Tuesday, March 3

Lessons from Cowtown

This past weekend I (along with 6,500 other brave souls) ran the Cowtown Half Marathon in Forth Worth, Texas. I say "brave" considering what was supposed to be a five-race weekend (5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon, Ultra-Marathon) turned into only one race due to winter weather: snow, sleet, icy roads, etc. The race crew at Cowtown worked with city officials to provide a safe course for the Half Marathon folks, but there were still some sketchy parts.

Ever since becoming a coach I've had a heightened sense of awareness while working out, and even while hanging around other endurance athletes. I find myself constantly going into "coaching mode": analyzing my own situation or observing others' form, etc. I can't seem to turn it off!

Cowtown was no different, so what came from this race (besides sore legs) were some insights I thought I'd share. Insights I gleaned from being an athlete in "coaching mode" who raced a tough course with unique, wintry conditions.

Stability and Balance 

When we run, we typically just go, giving little to no thought about all the amazing bio-mechanical processes that take place to keep us from falling on our face. That's fine... until, of course, we fall on our face. The fact is that stability and balance matter, especially in circumstances like Cowtown where parts of the roads were icy, or nearly flooded. There will be more cases than you think where you'll be required to navigate potholes, dodge people, or jump curbs. In all of the scenarios stability and balance can make the difference between a successful race, or limping away injured.

Muscle activation exercises, stability workouts, and proper shoes are just a few areas to pay attention to for improving overall stability and balance.

Hills Repeats and Arm Utilization

For the majority of Cowtown I was pacing with a few other guys who were all running my desired speed. At Mile 9 there was a decent sized hill. As soon as we hit the hill I shortened my stride, increased my cadence, and began using my arms to help drive my momentum. When I got to the top I glanced over my shoulder and realized I had dropped the group I was pacing with. I continued on at my same pace, and they never caught me.

After the race one of the guys who I was pacing with came up to me. He gave me kudos for "flying up that hill." I thanked him, but I couldn't help thinking: it wasn't as much me "flying up the hill" as it was you slowing down. (Fear not, I didn't say that, I kept my mouth shut!)

I've got two thoughts on potential reasons he (and the others) slowed down. (1) Lack of arm utilization. All of them kept their arms up close to their chest as if running like velociraptors. It saddened me to see them not capitalize on an asset they had at their disposal. (2) I highly doubt they train hills, and I deeply wanted to recommend he start incorporating hill repeat training into his overall regimen (again, fear not, as I kept quiet).

I've already written some about hill repeat workouts during my 2014 Houston Marathon training, but allow me to add additional color. Hill repeat workouts are basically like intervals with resistance. If you recover properly from these workouts, you'll start to notice significant gains in run power, strength, and even speed.

Confidence and "Bite-Sized Chunks"

Around Mile 8 I started having doubts about my ability to hold my speed through the end of the race. The group of guys I was with certainly helped, but the negative self-talk remained. Off in the distance I saw the hill (described above) and thought to myself: "OK, you're hurting, fine, but hang on until you get to that hill and just see what happens. If you end up needing to walk or slow down, that's OK, but at least make it to that hill."

So I did, and I dropped my group, and continued on with no more doubt about holding my pace.

I knew that if I hit the hill with my pace group there was a good chance they'd slow down, I'd pass them, and it'd reignite my confidence. And that's exactly what happened. I didn't focus on the fact that I still had 40% more race to run and I was already hurting, I broke the race down into bite-sized chunks and took them in turn.

Despite rain, a slippery course, and freezing temperatures, Cowtown was fun. And like all races, I learned something. Until the next one...

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