If you are in the upper half of the U.S. (or all of Canada), it’s getting cold. Races are fewer and farther between. You find yourself checking the thermometer for apparel requirements and considering if Yaktraks are appropriate (they are). It’s the unofficial off season. Your next race is probably still a whole season away.
So, what now?
This is the time of year to take some internal assessment of where you are at as a runner and where you want to go. Reflect on 2009 and plan for 2010. And eat too much cheese.
I haven’t finalized my thoughts on 2009 yet. It feels incomplete somehow. I ran only one marathon and it was a non-competitive fun run. I had planned so many other races that, for one reason or another, never came to fruition. The new web site I had hoped to launch? Still a collection of scribbled ideas sitting under my employers more pressing work demands. Register for Boston? Didn’t do it and now it’s no longer possible. 2009 was a good running year for me in the sense that I enjoyed the work-outs, fine tuned my weekly training regimen, and developed a greater understanding of what my body can and cannot handle at 38 years.
But races? Not much to show except a PR in the 5k and Half Marathon. Nice but I expected more challenges, more opportunities to test myself.
So, as I forge onward into winter running in long pants, hats and gloves, I look forward to a more definitive 2010. More races and results that reflect my level of training. Also, more FUN.
First, we have to get to 2010. There’s long, cold nights to deal with. The temptation is powerful to leave the Asics in the closet when the thermometer reflects sub 20 degrees. What I do now does matter though. These are important weeks. Important miles. I don’t want to backslide. Neither is it necessary to move speed and distance to a higher level right now. Maintain, maintain, maintain. Make 2009 count.
Times like these, you need to find inspiration from wherever you can. Articles in Runner’s World or a good book (I really liked The Perfect Mile). This is a good time to hook up with another runner to cajole each other out the door when it is too easy to say ‘not today.’ Whether it is the goal time at a spring race or just the desire to hold your current fitness level, find some way to become inspired.
I recently found inspiration from an unusual and unexpected source. As I’ve mentioned before, I coach my daughter’s second grade girls soccer team. After the official outdoor season, most of them continued on with me to an indoor season. Unfortunately, we were the only group of U8’ers (8 and under) that signed up. The girls had to play U9 and U10 teams. On top of that, these teams were not “recreational” like ours (U8 only plays rec league in our area) but competitive travel teams filled with girls committed to the sport through hours of practice. We were up against it, for sure. A win looked unlikely. How would they handle the inevitable lopsided losses?
Sure enough, the girls’ first two games did not go well at all. The losses were ugly. They stopped keeping score at some point in the first half (once one team goes up by 8 or more). But, then something happened. Even in the first two losses, our team fought hard to the final minute. They never gave up. They came back to the bench still smiling and ready for more.
In the third game, another loss, the score was kept the entire way. A loss….but closer. The following week, they would play the same team on back-to-back days. The first game ended with yet another loss, 8-0, but it was their best effort yet. Long periods of the game went by with even play. The little U8’ers, at an obvious size and experience disadvantage, were playing even with the dedicated U9/U10 team for increasingly longer stretches. The next day brought the same team. But this time the score was tied 7-7 with about eight minutes to go. A few late goals by the other team ended the upset bid but our girls were excited. They were working hard and seeing results.
The season just concluded. There is no magical fairy tale ending. They lost every game. However, after getting beaten soundly in the first two games, the team improved a little bit each week until the other teams had to really fight to win the game. I couldn’t have been more proud. They played hard. They had fun. It was a great experience.
Ultimately, the team benefited from taking the focus off the big picture: The scoreboard. Instead, we worked on little things. We worked on getting our non-attacking defenseman positioned correctly every time. When we had that, we worked on the forwards more quickly closing the gaps when the other team’s defense was trying to move the ball. Pieces and parts of the game. Bite-sized portions. The girls felt like they were having success even when the scoreboard reflected otherwise.
I’ve taken a lot from the experience to apply to my own training. I tend to focus on my time goal for a race while training. Sometimes it seems daunting and almost de-motivating. I’m going to start focusing on the smaller pieces that will lead to the big picture time goal. How can I modify my training plan to align to the race goal? Instead of 6 x 800’s, maybe I’ll do 8 x 400 just to mix things up. Can I shave a few seconds from each 400 or 800 lap? Maybe I need to hydrate more and earlier during a marathon to help fight the late race cramping. There are parts of our training that come together to form the whole race day results.
My daughter’s team found a way to be successful outside of the normal constraints imposed by the win-loss record. A positive attitude. Small improvements in specific areas. The courage to take on the challenge.
It’s not about the TIME. It’s about what you do to get there. I’ve found some inspiration to keep me going during these cold days and dark evenings.
I hope you find yours.