do well. It’s akin to killing them with kindness, although it’s not the same thing. I’m not trying to kill them, nor do I want to. Instead I activate a genuine recognition of brother- and sister- hood with my fellow humans and I get fueled by the positive energy generated by the acknowledgement of that truth. Love is truth, and the truth gives you power, which in turn increases your ability to love, and it’s a viciously-constructive cycle from there.
Anyway, that’s what I did to improve my 5K time by 55 seconds in one week.
Due to falling and hurting my rib, I’ve not raced short distances since my 5K success, and we shall see when I can once again. While ultramarathons are my priority, shorter races inform how fast I can run in ultramarathons. Shorter races also serve as great workouts (not that that’s the point of them). Overall, the primary challenge of shorter-distance races is intensity mastery, which in some ways is harder than cruising for 50 miles. In longer races, you have to hold yourself back a bit in order to get through the whole thing. In fact, my biggest problem in ultramarathons is that I start out way too fast and then slow down considerably and struggle later. In contrast, in shorter races the challenge is to give it everything you’ve got. I can run conservatively all day, but can I fully give of myself and utilize every resource I have over a 3.1 mile course? That’s the challenge, and it is a worthy one.
It is something I have accomplished several times. It’s hard to draw the line between when you’ve given absolutely everything and when you haven’t, but I know that at the least I have done so three times-- once in a 1500m race, once in a 3000m, and once in a 50K. Every distance offers the opportunity to do this, you see. And when it is done, it gives me a permanent memory and fills me with a pride that lasts forever. In two of those races I came in 2nd place. That didn’t mean jack squat to me. I’d rather go all out and lose than win easily. I look back on those races I ran 5 years, 6 years, and 1 year ago (respectively) with the utmost fondness. They were moments of mastery in my life—moments which are not easy to replicate or improve upon. I died on that track. That doesn’t mean that I passed out at the end, because I didn’t. That means that I gave up my life for those five minutes. I had no resistance to the task, and was moved by a higher power. This was not necessarily a religious experience: I did not think in such terms at the age of 15. No—it was the ultimate point of convergence between being grounded and having a higher connection. When I finished I was humbly in pain; though I knew, in the quiet, that what I had done was well-done. It was not flighty, but neither was it soulless. In the 50K, I died in those woods. Every cell of my body, along with my soul, dedicated itself fully to the task of running for five hours. But I was not a “running machine” of any sort. While I was not a machine, I also did not feel separate from my surroundings. Yet, I still had willpower and individual consciousness: I was not one with the environment. Instead, by attaining mastery of consciousness for that period of time, I had one foot in mastery of Earth, the other foot in mastery of Heaven, and together these feet ran, one in front of the other, over and over. That’s how you make life work. Sometimes you will have your feet in one world, sometimes in the other, and this is fine. Sometimes you need mere immersion. But, when you can get each foot in just the right place, at the same time, then the powers of both Heaven and Earth work through you, and you become unstoppable. You are neither a machine nor an animal. You are neither a demon nor a God. You are a MAN. You are the beginning and the end. You are the alpha and the omega. You are consciousness made physical, and the physical made consciousness. You are the embodiment of all concepts, and both Heaven and Earth seek your greatness. Show them what you are, and they move mountains for you.
So, if you want to be a great runner- a hero that you can live honorably as- those are some things you can do. Nothing everything you must do, but some of the things.