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Improvement: Distance Perception

December 9, 2010

In my last post I wrote about how people’s preconceived notions of their performance could possibly hold them back, and how I feel that “slow”, when taken in context of their own running life, doesn’t make sense.

Before looking at my concept of Distance Perception, we need to know what perception is, specifically:

Perception:

NOUN:

  1. The process, act, or faculty of perceiving.
  2. Recognition and interpretation of sensory stimuli based chiefly on memory.

I have always been afraid of heights, or “acrophobia”. I don’t know where this started, but somewhere in my memory, my perception of heights became ingrained as something that should be feared. I always felt like I was going to fall off of a high place and go “SPLAT!”. Truly Terrifying!

Five years ago, my friend and I visited Europe, and while in Paris decided to visit the Eiffel Tower. Little did I know that the Eiffel Tower really is a huge, gracefully sculpted, beautiful form of scaffolding!

To get to the top, a visitor must go up three levels. My journey to the top began on an elevator that took me to the first observation level. What happened next began one of the most terrifying instances of acrophobia that I had ever experienced. I litterally became stuck in place on the observation deck. I told my friend Jane to continue to the top.

I was literally frozen to the spot! I couldn’t move. My perception of what I felt would happen to me kept me from continuing up to the top. But here I was in Paris, and I was committed to getting to the top of this thing! So, I counted down from 10, and made my way to the elevator. After a couple of excruciating minutes of climbing in the elevator, I made it to the top of the Tower. I had made it! But now was a huge test. Terrified, I forced myself to go to the edge, and look over! This was extremely scary, but I took my camera, pointed it down vertically, and took several shots. Then I made my way down. I had done it!

So what had happened with my perception of heights? It had shifted a bit, mind you not entirely, but now I knew that, of course, I wasn’t going to fall off of the Eiffel Tower!

Distance Perception:

So what is “distance perception”? Distance Perception is the mindset of a runner as to:

1.) How far they can go

2.) How a distance may be “too far”

3.) How a distance may be “too easy”

Keeping in mind that distance perception is partly a function of memory, often times runners perceive their limits based upon the memory of what they HAVE done already. There is no knowledge of anything farther than this, because there is no EXPERIENCE of it.

Case in point, if you asked me a few years ago if I would ever complete a 100 mile race, I would’ve laughed in your face! (Not at you, mind you, but at the notion.) Now, I’ve done it!

So what has happened in my experience? My “distance perception” has completely shifted. I now know that I can handle any distance from a 100 meter race to a 100 mile race. This is pretty great for me, now, as a runner, as I know what the challenges are that face me across this broad range of distances, and that they can be handled.

Three years ago, I trained a group of beginning runners. The goal was to run a 4 mile race,  4 months down the road. I told them at the first workout that they would “run one minute, walk one minute, then run one minute”. They looked at me like I was an alien with 5 heads! “How would they ever do this?” “Its too much!!!!”

I told them that in a couple of weeks, they would look back on this workout and realize that it was a cinch compared to what they would be doing. And guess what? It was true! They told me a few weeks down the road, when they were running 6 minutes, walking for 2 mins, and running for 6 mins that the first workout would now be a breeze.

The Shift:

What happened was that they experienced a ‘shift’ in their perception of how far they could run, hence a shift in their distance perception. They now knew that they could go farther and farther each time. Their perception of distance shifted from one of a barrier, to one of now knowing they could keep improving.

How to increase and improve distance perception:

The first step is to set a goal of how far you want to go. For example, do you want to run your first 5-k race? Do you want to run a marathon for the first time? Do you want to accomplish finishing an ultramarathon?

You may notice that you have an automatice perception of what this distance is about. For example, words like “far” or “too hard”, or even “attainable” may come to mind.

Then, you need to figure out a training time to accomplish this distance in. Four months down the road? a year? Its based on your comfort level, and also corresponding with a coach like myself. 😉

Then, its all about working towards it in increments. Again, a good talk and plan with a coach is a great way to work this out. 🙂

Then…..

Once you’ve accomplished the distance, notice the shift in your perception! You did it!

So, when trying to improve, note your perception of the distance, and know that it is attainable given the proper work ethic and plan.

Next, I’ll tackle the concept of Effort Perception.

 

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Slow? Not so Fast!!!

December 7, 2010

“I’m slow.”

As one of the Speed and Form coaches for RunUrban, this is the number one comment I get from people when they have apprehension about signing up for our program. After hearing this several times, it began to seem like a phenomenon was taking place. Why were so many people thinking that they were slow? As a result of this question, more popped into my head, such as “Slower than who?” Doesn’t there have to be some kind of qualitative marker here for a statement like that to come up? And “Why do they feel this way at all?”

Also, it began me thinking about myself and other individuals. Hold the phone! I can run a 2:55 marathon, so I’m faster than some but I’m slower than a lot of people. In addition, a person who can run a 4 hour marathon is slower than a lot of people, but faster than thousands of other runners.

I realized that this feeling of many people about themselves was a hurdle for them, and quite possibly was a hurdle that had kept them from taking on bigger running challenges. It most certainly, in my mind, kept them from exploring what was possible for them and their fitness. I recognized it as a challenge to me personally, because I’m interested in seeing people move forward, not get stopped before they’ve even started.

Delving deeper, I feel that quite possibly the culprit in a person thinking that they are “slow” is cultural in nature. They wouldn’t think they were “slow” unless they were told that by something in society. I feel that the symptoms of this drawnback feeling are the media, advertisements, or super crazy fit people who already experienced runners flying by novice runners on the the many running paths in New York City. Also, a runner may look at the top racers in the World, whom make up approximately .001 percent of the Running community, and simply become overwhelmed. “How am I ever going to be like that guy/woman?”

And, of course something more insidious than this…the overarching, unbelieveably competitive nature of the City and Nation that we live in.

And herein lies the dilema…we are so jam packed with competition around us for everything: the last seat in the subway train, the best food in the Supermarket, and the, don’t even get me started, airbrushed photographs of crazy beautiful and perfect people in magazines (whom we aspire to look like), that one of the single most beautiful things about running is hidden from view: that of the ability to be excellent for OURSELVES and for no one else, if we so choose it to be that way.

A colleague of mine reported to me recently that in running a half-marathon, they came up to a bend in the course that turned 180 degrees and went back the other way.  They thought they were far back in the race. How shocked they must’ve been when they went around the turn and saw the thousands of people behind them on the course!

So it occurs to me that people should NOT let their preconceived notions of their current abilities stop them from reaching further. I dare say to reach out on a limb and make your running YOU time, no one elses.

Only when you start can you see how far you can go. That sounds really cliche but in a bare-bones way it is exactly true, and exactly what a person who thinks they are SLOW should understand, because guess what? You’re NOT SLOW!

My next post will deal with Distance Perception, and how it shift from being a barrier to a context for continued improvement.

🙂

Check out Coach Peter’s Blog!

December 6, 2010

Hi there! 

Here is the blog of my coaching partner, Peter Derby. Peter is an extremely experienced racer and coach. You can check out his running philosophies and ideas here:

http://marathonderby.blogspot.com

Thanks!

Leadville 100 Training blog: Propulsion Systems

December 6, 2010

CAUTION: If a runner decides to experiment with the workout described below, I would urge them to allow themselves to stop and WALK if their calves begin to feel sore. TAKE IT SLOW, and allow your body and legs to adapt!

Efficiency And Power

As a coach, I am interested in how to get my runners to move most efficiently over the ground, thus allowing them to run farther with less energy expenditure. As a performance runner, I am additionally interested in how to run with more speed.

Since the Oil Creek 100, I have been increasingly more interested in how to combine these two principles: efficiency and speed. The more efficient and powerful a runner can be, they will be able to travel farther, faster, with less energy expenditure and also, hopefully with less injury.

To this end, I have decided to experiment more than ever with footstrike and more specifically, how to move beyond my own limitations (up to this point) in terms of speed over distance.

Minimalist Footwear and Foot strike:

For the past year or so there has been much interest within the Running community in minimalist footwear. A lot has been said about the benefits of footwear build and its influence on where the wearer’s foot strikes the ground. The reason that this matters is that the load on the body is affected by where the foot strikes the ground. The three parts of the foot that can strike the ground fall into 3 general categories: forefoot, mid-foot, and heel. I use very minimal shoes (i.e. those without much of an out-sole/cushion). Minimal shoes allow the sensors in your feet to “come alive” and help the runner to feel the ground more. This helps the neuro-muscular system to understand when to leave the ground for more efficient running and less injuries. In general….less heal striking.

Components of a runner’s profile/Propulsion System:

My experiments have basically been on myself during my runs. The components that make up the runner’s running “profile”, or their Propulsion System, include the following:

1.) foot-strike: where the foot physically lands on the ground of the lead/driving leg

2.) knee lift: the height of the driving leg’s knee above the ground

3.) stride length: distance between the legs when both are near the ground.

4.) stride rate: the amount of foot strikes per minute; based upon studies, 180 foot strikes per minute is optimal

5.) leg “kickback”: the inside angle between the lower and upper legs of the trailing leg

6.) vertical oscillation: the vertical rise of the runner as a result of pushing off the ground. Gravity plays a part in that the more a runner vertically oscillates, they must fight gravity more.

The Run:

I used my 6 mile long run today to test these components. My calves were a bit sore from my run the day before. However, I decided to give it a shot.

For the last few years, I have mainly focused on a shorter stride length as a result of an increased stride rate. Also, I have been keen to attempt to avoid over-striding. Now I would attempt to see what happens by looking at adding new components of my profile.

I began my run with just focusing on my mid-foot strike. To see how the mid foot strike would relate to the heel strike, sometimes I would allow my stride to get “lazy” and let my legs relax. I noticed a major difference in the feel on my feet, in that my feet felt better when they were up on the midfoot.

Next, I decided to see what would happen when I raised my knees of the driving leg. I immediately noticed a MARKED difference in speed and particularly, power.

Finally, I added an increased kick-back of the lower leg, where the inside angle of the lower and upper trailing leg were decreased after kicking back.

Due to sore calves, I stopped and walked twice, and slowed down several times and reverted to a heel strike for short periods of time.

What are the results?

I have found somewhat surprisingly, that knee lift of the driving leg is the most important factor in the propulsion system, after which all other things are affected. Simply put, if I wanted to run faster, raising my knee caused all other components to fall in line.

Raising the knee of the lead/driving leg places the foot that is about to land in a natural position to land more on the midfoot, or if the runner chooses to, on the forefoot. There is no more strike on the heel! This has major implications in a wide range of injury prevention, including less knee pain, and possibly taking the load off of the hamstrings. The runner may see that their calves are now working harder, and the quads may also be more taxed due to the higher workload in raising the knee of the driving leg.

I was worried that my vertical oscillation would increase, however it did not by that much. This was also very telling and had large implications in the maintained efficiency of traveling across the earth.

Perhaps most importantly, and one of more easily felt results, of this new running style, is increased power output to the propulsion system in general. All of the components put together, in particular with a sustained stride rate of 180 footfalls per minute, combine to provide a very fast, smooth, and efficient running profile.

Prepping/maintaining strength for this new style:

A runner may want to look at strengthening their obliques and core when looking at pursuing a more powerful propulsion system. This is good for a runner to pursue as a whole.

Stretching the calves after each workout, and icing any part that is sore, is also crucial.

I will continue to explore these aspects of my own running profile in the months ahead. It will be particularly interesting to see how it translates during the Boston Marathon.

Thanks for reading! More to come!

Leadville 100-Training! Week 1

December 2, 2010

Hello Everyone!

(Prologue: I must start this off by thanking my awesome crew from the Oil Creek 100 which was my first 100 miler, this past October.  April, my Mom, and her friend Joyce were at every crew aid station possible for the 28 hours and 8 minutes of the race! They are undeniably unbelievable. April gets Awesome Chick of the Decade and my Mom wins the Lifetime Achievement Award for Parents! 🙂 Seriously, running through the dark and looking forward to seeing them, in addition to getting phone calls from them, really helped get me through in a HUGE way.)

This is my first post regarding my training for the Leadville 100 Ultramarathon. The race will be held August 18 in Leadville, Colorado. The Leadville 100 is one of the 4 Grand Slam ultras in the United States. It takes place at an altitude of approximately 10,000 feet and has an elevation gain of approximately 15,00o feet.

This is my second 100 mile race. One of the great byproducts of the Oil Creek race was the feedback I’ve gotten from people. It seems to have inspired people to reach and push their perceived boundaries. So, to that end, I decided to take on a second 100 mile race, to see if I could exceed the performance of my previous race, and also to continue to encourage other people to give it their all. When we show each other what can be done, beyond what we feel is already possible; that is an awesome shared experience and makes Life trully wonderful!

So, to that end, this blog will take on and look at some main ideas of ultra training:

1.) Effort and Distance Perception: These are two concepts of mine that I will explore, both in my own training and in that of the runners around me. I will explain these concepts in a later blog.

2.) Training and its effects.

3.) Philosophys/Ideas of training

4.) How running and distance training relate to the rest of life, both physically, and psychologically/emotionally.

5.) Ultra-running race strategies.

So, for the next 9 months, I will attempt to take on training on an elite level, while having a life, supporting my family and friends in their endeavors, and pursuing my other interests. I hope you enjoy this blog and find it fun, insightful, and hopefully inspiring!

In addition, I will be posting info about the blog of my coaching partner at the downtown Urban Athletics store, Peter Derby. You can check out our bios at http://www.urbanathleticsnyc.com.

Thanks for reading!

-Jim

Oil Creek 100 Mile Trail Ultramarathon – Race Report

October 19, 2010

Hello Everyone,

I’m really tired and REALLY sore!

First of all, thank you to everyone for your awesome support as I stepped into the “unknown” this weekend and took on the Oil Creek 100 trail run. All of your support has been really appreciated, and also thank you to those of you who provided technical assistance with my schedule, nutrition advice, etc. You know who you are! 🙂

Since so many of you wished me well and were wondering how it went, I created this race report, which is a recap of my experience. This includes what the Oil Creek series of races are; my summary of what it was to me, and a general recap.

Oil Creek 100 trail runs
The Oil Creek trail runs are a group of races that are held in Oil Creek State Park, located in Titusville, PA. The races held this past weekend were: 50k (31 miles); 100k (62 miles); and 100 miles.

http://www.oilcreek100.org

The backbone of the race consists of a single 50k loop, that is repeated depending on the race run. I ran the loop 3 times. followed by a 7 mile “heading home” loop.

The races are in their second year of existence.

Summary of experience (followed by more detail; so if you want just a quickie bit of info and don’t want to read on, you can just read the following info).

The best way to describe the 100 mile run that I did is this:
1.) Imagine two towns or cities that you know of that are 100 miles apart. For me, I can use Utica to Albany, + 10 miles = 100 miles
2.) Now imagine a single track trail that goes the entire distance.
3.) Now make it the rockiest trail that you have hiked on.
4.) Add roots
5.) Cover 3 and 4 above with leaves
6.) Add random mud puddles
7.) Take 18,000 feet of elevation gain. Spread this out amongst the course.

Let there be no mistake: This course is EXTREMELY difficult and technical. In fact, a runner who ran the race this year mentioned that it may be more difficult than the Leadville 100, which is one of the 4 Grand Slams of Ultrarunning. The race forced me to dig deeper than I ever have, and to focus on my core skill: pacing.

My finishing time: 28 hours, 8 minutes (seconds…..who cares! 🙂

This was VERY challenging, and as a result, extremely rewarding.

That was the race! *** Put simply, this was the most technically demanding, advanced course I have ever run, and is also the most physically challenging thing I have ever done. I finished!!!! It basically became all about that. Here’s why….

General Overview:

As I mentioned to many of you, I’ve enjoyed taking on the challenge of a 100 mile run. One of the reasons is that it helps me to connect with my runners, particularly those who are training for a marathon or for their first fitness challenge. It basically helped to “keep me real”.

I found the Oil Creek races online about 5 months ago. I signed up for it in July; I had been training though for a 100 mile race since January.

Goals:
My first goals were to finish the race within 24 hours. As my training progressed, I then thought that 18 hours was possible. So, I set my goals as:
1.) 18 hours; win the race (based upon my training pace and the winning time last year, which was 19:30.
2.) finish in 24 hours
3.) Finish!

As the race began Saturday morning at 5 am, I realized a couple of things right away. First. some of the runners went out like they were racing a street Marathon. I thought this was really odd considering we had 100 mles to go! So, as the race progressed a bit, I thought that maybe those people would come back to me. Some did, and some DEFINITELY did not. So my goal to win was not going to happen.

Moving through the first 15 miles, I felt really good. In fact I even picked up about 10 positions. I made it to aid station #2 in good spirits.

Then it happened.

The course basically introduced me to one of the most difficult-to-navigate and technical terrain I had ever encountered. The climb out of aid station #2 was so steep and unrelenting, I began to rethink everything. There would be no running for all of these steep inclines.

The general rule of ultramarathoning is to walk the uphills and run the straights and downhills. I was walking and hiking so much that I was welcoming the straight and level paths a lot!

Making it to aid station #3 seemed to take absolutely forever. This pattern would then be repeated throughout the race. (This is NOT road running!!!!). In fact this feeling of “forever” was exacerbated in the nighttime portions of the race. I also didn’t know the course, so the trails seemed to stretch on and on and I needed to get a feel for them, so the next time I came around, I would know what to do.

Near the end of the first 50-k loop, I tripped and fell right on my face. I laid there for several seconds, and was not really liking what was happening. In fact, at the end of the first 50-k loop, I was really demoralized. I even thought I would not finish. As I came into the race headquarters where my crew was (my Mom plus her friend, and April) I told them how demoralized I was.

The beginning of the Comeback!!!:

Rest of the race and readjustment:
I realized that I was putting immense pressure on myself. “I need to win”; “I need to do it in 18 hours.” “What will people think of me?” These thoughts I think are common among many runners, and, along with the tough terrain, were contributing to the race to become really rough.

As I neared 38 miles, suddenly I realized: The course was stripping me of all non-essential things; if I was going to get through this, I would have to buckle down, remove the non-essential thoughts in my head, and focus on my biggest single strength: my ability to bullishly pace myself for a long. long time. So, I cleared my head, and focused on running 10 minute miles for the next 6 miles. I credit this readjustment with helping me finish the race.

With trail running, a general suggestion to running downhills is to let the hill take you down. and just to follow gravity and have your hips over your feet. I took this suggestion and started to really fly down the trail at the downhill portions. I was super zoned in and was throwing abandon to the wind a bit. Definitely not a time to over think, or I would risk serious injury!

Coming down into aid Station #2 again, I felt awesome.

Leaving Aid station #2, I felt good and knew about the climb I had ahead of me.

From this point on, an injury that would stay with me for the rest of the race reared its ugly head: it turns out I tore a tendon in my right leg (behind my knee) and just thought that it was a strain. Where this happened, I don’t know. I also cramped up in my left knee and side of my left quad.

These forced me to walk about the next 10 miles to 15 miles; with some running in between. A fellow trail runner gave me some Excedrin which really helped a lot.

“On your left”:
One of the things I discovered about ultra runners is that for the most they’re all really polite and supportive. If you want to pass someone, you just say “on your left” and they’re let you pass, along with a “good job” comment. I was passed and I passed other people, and this happened almost every time. Really great! Very nice people indeed.

The Rest of the Race:
The remained of the race saw me running/shuffling/walking/hiking the next 50 miles. My right leg’s range of motion was pretty much gone. and when I did run on the small amount of pavement it was dragging on the ground. It was like my good leg (my left one which no longer hurt constantly) was leading my bad leg.

My goals had been stripped raw down to just finishing; and this became just fine with me! I thought I had a shot at 24 hours, but the sheer extreme difficulty of the course kept me at about 3.5-4 miles per hour. So, I saw 24 hours becoming not possible with about 20 miles to go.

Nightime running:
My headlamp saved me! The woods were pitch black. I thought that this would freak me out, but the woods were pretty quiet and peaceful with random small animals making sounds and the wind in the trees. Also, I was so tired I no longer really cared about being scared! Interestingly enough, I ran at night twice in this race, and also saw the sun come up twice. That’s when you know you’ve been out there a LONG time.

High points and low points:

I predicted before the race that with a race of this distance, I would probably have 4 really high points and 4 really low points. This prediction turned out to be pretty accurate. Case in point, when I came into the final aid station at mile 93, I had 7 more miles to go. I have to admit, I almost broke down and quit right there. The thought of taking on this behemoth of a course for 7 more miles was not too fun. But, 10 minutes later, after telling my crew for the 3rd time that “I’m going to finish this thing”, I walked outside and just started to walk, and then do my draggy-shuffle run. Safe to say, most of my running technique was cooked!

They saved the “best” for last!
At mile 97, I was confronted by a switch-back hill so steep and long, I found myself on the phone with April (there was spotty connection throughout the park) things like “who would design a course that would do this to someone?” It felt very masochistic to me. In effect, as I was just glorified-hiking this hill, I did think to myself “who could run this hill?”. I just had to get through it.

The last 2 miles were really long.

The last mile was the longest mile of my life.

As I started down the last mile (mile 99), the girls manning the checkpoint looked over at me curiously as I started one of the strangest shuffle gaits I have done. The tread on the bottle of my shoes make scuffing sounds as I could no longer really pick my feet up. It was indeed the “old man shuffle”!

As I approached 1/4 mile to go, I thought back on moments in my running life; I remembered the skinny kid who took up the mile in track because he like the speed of it; the 29 year old who was super-sedentary and had a wake up call to get back in shape; my training for this race; and the runners who I’ve coached and have enjoyed seeing them reach for their potential.

I began to bawl, and I did this right through the finish.

My Mom, her friend, and April were there to great me as I came in. They were there at every single Aid Station, and I credit my ability to keep going largely to them! The race director, Tom, came out to congratulate me.I had done it! I had completed 100 miles of super tough terrain. My dream had come true, and I was a better runner (and person, hopefully 🙂 ) for it!

Summary:
– The Oil Creek 100 could quite possibly be one of the most difficult ultra-distance trail runs in the U.S.
– A runner must develop their core “go to” skill. For some, its pacing; for others, speed. The list could go on.
– For rookie ultra runners, the emphasis should be on just finishing, and not worry or be too upset about time goals. (unless of course there is a time limit before the race ends!!!!) Emphasis should be on enjoying the process.
– Ultra running can be a transendental experience
– The ultra running community is very cool and full of great people! And the volunteers at the Aid stations and throughout make  a HUGE difference.

I hope you enjoyed this, and I hope that my experience gets you to think about your own next adventure!

-Jim

My Review of Manta 25 Backpack

August 30, 2010

Originally submitted at Rock Creek Outfitters

Winner of the coveted Gold Award from the Outdoor European trade fair, the Osprey Manta 25 is part of the new Osprey Hydraulics collection. A premiere hydration pack for light outdoor pursuits, the Manta has a lightweight design and unique drinking system that allows you to stay focused on your …

Manta 25 for Ultra/Trail Running

By Jim from Brooklyn, New York on 8/29/2010

 

5out of 5

Pros: Comfortable, Good Design, Easy Setup, Easy to Use

Best Uses: Backcountry

Describe Yourself: Avid Adventurer

What Is Your Gear Style: Comfort Driven

Was this a gift?: No

I am currently training for my first 100 mile race that will be taking place in mid-October. I have owned the Manta 25 for just a few days now. but have taken it on a 10 mile run with the bladder full of water, and a useful load in the hip pockets.
I have noticed right away that this bag has benefits over my CamelBak Octane 24, namely that it holds its strength and the side winching straps keep the load higher up on my back. The result is that the harnesses don’t slip down my back, and the load is held properly.
The bladder is SUPER EASY to fill and replace into the bad. Finally the mesh back is really good and provides true air-flow, which is comfort for my back!

(legalese)