Tapping into Life Energy Reserves
The following text was actually prepared to serve only as my rough notes for my presentation at the Running Room. It has been posted here primarily to serve as a reminder to those who attended the workshop. However, it is comprehensive enough that it should make sense to anyone who reads it.
Running Room Talk, December 2nd, 9am, Slater St at O'Connor, 30 minutes, 30 people
Introduction: Mike Caldwell, 38 years old. Owner and operator of Corporate Synergy Inc. specialize in teambuilding and leadership training, coaching and consulting.
Athletic history: raced triathlon in high school and university, lost interest and switched to kayaking because I found it more fun and less painful. Then I almost died kayaking a creek in flood in a downriver boat in France. Moved to Colorado where I took up mountain biking in the summer and telemark skiing in the winter. Returned to Ontario where I started adventure racing 36 hour races, but then they became too painful and costly, and now I've come full circle and race triathlons again.
What qualifies me to be here speaking? My recent personal bests include a 3:59 marathon and a 12:30 Ironman. These are not earth shattering times. They are the epitome of mediocrity. But I'm not here to teach you how to race faster; I'm here to tell you how to enjoy your racing and your training more.
I'm not going to tell you what you should do. Everyone is different and we all have different expectations regarding everything in life. So I'm just going to tell you what I did and what I do and how it works for me. If you think some of these ideals are a fit to your personality, then I encourage you to try out some of my methods.
Step 1: Determine my goals. In my case I had 3 goals:
1) A number of years ago I created a list of 50 Things to do before I die. On that list is: visit the rainforest, raft an Arctic River, build my own house, ride a camel, have my own flag pole, and RACE AN IRONMAN. So that was goal number 1, race an Ironman. But that needed to be qualified. Did I want to win a race, qualify for Hawaii, or simply finish. Since I assumed an ironman would be tough, and I was pretty busy building my house and business, I figured FINISHING the race would be my goal.2) A couple of years earlier I had fallen off a cliff and broken my arm, leg and back. This put me out of commission for awhile and had me surfing the couch, watching Oprah and eating! Needless to say I gained some weight. I had lost much of it by that point but I was still far from the level of fitness that I had prior to the fall. So I wanted to improve my fitness. But again, this needed to be qualified. How fit did I want to be? Basically I didn't want any visible flab hanging over my waistband and I wanted to be able to keep up with any and all of my friends (who are all quite fit) during their training rides, hikes, runs, etc. I didn't want to beat these guys in any races, but I wanted to be able to train with them3) The TriRudy Award: Winterlude Triathlon, Keski 50k ski, Rideau Lakes Tour, Marathon, Ironman. I've been following TriRudy for years and wanted to dispel the myth that one needed to be super human to complete the Rudy Award. I wanted to show people that if I could do it, anyone could do it.
Step 2: Establish a plan.
I have never believed in structured training. It just hasn't suited my personality nor have I needed it to attain any prior goals. But I have always recognized that if one truly wants to perform then a system needs to be in place. So I hired Jennifer D'Aoust from Summitform Fitness. I laid out my goals to her, explained my past athletic accomplishments, and my expectations for the year. I wanted to be clear that although I wanted to undertake a fairly daunting challenge (Keski, IM, marathon), that really wasn't my top priority. My main priorities were completing construction of my house, making money as a self-employed entrepreneur, not destroying my marriage, and THEN completing the Rudy Award.
Jenn also needed to understand I wasn't about to start weighing my food, altering my lifestyle, or training indoors or running on pavement! I wasn't going to be her easiest client!
Step 3: Accept and own the new plan
Okay, so I've said the RA was number 4 on my list of priorities. But I had to accept that succeeding in this task would take some commitment. It was still #4 on the list. I don't know about you, but my life is complicated and there are more than 4 things that occupy my days. So my RA goal may not have been #1 but it was certainly not my last priority either. Some things were going to have to change and I was going to have to show some dedication and commitment.
Step 4: Make it Happen
So I went and met with Jenn at her studio. She did an assessment of my strengths and weaknesses and showed me the stretches and strength training exercises she wanted me to do. Apparently there was going to be some indoor training involved! But she explained that if I wanted to train at the level required to complete an IM, I would need to have balanced muscle development and supple muscles if I wanted to survive the year injury free.
A couple of days later, I opened my email from Jenn and there it was - my first 2 week training schedule. Apparently the dream phase of my goal had past and now it was time to actually get down to work.
But here is the quirk in my personality that has lead to me being self-employed and building my house far away from established civilization. I HATE being told what to do in any degree. I am honestly one of the hardest workers I know. Working on my house or business, I'll start working at 7am and work straight through until 9pm. If I see a job, any job, waiting to be done, I'll tackle it regardless of the level of difficulty. But if somebody tells me do something, anything, it could be to go and play at a water park all day, I'll resent it because I was told to do it.
So there in front of me I have a list of orders being handed down by Jenn D'Aoust. I know I asked for those orders, but in my psyche it didn't matter how they arrived there, I'm still not happy about it. And apparently today I was being told to go out for a 40 minute Zone 1 run!
This was not a good start, I had no interest in doing what I was told at all.
I could just accept that if I want to succeed at my goal, then I'd have to simply grin and bear it, put on my shoes, and get out there and run. I could do that. But how long could I do that for? Could I survive 8 months of training with that attitude? Probably not.
So I needed an attitude adjustment.
First I needed to examine why I was so bitter about having to go for a run.
1) Because I was being told to: But this was a requested order and one that will help me reach one of my goals. So this wasn't really an order at all, it was simply a conduit of my own aspirations.2) I also didn't feel like going for a run. Why not? There was no reason really. It was a nice day, I could use the break, it wasn't going to keep my away from anything I needed to do.
It was a Zone 1 run after all - a jog really. I had to think about how I was going to feel while I was out there running. I tried to visualize it. I could see myself on a familiar part of the road. There were fields on both sides. There were a couple of deer right by the tree line on the left side and I'd look over at them and smile. I always love seeing any form of nature. There were some cows in the field on the right. My puppy Jazz would be running with me, and she'd see the cows and go lunging and barking toward the fence. The cows would merely shrug her off, turn and walk away. Jazzy would prance onward, all proud of herself and I would be laughing. I'd be feeling good and strong and enjoying every breath of that clean country air.
Man, that sounds great! Why didn't I want to run again? Maybe I should call Jenn and see if I can run longer. I know at Z1 I could run a lot longer than 40 minutes! This is going to be great run!
So before I lost that vision in my mind's eye, I threw on my tights, HR monitor and shoes, grabbed the doggies and headed out the door. I was almost surprised when the deer and cows weren't in the field where I had envisioned them, but I did get a chuckle because it looked like Jazzy was surprised too as she jogged over to the fence, stopped and peered through. There were no cows, but it was early spring and the field was a tremendous shade of green. The trees were all still brown, but I could almost feel them quivering with the anticipation of new life. Man did I ever feel good. This was a great day to be alive. I was so happy to be out there running. Although I wasn't focused on running at all, rather I was simply dialed in to my own feeling of well-being. I was fully charged.
Who has ever felt that way during a run or a ride or a swim or whatever?
Where does that feeling come from? Why do we experience it sometimes but not others?
The feeling starts in your head. It's all mental. We can actually choose how we want to feel at any given moment.
But it's more than that. It's also about energy. And I'm not talking about energy derived from calories broken down in the Citric Acid Cycle of carbohydrates! I'm talking about some form of life energy. If you remember back to your high school physics lessons, you'll recall that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only transfer from one form to another. Just think about all the energy around us right now:
Light energy, sound energy, electrical energy, kinetic energy, magnetic energy, potential energy, chemical energy, thermal energy... just to list a few.
But there is also life energy. Without getting religious or too philosophical, what exactly differentiates the living from the nonliving? And I'm not just talking about people here, I'm talking about all things that live: people, animals, insects, trees, grass, etc. I believe that it is a truly unique life energy.
Just consider many of the forms of energy we just mentioned. They primarily exist in waves: there are radio waves, microwaves, x-rays, ultraviolet rays, gamma rays, etc. but of this spectrum of total radiation we can only see an extremely small percentage of visible radiation. What if we could see the entire spectrum of wavelength radiation? We actually wouldn't be able to see anything at all. Our view would be too crowded. Just think about it, what if we could see all the radio waves traveling through the air, the cell phone waves, the heat waves coming from the ground and our bodies. The energy is everywhere.
Wait a minute, the energy is everywhere!
If energy is everywhere, and if energy can't be created or destroyed but it does like to change forms, what's stopping us from accessing all the energy that is around and within us?
We've all done this and we've all experienced this.
Close your eyes for a minute. Think about a good run you had, maybe it was a race or maybe it was just a training run.What were you thinking when you started the run?What did you feel when you realized you were running well?Try to put yourself back into that moment.How is your breathing? Strong and regular. How did your footfalls sound? Rhythmic and lightWhat was your overall sense of being? You were in the zone, feeling euphoric.
Try to re-capture that feeling now. Just relax and allow yourself to feel it.
Now open your eyes? How do you feel? Who wants to run? Who wants to exercise? Who feels like they have this big bottle of power within them that needs to be released?
Now what sort of electrolyte replacement drink or GU did you just consumer to make you feel that way?
Nothing, that energy has been within you since you arrived here this morning. You just chose to tap into it now.
But that is just the first step. Can you feel the energy building within you? Does it almost feel like if somebody could see outside their visible spectrum of light they would see that you're actually glowing right now?
You know what, you are glowing right now. All that energy you have is being released all around you. But that's okay because you have lots of it. I like to compare it to a black hole. In the universe, a black hole is actually a collapsed star that is infinite in mass but only takes up a point in space. Its gravity is so immense that not even light can escape from it. Yet it only takes up a point in space. Your life force energy is condensed just the same way the energy in a black hole is.
So if this energy is being emitted from you, then why can't it be absorbed and used by somebody else. Think about being at a hockey game and the home team scores. Everybody cheers and suddenly you are more alive now than you were before the goal. That goal just created a huge outpouring of energy, and you had no choice but to absorb part of it. Similarly, think about races you've finished when there was a large crowd cheering you on as you crossed the line. Compare that to crossing the line alone and in silence. Why do you think people want to race Ironman over an Iron distance race? The biggest reason is the way you finish. When you hear your named followed by "you are an ironman" and the crowd cheers you in, you feel like a superhero. It's a rush just the same as any drug.
But you don't require a large group of people to feel this way. It happens just the same in one-on-one interactions. I think all of us have people in our lives that we tend to avoid because after we leave them we simply feel drained. That's because they're not giving you any of their energy, they are only sponging up yours. But conversely, we all know people who leave us feeling stronger and more empowered. Who has ever worked or spoken with Ray Zahab? Now there's the perfect example of a reverse black hole. After spending 10 minutes with Ray, you leave feeling you are capable of achieving anything.
So there are the examples that prove that this energy exists and is real, now it's simply up to you to learn how to maximize its potential. That energy is always there and always available, you have it within you and you have it surrounding you. You just need to tap this resource.
Personally I like to live in and train in the woods. That is where there is maximum energy because that is where you'll find the most life. By contrast the city is primarily concrete and nonliving. There is tons of energy around, but it's not of the wavelength that can best be used for your training. That energy actually needs to be blocked because it causes too much distortion. Training alone in the city you need to focus on your internal stores and use that energy to shield you from all the negative energy around.
But it can be done. The first thing you need to do before a training run is start the run with the right attitude. You need to want to run, you should feel eager with anticipation to get out there. If you start with a positive attitude it's easier to maintain a positive attitude.Because let's face it, running is certainly more than a mental activity, there is definitely a physical element involved and there times when the weather is going to be wet or cold or your muscles are going to feel sore or stiff. In these instances it's very easy to focus on the negative and have a bad run overall. But many times this need not be the case.
Have you ever questioned going for a run because the sky looked rather ominous and you thought it might rain? And then sure enough 20 minutes into your run drops start falling from the sky. Immediately you feel like crap, you knew it was going to rain yet you left anyway. You're such an idiot.
But wait a minute, why is the rain so bad? Is it making you cold? Actually if you think about it, it feels kind of good. Is the road more slippery? Are you ruining your clothes?No, but you don't like running in the rain. Why not? What's so bad about it? Nothing, nothing at all. It actually feels pretty cool and just proves that you're tougher than most people who are all scampering for cover. Maybe you should run in the rain all the time!
Again, it's all about perspective and how you choose to feel about any given situation. You can put a positive spin on nearly anything. I don't recommend running through certain types of pain if there is any chance that it could result in injury. But if you get a cramp in your side or in your foot, try welcoming it and laughing it off. Tell yourself, this is only temporary pain, and as far as pain goes it doesn't even really feel that bad. You love a challenge and this is one challenge you know you're going to win. Run right through that cramp and I'll bet you find that with the right attitude that cramp doesn't last as long as it usually does.
One last trick I like I use to get or stay motivated for a run is just think about how fortunate we are to be able to go out for a run at all. Quite often Canadians take for granted our freedom. Just take a moment and think about where most of the 6 billion people on the planet live: Asia, Africa, India... How many of those people have a pair of $150 running shoes and enough food in their belly to have the energy to go out for a 10k run? And then there's the Middle East - they probably have the cash and food to run, but they have to take into consideration that if they go out they could run over a land mine or get blown up by a suicide bomber. And for the women, what do you think would happen to you if you tried running down the road in your tights and sports bra???? And even in this country, how many people are paraplegics or bedridden. What do you think they would give to go for a run down the Parkway?
We really are fortunate to have our health, resources and the freedom to run and should take advantage of that any opportunity anytime we can. Nobody has given us a guarantee that there will be a tomorrow.
So for training, you need to have a plan, do your best to stick to it, stay positive and tap into all of that life energy within and outside of you. But at the same, keep in mind your priorities and realize you can't have it all. If you miss a run because you have to take your daughter to her piano recital, don't feel guilty about missing that run. Running is a lower priority than your daughter and that is a conscious choice you have made. Now if you miss a run because you get wrapped up in an episode of "All My Children", then don't waste energy feeling guilty about that either, but rather give yourself a good slap in the face and make a contract with yourself in blood that it won't happen again!
And that's all you can do to prepare for a race.
Now for race day you have to keep in mind what it is you can control. The only thing you can truly control in life is how you respond to this very moment. You can't control the moment you can only control your response to it. If you are shooting for a sub 40minute 10k, you can't control your final time. You can only control each moment as they progress through the race. Right from the beginning you need to stay positive and think happy thoughts. Here you are on race day, this is what you've been working so hard towards. You are strong, you are ready, you are going to have great day regardless of your final time (don't worry about that, you can't control that now). Get yourself into the zone. Rest the night before and hydrate like crazy. Race day put on your best running attire, see how great you look and make your way to the start line. Within the mass of people at the start, feel the energy they are throwing off. There is tons of it there. Absorb it and bottle it. You're going to need it later. You might even allow yourself to feel sorry for those people because there you are absorbing all the energy they've built and they don't even know it. Then the gun sounds and you're off. You can't believe how good you feel and you're running. You're going to look down at your watch at the first mile marker and you're going to see that you're running faster than you can maintain over the course of the race. Don't worry about that. You haven't over-extended yourself yet, you're in great shape. You're just running on all that start line energy, you haven't even begun to tap into your own internal stores yet. But listen to your body, how do you feel? You may still have a bit of that excess energy left. If so, go with it. But if you think that initial reserve is spent, then it's time to start budgeting your resources. You know the tempo you need to be in. Find it and relax. Listen to your breathing and footfalls. Envision that bright glowing life force within you. Take comfort from knowing that reserve will always be there. There's a family at the side of the road. The little girl is cheering you on and her older brother is ringing the cow bell. They are giving away more energy. Take it. Welcome it. Allow yourself to smile and enjoy the moment.
Too many recreational racers believe they have to suffer when they race. They think that by suffering and overcoming that pain they are stronger racers. That's bull! The reason they are suffering is because they choose to suffer, instead of bringing on the pain and trying to rise above it, dismiss the pain entirely. Think about what you're doing and how great it feels to be doing it. You love this stuff and you'll be damned if you're not going to enjoy every minute of it. Grab yourself a bit of that life energy within you and pick up the pace for just a few seconds - maybe pass that racer who's been just ahead of you for the last couple of miles. Smile and encourage that racer as you pass. Trust me, if you do this you're the one who'll grow even stronger. He's probably going to ask himself why you're not suffering like he is. He's going to sigh and allow some of his energy to escape. Thank you very much, you'll take that.
There's an aid station ahead. Ask yourself how bad you need the fluid? If you need to drink, run right up to the volunteer with a big smile and a "Gatorade and a water please" (always remember to say please).Once that is handed to you make sure your breathing is controlled and in 2 well-timed gulps chug the Gatorade. Tell yourself that that is going to help and start jogging again. In 3 or 4 sips finish the cup of water. Now you tell yourself that you are rested and nourished and ready to go again.
If you know you don't need to hydrate then skip the Gatorade, don't slow down, grab a water with a please and thank you and drink it the best you can. Tell yourself that you must be strong if you can run though an aid station as easily as that. You are definitely having a great race.
There will be times when you lose focus and start feeling weak. It may even surprise you. One moment you'll just realize that you feel really tired and your legs are sore. This is a crucial moment as you can either give into those negative sensations and embrace them or you can laugh them off. You've trained for this moment and you're ready to deal with it. Where was that life force again? Ahh there it is. That puts a bit more bounce in your step. Oh and look at all the people cheering at that corner. You'll take some of that. Don't force a smile, conjure one up. You have chosen to do this and you're doing well. Again there is absolutely no need to suffer. Focus on that breathing and how lucky you are to be out there.
And then you'll hear it. The noise from the finish line. That's what you came for isn't it? What do you have left in you now? You've budgeted well, so probably not too much. But you certainly have enough left to really give that crowd something to cheer about. Look at those 2 guys ahead of you, man they look painful. They don't know it yet, but they're going to get passed in the last 100m. Sure sucks to be them! Yep, they're getting closer with each step. The second guy hears you and you expect him to pick it up. But he's grimacing and has nothing left as you breeze by him. But the next guy has seemed to pick it up a bit and as you approach he goes faster yet. It looks like he wants to race and you even ask him "want to race?". And you both turn it on, step for step you match one another, racing faster and faster until you both cross the line together.
Who cares. You didn't come here to race that guy and you look at the clock. Did you make your goal? Hopefully you did, but if not, does it really matter?
What were your goals when you began your running career? Was the only goal to run a sub 40 10k? I hope not because that's not a great motivating tool. What happens when you run finally run a sub 40? Do you stop running or do you come up with a new goal? Why bother with a new goal when you could have a goal that adapts to every race you ever compete in forever? Your goal should always be to run the best race you can. Nobody but you really cares what your time in a race ever is. And you shouldn't either. Where is running in your list of priorities? If it is #1, then I'm sorry because I'm the last guy you should be listening to. But if it is a top priority you have to keep in mind that you did the best you could to prepare, but other priorities got in the way. Maybe you didn't break 40 minutes, but this isn't your last race either. You trained and raced strong and you're growing faster every day. Today was a great day and tomorrow will be too. You can keep working and maybe that time will fall in September or next year. But right now you're just going to enjoy this moment, because really that is the only thing you can control.