Roger and me

March 29, 2008

There are times when I can admit that I might benefit from having a running coach/adviser. And then there are other times, such as this week, when I feel so self-aware, so in tune with my mental and physical needs, that consulting anyone else would seem like a waste of time.

I returned to Seattle on Monday after two weeks in Argentina (for work related to the website TDRtargets.org) and South Carolina (for my grandmother’s 90th birthday). It was a trip full of the usual challenges of eating and running in unfamiliar places while preoccupied with other activities. For example, although there were a few nice running options within a mile or two of my Buenos Aires hotel room, only the Puerto Madero restaurant loop was a reasonable choice after dark, when I did most of my runs. Another example: being a picky eater and not having easy access to my usual fare, I consumed more meat and fewer fruits and vegetables than usual.

And so I came home feeling fat and slow. But I recognized this as a feeling that didn’t necessarily reflect reality. I decided that I needed to rebuild my confidence as soon as possible, if I could, by completing a workout equivalent to those I had done before my trip. A hard tempo run would be best for morale-building purposes, since it resembles a 100K race somewhat more than a short interval workout does.

When my run into work on Tuesday morning felt smooth and quick, I decided to test myself that afternoon. I ran home via Capitol Hill so that I could do a 3.7-mile “urban jungle time trial” from East Roanoke Street & 10th Avenue East to 14th Avenue South & 15th Avenue South. As always, I ran with a light backpack (Deuter Race X Air) and stopped the watch at street crossings when necessary.

My time was 20:51, a personal record for this course. Self-confidence climbed as worries declined in after-hours trading. My trip hadn’t hurt my fitness after all.

In thinking about how disruptions to training can sometimes yield unexpected benefits, I was reminded of how Roger Bannister (another self-coached runner, by the way) described the buildup to his famous feat:

In December 1953 we started a new intensive course of training and ran several times a week a series of ten consecutive quarter-miles, each in 66 seconds. Through January and February we gradually speeded them up, keeping to an interval of two minutes between each. By April we could manage them in 61 seconds, but however hard we tried it did not seem possible to reach our target of 60 seconds. We were stuck, or as Chris Brasher expressed it — “bogged down”….

Chris Brasher and I drove up to Scotland overnight for a few days’ climbing…. The weekend was a complete mental and physical change. It probably did us more harm than good physically. We climbed hard for the four days we were there, using the wrong muscles in slow and jerking movements….

After three days our minds turned to running again…. We had slept little, our meals had been irregular. But when we tried to run those quarter-miles again, the time came down to 59 seconds!

Of course, if I had returned from my trip and run a bunch of 59-second quarters, it would have been a physiological miracle, to say the least.


  1. I made exactly the same discovery last year, my first in Seattle, and my first running.Over the course of my summer build-up, and then during my late-summer and fall marathon training, I went on three *very* long dayhikes in the North Cascades. They all took place on Saturdays, and involved little sleep the Friday night before, or the Saturday night after. There was lots of climbing, ground covered, and little rest, and I naturally expected to be sluggish for my Sunday long runs.But my journal confirms that on each of those long runs, I ran at a high intensity, opting to make them progressive, so great did I feel. I have no idea why or how this worked, but there certainly seems to be something to the idea that if your body is getting stressed almost exactly the same way day in and day out (as it is with running), then doing anything else, no matter how stressful, can be like a kind of rest. And probably both physiologically and psychologically.

  2. Fastest x-country race I ever ran in college, by a wide margin, was 1992 Little Three at Wesleyan. I got a bad cold the Monday before the race and hardly ran at all that week. By Saturday (race day) I was just getting over it. And never before or since have my legs felt as springy and strong as they did that day.But as great as it felt at the time, it took more out of me than any other race I've run. I was toast for the rest of the season–felt tired every single day. We raced at Southern Maine 2 weeks later (maybe it was just a week; can't recall for sure) and I felt like I was wearing concrete shoes.

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