Heading into Mile 10 of Monday’s Boston Marathon I knew I was in trouble. Despite starting with a bottle in hand and dumping water on myself at every available opportunity, I was roasting in the middle of the road. If there was a tailwind, I didn’t feel it. My pace was starting to slow, the 71-degree temperature taking its toll and punishing me for my early aggressiveness. My training told me I had close to 2:30 fitness in my legs but truth be told it wasn’t a 2:30 type of day for me given the warm weather conditions. I knew this when I stepped into the corral of course, and should have been more respectful of that fact, but I went out at 2:30 pace anyway—like an idiot. And I paid for it. Mightily. My A, B and C goals went out the window pretty quickly and I went into straight-up survival mode. I spent the entire last 16 miles of the race figuring out how I was going to make it to the finish line. In racing, as in life, you decide how to play the hand you’re dealt. Everyone was dealt theirs from the same deck yesterday. I didn’t play my cards right and got myself into a hole very early on in the race. My two options were to fold or find a way out of it. I chose the latter. Why? There were a number of reasons:
“[World-class performance] comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours or deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.” If you haven’t read the book, check out this excerpt from Alex Soojung-Kim Pong’s excellent REST: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, which addresses deep work, deliberate practice, and—as the title suggests—the importance of taking deliberate rest breaks, all topics I’ve touched on previously in the morning shakeout (here and here if you missed ’em the first time around). What’s great about this book is that it doesn’t discount putting in the time necessary to achieve success in a given field; rather, it acknowledges the importance of working hard while emphasizing that hard work is focused work that needs to be supported by an appropriate amount of rest to truly be effective. This applies to creative folks such as writers and musicians but also scientists, business leaders, politicians and—although not addressed in the book—athletes (especially runners)! In a world where those who do more are celebrated for the mere fact that they’re doing more than everyone else, this read is a good and necessary reminder that it’s not about how many hours you work or the number of miles you run in a week—it’s what you do with those hours (or miles) and how you rest your mind and body when you’re not working (or training) so you can absorb and take advantage of the work you’re putting in. “Deliberate practice is an effortful activity that can only be sustained for a limited time each day,” wrote Karl Anders Ericsson in a study of violin students Soojung-Kim Pong references in the excerpt (the same study Malcolm Gladwell based his 10,000 “rule” on in the book, Outliers).
Pure, unadulterated racing that takes place in an intimate, spectator-friendly venue with teams of runners battling it out in front of rabid fans for every last point sounds pretty damn appealing, right? Too bad this exciting discipline I’m describing is practically extinct at the professional level.
As a middle-distance runner for Great Britain, Colin McCourt represented his country in international championship competition and notched world-class times of 3:37.06 in the 1500 meters and 1:46.72 for 800 meters. After failing to make GB’s Olympic team in 2012, McCourt retired from professional athletics and started working full-time. Over the next five years he gained over 50 pounds, topping out at 207 (94 kg) just a few months ago.
Earlier this year, McCourt was forced into a bet by 17 of his friends: break 16 minutes for 5K—an average pace of 5:08 per mile—by the end of 2017, or tattoo each of their names to his body. In January, he ran 24 minutes at a parkrun 5K near his home and started running regularly again. To date, he’s dropped 35 pounds (16 kg), posting daily video updates to his Instagram account and blogging about his journey on Athletics Weekly’s website. He recently started sharing his daily training on Strava. I caught up with McCourt last week to talk about the bet he has going with his buddies, the biggest keys to his weight-loss success thus far, the similarities between his journey as a professional athlete and a self-described “normal geezer who is out there grinding, trying to just lose weight so he can run around with his kid and not get 17 tattoos on him,” the unique connection he shares with his followers on social media, and much more.
If I were a betting man, I’d put money down that athletics is on the verge of its next major mess.
While none of the accusations that came out last weekend against coach Alberto Salazar are new, surprising or conclusive, they were, however, indicative that the investigation into Salazar’s questionable supplementing practices are far from over—and, if anything, might even be a step closer to showing that ethical (and even legal) lines may have been crossed on multiple occasions.
— If you can successfully navigate the annoying pop-ups and blinking banner ads, check out Alex Hutchinson’s most recent piece for Runner’s World on Nike’s Breaking2 project. He provides a solid update on the athletes involved and some good insight into how they’re preparing for the “marathon moonshot” that will take place at a yet-to-be-announced place and date. I found the assessment of Lelisa Desisa particularly interesting—and I’m not just talking about the 200+ mile training weeks! “I asked the team more about what they’d seen in Desisa, and they said that his lab numbers—VO2 max, lactate profile, running economy—were particularly good,” Hutchinson writes. “In fact, no matter what criteria they used to rank their various contenders, Desisa was always in the top three—something that not even Kipchoge could match. But there was also an intangible element. Watching him run in the initial tests, Kirby recalled, ‘he portrayed confidence and strength.’ He seemed like someone willing to undergo challenges, and who would respond well to those challenges.” Despite regular dispatches from Hutchinson and Wired’s Ed Caesar, both of whom have exclusive access to the athletes and scientists involved, I’ve been a little perplexed by the lack of organic buzz Nike has generated since the announcement of the attempt. But fear not, I’m told by multiple sources close to the project that the Swoosh-driven marketing machine is getting set to kick things into high gear in the not-too-distant future. Note: I’m still having a hard time getting excited by the attempt itself but I am enjoying the stories Hutchinson and Caesar are telling about the athletes, where they come from, how they’re preparing and what they’re like when not tearing down the road at 4:40 per mile pace.