“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
But Abe wasn’t really known for his athleticism.So, how can his advice to sharpen the axe help us shift from athletic burnout to artistic brilliance?
I’ve cut down many a tree and lots of brush – as a forester, coffee farmer, helicopter firefighter and wilderness trail hand.Axe, cross-cut or chainsaw, if your tool is dull, it’s not an efficient use of your time and energy.
Well, the same is true for endurance sports!
Running with a dull instrument, it’s going to be a slow and painful slog.Burnout.
Running with a sharp instrument, we’re going to move quickly, precisely and efficiently.Brilliance.
Endurance Artist: What is your instrument?
Your instrument is your body.This is the instrument you “play” to swim, bike, run.Heck, it’s the instrument you live through!!No body, no life!
And how do you keep it sharp?
Sharpening your instrument begins with sharp perception.
And this is the advantage of age!!
The sharper your perception, the more precision you command as you swim, bike and run. And, the faster you learn.To maximize return on your aerobic investment:Sharpen the axe of your perceptive acuity every time you are training your aerobic capacity.
There are no limits!! Over decades of patient training (and a true love for our craft), we accrue knowledge and cultivate wisdom. Precision, agility, grace and efficiency will continue to improve.
Book One of the Kaizen-durance Series is your manual for sharpening your endurance axe. Preview Book One here.
Go Deep: Go Inward
As endurance artists, we need to focus on sharpening our inner perception:Brilliant performance – for the musician and the swimmer alike – requires sharp inner awareness. We need a seamless interface of body and mind to execute with precision.
Violin technique or swim technique: The precision of both is infinite:There are no limits to perceptive capacity and acuity.
Without the sharp axe of perceptive brilliance, technique is sloppy.
With patience and perseverance we seize the opportunity to strengthen the body-brain interface every time we train – day-after-day for decades, well beyond the aerobic prime of youth.
As endurance artists, the axe we sharpen is our perceptive capacity and acuity.
Brilliant perception leads to brilliant action.
Without brilliant perception, we’re wielding a sledge hammer, not an axe:Maximal muscular and metabolic fitness won’t make any difference as we smash away.Sure, we’ll be able to swing that sledge a bit longer, but we aren’t cutting wood; we’re just bludgeoning the tree… and our bodies.
For the athlete, the focus is mind over matter.For the artist, it’s mind IN matter.
Sharpen Your Endurance Arts Axe:
Thinking “real hard” about chopping down the tree won’t improve the effectiveness of using a sledge hammer.Instead, sharpen your endurance axe!Here are some suggestions:
As you begin each training session, focus on what you are feeling.You can’t improve your technique if you aren’t interfacing with your body.
Invest deeply in your perceptions: Discover something new about your craft through your sense-felt experience each time you train.This is how you love your craft.
Discover a stronger, more enduring passion for training and a new talent for racing – all with less effort and less time training.In this blog series, I offer tips for your transformation from athlete to artist, based on my decades of experience.In this first blog: Love Your Craft!
Dancing to the Finish Line
I’m 62 years wise now.At age 19, as I pursued a degree in Modern Dance. “Dancing in leotards and tights?What does that have to do with endurance sports?”
I have translated that arts-approach into decades of ultra running and triathlon.How about a 500-mile, 99-hour ultra triathlon in 2016, at age 59? “Moving Beyond ALS” was a solo event to raise money and awareness about ALS.Read more here.
Far more rewarding than the glory of so many finish lines: As an endurance artist for over 40 years, my daily journey of discovery and my passionate pursuit of mastery has tempered the human being I am today.And it keeps getting better!!
“I just finished reading Book One. Good stuff! It fills a gap that urgently needs filling in the endurance domain–and gave me some practical takeaways to use in my own athletic pursuits.”– Matt Fitzgerald, Author of more than 20 books and former editor of Triathlete and Competitor magazines
Let’s get started with the topic of this first blog of the series.
Love Your Craft!
Great artists are passionately driven to produce brilliant works of art.So, what’s at the heart of that passionate drive?What fuels the masters over a lifetime?
It is the love of their craft.
Great musicians are motivated each day to practice and improve their technique and hone their unique “voice” – the style and sound that distinguishes each from the others.Age enhances their virtuosity and versatility.There are no limits.
Great writers sit each day to engage and challenge their word-smithing skills.Age improves their mastery and the wisdom they reveal.There are no limits.
Great painters are driven each day to the rigor of drawing and painting what they see.Age empowers their pursuit of excellence.There are no limits.
“Age enhances. Age improves. Age empowers. There are no limits.”Can this really be true for endurance sports?
As endurance artists, we accrue wisdom that empowers highly effective training and inspires brilliant racing.When we love our craft, we invest deeply.We embrace each and every training session as a rich opportunity to invest, discover, and improve.It gets better with age!!
In Book One of the Kaizen-durance series, we explore the wisdom of the master athlete/artist, and how to live it every day.
What is your craft as an endurance artist?
The most essential part of your craft is your technique.It is your ability to craft great swim strokes or running strides with precision, agility, grace and efficiency. Like the painter, you will complete your greatest race as you craft one perfect stroke or stride at a time.
As an artist, there are no limits to the excellence and mastery you can achieve.
Here’s how to love your craft:
Each time you train, uncover something new in your skill.
Summon your curiosity.
Invest your full attention in each moment to maximize the return on your aerobic investment.
Like a dancer, focus on the craft of your movement – each and every movement.Strive for graceful seamless perfection.
Each stride or stroke – whether fast or slow – is essential to our craft and our achievements.
Focus on cultivating Kinetic Intelligence – your wisdom as an endurance artist.
For the athlete, the focus is mind over matter.For the artist, it’s mind IN matter.
Are There Performance Benefits?
Like athletes, artists also focus on performance.Here are some of the benefits I experience by pursuing the craft of endurance arts – specifically the art of running:
Train less: In 2017 (at age 60), the longest training run before my first 50-mile ultra
trail run of the season: 16 miles.I finished the Cayuga Trails 50 strong!And still rode my bike the 5 miles back home.As an endurance artist, you can train less when you intensely focus on perfecting your craft during every session, and still enjoy reaching your goals.
Recover faster: In 2018, I ran the JFK 50-Mile, slept 90 minutes, drove 3 1/2 hours and ran thePhiladelphia Marathon – with even splits for the first and second halves.(I ran another marathon 6 days later.)As an endurance artist, you can recover fast because you use finesse, not force.And you minimize the risk of injury!
Finish strong: Endurance athletes often fade and slow down as the performance progresses.Artists build to a strong finale.How?As endurance artists, we focus on crafting each stride, each stroke perfectly, from start to finish.This optimizes our grace and efficiency.And it leads to very effective pacing.I often run close to even splits for 50-mile ultra runs and finish with grace.
Find Out More
The Kaizen-durance Book Series is your resource for the endurance arts:
How much time and energy do you devote to exercise? Do you wonder if your devotion is too self-serving – especially if it means less time with family, or interruptions from work?
Well, rest assured! Your endurance-based exercise can go much farther than forging a stronger body.It really can be a worthy investment for your mental, emotional and spiritual health & performance as well.
Maximize the return on your investment: Turn your daily exercise into a PRACTICE.
This won’t require any more time and energy than you already devote to the daily grind of your workouts. But it will feel more like “flow” and less like grind – before, during and after.
Workout vs Practice: What’s the Difference?
Your daily workout is the “get-it-done-now” on your To-Do List that keeps your body fit for one more day. It’s the next mandatory step in your training plan towards your race goal.
String together these daily workouts as a consistent and enduring practice to get long-term benefits that profoundly enhance the quality of your life and the lives of those around you. How? It’s all about…
We all strive for balance, harmony and empowerment – especially in our relationships, occupation, family, recreation.In a single word, we all want mastery. Endurance-based exercise is an effective practice to develop the skills of mastery we need.
I call this practice “Kaizen-durance”: Lifelong improvement – that’s mastery – through endurance-based exercise: Here’s the most important element of practice: Focus on mindfulness. Why?
Mindfulness is the foundation of mastery.
What is mindfulness? Mind fitness.
Instead of just working out and “hitting the numbers” (like heart rate, miles, minutes and watts) focus on the quality of each stroke and each stride. Make each one count!! Train your mind fitness while you train your physical fitness.Live healthy, pursue mastery.
More engaging and stimulating exercise
Less risk of injury and burnout
Increase efficiency and grace
Better performance – better numbers
A sharp, focused and highly functional mind
Increase return on your investment
To live healthy, master the Fitness Cycle.
The Fitness Cycle has three phases:
All growth occurs through this cycle – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.Like it or not, stress is the essential vector for growth.
We pursue mastery most effectively by developing a healthy relationship with stress.
Each exercise session is an opportunity to strengthen your mental fitness and your skills of mastery.Each session is an opportunity to forge your alliance with stress.
Problem:“I can’t recover from stress.My health is compromised.”
Solution: Transform your relationship with stress.A Kaizen-durance approach to exercise empowers you to do this.
Maximize return on your aerobic investment.When we approach the repetition of endurance-based exercise as a practice of mindful movement, our exercise doubles for both physical fitness and mind fitness.Through exercise, we learn to master the Fitness Cycle and build life fitness.
Be here now.There is no place else you can be but here and now: You can’t be in the past.You can’t be in the future. And, you can’t be anywhere else but where you are.Mind fitness is your capacity to invest and engage all facets of your attention with what is arising here and now.
Want to be brilliant? Be here now.
Get Started Now!
Over the past four decades, I have developed and used this kaizen-durance approach with great results – as an athlete, as an educator, and as a whole, healthy human being.I have also devoted considerable time and energy developing a method and writing a series of books to support you in your pursuit of life fitness and mastery.
Forty Years of Running: Less Than Ten Injuries.How?
Efficiency and grace.
Efficiency plus grace equals bullet-proof?Here are four ways to safeguard your running without wearing kevlar:
Improve your alliance with gravity
Educate your core
Soft, supple and sensitive feet
Pound less pavement
(For more on these four, see “Bulletproofing Methods” just below)
Is Running Your “Drug of Choice”?
If running is a vital lifeline for you like it is for me, you have to minimize your risk of injury.Along with these four tips, there are specific key skills to running that are quite subtle, yet very profound and absolutely essential to lifelong running.I have discovered and developed these over my decades of ultra running. I’ve created methods for teaching them through my extensive experience as a technique coach.Bring them all together and you:
Run with your whole body
Minimize ground time and maximize flight time
It’s impossible to guide you to whole-body running with words alone.That’s why I created The Running Lab.Interested in hosting a Running Lab?Contact me.
Improve Your Alliance with Gravity
Among endurance sports, running is notorious for injuries.Why? Impact: We get injured when we hit the ground.We blame it on gravity.And yet…
If we forge an alliance with gravity, we transform that enemy of impact into the force of propulsion.Efficient running technique begins with this partnership.It’s the foundation.In The Running Lab, you will learn a sequence of drills and running exercises to forge your personal alliance.
We translate the (vertical) pull of gravity into (horizontal) forward movement.I call this alliance “Effortless Power”.
Educate Your Core
The primary source of lower joint running injuries (foot, ankle and knee) is a poorly trained and uneducated core.By “core” I mean your whole torso:
Pectoral girdle* (See below)
Matrix of nerves, muscles and connective tissues from your shoulders to your hips that connect these two girdles together
“Core work” is not about six-pack abs.Read that heading again:“Educate Your Core”.Muscular strength is only part of a bulletproof core.Design and implement a regimen of exercises that educate your core to be articulate and responsive to all of the forces you encounter as you run – vertical, lateral, fore-aft, rotational.Stop forcing your feet, ankles and knees to compensate for poor core function and instability.
Education is neural.Along with muscle and connective tissue strength, your core education targets neural training. This is the path to kinetic intelligence.
* Yes, your pectoral girdle: Your shoulders, scapulae, upper spine and neck are critical to efficient whole-body running.They comprise your “Swing Set”.In the Running Lab, we focus first on creating a stable Swing Set.
Let Your Feet and Ankles be Supple and Sensitive
Look at your feet and ankles:
Feet: Many small joints, with very little muscle mass.
Ankles: Two highly articulate joints that move in every plane, again with very little muscle.
Let’s be honest here:Each foot and ankle is a sensitive and articulate instrument.It is not designed to stabilize the towering hulk of mass that looms and teeters above it.
Your feet and ankles excel at three things when you run:
Respond as a supple and highly articulate suspension system to cushion your ground contact
Interface each foot contact with constantly varying surface conditions such as pitch, camber, terrain
Provide instant sensory information to your hips and pelvis so that you can stabilize from your core
When your core is educated, your feet and ankles can perform brilliantly.Stop forcing them to be stabilizers.And stop trying to protect these instruments with rigid tension, or with shoes that restrict their articulation or muffle their sensitivity.Let them dance when you run.
Pound Less Pavement
Vary the terrain you run.Let your body train and articulate its agility by responding to a constantly changing running surface. Mixed terrain running is the most effective way to improve your running craft: PAGES running strides for all conditions.
Combine 80/20 Metabolic Training With 100% Neural Training
This is the optimal ratio of low aerobic intensity in proportion to moderate-high aerobic intensity training that optimizes your metabolic fitness and health as an endurance athlete.The 80/20 Method greatly simplifies the metabolic science of training – making it accessible to anyone, with or without monitors, meters or GPS.Beyond simplicity, this 80/20 ratio is the foundation of almost every successful elite and professional endurance athlete.
Optimizing aerobic fitness doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate.Renowned author Matt Fitzgerald, in collaboration with David Warden, recently published “80/20 Triathlon” – a comprehensive training guide for the 80/20 Method.This book is invaluable for every multisport athlete – novice to elite – especially those who self-coach.
As C.E.W. of Kaizen-durance and as a lifelong endurance artist, I emphasize the pursuit of Kinetic Intelligence (KI) as the priority in your daily training for an engaging, empowering lifelong pursuit of mastery through endurance athletics.
Do you have to compromise aerobic fitness and focus exclusively on neural fitness to pursue Kinetic Intelligence – the wisdom of the master athlete?No!
80/20 Plus 100
If you really want to maximize return on your aerobic investment, you can and you should pursue both metabolic and neural fitness during each training session.It is possible and practical to successfully optimize both without complicating your training sessions, and without increasing your training load.The 80/20 Method actually supports our emphasis on neural fitness.And the patient pursuit of KI through mindful rigorous neural training supports 80/20.
80/20 Brief Overview
To illustrate this, let’s start with a brief overview of 80/20.
The “80” in this method is the percentage of time (not distance) you should be training at low intensity – at or below your Ventilatory Threshold (VT).VT is slightly below Lactate Threshold (LT).This is your “base” training.
The “20” in this method is the percentage of time you should be training at moderate-to-high intensity – at or above LT.(See Matt’s book for specifics on what delineates moderate- from high-intensity.)
Most self-coached athletes habitually train in the “gray zone” between VT and LT when they are targeting base training: “Easy” is not really easy. This compromises aerobic fitness and performance.(Neural training is also less effective.)
Most self-coached athletes either train too little or too much at moderate-to-high intensity.This too compromises fitness.
Base training above VT, and excessive moderate-to-high intensity training at and above LT increase the risk of mechanical injury, as well as the hormonal imbalance of overtraining that leads to sickness, long-term burnout and steady fitness decline.I learned this the hard way when I first got into triathlon 20 years ago.It took me almost two years to recover from Chronic Adrenal Fatigue.The severe endocrine imbalance almost killed me.
This is a grossly simplified overview of the 80/20 Method.Read 80/20 Triathlon for a working knowledge and guidance.
When athletes initially buy into and implement 80/20, they find that training at or below VT for 80% of the time feels very slow.Very slow leads to impatience and insecurity.
Impatience leads to either disregard or boredom.Insecurity leads to either panic or abandonment.How can we stay engaged, confident and motivated as we patiently build that base?
One alternative: Switch to auto-pilot and just put in the junk miles.Ho-hum.Face the boredom now and hope for the glory later.
Another alternative: As you build that base, maximize return on your aerobic investment by simultaneously training the Four Vectors of Kaizen-durance Mastery.Improve your skill as an endurance artist beyond just aerobic fitness.
Four Vectors of Kaizen-durance Mastery
Alliance with Gravity
While your aerobic fitness is limited, your capacity for mindfulness, neural fitness, KI and the strength of your alliance with gravity are infinite:You can always improve.
Training at or slightly below your VT is the perfect opportunity to cultivate and develop these four vectors.And they are the foundation of PAGES technique:
Why not invest in every stride and every stroke, regardless of your speed or aerobic intensity?
Why not strive continually for PAGES?Maximize return on your aerobic investment.If you are going to put in the time, go for the maximum return.
Optimal Operating Environment
In a previous blog, we explored the function of our metabolic system: It provides the working systems of body and brain with an operating environment:
When that environment is hostile (hypoxic, acidic, etc) our muscles, nerves and brain struggle to function well.
When that environment is optimal we perform well and we learn most effectively.
If you enroll in a college class that is held in a cold dark lecture hall with no sound system for the professor’s lecture, you will struggle to learn.If you are chronically fatigued and inefficient at converting O2 and energy into movement, you will also struggle to improve.
During your low intensity 80 training, you are maintaining an optimal operating environment.
80 is Opportunity
During that (ho-hum) 80% of your training, when you are training with an optimal operating environment:
Your metabolic system is gradually improving its ability to provide that optimal environment at faster speed, for longer duration.Gradually you perform better.However you can learn faster immediately.
These are perfect conditions to hone your PAGES technique right now!!This is the learning part of training: Lots of time and opportunity to hone your craft as an endurance artist.You are acquiring Kinetic Intelligence – wisdom of the master athlete.
As you improve your PAGES, you are more efficient.You begin to go faster at or below VT.This means you can sustain your pace for longer distances: Endurance!
You reduce your risk of injury, illness and burnout.
You also train mindfulness skills.These skills are your greatest asset, essential to your functionality and performance in every area of life.
20 is Also Opportunity
Make the most out of your limited precious moderate- and high-intensity training.This too is an opportunity to pursue mastery:
Learn to maintain PAGES even when the operating environment is sub-optimal.
Learn how to adapt your PAGES technique to faster paces: efficient speed.
Learn how to remain calm, relaxed, mindful and vigilant when you are experiencing discomfort and pain.
High-intensity endurance training also trains mindfulness.It trains you to cope and function well during the high-stress moments of your life outside of sports.
You must build, strengthen and maintain your foundation: To invest well in your “80”, diligently pursue the Four Vectors of Mastery and the endless quest for PAGES technique.There is no limit to Precision, Alignment, Grace, Efficiency and Seamlessness: You can always improve your virtuosity.
As an artist, here is my advice during your 80: Be patient, curious, engaged and grateful every time you train, every time you practice.
We train three physiological systems:
The neural system is the one that improves the most.It will continue to improve far beyond your peak aerobic potential, as you (dare I say it) age.Neural training is the portal for mastery that transports you from endurance sports to endurance arts.Train neural fitness with each stroke, each stride.Experience and enjoy a sense of enduring mastery over a lifetime.
For over four decades, I have targeted neural fitness and KI during my daily training sessions.Using the 80/20 method, I have enjoyed now 18 years of great training and racing, with very few injuries, free from any recurrence of overtraining endocrine burnout.I continue to experience consistent improvement, and an ever deeper engagement in the craft of endurance arts.
Check out Zeman’s Bio for a summary of my race history.
80/20 Aerobic: Check out 80/20 Triathlon: “Discover the breakthrough elite-training formula of ultimate [metabolic] fitness and performance – at all levels”.This book is well-organized, easy-to-follow, clear and concise.I highly recommend this resource for those who self-coach, and those who may question or doubt the advice of the coach.
Saturday, 17 November, 56th Edition of the JFK 50-Mile Run: Near Hagerstown, MD.Approximately 900 runners.This event includes 12 miles of paved roads over rolling and sometimes hilly terrain, 13.5 miles of technical single track on the Appalachian Trail, 26.5 miles of flat unpaved tow path on the C&O canal. Finish 12:17:43, 25/45 in age group.
Transition: Shower, quick massage, shuttle back to start line, drive to hotel, reorganize gear, some food, 2.5 hours of sleep, depart at 2:15 AM, solo drive 3 hours to Philadelphia.
Sunday, 18 November, 25th Edition of the Philadelphia Marathon: Throughout the city of Philadelphia.Over 12,000 runners.This event is all paved, mostly flat, touring the city, with thousands of spectators, dozens of musical ensembles along the course.Finish: 5:59:37, 158/178 in age group.And then, the 4-hour drive home.
I have been intrigued with running these two events on consecutive days for years.Along with the obvious endurance challenge of completing both of them on consecutive days, and the logistics and travel between, I was curious about juxtaposing two events with such different character and atmosphere: The quiet, remote and natural environment of JFK with the big city atmosphere and activity of Philadelphia.
The JFK-PHL Double offered an opportunity to challenge my craft as an endurance artist.To complete this double (at age 61) would require finesse. It draws upon the Four Vectors of Kaizen-durance Mastery.These four vectors are the essence of the slogan “Finesse is stronger than force”:
I want to briefly share with you something I have been contemplating throughout this 2018 endurance season: displaced people seeking asylum.Please take a moment to read these reflections.And then, for those interested, I offer the details on my preparation for the JFK-PHL Double, and the actual experience.I conclude with a tribute to a friend and endurance brother.
Migration and Asylum
For months now – in my daily training, and during these endurance events I am so fortunate to experience – I have contemplated the migrants who travel great distances to seek asylum here in the US.While we as endurance athletes choose to participate in events with much support, fanfare, glory and a hero’s welcome at the finish, the displaced migrants of the world have a much more difficult journey.
Asylum seekers often flee their homes and nations due to violence – domestic, gang, military – as well as poverty and hunger.We are privileged with so many resources and the stability in our lives to actually prepare and train for a scheduled and chosen event.Fleeing migrants have no luxury or choice to train or to prepare for a desperate journey that is much longer than even our longest endurance events with no knowledge of what awaits them during the journey, or at the “finish line”.
Their journey is not along a clearly defined and safe course lined with aid stations and cheering spectators.There is no finish line with an announcer, a finisher’s medal, food, and the promise and certainty of retreating to a secure and comfortable refuge after the finish.Instead, their finish line is just the start of even greater uncertainty and risk.They are scorned, rejected, detained, often separated from their family members, and possibly deported back to the situations they were so desperate to escape.
What Can We Do?
As endurance practitioners, what can we do?This is a question I invite you to consider as you train and race, as you choose to endure.I welcome your insights here in the comments section.I will return to this in a future blog.
For now, as you train and race, put yourself in a displaced migrant’s shoes making the desperate journey.Imagine what it must be like.And please consider supporting the Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project.
JFK-PHL Details: Training
Prior to running Cat’s Tail Trail Marathon (29 September), I was experiencing a slight overuse injury to a metatarsal joint in my right foot.This event exacerbated it, so I took two weeks off from running after completing it.Cat’s Tail is not your typical marathon.It offers over 7,000 of climbing (sometimes on exposed rock faces), rough technical trails, few aid stations and just one road crossing (at 9.5 miles).Entry for this event is stringent, since you can’t drop out after Mile 9.5, without walking out.
In the 2-week break from running, I swam more and continued with strength work, along with some cycling.On 12 October, I resumed running 3-5 times a week. – my typical 40-90 minute off-pavement run sessions in Vibram 5-Fingers.And then… 22 October, as I was doing Box Jumps, I injured my shin when I failed to clear the height of the box.I sustained a moderate wound over the bone of my shin, with a lot of bleeding.And the next day I had dental surgery (a bone graft).As a precaution for the surgery, I was required to go on antibiotics.(Heck, at least I didn’t have to worry about wound infection in my shin.)
The shin injury was slow to heal, although I continued to run.Combined with the malaise I usually feel from the effect of antibiotics, I did not run any longer than 10 miles in a single run leading up to the JFK-PHL Double.The “climax” of my training was on Sunday, 04 November (2 weeks out):
I ran 10 miles of my “Tour de Cornell” course in the morning – lots of hills and mixed terrain, from home, ascending up to and through the Cornell University campus.
After a break to eat and work at the desk, I ran another 8 miles in the afternoon on the Black Diamond Trail – a maintained rail trail.
As always, I maintained a regimen of functional strength Pilates-based mat work throughout.Evolved over the past 4 decades, this is an essential part of my craft and the very first thing we explore in the Running Labs that I offer.I largely credit functional strength (especially pelvic and pectoral core, and lateral joint stability of the hips), along with mindful, efficient running technique with my JFK-PHL success.
Again… Finesse is stronger than force.
JFK-PHL Details: Event One
There was snow on the JFK 50-Mile course, slowly melting on race day.Consequently, we all had wet feet for most of the event.(Note: I was well-trained this year for wet feet, given my diet of trail running events – especially Twisted Branch 100K.For that event, we ran in water up our calves and even to our knees for a total accumulation of 2 miles, and thick mud above our ankles for over 30 miles.)
The melting snow and mud slurry actually “smoothed” the rocky sections of the Appalachian Trail (13.5 miles), making the running seem easier than all of the past years – a welcomed surprise.The C&O tow path also included several wet and muddy sections, though nothing like Twisted Branch.
Knowing that I planned to run a road surface marathon the next day, the theme of the day was soft andgentle.This may seem like a paradox: How can running 50 miles – or even two miles be soft and gentle?This is possible through a harmonious alliance with gravity.
Gravity is our curse and our blessing.
The real paradox is this: Gravity is the source of impact that leads to fatigue and injury, and yet we cannot run without it.It is our curse, and our blessing.Indeed, this is the runner’s dilemma – one resolved by mindfully cultivating a harmonious alliance with gravity.
As with past years, I was patient on the AT so I did not fall or injure myself.(Note: I learned this the hard way during my first JFK, in 2005.On the AT that year, I tweaked my left knee and ruptured the bursa sac. I was barely able to finish that year.) This year, safely off the AT, I patiently settled in to a 9:00/3:00 run/walk cycle for most of the 26.5 mile stretch of the flat and uniform C&O tow path.At some point, I switched to a 7:00/3:00 cycle, which made the math a bit easier in my delirium.
I began to feel some soreness in my left hip and IT around 38 miles.I did not let the discomfort adversely affect my most efficient technique.Deviating technique to alleviate discomfort will usually cause injury.The 8 miles of rolling hills comprising the final road stretch to the finish line offered variety that enabled me to vary my technique and spread the fatigue.With patience and grace, I reached the finish line.My time of 12:17 was over an hour slower than last year.
During the entire event, I consumed 150-200 calories and hour – a little more than usual, in anticipation of Philadelphia.
JFK-PHL Details: Transition
At the finish, without delay, I showered, got a brief message and took the shuttle bus back to the start.I arrived at my hotel room at 8:40 PM.It took me a little over an hour to reorganize – selecting my gear and nutrition for the next day and packing everything else for a quick and early departure.I ate some granola with whey protein and bananas and finally laid down at 10:30.As anticipated – due to high cortisol – I slept about 90 minutes, and then ended up laying on the floor with my legs elevated on the bed, resting as best I could until 1:45 AM.
I departed at 2:15 AM for Philadelphia to meet Dave Weiss at 5:15.The roads were desolate, and the weather clear.Dave had picked up my race packet and instructed me on where I could legally park on the street, just a half mile from the race start.Meeting with him, and sitting together for a few minutes in his car made the arrival and critically important transition (read “Reality Check”) much easier.Our walk to the start enabled me to loosen up my legs for another run, while our conversation helped me compose my attitude and approach.
As I anticipated, I had difficulty thermoregulating – staying warm – until my start time.I had dressed very warmly for the walk to the start but eventually had to give up much of my clothing before entering the start corral.Even with two hats, a neck gaiter, light running jacket, arm warmers, gloves and a vest, I was shivering during the 35-minute wait until our start.My already sore hips were aggravated by the tension from shivering.I did my best to keep them loose as I awaited the start of the last wave.
JFK-PHL Details: Event Two
I was relieved and slightly surprised at my ability to begin sauntering along at the start without much “rust” in my joints.I rarely run on paved surfaces in my daily training and was concerned about the added impact, especially after a 50-mile precursor.
My greatest asset for running pavement is that I have evolved my running technique craft to keep my feet soft and supple throughout the stride cycle – especially during ground contact.This minimizes impact, in spite of the firm and minimal Merrell Trail Glove shoes I wore for both JFK and PHL.
By mile 3, my left hip and IT band were sore again.I focused on crafting the gentlest strides I could and again adapted a 7:00/3:00 run/walk cycle.The most challenging miles were from 3 to 10.During this part of the run, I used these sensations to orient me to my gentlest technique.Gradually, much of the acute soreness in the hip and IT dissipated.Relieved, I settled into a very patient and graceful approach with each and every stride, enjoying the “Philly Marathon Experience”: the natural, historic, cultural and architectural sights of Philadelphia, the bands and musicians that came out to play for us, and the spectators in costume, with humorous and clever signs along the course.
I’ve run Philly once before, so I anticipated running Main Street Manayunk along the Schuykill River – miles 17-22.This place has a small town feel, with lots of creative, bohemian spirit and illustrious characters that lift my spirits.I declined all of the offers for beer in Manayunk, as I continued to focus on being as gentle as possible.I ran a very consistent pace: The results show that I ran the first 10K at a 13:34 mile pace, with my overall pace for the entire distance at 13:42.
I enjoyed sharing the experience with such a diversity of participants – feeling humble and grateful to be out there with so many brothers and sisters.I am honored to share this with many who are struggling not only with their marathon journey, but also in their life journey – as we all are.I was able to peer into their personal life challenges as they were revealed in this marathon journey.At the “back of the pack”, this is truly a life quest.
I was able to complete the JFK-PHL Double throughthe Four Vectors of Kaizen-durance Mastery.I am grateful for the moment-to-moment patience required – not just during the events, but in the transition between them, and the 4-hour drive home afterwards.
The JFK-PHL Double was the realization of something I have been curious about for years.Two times previously I have signed up for both, and then elected not to drive to Philadelphia after completing JFK.There were two circumstances that changed the conditions this year – one I consider insightful, the other heartbreaking:
Insightful: Previously, I planned to drive to Philadelphia just after JFK and then find somewhere to sleep.However, each time I felt too fatigued to drive safely.This year, the decision to sleep for a few hours first and then drive was the key to this critical logistical element.
Heartbreaking:Traditionally, I run JFK with my close friend and endurance brother Larry Lewis – a true legend in the field of endurance sports.Every year, Larry and I share a hotel room, and celebrate afterwards with a feast.(Note: Years before I met Larry, he and Willie Williams completed the JFK-PHL Double.)
2018 was to be Larry’s 20th JFK 50-Mile, and November 4th was to be Larry’s 35th consecutive NYC Marathon.However, on November 1st, he had a minor stroke.Larry and I are the same age.As of this publication, Larry is still in recovery and rehabilitation.He is progressing!
The sobering emptiness offered no incentive to pause for celebration after JFK, even though I was sincerely grateful for the health and capacity to cross the finish line.
Completing this Double this year was far less satisfying and epic than sharing the JFK 50-Mile pilgrimage and reunion with Larry each year.I prayed for him throughout the event, and felt his absence.I will be overjoyed to celebrate our reunion – and Larry’s induction to the 1000-Mile Club – in 2019.There will be no need to head to Philly after that.
Let’s compare two scenarios – excerpted from Book One of my “Kaizen-durance, Your Aerobic Path to Mastery” series:
Athlete Joe Primetime wants to do Ironman next summer.Joe hires a coach and declares, “Coach, I don’t care what it takes!Just get me to that finish line!I want to hear Mike Reilly say “Joe Primetime, you are an IRONMAN!!’”With a locked-and-loaded focus on the result, Joe is going to follow (and maybe exceed) his coach’s step-by-step plan – come hell or high water.
Now let’s look at a different scenario – an artist scenario:Aspiring musician Sabrina Serenade begins to study violin.When she seeks out her teacher, it’s not likely that she will declare “Maestro, I want to play First Violin for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the JFK Symphony Hall next year!I don’t care what it takes, just get me there!”
Why does this seem perfectly normal for the athlete, but absurd for the musician?The short answer: Goal versus Process:
As athletes, we are conditioned to be the fastest, to win the game.
Our eyes are on the prize, fixed on the end result.
This fixation means we may have little patience or regard for the actual process – the craft – that enables us to pursue the goal. We just want to “hit the numbers”.
If the martial artist is narrowly focused only on beating the opponent (goal), without concern for what is arising in the present moment (process), he may miss something that could cost him his life.
Returning to the scenario from Book One:
The musician doesn’t narrowly focus her daily practice on chasing one Big Goal Event.Certainly she may (and should) have visions and goals.First however, she patiently develops her individual craft as a musician.She focuses on cultivating excellent technique and on developing a desirable and distinctive “voice”.Her technical skill and distinctive voice will enable her to play with excellence, and not just speed.Her patience and perseverance will bring the opportunities to play in fine symphony halls, and an enduring, satisfying career.
Every artist knows that s/he cannot achieve any goal without first patiently and diligently investing in her/his craft and developing a unique “signature”. In my experience as an ultra athlete, my unique craft is the key to finishing the longest, toughest races.
Artists know: Finesse is stronger than force.
Beyond the distances you have reached and the finish times you have cut, how do you define your endurance character?Are your identity and success as an athlete completely bound to your results?Do you have a unique approach to the way you train day-to-day?
Hitting the Numbers
In sport, our drive is to get a specific result on race day. To achieve this, we focus on “hitting the numbers” during each training session.But what happens if we fail to get that result on race day?Has the considerable sacrifice and investment of time and energy to hit those numbers yielded any benefit, any dividend?
And then there is the bigger question every one of us eventually faces: What happens as we begin to decline with age?What happens when our numbers sag?As we grow tired of banging our heads against the Aerobic Wall in an attempt to delay metabolic decline, should we quit because we are slowing down? Instead, we can become endurance artists.
Athletes decline with age.Artists improve with age.
If we relax our obsession with the fastest time to the finish line and a specific end result, and focus more on the unfolding journey and discovery of our craft, we are empowered to pursue kinetic intelligence.KI is the essence of our craft – our art.
In previous blogs, we have identified KI as the wisdom of the experienced master athlete.With KI, we focus more on PAGES technique:
Your PAGES technique is the most significant element of your unique signature as an endurance artist.
When we are no longer distracted by and attached to an end result that we may or may
not achieve, we can invest our attention more in this present moment.Less constrained by such attachment, we can craft this stride, this stroke perfectly – the swim stroke or the run stride we are generating right now.This is true in each moment, whether it is during a mundane early-season training session or the finale race of the season.And this pursuit of excellence in each moment is the surest way to create and realize our masterpiece – our race of the season – regardless of age or speed.
A great painter begins with a vision.That vision becomes a masterpiece one diligent and well-crafted brush stroke at a time.
I have advised many athletes that Ironman is not 140.6 miles.It is one mile 140.6 times.And like the painter’s masterpiece, each mile is crafted one PAGES stroke or stride at a time. Just like us, each of the great painter’s brush strokes must be PAGES.
Endurance Arts Forum: Join Us!
I invite you to engage with us in a dialogue about endurance arts.You can participate by joining our Endurance Arts Forum on Facebook, and by sharing your experiences and insights with me by leaving your comments below.I will draw upon and may even quote your contributions in future blogs on the endurance arts.
Here are some questions to initiate our dialogue:
How does creativity enhance your endurance athlete/artist lifestyle – in training, competing and even in everyday life?
Do you regard your sport as a craft, an art?If so, how?Has it changed the way you approach your training and racing?Has it changed the way you measure success and satisfaction? How?
Within your endurance sport(s), are there any specific formats, venues or events that encourage a more creative, innovative and/or intuitive approach?
Both sports and live arts focus on performance.How are these performances similar?Specifically, endurance sports performances?How are they different?
What is your greatest asset or resource as an endurance athlete/artist?How does this asset or resource empower you?Is it more, less or of equal value in training vs. racing?
In the next entry, we will consider the balance of science and art in our pursuit of excellence and our quest for mastery through “kaizen-durance”: