Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Changing Plans: WWKD?

Sometimes when looking for the answers to those pressing running questions (Barefoot or sneakers? Supplement with strength training or not? Have the extra cookie after a long run?) I think about what the elite runners do. What do the best in the world, with the advice of renowned coaches, sport psychologists, and physiologists, do? And, because she is my idol, I ask specifically: what would Kara Goucher do? (WWKD?: Sneakers, strength train, probably skip the cookie. Hey, I didn't say I always follow this advice, just that I think about it.)

Ever since getting back into running a few years ago I have trained by myself. I ran on a team in high school and loved it, but when I went to college I didn’t think I was good enough or dedicated enough to make it as a collegiate athlete. I don’t regret that decision, but I know I missed out on a great learning opportunity. Training with other like-minded runners, especially runners that are better than you, is a sure-fire way to improve.

I think self-coaching has gotten me pretty far. I put the most effort forth when the motivation is self-generated. When I was a kid and my mom would ask me to clean my room, I'd whine and complain and half-ass it (sorry, Mom.) But on the days when I actually wanted to clean my room (which was incredibly rare; again, sorry, Mom) I would go overboard organizing and putting everything in its rightful place. The same goes for training. In high school, when my coach would tell me our workout for the day, I would diligently run the workout, but only give enough effort to show that I did it. I never went above and beyond. (This is why I wasn't very good in high school.) Now I coach myself and have nothing to prove and no one to please except myself. Because I'm only pleasing (or hurting) myself, I'm more motivated to follow the plans and also follow through. Like Inception said: “The subject's mind can always trace the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake."

What does this have to do with Kara Goucher? Last summer, a frustrated Kara worried she wouldn’t make the Olympic Marathon team. She trained primarily by herself or with her husband (who she claimed would let her make excuses), and she realized she needed some hard working women to keep her honest. She left her coach, and just a few short months before the Trials she started running with a new group, which included her “rival” Shalane Flanagan. It wasn't an easy decision, but at the Trials a relieved Kara held on for third (and a place with Shalane on the team.) Currently the two are preparing for London together. (The site Run the Edge tells the story of their training; it’s great for all Kara fans.)

I’m no Kara Goucher. But if you read this blog often, you know I have big goals, and I’m not always satisfied with my progress. I’ve talked about taking next spring off from marathons to train for shorter races; I know improving my speed will help my quest for marathon PRs as well. But whenever I think about doing that, I wonder how I’ll pull it off. I know how to train for marathons, the workouts, the weekly mileage, the paces to hit. I don’t know how to train for shorter stuff. I also know that when I hit the track alone it’s a little lonely. It’s not easy to rip off killer splits when it’s just you and your watch.

So What Would Kara Do? She’d swallow her pride and go find some fast women to run with. And so (drum roll please) I’ve decided to join a running club. A friend of a friend told me about it, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity at the perfect time. It won’t be easy; I feel out of my element and completely intimidated by the talent of the women's team. I’m sure I will get my butt kicked for the next few months, but I know that’s exactly what I need. It means a few changes to my general plan: instead of taking off next spring, I’ll be focusing on shorter races this fall and skipping a marathon. (That means no Philly. Is this just an elaborate scheme to avoid a rematch with Brother? Maybe so, but I'll never tell!) I’m back to taking it easy now, rather than trying to rush through some quick races in the next few weeks. Next spring I’ll return to the marathon and hopefully a big PR.

I don't think I need to worry anymore about motivation or slacking off in workouts. I know these women will keep me honest and help me get to a new level of racing. It means getting my butt kicked for a while, but it’s what Kara Goucher would do.

Dream big,


  1. Excited for what will come of this decision! I think you stand to make great improvements in the coming months.

    However we are all clamoring for another fully trained marathon showdown between you and your brother haha! Hopefully the stand off wont turn into the mayweather-pacquiao of connor family racing! :-)

  2. Very inspiring! Looking forward to a future blog on behavioral science and how joining a group, pairing up with a coach, or being on a team alters an individual's capacity to achieve (unfortunately, it can be positive or negative, like high school!).

  3. Yeah, Rusty, I agree with you that this sounds like a good idea, but also that for all us marathon-chasing/running fans there does seem an wistful element of Mayweather/Pacquiao here. But which one is Mayweather? The brother (who hasn't signed up for that Philly race yet) or the sister who now is running the short stuff and skipping Philly, even if the brother does sign up? ;-)