Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Motivates You?

There are 2 types of basic motivations for runners.  Extrinsic Motivation and Intrinsic Motivation.
An extrinsically motivated runner is one who is motivated by things external to themselves.  Common examples are being motivated to win a race or an age group award, beating someone else, or receiving recognition as a runner such as being recognized as a marathoner or one of the better runners in your club or group.  For elite runners extrinsic motivation may even include winning prize money and receiving sponsorships or scholarships.  These rewards provide satisfaction, meet needs and provide pleasure that the task itself may not provide them.
An intrinsically motivated runner is one whose motivation comes from inside themselves rather than from any external or outside rewards.   Intrinsic motivation comes from the pleasure one gets from the running itself or from the sense of satisfaction in challenging oneself or applying oneself to the task of training or racing.
Both forms of motivation can be very strong and powerful at times, and most runners are fueled by some combination of both motivations.   
But here is the point I want to make in this blog entry.  Recent studies have shown that runners who are high in extrinsic motivation but low in intrinsic motivation will not stay in the sport long term.  They will only stay in the sport until they stop receiving enough awards, or praise or recognition to make it worth the amount of work they have to do. 
For those young running stars who are primarily extrinsically motivated, this becomes a big problem as, as they get older the pool of competitors and amount of work needed to remain at or near the top gets bigger and bigger.   Sooner or later it simply becomes not worth it to them.  They no longer get as many rewards and the work they have to do to get them only grows.   Their extrinsic motivation wans and their intrinsic motivation is not high enough to carry them onwards.  As a results the "burn-out" often seen with kids in sports comes from high extrinsic motivation and low intrinsic motivation.
In order for a runner to be in the sport for the long term, they have to be highly intrinsically motivated.  Now they can be highly extrinsically motivated as well, but that extrinsic motivation isn’t as important for their long term participation. 
If you are a coach to or mentor of runners, especially young runners, be sure to try and emphasize the intrinsic motivation as much or more than the extrinsic motivation.  Teach the runners to appreciate and enjoy the sport and not always be caught up in external rewards.  I try to do this with runners I coach some times by talking how different types of training should feel and why we do what we do, rather than always being focused on the immediate results (time/distance).  I think this helps build an appreciation for the sport and connection to the internal dimension of it. 
My wife and I have tried very hard to do this with our oldest daughter who showed an interest in the sport from a young age and has turned into a very good runner.  But often as parents you are never sure exactly how much of what you are trying to teach and foster they are actually learning.  Then about a year or so ago we got a glimpse inside what she was thinking.   A reporter was doing an article on her and was talking to her about all the awards she had won and records she has broken and then asked her of all that, what motivated her, why did she run?  Her answer was this:  “Because it’s fun!  The exhilarating feeling you have with the wind blowing through your hair and the ground flying by under your feet. I just love it.”  No mention of awards or praise, not mention of records or beating people.  She runs because she loves it.  The reporter was a little taken aback by the answer so they followed up from a different angle.  They asked her about her training and how hard she worked to get where she was and after she explained her training program to them they asked. “ok, now what if you didn’t race any more, no more races or records or awards, what would you do?”  And she thought for a second and answered “I would do pretty much exactly what I am doing now.  I love the challenge of training and running hard.  I don’t think it would change anything if I didn’t race.”
I don’t think I have to tell you that tears welled up in our eyes as we heard that.  Her intrinsic motivation was about as high as it can get – she would be in the sport for the long haul and love every minute of it.  She, the sport and we are all truly blessed because of it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Marathon State of Flow

There is a concept in sports psychology called the “State of Flow”.  It is the zone in which the level of challenge is equal with the level of skill.  This is the zone in which the greatest sports accomplishments are usually made.  In this zone, things just seem to click; the athlete becomes absorbed into what they are doing.

 I believe there is a State of Flow in marathon running as well, and our ability to find and stay in this zone will determine how successful we are.
Marathon State of Flow:  the pace range which represents the top 1% of the pace you are able to hold for the whole race on that given day.
So if the absolute best pace you can hold for the marathon on a given day is 6:00 per mile, than your State of Flow zone would be 6:00 to 6:04 per mile (maximum to 1% slower).
If we spend much time out of this zone we will compromise our overall race performance, and the greater the time and further away from this zone we are in a race, the further away from our best potential performance (i.e. Maximum Performance) we will be.  If we run faster than this zone we will “bonk” or run out of energy too soon, and of we run slower than this zone then we are not using up energy fast enough and giving away time.
Finding Your Marathon State of Flow
There are multiple variables that need to be considered when determining your state of flow. 
1)      Preparation Level:  We must review the training cycle in its entirety and compare it to past training cycles and the results of those cycles.  We must also look at key workouts that are good indicators of our marathon fitness. 

2)      Course:  We must take into account the marathon race course.  We have to account for any hills, drop or gain in elevation, the altitude, the amount of turns or u-turns, and how open to the elements the course is. 

3)      Weather:  We must take into account the weather conditions for the race.  The temperature, the humidity levels, cloud cover, and the wind speed and direction.

4)      Field:  We must also consider the other runners to the extent that we understand how crowded the course will be and whether or not we will likely be running alone or in a group.

5)      Fueling:  Will we be able to utilize your optimal fueling strategy – are the fluids and gels/solids going to be available when we optimally want them.

After examining these 5 variables we should be in a position to come up with our Marathon State of Flow pace range.  Here is an example of how that might look:
1)      Our training and key workouts indicates that we are in shape to run at best 6:00 per mile for the marathon distance.

2)      The course is somewhat rolling, with a few tough u-turns late in the race, making the condition modestly more difficult than what we training on.  We estimate this will slow our best maximum pace by 1% so we adjust our maximum pace to 6:04 per mile (6:00 x 1.01).

3)      The temperatures are near ideal, humidity levels are down and there is good cloud cover, but there is going to be a slight headwind for most of the race.  We estimate this headwind will likely add another 1% to our maximum potential pace, so we adjust it accordingly to 6:07.

4)      We have examined previous results and reports of this year’s field and don’t think there will be any significant crowding at our projected pace range and we may even have a few runners running in the same pace range to run with.  No time adjustments needed.

5)      We will have fluids and gels available at the optimal times provided by the race so no pace adjustment are necessary.

So this analysis leaves us with a 6:07 pace as our maximum potential pace, and 1% slower than this maximum pace works out to be 6:11 pace.   So we go into the race with a Marathon State of Flow goal pace range of 6:07 to 6:11 per mile.
Given what we discussed in our recent blog “Start YourMarathon On The Right Note” our race strategy then maybe to start the first mile at 6:15-6:20 second mile 6:10-6:15 and then settle into our 6:07-6:11 pace range for the remainder of the race, or at least until the final few miles. 
Note:  it will also be important to adjust your Marathon State of Flow pace range for the topography of the course, knowing uphill miles will be slower and downhill miles faster.  Using the Boston Marathon as an example, we know the first 6 miles or so of the course are downhill, so we would adjust our State of Flow pace range to the a slightly faster pace during this section of the course, and then in the Newton hills between 16 and 20 miles we would adjust our goal pace range to a slightly slower range.   In essence in this case we are banking some time early on the downhill section that we give back later on the uphill section based on the topography of the course.
Experience is a great aid in finding your Marathon State of Flow.  By having other marathon training cycles and races to look back on, you greatly enhance your ability to know what the correct Marathon State of Flow will likely be and feel like.    An experienced coach is also a great asset in helping you determine your appropriate Marathon State of Flow, as they have seen many different training cycles executed, race run and on many different course and weather conditions, and all of this will give them a good feel on how to determine and adjust your pace ranges based on each of the different variables discussed earlier.
The nature of competition in marathon running is to finish the race before as many people as possible.  The winner is always the runner who finishes the race the fastest.  So there for your best course of action, from a competitive standpoint, is to run the race in such a way as to produce your fastest possible time.  This means running in your Marathon State of Flow regardless of what the other runners do.  In the end it will produce your fastest possible time and that will produce your best possible placing.  Going out of your State of Flow pace range to match someone else’s move or tactics just lessens your chances of producing your best performance.
It is this thinking that prompted Arthur Lydiard to say:  “The idea that you can’t lose contact with the leaders has cut more throats than it has saved” and “the days of tactics are numbered.”

Monday, October 1, 2012

Starting Your Marathon On The Right Note

An important key to running your best possible marathon performance comes right at the very start of the race.  How you pace your first couple of miles can set the tone metabolically for the rest of the race.   
Recent scientific studies and analysis suggest that how we pace the first couple of miles in a marathon can play a large role in what rate our body’s burn energy during much of the race. 
The following example best illustrates this point:
Scenario 1:  Runner Bob starts of his marathon exactly on his goal marathon pace for each of the first 3 miles, and his body settles in to a burn rate of 100 units of energy per mile at that goal pace.
Scenario 2:  Runner Bob had gotten a little too excited and caught up in the start, and ran :20 seconds faster than goal pace for the first mile and :10 faster for the second mile before settling into his goal pace starting with the third mile.  Runner Bob’s body burned 105 units of energy in that first mile of the race, and 103 units of energy in the second mile, and then when he settled into goal pace in the 3rd mile his body settled into a burn rate of 101 units of energy per mile. 
Scenario 3:  Runner Bob eases into the race, running his first mile at :20 seconds slower than goal pace and his second mile at :10 seconds slower before settling into his goal pace on his 3rd mile. Runner Bob’s body burned 95 units of energy on that first mile of the race, 97 units in the second mile of the race, and then when he settled into goal pace he was burning just 99 units of energy per mile.
While the energy units in these examples are made up, it is used to illustrate the principle of the findings of the study.
What scenarios 1 and 2 in this example illustrates for us is that by starting slightly quicker than goal pace our bodies get locked into a higher energy burn rate than if we start out right at goal pace. 
What scenarios 1 and 3 illustrates for us is that by starting slightly slower than goal pace and easing into it over the first few miles we can actually lock into a slightly lower energy burn rate than if we immediately started at goal pace. 
Further what this study suggests is that there is stickiness to energy burn rates.  While energy burn rates change with paces and conditions, the correlation between changes in those paces and conditions and energy burn rates is not completely 1 to 1.  There is a stickiness to the metabolic system which makes the correlation less than 1:1 so that when conditions/paces change the burn rate has a tendency to stay closer to the previous burn rate than one might originally expect (i.e. in scenario 3 we go to 99 rather than 100 at goal pace).
So how do we use this information to our advantage in our marathon plans?  A large part of successful marathon running is about the management of available energy.  In order to maximize our efficiency in this area I suggest that, based on this information, we should slightly reduce our warm-ups before the start of the marathon (allowing us to conserve energy) and use the first 2 miles of the marathon to ease into marathon goal pace allowing us to settle into as efficient an energy burn rate as possible at goal race pace.  This approach should help us get the biggest bang for our energy buck.   
More specifically, I would suggest planning on running the first mile of your race at about 3% slower than goal pace and then about 1% slower the second mile before settling into goal pace with the 3rd mile.  For a 6:00 goal pace that means a 6:11 first mile and 6:04 second mile before settling into 6:00 for the 3rd mile. 
Our warm-up would therefore be some dynamic stretching/drills and enough light running so that we can start off within 3% of goal pace comfortably.  This slightly reduced warm-up will save us energy we can use and will need later in the race.  This energy savings, accompanied savings gained by the easing into a lower burn rate during the first 2 miles of the race, will more than allow us to make-up, later in the race, the 15 seconds (or whatever your amount is) we lose at the start.
One additional advantage I find to this starting method is that most people aren’t able to or don’t intend to execute this approach.  This means that while you will be slightly behind your pace peers during the first 2 miles, you will spend the majority of the race gaining ground on and passing those people who started too quickly, and the positive psychological benefits of  this (as opposed to being passed) can be significant and keep can your spirits high throughout much of the race.
Good luck and happy racing in your fall marathons.