Duty vs Choice

I was faced with a dilemma yesterday. My flight out of Des Moines, Iowa was early in the morning, and I had an 18 mile long run scheduled for that day.  Generally I hate running after flying, as my legs are stiff, and my body dehydrated.  As I weighed the pros vs the cons of moving the run to the following day, I started thinking about the concept of duty versus choice with regards to all areas of life.  When I stepped off the plane, I had come to a mindset that I was excited to go for that run, and felt empowered that it was my choice, and not a duty to get it done!

Every day many people wander off to work with a sense of apathy to their duty of sustaining their employment.  I had this feeling every day going to high school.  Never did I want to go, but felt obliged so that I wouldn’t get suspended.  However, who was ultimately affected by this mindset or approach?  I was!  I missed out on some amazing opportunities that high school could have provided for me, but instead I dreaded every day, and counted down the seconds until the Friday end-of-school bell rang. 

There are always going to be situations where you have to just get something done, but when you are able to find a way to make it a choice rather than a duty, much more enjoyment, and ultimately success is going to come from it.  When I returned to Michigan after my London Olympic disappointment, I decided that I was only going to run when I felt like it, and not stick to any kind of schedule for the first 3-4 months. My coach backed off me, and gave me this freedom to help get my mind around the state of disillusion I was wrestling with.  Surprisingly however, I ended up running nearly every day (minus my weekly rest day).  Long days studying in campus libraries gave me a yearning to get outside and take my dog for a run.  Had my coach been hounding me to run every day, I most likely would have rebelled, or obliged him with a remained distain for running.

So how does one take this approach into a working environment, when you have a boss that has expectations of you?  This is by no means is a well thought out answer, but merely me pondering the question.  The key seems to be control.  If you wield the control to not turn up to work, with knowledge that other options are a presentable option, but still choose to go to work, that is your choice!  This is much like my run yesterday.  I could have delayed my run a day, but that would have had negative consequences on other training plans I had for the week.  Tired legs would have ruined my Tuesday workout for instance.  I still had the power to choose between those options though.  Thankfully I chose the wise option, and ended up having a really enjoyable two-hour run despite the pouring rain!


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Simply Running (Part 2)

I have received a number of questions regarding my Simply Running post last week, and felt it might be helpful to have a follow-up post to clarify a few points I may not have communicated clearly on the first go.

The point of my simply running approach is not to find the ultimate schedule that maximizes all energy systems in my body, but to find a schedule that frees me of any stress, and allows me to enjoy what I do, which seems to bring better results anyway.  You always hear people say sport is part mental and part physical, but to what degree does each component play a role?

Let’s create a scenario that might play out in an athlete’s week.  You have your week all planned out, perfectly scheduled to maximize every ounce of energy in your body.  Then your parents call, and say they are coming into town to visit for a couple of days, and they’d love for you to show them around and take them to a ball game.  There are three common approaches athletes have to this situation – 1) You are really excited, as you haven’t seen your parents in a long time, so you re-arrange your training to make sure it doesn’t impede with their trip, 2) You begrudgingly oblige their request, make adjustments, but also carry around a burden of guilt (which everyone notices) about your “sacrifices” to your training, or 3) You say that they are welcome to come, but your training is the priority, and they can only hang out with you when it fits around your training/recovery.  I have carried out all three of these approaches over the years, and can tell you without hesitation that option 1 is by far the most rewarding long-term.

When one places sport as an important, but not all encompassing component of one’s life, it allows the athlete to cope with success and failure with much more stable emotional maturity.  This takes a lot of pressure off of performances, and so when you toe the line in races, there is much greater opportunity to maximize one’s ability, as you are not weighed down by pressure or expectation.

I have chosen to remove what I deem to be the least beneficial segments of my training, in order for me to have more flexibility in my schedule for daily demands of my time that may or may not come unannounced.  My overall mileage may have dropped a tad, but I still am a big believer in endurance training.  When I run, I run long (for a miler). However, I also believe in rest.  A day off each week is not just a physical rest, but also a step away from my sport completely. This fully refreshes my mind, and allows me to charge back into the start of the next week.

You can do all the little things to get every little ounce of improvement out of your body, but if you are not free of pressure and not enjoying the blessings of life, your mental state can restrict your performances far more than the little things can help.  Everyone has to find what the right balance is for their own situation, but this is what has worked for me in the past (not just performance wise, but enjoyment of life), and therefore why I choose to go back to it now.

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Coach Ronnie does it again!

My good friend, and training partner for the past two years, Will Leer, just ran the world-lead 5000m time of 13m21s at the Mt SAC relays.  This not only cut fifteen seconds off of his personal best, but showed he has a lot more in the tank, as he lead eight of the 12.5 laps – far from ideal for chasing fast times.


After two years living in Ann Arbor, and traveling with me to New Zealand during the Michigan winters, Will moved back to Los Angeles in September 2012 to be closer to his family, and the Californian sun.  However, he did not leave our coach, Ron Warhurst.   They have remained in daily contact via cell phone and email, using Ronnie’s unique charisma to keep Will motivated while training the majority of the time on his own.

Coach Warhurst now boasts the fastest 1500m and 5000m times in the world (albeit in this very young stage of the 2013 season).  Will and I are having career winters and springs, but have not trained together for more than a week since July of 2012.  Will has been focusing on high mileage, stints at altitude, and the U.S indoor season (which was capped off with his double U.S titles at the mile and 3000m), while I have been focused on moderate mileage, an emphasis on top-end sprinting speed, and outdoor racing down-under (which was capped off by my A standard qualifying run in Sydney).

Most elite coaching situations these days involve athletes moving to where their coach is located, and being part of a system, in which the coach has authority over the athlete (usually given by the sponsor who is paying both athlete and coach).  Ron’s situation with Will and I is rather rare.  He is our friend first and foremost, and any authority he has over our training and living decisions, is granted to him by us, and not our sponsors.  Will and I are very stubborn athletes and want things done the way we deem right, and would struggle to operate in a system where we didn’t have a large say in daily decision making.  Perhaps this is a major downfall, but it is part of our personalities nonetheless.  For Ron to have two vastly different athletes running at their best says a lot about his ability to help the athlete, and not just find athletes to fit his system.  There have been many who haven’t been able to withstand his demanding workouts, but right now he seems to be doing alright!

Thanks Ronnie.  It has been a great past ten years, and I hope there will be many more to come.

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Simply running – The 10 hour training week.

(Warning: Your coach may not like you reading this)

As science and professionalism have opened up more and more opportunities for athletes to increase their training workloads, and add all the little components to their schedules, the pure simplicity of running has started to lose its way.  Peter Snell in the 60’s and John Walker in the 70’s paved the way for New Zealand middle-distance running following a simple formula of running, and more running (their times and abilities would still be incredibly competitive today).  My greatest fear is that more and more young athletes think that in order to succeed, it is required for them to put their life on hold, put family and friends as secondary priorities and sport must take the number one spot.  Having been around the block a few times, I have come to the conclusion that regardless of result, the most enjoyable seasons are those where sport has a healthy place in a balanced life.  The truth is, a more balanced life often brings out the best long-term results anyway.

For the past twelve years, I have experimented with training schedules but have now decided to end the experimentation and simplify my running life.  This entails focusing on what has worked for me in the past, and eliminating all the “fluff” that I never noticed any real benefit from.  Enjoying family, balancing other interests, being a full-time master’s student and an overall quality of life is the main driver behind this decision, but ultimately, I believe it will produce better, and more sustainable performances.

My basic week involves running once a day with one day off a week.  I have removed the two to three 30-minute secondary runs I used to do in order to top-up my weekly mileage, and this has greatly opened my days to focus on my studies or family activities.   What real fitness gain was I getting from a few extra jogs anyway? Now I have more recovery time to give me spring for my sprint training.  I have also removed gym work (my least enjoyable aspect of training).  To offset this, I run hill sprints once a week, and do 5 minutes of plyometric drills 3-5 times/week.  I do believe weight training is an important part of many training programs, but for me, the benefits are far outweighed by the negatives.  Five minutes of plyos is a far less invasive time commitment, than a 60-90 minute trip to the gym.

Here is the basic layout of the week:

Monday – Day Off

Tuesday – Two-hour workout (total of around 10-12 miles including warm-up and warm-down)

Wednesday – 60 minutes easy jogging (7 min/mile pace)

Thursday – 75 minutes of steady running (6 min/mile pace) + drills and 4x70m hill sprints.

Friday – two-hour workout  (total of around 10-12 mile including warm-up and warm-down)

Saturday – two hour run (17-18 miles at 6m30s/mile pace)

Sunday – 45 min run + plyo drills and 5x100m sprints

This past February, my wife and I traveled the length of New Zealand, showing her parents around our beautiful country.  Most days included sightseeing, driving, and plenty of walking – far from the ideal that most of us runners would want in preparation for important races.  At the end of the trip, I had no idea how I would go, but ended up running a solo 3m36 1500m in Auckland, and a world championships A standard qualifying time of 3m34.6 in Sydney.  By running at sunrise, I was able to get my training completed, without it being a hindrance to our travels.  This is enough evidence for me to believe in this approach, and I am very thankful that I could discover this while still in my prime.

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Twitter – One good use of it.

Millions of people are using twitter every day, but for many of those who have yet to sign up, there is great confusion as to what twitter is all about.  My mother-in-law asked me the other day “If it’s just like my Facebook news feed, what do I need Twitter for? I just don’t get it.”

One neat tool of twitter is the search function.  Each day I search “marketing”, “clever marketing”, “New Zealand”, “Ann Arbor”, and other topics of interest, to see what the twitter world has to offer to educate me.  The tweets that are the most popular (i.e. have been re-tweeted the most) come at the top of the search results.  This is an awesome filtering tool to help find the most interesting and helpful blogs and articles on the web, all in just a few seconds.

Sure you can follow your favorite celebrities, and find out what color shoe polish they’re using today, but the ability to search for the most up to date content (whatever your topic of interest) is perhaps the most overlooked feature of this fantastic resource.

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To get surgery or not – Labral Tears

Over the past three years I have received many emails and facebook messages asking about the Labral tear hip surgery that I undertook in 2009.  I gather that those who have contacted me are only a small percentage of runners who are facing this possible surgery, so by writing a blog post on my experience, and recovery, I hope I can provide a permanent (albeit unscientific) resource on the matter.

From 2004 to 2009 I had an odd sensation in my hip-flexor that would flare up every now and then, particularly when I had gotten up from a low squat position following a run.  Thus, bathroom stops after running were a primary source of this tightness I would feel.   However, with a quick aggressive stretch, the pain/tightness would disappear.   In February of 2009, I was playing a round of golf (after a 10 mile run in the morning), and as I squatted down to line up a putt, my hip locked up, and from that point on it never released.

My sports doctor and physiotherapist in New Zealand diagnosed it as a FAI Labral tear, but didn’t want me to jump into surgery right away, as there had been cases where patients’ symptoms had gone away with manual treatment, biomechanical corrections and rest.  After two months of daily treatment the pain only got worse though, and we made the decision to pursue surgery­–walking even 50m was a great struggle!

I was recommended to try and get an appointment with world-renowned hip specialist, Dr Marc Philipon, in Vail, Colorado.   My wife and I flew into Colorado with just our carry-on luggage, expecting to have a consult and fly home to consider our options, but within ten minutes of seeing Dr Philipon, he was certain I needed surgery, and there was no point delaying the inevitable.  They scheduled my surgery for the following morning, and highly recommended we stay in Vail for a minimum of two weeks, to get twice-daily physical therapy from their specialized post-surgery support team.

Although it was an arthroscopic surgery, it certainly was no light procedure. It became a 4-hour ordeal where they used traction to open up my hip socket (causing a lot of trauma on my hip flexors in the process), and then they shaved down the femoral head to its normal shape, and tied down my labrum with some form of surgical ties.

Rehab was a grind and very slow.  Twice a day, for four months I received intense treatment, aiding in the gradual mobility of my hip joint. Healing and re-training my body to function normally again was a full-time job.  My surgery was April 1st, and I did my first run (all 30 seconds of it in mid-July).  The main issue wasn’t the surgical site itself, but all the damaged hip-flexor tendons from the traction required to open up my hip-socket.  By mid-September I was back to running normally again and thankfully, I have never had any further complications or pain in my hip.  2009 was a lost season, but I won a commonwealth medal in 2010, and ran PB’s in 2011, and 2012.

For those of you facing this problem, I feel for you.  It is not a fun place to be.  If you end up getting surgery, it is not a pleasant experience, and takes a while to get back running again.  Not all cases end up as well as mine did, but hopefully my success story with Dr Philipon will provide some help when assessing your options.

(NCAA champion, Sheilla Reid, is another success story of Dr Philipon)

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Over the last few weeks, Nick and I have spent some time talking about London and processing our thoughts about his races. We know that understanding this stuff takes time, and we know we’ve still got a long way to go on the subject. We realize that, whether people say it or not, the number one question they want to ask us is something like,

“So, what happened?”

In short—we don’t entirely know. I know that’s not the answer people want to hear, and it’s not the one we want to give, but for now, it’s the truth. We have some ideas, but at this point, it’s too soon to jump to a simple answer.  Maybe it was something we did wrong in the planning; maybe it just wasn’t Nick’s day.

But, to be honest, right now, we feel like we need to take a vacation from thinking about running. And a real vacation as well. As I write this we are on a ferry bound for the Greek island of Paros. And, looking out across the waters of the beautiful Aegean, watching as islands float by, I’d be lying if I said we’re moping.

On “doing your best”

That’s what people say, isn’t it?  We’ve been thinking about what that expression really means, and wondering if we can walk away from our Olympic experience claiming that as our comfort.

In one sense, we do know that in that race, on that day, Nick gave his best.  There’s no doubt in our minds that is true. He positioned himself perfectly and, for the first three laps, he executed a near perfect race strategy. He pushed himself to his body’s limits until he crossed the finish line. That was evident.

But, in another sense, what is incredibly frustrating about that race was that Nick’s performance was nowhere near to his best. Two weeks before the Olympic final he had smashed his own personal best and run 3:30.3, a time that ranked him fourth out of all his Olympic competitors this year—a time he had only ever dreamt of running. We felt that, especially with Nick’s history as a good championship racer, he was in the best possible position going into the Olympics. But sadly, I don’t think anyone involved in the sport would agree that Nick’s performance in that final was anywhere near that of a 3:30-caliber athlete. So, can we really claim he did his best?

What happens when everything you’ve hoped and prayed for doesn’t happen? What happens when the reality, as it turns out, is even worse than you prepared yourself for? I realize that comes across quite harsh.  It’s not necessarily the placing that makes me say that. We know that ninth in the world is not a bad placing, really. Nick has come back from injuries and placed about the same in other years and we’ve been happy with that—but that’s been off of 2 or 3 months of training. What made this race difficult were our expectations going in. When you’re on the mountaintop to start with, you hope and pray you’ll climb a little higher, you realistically expect consistency, and you even prepare yourself for the chance of a slight regression. But, “slight regression” would be an understatement to describe Nick’s race. It was the going from an effortless-3:30 kind of shape to, less than 3 weeks later, struggling to hold on to 3:34 pace and tying up to run 3:36.  Truthfully, we just didn’t expect that at all.

It was a hard few days after the final. I’m not embarrassed to say that race was exactly the opposite of what we prayed for, and what our friends and family prayed for.  It was and still is challenging to contend with that. We’ve always felt that God is present in everything—certainly in our spiritual lives but also in our physical lives. He’s in our days, our bodies, our careers, and yes, even a little race. He’s not a distant presence unconcerned with the details of our lives. But that’s a difficult assertion to make in the midst of disappointment, because it acknowledges that God is in that too. And as humans who want what we want, it’s hard when we don’t get it.

I mean that expression it in both senses. Yes, it’s hard when we don’t receive what we want, but it’s also hard when we just don’t “get it.” We want, so badly, to at least understand why things happen to us. But sometimes we don’t get that, either. We’re learning that lesson slowly. Failures bring out the perfectionist in us all, and in a sport like this one, fine tunings and fractions of seconds are what separate joy from heartbreak. The need to solve or fix what went wrong quickly becomes an obsession, and we’re constantly battling against that. Maybe we’ll figure it out—and rest assured, we’ll certainly do the best we can to fix things for next time—but there’s no guarantee that will happen. Simply wanting to understand does not entitle us to.

That’s the harsh reality of this sport—and, of life, too.  We don’t always get everything we want, and we don’t always understand why things happen. And we’re okay with that. Nick and I are open about how faith plays a part in our lives, but we don’t follow God just to get what we want—and I admit this is a lesson I sometimes need to be reminded of.  We follow God because, despite what we think we want, what we really want is Him. Not success, not money, not medals. And He’s the one want that we always get.

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