Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rest - It Does a Body Well.

I was recently reminded (again) of the importance of rest; how important it is to resist the desire to always be running more, running farther, running harder.  If we only thought about how to run smarter a bit more often.   That has been my focus of late; running more efficiently, and that means resting more.  Not just resting, but discovering when and how to rest.  Being more efficient also means eating better and better, not just while training, but during the time you take off.

This past weekend I competed in a half-marathon and I registered on a whim as one of my track mates had sparked the idea that I run with him.  I had only been back in training for a little more than a week, so I was a bit skeptical as to how I would perform.  To keep this short, I hit my target time of 1:18 (my PR) even though I felt it was a tad ambitious.  Even when I'm not "tip-top" I aim high.  Always.  It's the only way to get where you want to be.  I felt stronger than I could have possibly anticipated, and I made moves that I might have been afraid to make had I not believed in the power of rest and diet.

I am simply saying DO NOT be afraid of resting!  I used to fear it immensely, and for that I suffered in the past.  So many of us fear that we will lose the conditioning we've achieved.  I am glad to say that this is not the case.  Sure we'll need time to bounce back to our peak (which takes only a few weeks), but remember, during your off-time your muscles are harvesting all of that hard work you put in during seasons past.  And you always bounce back to a higher peak than the one before.  Know in your head and heart that you will be stronger, sharper, and more resilient not because you ran more, but because you knew when to stop running.  

Always searching for the next Key Experience,

J. Brewer

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Grandfather Mt. 26.2, 2012: A Brief Recap

I wanted to share my experience as a part of the 2012 Grandfather Mountain Marathon, and I've been putting it off for some time.  So before some of the recollections fade too much, here is a recap.  I am hoping that some of you who will read this will be inspired to join me next year, God willing that I return to race in '13.

I began my journey by heading up to North Carolina 10 days prior to race day.  I am a "flat-lander" (though I have an affinity for hill running) and I was in need of some elevation and some incline.  I knew that I was getting close to my cutoff for logging mileage that would be beneficial, being this close to race day, so I stacked my hard runs at the beginning of the trip.  Wanting to find the highest altitude possible, I headed to Mt. Mitchell and indulged in a challenging 9.6 miler to the summit and back.

The rest of my pre-race runs were spent rambling through forests on single-track trails and winding my way through some of my favorite parts of Asheville.  I took it easy, soaking up my surroundings.  Perhaps the most beneficial bit of it all was getting the chance to commune with nature, taking advantage of the chance to free myself from all of the constant chatter that inundates our heads.  A few days before the race I headed to Boone to take advantage of my favorite trail (Fire Tower Trail at Moses Cone Memorial) for some shake-out runs.  I never take complete rest prior to a race, as I like to keep mobile, keeping my legs in regular motion.  


The morning of the race, I woke to my 4:00 am wakeup call.  I sprang lightly out of bed, splashed in some hot water and threw on my gear: a pair of shorts and my flats.  I arrived at the starting line at 5:00 sharp, greeted by misting rain, lighting and rolling thunder.

I set off for an easy one-miler around the track, chased that down with some fluids and nutrients, and then awaited the start, soaking in the vibes.  There's something about the excitement that leads up to the moment when "the tribe" gets unleashed and the amoeba of runners moves out onto the course.  Nothing beats going out in the lead pack.  Nothing except being confident that can stay in the lead pack.

We hit our first mile at about 6'30" and it felt comfortable.  Almost too comfortable.  I wanted to keep my pace just a bit on the conservative side, knowing that a mile and a half in we'd start some of our first climbs.  But I wanted to go faster still, and I wanted to take advantage of the flats while we had them.  Instead of worrying too much about my pace, I decided to just flow with what felt good.  I was running about 10 seconds behind the leaders, and at this point in about 6th place. Within another mile, I was running third, trading with fourth, a guy by the name of Brian Fowler.  This "trading" ended up going on for about 22 miles, and ended up being critical to my race.

I focused on not paying attention to my splits, which is not a common practice of mine.  However, it's hard to mark your miles on this course even if you wanted to, as not all of them are discernible (and I don't carry a watch equipped with GPS).  Instead I focused on my body, listening to it more than ever.  I also focused on Brian.  We talked about efficiency and form, hill strategy, the whole gamut.  At around mile 7/8, Brian pulled away from me on a particularly steep and long down hill, but by mile 10 I was back on his shoulder, charging a 3 mile uphill.  At the mile 11 aid station, Brian and I were side by side, preparing to enter the Parkway section of the course.  I later learned that he leaders, Glen Mays and Stephen Cowie, had caught sight of us as we approached the Parkway.

The next few miles were critical to the remainder of our race.  Brian and I decided to work as a team and trade off the lead position about every 5 minutes or so.  I later learned from Brian that we were hitting sub 6 minute miles ( for about a 4 mile section), and that set the standard for the rest of the race. (note: we did not maintain sub 6 minute miles, but we did base our remaining effort on that standard)

At around mile 15, Brian and I still ran shoulder to shoulder.  The hill on this mile really hit me in the gut, even though it was not a significant incline.  But like every run, you run in the moment and overcome with each stride.  After the next aid station, we hit gravel road that meandered through some dense forest.  I felt great.  It suddenly felt like I hadn't even run a mile.  It was nice to get off of the tarmac for a while.  Nice until about a mile along the gravel road where we hit "the wall".  I'm not talking about the infamous runner's wall that happens around mile 20, but a wall in the guise of a hill.  It's a short climb, but it feels like you're on a 45 degree pitch (which it might have been).  You really have to dig in deep here.  Brian began to put about a 10 meter lead on me here.  He was really booking it up this one.  At the top we hit an aid station that played as the welcoming committee for more tarmac.  But about a quarter of a mile into our next climb, which incidentally is immediately after "the wall", Brain abruptly stopped and straightened up in a rigid posture, looking like someone getting hit with severe hamstring cramps.  He said he was fine when I inquired.  I took 3rd place back.  It was short lived.  He was back within 400 meters, running as if he hadn't missed a stride.

The next section are the doldrums of the course.  It's not a terribly steep cluster of miles, but it's hard to focus when you get there.  These miles seem long and it becomes as critical as ever that you focus on the moment, acting in the present.  If I had been flying solo at this point, I'm not sure I would have been able to keep the pace.  Brian really kept me going.  "This is where economics is everything!", I said to him.  We kept moving, side by side, one of us taking initiative, one of us following, continuing to switch positions.

It wasn't until about the 22 mark that it came down to it: Who had more?  Who was more prepared?  Who had the guts?  And which one of us could go with the guy who put on the afterburners?  Brian began to pull away.  I gave it everything that I could to maintain his pace.  But then I had to question myself: would I be able to finish with the vim that I needed if I went with him now?  It was decision time.  And then it happened.  I got hit with stomach cramps.  Did it matter now if I wanted to hang on to Brian's pace?  He was really moving, and uphill.  I did not have what he had, and that was clear.  I decided that it was now me and the clock.

Funny how you can be moving and feel like you're in limbo.  I couldn't hear anyone behind me in the stillness.  No hooting from the last aid station.  No one behind me.  No visual of Brian up ahead of me for the next bend in the road.  I was in no-man's land, all alone.  I wanted to be pushing my pace and working with Brian.  He couldn't be too far ahead, could he?  It was a winding section of road, and the last I had seen of him, he was about 30 seconds out.  He looked strong.  I still had hope for myself to reel him in, but when you are alone, that is a tall order.  Beware of head games.  After all, hitting the wall is more of a mental thing than it is a physical one (and I'm ready to argue that).

In miles 23 and 24 I dug as deeply as I could, letting out bellows of rage at my obstinate stomach cramps.  The cramps finally subsided and I was able to put more focus back on my turnover and fluidity.  I began to recognize landmarks and realized that I was about a mile out from the finish.  It's a blissful moment, seeing the entrance to the park at the turnoff for the finish and hear the bagpipes droning; a wave of emotion wells up inside of you that is indescribable.  Now for the short, muddy down hill, followed by the short, muddy uphill and a lap around the quarter-mile dirt track and across finish.  My watch was reading 2:58 and change.  I could find no more than I was giving, and yet, I'd never felt better.  My stride, pace, my state of mind, my emotions flaring like loose flames inside of me.  2:59 and change as I entered the track.  I had nothing left, but I gave it all anyway.  I hit the line at 3:00:31.  I was only a few seconds off of the ppm of my previous PR on a fast course.  I officially averaged 6'53" per mile, with a 4th place overall finish.

It's hard to be a matter of seconds from your race goal, especially when you have faced up to such a challenging course and gave it your heart and soul.  But I could not have been happier.  I shared the day with some amazing people and gave it all the love in my heart.  That's what running is all about.  Sharing in that love, that pain, that joy of giving.

I learned so much more about myself that day, and so much more about what it takes to chase goals and achieve them - the training, the commitment, the strength of character, both on and off of the course, the compassion that we live with everyday.  The experiences that we have offer up invaluable lessons, and I urge that we actively seek them out so that we may thrive.  Continue to set new, higher standards for yourself and work on finding that love and passion, that giving spirit that will spur you on.

Always searching for the next key experience,

J. Brewer


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Short and Sweet

Some morning thoughts on this second day of Spring...

As distance runners, we can tend to become infatuated with running farther and running more.  But sometimes, the runs that have a lasting impact on us are the ones that are short and sweet.

I awoke today at 5:00am thinking about the Fire Tower Trail at M. Cone Manor (Blowing Rock, NC).  For me, it's one of the best runs in America.  Obviously, there's an endless supply of incredible runs out there, but this one has had such a profound impact on me as an athlete and a person.

A great run changes you.  In July, 2011, I had a run on that trail that I still claim as the best run of my 16 years in the sport.  It was one of those days where everything just worked: my pace, the way my legs felt, the clarity of my mind, the rhythm of my entire body.  I recall how summer thunderstorms framed the setting sun, casting a red-orange fantasy-light on the freshly washed green of the upper meadows and forest groves of Appalachia.  To say the least, it was Epic.  A multitude of elements came together to create one of those days where 5 miles outdid satisfying.  It was one of those runs that humbled me as a human being.

A great run is many times just a short and sweet one that reminds you that it's not always about going farther or faster.  It's not always about trying to beat the competition or to outdo yourself.  It's about making that connection with your environment and "finding yourself" out there.  Those are the days that allow you to give your best in your next race or on a particularly tough training run.  You'll remember the joy and magic of that day, and it'll bring a smile to your face every time.

Always searching for the next Key Experience,

J. Brewer

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Waiting It Out

I have spent a good bit of this quiet Sunday morning thinking about how badly I want to be in my element, training for my next race and spending as much quality time on my feet as I can.  I have had a lot of time lately to ponder this, as I have been "down and out" and living vicariously through Runner's World articles and fellow runner's blogs.

What I want to say is that it's quite alright (and in fact very healthy) to have time away from what you love.  While it may be difficult, this downtime allows one to put things into perspective.  With the right attitude, you will find that it's time spent away from what we love that inspires new passion and an increased sense of awareness about why it is that you do what you do.  Being off of the road and trail has given me ample time to reflect on past joys, and maybe more importantly, past mistakes.  Thus, I can thrive on my joys and simultaneously re-wire the circuitry where the errors were made.

So use your downtime, whether because of injury or a caveat, as a tool to improve yourself, further strengthening your focus, motivation and behavior.  And remember to enjoy your time off.  Don't rue it.  Once you are back into your routine, having truly reflected on who you are and why it is that you do what you do, you'll find that you are literally a new person.

Always searching for the next Key Experience,

J. Brewer

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Coping with downtime doesn't have to be so bad...

As some of you know, I've spent the last many weeks dealing with a self-induced "complication" which resulted in dropping a race and taking several weeks off from training.  As all of you athletes know, physical discomfort really puts a damper on training, racing and general happiness.  But it does not have to be so bad.

When injured (or just taking time off of your feet), try to find as many ways to learn from your situation.  While it may be disappointing, it can be an opportunity to modify and/or improve a training schedule.  Use the downtime as a chance to develop your psychological strategies for becoming a stronger, faster "you".  This is a prime opportunity to meditate on what went wrong and how to not make the same mistake again.

Look for ways to strengthen your running when not logging miles.  The gym has an endless amount of resources which some runners might tend to overlook.  Also, if you have the available resources, get in the water and swim, surf, kayak, or stand-up paddle-board.  Any opportunity to strengthen the core and upper-body are golden opportunities, as long as you don't put strain on that injury!  Now downtime doesn't seem so bad, does it?

Perhaps most importantly (and this is the hardest part), resist the urge to run, no matter how great the temptation!  Being patient, while it may be difficult, is vital.  If you count the days on the calendar, you'll only prolong the torment.  Instead, treat each day as a new and exciting opportunity to cross-train the body and mind.  We always heal, and we always bounce back stronger, as long as we are smart about our recovery and are not over-zealous with getting back into a training routine.

In the end, you will strengthen yourself by accepting your injury and not allowing it to dampen your spirit of self-improvement!  You'll be back in action before you know it.

Hopefully, you are all injury free and training and racing with all of the joy in your heart!

Searching for the next Key Experience,

J. Brewer

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Freedom Because of Choice

I spent that magic hour before sunrise walking my dogs and enjoying the warm January weather when I began to think about choice.  This morning, it seemed more clear to me that the choices we make play a large role in determining the freedom and peace of mind that we can achieve in life.

"Freedom Of" and "Freedom Because"

1.)  "Freedom of Choice" means that we have the freedom to choose to do whatever it is that we want.

2.)  "Freedom Because of Choice" means that we can receive a certain amount of internal freedom because we have decided to make certain positive choices using our freewill.  

The Differences

The choices we make may be beneficial to ourselves and society, or they may not be.  We have the freedom to choose to hurt or to heal.  In the end, it's up to you.  Most people unfortunately view this freedom as a means to self-serve regardless of how it impacts others.  In the end most people end up becoming "slaves".  To name a few examples, people may find themselves bound to substance abuse, obsessive and compulsive behaviors, and ego-driven narcissism.  These habits and personality traits can be fostered largely from the choices one makes and can be largely detrimental from physiological, psychological and sociological standpoints.

Not to hurt, not to be secretive, not to be devious, not to inhibit ourselves or others through substance misuse and reckless behavior...  These hurts stay with us forever, whether physiological or psychological.  The negatives in life inhibit our internal freedom.  However, choosing to enrich, empower, encourage, build up: these are result that stem from good and noble (however you may define these) choices that will follow us for all of our days and act as "keyways" to our internal freedom.  We can make choices not only to help others, but to better ourselves so that we may become motivators to inspire wellbeing and hope, and in the end, inspire freedom.

In short, you have the freedom to choose to do whatever you want.  However, the impact of your choices will be with you for the rest of your life.

So I urge you to ask yourselves this: "What choices have I been making?  Do they improve the self (mind, body and spirit), and do they improve other's individual lives and the greater world around me?"  Stand back and seek for ways to make improvements today and everyday in order to clean out the negatives and residual hurts that come from making poor choices.  Instead, strive to make positive, informed choices that foster healthy minds, bodies, and a sense of overall wellbeing for you and for others.  

Always searching for the next Key Experience,

J. Brewer

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Nostalgic Tribute... old piece of writing that I dug out of my archives.  Thanks.

From a runner who intends to never, never, never stop his quest to become a stronger competitor, leader and believer in what it is he's doing....

From the early days of discovery on the trails and roads somewhere in the mid 90's, my love affair began with the sport of running.  Whether it was cross-country, track or simply free-running, it literally became a way of life for me.  One finds that you learn to breathe, eat, drink, think, and sleep running.  But most importantly, I find that you learn to dream big dreams. 

When Coach Randy Down introduced me to Paavo Running Camps, everything for me changed.  The Paavo program to me to new levels of psychology and physiology that I never new existed.  Upon my return from Paavo Camp West, I was truly a new and changed person.  I attribute a great part of who I am today to the Paavo program.  The challenges which we faced and the goals that we athletes achieved during those weeks have shaped our lives and continue (no doubt) to mold us into who we are becoming.  I learned what it takes to mold my character and to motivate and lead those individuals around me.  Without the experiences, concepts and belief systems that Paavo training allowed me to grasp, I believe that I would have never become the captain and teammate that I was in high school, nor would I have become the man who I am today.  I tip my hat to the Paavo staff and coaches, and to the runners who shared in those Key Experiences with me.  Today, as i go to do hill repeats in the summer heat and humidity, I will recall all of those moments that we runners of that long ago summer shared together as Paavo runners.

Always searching for the next Key Experience,
-J. Brewer