Sunday, January 25, 2015

Getting Off The Grid Every So Often

Ok, don't get freaked out on the title, I'm not talking about shutting off all of your electrical devices and going out into the woods! This is a running blog for crying out loud!

It's just that in my quest to be more running social I've been spending some more time reading blogs and Facebook posts while following more people on Twitter. I'm loving it! It's been a lot of fun "getting to know" people and feeling like I'm part of something.

Still, one thing I've noticed, and have for a long time, is that there are a lot of people that seem to complicate the sport more than it should be. Instead of trusting the process -- which to me is one of the joys of running -- many seem to have paralysis by analysis, and I think it gets in the way of enjoying the sport.

I can't believe that I'm writing these words (because I'm normally not that deep of a thinker), but the true way to get the best out of your running is to treat it as an organic, living, breathing thing. It's not a skill, like, say, swinging a golf club or shooting baskets. It's more something that moves and evolves over time.

Don't get me wrong, I love gadgets and stuff as much as anyone, and I am a believer in the more information, the better. I'm not trying to be negative about that stuff. AT. ALL. Actually that and I am just hoping you don't have a vision of me standing on my front porch and shaking my fist in the air screaming "get off my lawn!" It's just that sometimes it should be about just going off the grid and taking it back to where it's just about pure running.

I guess that is why I love cross country so much. The course doesn't have to be accurate -- and most aren't -- and at least up through the high school level you aren't allowed to wear a watch on the course. And it probably doesn't help you much anyway because most courses aren't even marked properly. It's just about going out and running. My son Matt ran dozens of cross country races in high school and college, and rarely came off the course knowing what his mile splits were. If he ever found out it was well after the race.

I'm a firm believer that if you want to become a proficient runner, it's important to jump off the wheel every so often. I'm pretty old school, I didn't get my first running watch until I'd been running for about two years, and even now I rarely have one on when I run. Most of that is to avoid racing workouts (which is usually what happens) but it's also so I'm not dependent on a time or get encouraged or discouraged by what a watch says.

I'll put one on for a daily run to see how much progress I've made on a certain loop over a period of time, but usually I save it for speedwork and long runs. Sometimes I won't even wear it for a long run, either. Or, I wear it and never look at it until I'm done. Funny thing with that is, I might go into a run with the intention of running, say, four miles in 40 minutes, and without looking at my watch I get done within 20-30 seconds either way of that time.

To be a good racer, you have to develop a feel for running. I'm fortunate that I have a knack and a feel for pace in that I can go out and run a time or a pace without the benefit of a watch. It's kind of uncanny, to the point where friends of mine call me the "pace monster", but that was also something that developed over time. When you are in a race, especially a long one, one of the most important things you do is manage yourself. You maximize your performance when you can listen to your body and do what it tells you.

It's like being part of a pace group. If you are running a marathon with a pace group, you don't think about what your watch says, do you? You might look at it but you trust that the experienced pace group leaders know what they are doing and will get you to your goal.

Gaining experience and having a feel for your running is like being your own group leader. Part of running well is staying relaxed, and if you can hit numbers just based on feel you will be more relaxed, it will become a matter of looking at your watch, shrugging and filing away that number. It's about running with confidence.

That's why I try and encourage people to leave everything at home every so often and just go out and run. I think that in order to do well at running, you have to love it, you have to love how it works and feels, and love the process. Getting back to pure running helps that, I believe. Getting off that grid and just running for the sake of running not only helps you get a better feel for pace, I think it helps you get in touch with that living, breathing part of you that makes you run in the first place.

Take the blinders off, stop for a minute and take the time enjoy what you are doing. We're so used to moving through life at the speed of light, focused on the task at hand, that as a result we miss out on the little things that make this life so great. Running is no different. No doubt it's a sport, or a hobby, or even a way of life, but at the same time, it's an experience, too. An experience that needs to be celebrated every so often.

Give it a try this week, I guarantee you will like it!

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