Thursday, January 14, 2016

Trusting The Process

About this time of year, a lot of new runners join the community, and runners who may have been out of the game for a while make their way back. For sure, I'm glad to have all of them, the more people we have running, the better!

One other thing that comes with this time of the year is that people decide to take on a challenge, be it a 10K, half-marathon, marathon or even ultra. For those of us who have been at this for a while, and have covered distances all across the gamut, a jump to a bigger distance isn't horribly daunting. I would like to make the jump to a 50K (31 miles) this year, but since I've run eight marathons (and hopefully a ninth and maybe even a tenth in 2016), I can wrap my head around it pretty easily.

But for those who are fairly new to this, lots of questions spill out onto their blogs and social media. Almost inevitably, two questions come is how do I do this? and the second is can I do it?

The answer to the second question is easy...of course you can! Look at how far you've come in so many ways since you have started, lots of things seemed unreachable when you began running, but look at all of the milestones -- both physical and mental -- you have knocked down since. Whether or not you can do something should be the least of your worries!

How do you do it? There's lots of ways: you can grab a schedule from the Internet, or hire a coach, join a club or training group, run with a charity...there are tons of answers and ways to get there.

When I get asked these questions by people I answer them this way, but I also tack on an extra sentence...

You have to trust the process!

Say, for example, you have decided to run the Chicago Marathon. If you had to run a marathon today, you probably couldn't, right? And that's OK, when I went for my first run on January 2, 2000, I couldn't either. I ran a mile around my neighborhood in about 15 minutes and wondered how I could possibly be able to run 25 more!

Yet, 294 days later, that's exactly what I did!

I'm not anything special, thousands -- if not millions -- of people have done the same thing. Which is one justification to trusting the process, because it's been done.

Getting back a couple of paragraphs, you've decided to run the Chicago Marathon, so you've gone to Hal Higdon's website (as I once did -- in fact, I've used his programs or a hybrid of them for all of my marathons) and looked at his Novice program.

(Courtesy of Hal

It looks pretty simple, and it is, which kind of scares people, I think. Some have a hard time believing that this program will get to the finish line. To me, the beauty is in it's simplicity, because if you want to finish a marathon, this right here is the blueprint! I actually used this program in 2013, because I had pretty much been out of running for a while and was just wanting to finish the Chicago Marathon. I completed 66 of the 72 runs on this program and got it done!

The easy part of completing this -- or any -- program isn't in going out and doing the running, it's having trust in that this 18-week process is going to get you there. In order to accomplish your goals, you have to, have to, HAVE TO believe in the process. As each week goes on you have to believe that you are getting better, stronger and faster.

That applies to everyone, from newbies to the best runners in the world, especially the best runners in the world. They run for their livelihoods, and in the middle of a Diamond League meet in Europe, or the Olympic Trials, or an Olympic final, they have to believe what they did along the journey is going to see them through.

Living outside of Chicago, I'm around one of the best high school and college running programs in the country in York High School and North Central College. York, located in Elmhurst and coached by the legendary Joe Newton, has won 27 state cross country titles over the last 50-plus years. North Central, located in Naperville and coached by the equally legendary Al Carius, has won 16 national Division III cross country titles (with 15 more second place finishes), 10 combined indoor and outdoor national track championships, and his runners have won the CCIW conference cross country championship 42 years in a row.

What do these two coaches have in common? I could go on all day about both of these guys, but the biggest thing is that they have created a culture and environment where an athlete knows they can succeed. And, they have created successful training programs that their athletes know if they follow they have a chance for success.

Newton says so in the documentary, "The Long Green Line". His training programs have changed little over the years, so if you want to be an all-state runner, you look back at the other all-staters and just follow the same training program they did.

When he was running in college last year, my son Matt was coached by a runner who had run for North Central, Andy Remley. Andy was part of a couple of national champion cross country teams, and on the track ran in the steeplechase (he also has a 2:41 marathon to his credit). He said the same thing, when he was at school there, Coach Carius encouraged runners to look through the training logs of runners that had come before them, because they would see they were doing the same workouts as kids who had become national champions and All-Americans.

Andy, who never advanced to the Illinois state cross country meet and only ran in a 4x800 semifinal at the state track meet, said he looked through a lot of those and decided if it worked for them, it would for him too. So that's what he did, he followed those programs and became a champion.

Crazy isn't it?

We tend to get caught up in all of this stuff that is supposed to make us better, gear, shoes, GPS watches...but in the end it's about trusting what you are doing, it's that simple.

So if you are making the jump to a bigger distance this year, and feel uneasy, or even a little scared, that's fine, because the unknown is the cause of anxiety. But when you hit the road and start training, trust yourself, and trust the process, and it will get you there.


  1. I'd like to embark on the challenge as well, but it is not that easy for me to knuckle down to some sort of prolonged activity! If you know some mental tricks, let me know:)

  2. What a wonderfully well written post Mike! Having just finished my very first marathon I can back up your answer to when people ask you if they can do it. Yes, they can!
    We can do anything we set our minds too.
    As far as the plan, so many of us including me have doubts during our training. I remember several times thinking I don't know how I'll be able to do this. At the time, I was not supposed to be able to do it. Each and every training run was a step closer to the goal. The goal was to finish a marathon for me and I did it!
    Thanks for sharing! :)