Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

On the road again

Posted by boakley59 on January 15, 2012

Holiday overindulging already a distant memory? Back on the roads wondering what happened to all that energy and that trim look in those flashy racing threads? Suddenly gasping for air after a short burst that you were knocking off without a care a couple of months ago?

Yeah, it happens. You get knocked off your schedule for a few weeks and you wonder (worry) if you’ll ever get it back. It won’t be easy, but the good news is it should be easier than it was before. You have been through the routine now, so you know what to do; you know what you can take; you know what it takes to move forward. You’ve marked out a trail; you’re just returning to it after being away for a while.

So, reconnect with your running buddies, revisit your startup schedule from last season and get going. If you haven’t gotten restarted yet, run a few days a week of gentle mileage for a couple of weeks to re-establish your base, then step back into your training program with your new farther, faster, funner (!) goals.

The ladies of Women Run/Walk Arkansas Clinic Batesville are meeting at 8 a.m. Saturdays on the Penguin 5K/10K course. Some meet at the Southern Bank parking lot to avoid running over the river bridge until race day; others are meeting at the starting line across the bridge in Kennedy Park to run the whole course. That’s every week until race day, Feb. 25. The clinic will be starting about that time as well, with Tue-Thu-Sat runs in store. The speed group is at BHS track most Mondays at mid-afternoon, and general road runs are Tue/Thu mid-afternoon. Updates to the schedule are at Run-Coach.

I’ve also updated the White River Roadrunners Challenge series schedule and rules (10-19 age group is now 10-14 and 15-19, to even things up for still-developing younger legs), and we’re still putting together a schedule for the team competition in the statewide Grand Prix. Let me know if you’re in the Grand Prix and planning to run any of the races on the schedule and I’ll add you to the listing at Take one for the team.

In case you missed it, I have my own Facebook page now (not sharing Suzy’s anymore), so you can catch me there for comments or advice if you’re not looking in here regularly. For what it’s worth, I note that Facebook is not like real life: On FB, it’s when you stop cohabiting and separate that your status updates to “married.”

Anyway, I hope everyone’s getting the kinks out and enjoying a new year, eager to get back into top form. Don’t fret that you’ve missed some time or stepped aside from your program for a while, because we all need to take breaks to recharge. The February Runner’s World has an article talking about the twice-a-year training breaks one elite coach imposes on his teams so that their legs are fresh at peak season. They break from the hard stuff for one to two months each time, so they do “maintenance only” for about a quarter of the year. Stepping back is part of the plan. Enjoy the rest and recharge, then go back to it with new strength. You’ll find you’re starting off this year at a place you were struggling to get to last year.

Don’t forget your stretching and core exercises!

Beep beep!


Posted in Running | 2 Comments »

WRRR Challenge Series

Posted by boakley59 on January 9, 2012

The White River Road Runners welcome 2012 with a revival of the club’s yearlong points challenge. (Click for current standings.)

The championship series encompasses nine races, and all club members and Independence County runners finishing any of the nine will automatically be entered in the competition. Visiting runners at local events will also be able to register to join the free challenge series.

Runners will be scored at each race against other competitors in men’s and women’s overall categories and men’s and women’s age groups of 60 and older, 50-59, 40-49, 30-39, 20-29, 10-19, 15-19, 10-14, 9 and younger. Points will be awarded on a decreasing scale to the top 10 finishers in each category, and every runner will receive one point for finishing.

The series is designed to encourage the broadest participation and give runners of all training levels a chance. Nine races are in the series, but only a runner’s best six scores will count toward the final total, and a runner must complete four races to be eligible for final awards. Some of the events offer additional races, but only one race (noted in the list below) counts in the points series. Runners who complete all nine races will receive “Iron Road Runner” recognition.

Age group for the competition will be a runner’s age on May 12 at the fifth race in the series, the White River Medical Center “Run the Wave” 5K in Batesville. Some races do not yet have firm dates; any series changes will be announced well in advance on the running club’s Web site,

The nine races in the series are:

Penguin 10k for Special Olympics, Feb. 25, Kennedy Park, Batesville (This event also offers a 5K not in the series)
• High Rock Hop 5+ Mile Trail Run, March 31, The Farm, Batesville (This event also offers a 10-mile run not in the series)
• 1040 Tax Fun Run/Walk, April 14, Eagle Mountain Elementary School, Batesville
• Pioneer Day 5K, May 5, Court Square, Melbourne
• White River Medical Center “Run the Wave” 5K, May 12, Batesville
• Army National Guard 5k, July date to be determined, Lyon College, Batesville
Sprint for Seniors, June 23, West Baptist Church, Batesville
• White River 4M Classic, Aug. 4, Main Street, Batesville
• Sara Low Memorial 5K, Sept. 8, Batesville High School
• White River Half-Marathon, Dec. 8 Dec. 1 (NOTE: Date corrected 10/26/12), Main Street, Batesville (This event also offers a two-runner relay not in the series) | Course map

Posted in Running, Sports | 1 Comment »

Take one for the team

Posted by boakley59 on January 1, 2012

White River Road Runners, many of you know the club is hoping to make a showing in the ARRCA Grand Prix team series in 2012. This year, our own 4-Mile Classic and Sara Low 5K are both in the series. We had a men’s team for the opening race, the Hour Run in Russellville, Sunday, Jan. 22; and we’ve got men’s and women’s teams lined up for River Trail 15K Feb. 4 and the Chase Race 2 Mile in Conway on March 10. (Team schedule update below, last updated: Feb. 10)

The team competition encompasses 20 races, but only the team’s best 16 races are counted. A team must compete in 10 races to qualify for series awards. (You can’t win eight events and rest on your laurels, nor can you outnumber a faster team by running more events.) Grand Prix registration of each team member at least five days before that runner’s first race is required; there’s a $15 fee and online registration is available at The Hogeye Marathon Relay is a team event only, four runners (all male or all female, no mixed teams) go 6-7 miles each; no individual Grand Prix points are awarded.

For men, a team is four runners. We can have different sets of four at each race, so if we have more members willing to run a few races each, no one will need to stretch their calendar. Colyn Bowman plans to try to meet the Iron Man challenge of running all 20 races, and Brian Yeager will run as many as he can. Matt Walker is planning to enter 4 or 5, with his preference being trail runs and longer distances. I’ll flesh out the list below if any of you are willing to represent the club in a few of these races.

For women, a team is three runners (except at Hogeye Relay), with Betsy and Kevan Beth Tucker planning to run several of the races and needing another few runners to take a few races each. Betsy has picked out 13 races and Kevan Beth will likely run several of those. Claire Chapman and Betsy’s friend Sarah Ward Jarvis also plan to join the Tuckers. My dear Suzy has signed up for the Grand Prix but not yet chosen any races. Likely candidates are the 5Ks, Go! Mile and 2 Mile Chase. I’ll fill out the list below if any of you can help out.

I expect that fielding a team will offer chances to carpool and such, plus I’d be happy to work out group training if anyone has improvement targets. You needn’t think you’re not fast enough; our fastest runners may not be able to get to enough races to qualify us for final awards, so even a slower team at a given race will push us forward in the competition. If you’re planning to go to several of these races anyway, please consider joining the Grand Prix and helping us represent the club around the state.

The 2012 Grand Prix schedule and our committed runners:


Jan 22: Hour Track Run, Little Rock Russellville, Colyn Bowman, Brian Yeager, Brenden Bishop, Tristen Driver
Feb 04: River Trail 15K, North Little Rock, Colyn Bowman, Brian Yeager, Davy Insell, Shane Tucker
Feb 11: Valentine’s Day 5K, Russellville, Colyn Bowman, Brian Yeager
Feb 19: Run the Line Half Marathon, Texarkana, Colyn Bowman, Brian Yeager
Mar 10: Chase Race 2M, Conway, Colyn Bowman, Tristen Driver, Dan Driver
Mar 24: Spring Fling 5K, Cabot, Colyn Bowman
Apr 7: Capital City Classic 10K, Little Rock, Colyn Bowman, Davy Insell
Apr 14 15: Hogeye Marathon Relay (team event only — need 4 runners; 1040 Tax Run date), Fayetteville, Colyn Bowman
May 5: Toad Suck 10K, Conway, Colyn Bowman
May 26: Rock Run 8K, Little Rock, Colyn Bowman
Jun 16: Go! Mile, North Little Rock, Colyn Bowman
Aug 4: White River 4M, Batesville, Colyn Bowman, Davy Insell, Matt Walker
Aug 11: Watermelon 5K, Hope, Colyn Bowman
Sept 1: ARK 5K Classic, North Little Rock, Colyn Bowman
Sept 8: Sara Low Memorial 5K, Batesville, Colyn Bowman, Davy Insell, Matt Walker
Sept 15: Arkansas 20K, Benton, Colyn Bowman, Matt Walker?
Oct 13: Chile Pepper XC 10K, Fayetteville, Colyn Bowman
Oct 20: Survivors Challenge 10K, Fort Smith, Colyn Bowman
Oct 27: Soaring Wings Half Marathon, Conway, Colyn Bowman, Matt Walker
Nov 3: Mid South Marathon, Wynne, Colyn Bowman, Matt Walker
Nov 17: Spa 10K, Hot Springs, Colyn Bowman


Jan 22: Hour Track Run, Little Rock Russellville, Betsy Tucker
Feb 04: River Trail 15K, North Little Rock, Betsy Tucker, Carol Earles, Sarah Ward Jarvis
Feb 11: Valentine’s Day 5K, Russellville
Feb 19: Run the Line Half Marathon, Texarkana
Mar 10: Chase Race 2M, Conway, Betsy Tucker, Nicole Thomison-Driver, Suzy Oakley
Mar 24: Spring Fling 5K, Cabot, Betsy Tucker, Suzy Oakley
Apr 7: Capital City Classic 10K, Little Rock, Betsy Tucker
Apr 14 15: Hogeye Marathon Relay (team event only — need 4 runners; 1040 Tax Run date), Fayetteville
May 5: Toad Suck 10K, Conway
May 26: Rock Run 8K, Little Rock, Betsy Tucker
Jun 16: Go! Mile, North Little Rock, Betsy Tucker, Kevan Beth Tucker?, Suzy Oakley?
Aug 4: White River 4M, Batesville, Betsy Tucker, Kevan Beth Tucker?
Aug 11: Watermelon 5K, Hope, Betsy Tucker, Suzy Oakley?
Sept 1: ARK 5K Classic, North Little Rock, Betsy Tucker
Sept 8: Sara Low Memorial 5K, Batesville, Betsy Tucker, Kevan Beth Tucker?, Suzy Oakley?
Sept 15: Arkansas 20K, Benton
Oct 13: Chile Pepper XC 10K, Fayetteville
Oct 20: Survivors Challenge 10K, Fort Smith
Oct 27: Soaring Wings Half Marathon, Conway, Betsy Tucker
Nov 3: Mid South Marathon, Wynne
Nov 17: Spa 10K, Hot Springs, Betsy Tucker, Kevan Beth Tucker?

Posted in Running | Leave a Comment »

Without reservation

Posted by boakley59 on December 31, 2011

Two years ago, I wrote about how things had gotten better in 2009 and how I looked forward to 2010 with a mix of hope and concern. I said I don’t like to make New Year’s resolutions but I did make some observations and I combined these ideas into what I called my New Year’s “reservations.” The notion had a double meaning: Reservations can be doubts or they can be secured seats for a feast.

As it turned out, my reservations for 2010 mostly proved to be for seats at the feast. In fact, I ended up so busy and doing so well that I didn’t even stop to write a yearly review last December. I did a birthday wrap-up in September 2010 already glowing with the triumphs and joys of the first three-quarters of the year. The ride has been even smoother since then.

Early that September, I started helping a friend train for a half marathon. I couldn’t run far or fast after having been off for five years, but he was more or less a beginner and I could go short and slow and provide lots of advice from my long years of experience. As we continued, I rounded into what passes for shape for someone with chronic disease, and we picked up other friends to run with us.

I did a little bit of light volunteer office work that turned into a mostly stressless short-hours part-time job. It keeps me busy but shows me that I still can’t handle a full load, no matter how hard I keep wishing I could. That was all gearing up in December 2010, and I never sat down to look forward to 2011.

So, I’m here now to tell you that the reservations for 2010 kept my seat at an even bigger feast in 2011. My part-time work has been rewarding and reassuring: I contribute; I helped deflect the financial burden of two mortgages while our North Little Rock house was on the market; I do things that help my friends; I make new friends.

My running connections have expanded. Betsy Tucker hooked up with us in November 2010, already a good local runner but needing advice, plans and partners to improve. She finished 2011 as the Arkansas Female Masters (40 and older) Runner of the Year, setting two state Grand Masters (50 and older) records along the way. I had as much fun watching her race and improve as I once had doing my own racing.

Suzy got involved with the Women Run Arkansas training group in Batesville in February, too, and brought me along one night to perhaps be a volunteer coaching aide. I stuck with the program and helped many of the ladies continue through the year after the series ended in May. So, I became Coach Bruce for a couple of different groups, though I dare say I gained just as much from their enthusiasm and eagerness to improve as they gained from my counsel. Encouraging people to do hard things and sharing in their joy of achievement feeds your own spirit with jet fuel. Suzy and I have been able to do this together, too, which is a great gift. She has lost weight and caught the fitness bug, and jogging has been relief and reward in many ways.

Through it all, I have not put myself back in the hospital, which I guess means I’ve geared back appropriately and had smooth sailing for 16 months. It means I was strong enough to travel this year, too, and I got to see my family three times. We made the big trip to our meeting ground in Tennessee to see Mom, in from California with my cousin, and my sister came down from Virginia. We made two short trips to see my son, Courtney, in Oklahoma, too, including Christmas. It’s our first Christmas together in five years and the first time in six years I’ve been able to make more than the one big trip. A few years ago, Courtney had an emergency appendectomy and he was only four hours away by car, but I was too sick to go. So these extra trips are a big deal.

Good health, good friends, good works, good years. I have no reservation about keeping my reservations at this table.

Welcome 2012. Long may we run.

Posted in Personal | 2 Comments »

On Your Marks

Posted by boakley59 on December 6, 2011

2012 Grand Prix/WRRR combined schedule

The list below (UPDATED, June 18) includes races on the White River Roadrunners and Arkansas RRCA Grand Prix series 2012 calendars. The Grand Prix competition awards points to the top 10 series runners in each age category at each race. “Championship races” are scored on a scale from 30 points to 3 in 3-point steps, with the other races scored from 20 to 2 in 2-point steps. WRRR is resuming its own series in 2012, with nine races included. Full rules are explained on the ARRCA and WRRR Web sites and in WRRR Challenge Series. The 4-Mile Classic and Sara Low 5K are featured in both collections. Links to race Web sites will be added as sites become active.

WRRR Race | WRRR Points Race
Grand Prix Points Race | Grand Prix Championship Race
Grand Prix Points & WRRR Points Race
Grand Prix Championship & WRRR Points Race

Jan 1 Ken and Michelle’s Less than 4 Mile Prediction Run, Batesville

Jan 22 Hour Track Run

Feb 4 River Trail 15K, North Little Rock

Feb 11 Valentine’s Day 5K

Feb 19 Run the Line Half Marathon, Texarkana

Feb 25 Penguin 5k/•10k for Special Olympics, Kennedy Park, Batesville

Mar 10 Chase Race 2M, Conway

Mar 24 Spring Fling 5K, Cabot

Mar 31 High Rock Hop •5+ mile/10 mile Trail Run, The Farm, Batesville

Apr 7 Capital City Classic 10K, Little Rock

Apr 7 Faith, Friends, and Fun 5k Night Run/Walk, Ash Flat City Park

Apr 14 1040 Tax Fun Run/Walk, Eagle Mountain Elementary, Batesville

Apr 14 15 Hogeye Marathon Relay (team event only), Fayetteville

May 5 Toad Suck 10K, Conway

May 5 Pioneer Day, WRMC, Melbourne

May 12 WRMC “Run the Wave” 5k, WRMC, Batesville

May 26 Rock Run 8K, Little Rock

Jun 16 Go! Mile, North Little Rock

June 23 Sprint for Seniors 5K, West Baptist Church, Batesville

Aug 4 White River 4M

Aug 11 Watermelon 5K

Sept 1 ARK 5K Classic

Sept 8 Sara Low Memorial 5K, Batesville

Sept 15 Arkansas 20K, Benton

Oct 13 Chile Pepper XC 10K, Fayetteville

Oct 20 Survivors Challenge 10K, Fort Smith

Oct 27 Soaring Wings Half Marathon, Conway

Nov 3 Mid South Marathon, Wynne

Nov 17 Spa 10K, Hot Springs

Dec 8 1 White River Half-Marathon and 8k, Main Street, Batesville

Posted in Running | 1 Comment »

Curse the silence

Posted by boakley59 on September 15, 2011

It’s been happening again lately: Showmanship trumps discussion as our nation faces crippling difficulties. I cannot hold my temper as a barrage of shallow phrases casually dismiss my existence or suggest that people like me are the cause of the problems rather than victims of it. I cannot hold my temper as I am told that “my side” makes stuff up, too.

I saw a Facebook note not long ago to the effect that everything would be all right if only we would get prayer back in our schools — and send the Muslims back where they came from.

Such suggestions put me in turmoil. Would it do any good to point out the stunning lack of self-awareness in the suggestion? Muslims pray, too, and we could just as readily make a case for facing Mecca daily in schools and sending Baptists or Methodists or any other religious minority back where they came from, if dogma is to be our filter. Would it do any good to point out the lack of historical understanding in the suggestion? This nation encoded separation of church and state precisely because many of its early settlers left their homelands to avoid forced practice of a state-endorsed religion — in some cases from nations whose sovereigns formed a state religion so as not to yield to the pope! We are twice removed from mandated religion! Would it do any good to point out that individuals can pray at will in our schools (barring classroom disruption), and that it is a freedom held in communion with Catholics and Mormons and Wiccans so that no faith is crushed by powers and principalities.

Why must we have this discussion at this late day in our nation’s history? These questions have been settled. If I remain silent to preserve friendships or social standing, do I have friends or standing worth having? If I speak out, do I have the time or strength to continue as I am rejected (or at least scolded) as the intolerant, angry one?

Should we not all be angry at this? Isn’t it obvious that forcing (yes, “forcing” — not “allowing”) prayer in our schools is getting citizenship wrong, parenting wrong and even Christianity wrong? If you need forced prayer to save the schools (or society), what have you taught your children about responsibility, behavior and manners? If forced prayer is the way to demonstrate Christianity, how is Christianity distinguishable from wearing gang colors, your favorite team’s jersey or designer jeans?

People aren’t good enough, or people don’t do enough good — that I get. Muslims are so bad they are a threat just by existing and they could never become good enough — that I reject. The reality is that the Muslims in America are a tiny minority: If I understand correctly, about 1 percent of our population. (For reference, inflammatory bowel disease patients like me are about half that, 0.5 percent of the population.) Most of these people are your quiet, unassuming neighbors who love their children and their pets, go to school or work, watch TV and donate to flood or earthquake victims when the need arises. They do not disrupt or threaten your life in any way, unless you lose face because in polls, Muslims hold more strongly to Americanism than to their religion than do other belief groups. That is to say that Muslims are less likely as a group to push for religious dominion in the United States than are Christians. Sharia law here? It’s a dog whistle for Christians who want to impose Mosaic law and banish strangers to hell.


I heard a prominent Republican not long ago call Social Security a Ponzi scheme. I heard a Republican audience cheer a record level of state-sponsored murder, which was then defended as justice against outsiders. I heard another Republican argue against vaccination as a health risk. These are the frontrunners shaping the debate and the platform. I am told these notions just represent differences about the way things should be done and the proper role of government.

Here’s the thing: I am an outsider on Social Security disability with an autoimmune disease whose treatment puts me at higher risk of infections. These policy positions threaten my well-being. Someone who gets the science of vaccination backwards is a threat to my life if in a position of power, not to mention it hurts my head just to contemplate the sheer stupidity. Someone who would dissemble about Social Security as a wedge to dismantle it paints me as a criminal while preparing to pick my pocket. Someone without reservations about killing “the other” is not someone I can afford to trust.

When I hear serial adulterers use family values as a club to bludgeon those they would deny familial rights, I cannot trust them to make principled decisions. I cannot trust them to resist temptations. I cannot trust them to respect me or my rights. I have talked about this before: I am the adopted son of parents who had no biological children; I am divorced from my son’s mother; I am remarried to a woman with no biological children. What can the phrase “traditional marriage” mean to me but a confusion of failed promises and a wrenching struggle to love through great stress? If this is something that really can be protected by preventing the wrong kind of people doing it, we need a much better focus on just who the wrong kind of people are.

So, I’m sorry, but the people or the party espousing ideas that threaten me, even if they’re “merely” staking out extreme negotiating positions for later compromise or making a show for their own followers, are not people I can afford to dismiss simply as having different views. These are people threatening or attacking me, and I can’t sit quietly by waiting to find out what their good ideas are for fixing the problems they identify. Their bad ideas trumpeted in public put me and mine at risk.

Even if those on “my side” aren’t telling the whole truth, I’ll take the liars whose lies don’t put me at more risk.

And yes, every once in a while I will raise my voice and not just sit still, cursing the silence.

Posted in Personal, Philosophy/Life Lessons | Leave a Comment »

52 pickup

Posted by boakley59 on September 15, 2011

Time for the ritual stock-taking after another tour ’round the sun. A year ago, I was wrapping up a grand stretch of good health, happy reunions and magic moments on Memory Lane. Still, I worried that I was only clearing a low bar and was not particularly robust, though better than I had been for a long time. I did not wish to celebrate overmuch such a small victory.

A year later I’m here to say: Raise the roof! This has been a fantastic year.

I have had no hospital time except as chauffeur for others having tests or low-risk procedures. I have been able to return to jogging, though I had some early minor bleeding around scar tissue. Through jogging, I have connected with a number of less experienced runners and have gotten a big boost from coaching them and sharing in their enthusiasm and triumphs. I get to use what I know to help others. I can keep them from painful mistakes; I can soften any blows just by letting them know someone else has been there, done that and gotten through; I can encourage so that they have light in darkness.

I’m considerably slower and less durable than I used to be, but coaching gives me a connection and a purpose that is every bit as good as racing. Suzy and I have gotten closer, too, as she has taken to running in the past several months. Jogging in good company has helped her relieve stress, lose weight and have fun. She was self-conscious and didn’t want to slow me down in my racing days, but now that she has seen me working with other learners, she appreciates my coaching and encouragement. We have found something to do together, and it helps me to have her along as I return gently to what I had lost for a time.

And I have so enjoyed bragging on my trainees: Everyone has been faster, fitter and seemingly happier; one has lost 25 pounds; one is breaking state records; another is starting a running club at college. Seems like we’re at the heart of a little running boom in the area, and I’m expanding a circle of friends as I volunteer at races, blog about running and post on group forums.

We’ve also put walking and fighting disease together as we continue to serve the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America through its Take Steps walks in Arkansas. Suzy and I have worked with the Arkansas CCFA office since shortly after its formation in late 2009. Two walks in Little Rock and a third in Bentonville have raised $200,000 to fight my disease and help patients. My computer and editing skills have helped a few of us do some heavy lifting to make these events a success (the next one is Oct. 29 in Bentonville). I also played guitar and sang (more or less) at two local fundraisers, and I even wrote a potty-humor song about my condition. Friends have rallied around us, donating to the cause and providing venues, support and music for these fundraiser concerts. Heartwarming to have support, uplifting to be able to offer it to new patients.

Through my volunteer work, coaching and limited, low-stress part-time work, I have also been able to test the depth of my disability. I still wear down too easily; I still spend a day in recovery if I push too hard. I try to keep myself to no more than four hours of strain in a day and even that only a few times a week. If I do four hours of hard work, I try to scatter the load with easy chores over six or eight hours of clock. I am enjoying being useful and productive, but I still recognize that I absolutely cannot be the constant mover I was.

The part-time work has eased the financial burden as our North Little Rock house remains unsold, but we remain one short step from ruin. We are holding on, we are giving back, we are far more fortunate than most — but we live at the edge of a cliff.

This year, though, the sun is out and I am dancing on the rocks, not shivering in the wind worrying I’ll be blown over the edge.

Posted in Health, Personal | 2 Comments »

The more the merrier

Posted by boakley59 on August 29, 2011

Beep Beep. Roadrunner. Beep Beep. Beep Beep. Roadrunners.

Here a beep, there a beep, everywhere a beep beep — roadrunners everywhere. For all that running is an individual sport, it is nevertheless undertaken by social animals. Those of us who find contentment in running alone generally find something even better in running with others.

We seem to find it easier to run in a pack. If you are plodding along with little motivation or progress, find a mentor, partner or apprentice to share the road. Whether you are learner, leader or pal in your pack, you are very likely to find yourself having more fun and getting faster and fitter.

In the past year, I’ve had the chance to share a lot of training advice with runners from state record-holders to struggling beginners. The constant for all of them has been strength in numbers: Improvement has come in the company of others. Having someone to chase, someone to pace or just someone at the same place has made all the difference. Runners at training plateaus have suddenly made great strides (sorry, couldn’t resist), largely by having someone to share their trials and triumphs.

For the beginners, it helps to have guidance or mutual accountability. For the racers, it helps to have someone pushing. And every little success is that much more enjoyable when it is amplified by the chorus.

So, roadrunners, if you really want to do better, get the flock out there!

Beep beep.

Posted in Running | 1 Comment »

Fast talk

Posted by boakley59 on July 6, 2011

Beep beep. So now we have some basic ideas about how we learn to stop worrying and love running. We get how this makes us fitter and happier, but now we’re starting to get itchy about getting faster.

We’ve been nibbling at the edges with various plans from the Women Run Arkansas clinic, Cool Running (Couch to 5K) and the pages of Runner’s World. But how does it all work, and what if I just want to be a little faster for myself, not a great age-group racer or big medal winner?

As with most things in running, getting faster is easier said than done — though mostly it takes Patience. The simple truth is that it’s difficult to run fast without running well, particularly if you also run far. Bad mechanics will bust you up if you persevere with them. There’s also a chicken-and-egg aspect to this, because the best way to teach yourself to run well is by running fast. Your body will streamline its motion the harder you try to make it work.

The typical short-term training plan for beginners works by applying principles tested at the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training, which is why you’ll often hear of a FIRST marathon or FIRST 5K plan. For many people, the FIRST plan is also for their first race, so sometimes the notion that these are clinically verified methods gets lost in the excitement of the newness of the effort.

The essence of most of these plans is that less is more: The beginner does not need to run the high, hard mileage of the elite athlete, but can do very well with natural gifts by mixing three types of runs: speed, tempo and endurance. You run three days a week, with one day for each kind of workout. Each day, you warm up, do the meat of the workout, then cool down. These workouts also arrange themselves by difficulty and mileage: Speed is the hardest and shortest; tempo is medium in length and intensity; endurance is gentlest and longest.

The speed work, which is short stretches faster than your target race pace, hones your mechanics. That pays off in all of your running. It is not so much to make you faster in a short burst, but to make it easier for you to continue longer and more comfortably at any pace. Your medium or jogging speeds seem so much less a strain after you’ve done some speed work. Your breathing isn’t as labored; you don’t get that panicked “I can’t do this” feeling as readily.

Tempo runs are faster than your jogging pace, but slower than a target race pace. The shorter the tempo run, the closer you should go to your goal race pace. You are teaching your body to carry on under mild duress. The pace you can withstand improves as you continue with this speed-tempo-endurance plan.

Endurance runs are longer and slower than races. You take it easy, but you keep going. As time goes on, you’ll find you are comfortable (or at least capable) longer and longer. The endurance runs train your body to use fuel efficiently and strengthen your heart and lungs.

Underlying this all is learning the value of mediocrity. Children and newbies tend to think the way to win races is to go like crazy, to be the hare. But slow and steady really does win the race.

You want to run at the fastest speed you can maintain for the duration of the race, which is usually nowhere near the fastest that you can go. The fastest humans ever go a little faster than 20 mph — for about 200 yards. The fastest human mile is a little faster than 15 mph; the fastest marathon (26 miles) is a little faster than 12 mph. A 10-minute mile is 6 mph.

If 6 mph seems plenty fast to you, target 5 mph and see if you don’t feel much better running a 12-minute mile. Practice short bursts at 6 mph and long runs at 4 mph, and it will get easier and easier to run the medium at 5 mph. Pretty soon, you’ll feel comfortable maintaining 5.5 mph, though you still may not be able to go much faster than 6 mph in your short bursts. You raise the level of your mediocrity.

Again with the paradox: The road to excellence goes through enhanced mediocrity. The goal is to be the best mediocre you can be.

We go from the cartoon dynamic of the Road Runner — Beep, Beep — to the fairy tale wisdom of the slow and steady tortoise. Most everything you need to know about running you learned as a child.

Run for fun. Speed (whatever that means for you) is child’s play.

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Hurry up and wait

Posted by boakley59 on June 27, 2011

We’ve been on this BEEPing journey together for a while now, and you can tell there’s a man in front because it’s taken so long before we get to “P”!

We started with Balance, but then we staggered around a bit before getting to Efficiency. We had learned how we wanted to BE, but still needed to add Effort to get results. So now, like the busy BEE, we stay on the move, buzzing here and there, and we get … what, exactly?

This is the hardest part, because like the bee we have to spend a lot of time in the fields before we can make honey. Sure, it’s natural and we have only to “just do it,” but we’ve been buzzing and buzzing; can’t we just get to the good stuff already? Give us a break!

So here’s where we get to P: Patience! That’s right, now that we’ve spent weeks working on getting faster, our next lesson is to remember that we’re in this for the long haul. As much as we want to go fast and we keep talking about how to improve speed, this is really about endurance. Progress is slow, sometimes barely noticeable. Steady? Well, if you think in terms of a calendar instead of a day planner, then it’s steady. If you zoom in close, it’s a bit of a roller coaster.

It takes time to increase your mileage; it takes time to build muscle and speed; it takes time to overcome injuries. You’ll have days when everything works, the weather is fantastic, and you’ll run like the wind. You’ll also have days when you can’t seem to tie your shoelaces right. Take the long view: Your worst days running now are faster and easier than good days before, and it will be easier still next month. You may be tired and stiff tomorrow, but give yourself permission to rest and recover. Get ready for the day after that or maybe even the next week.

To run is to learn about limitations and overcoming them. You learn how your body works; you find (build?) your character. This is a long conversation with yourself. We can give advice in sound bites that capture the highlights, but you need to be an attentive listener to get the full value — and joy — out of the experience.

Your training plan should be months long, and you should measure achievement accordingly. You can overcome injuries and bad days if you will accept them as part of the journey. Recovery and correction take time, too — don’t rush them.

The great basketball coach, John Wooden, taught his players: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” Great athletes know how this works; the game seems slower to them. Quarterback Joe Montana had a way of stretching out a play until he could do something great; Michael Jordan had a knack for dominating the big moments. Wait for the moment; strike like a rattlesnake. Efficient, not rushed.

Douglas Adams has it right in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”: “Don’t panic.”

If you think about it, there are a lot of P’s in this pod: To make Progress, you need to Plan, Prepare, Practice, all of which require Patience. Like so many of these notions, the counterbalance seems Paradoxical: It takes a slowed Perspective and a certain reserve to move you from a busy BEE to a free-spirited roadrunner.


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