The remodeling project

“The idea that the harder you work, the better you’re going to be is just garbage. The greatest improvement is made by the man or woman who works most intelligently.” – Bill Bowerman, former Oregon track coach and co-founder of Nike

The past several weeks saw the return of the nagging ankle issues that prompted a long, painful setback last spring. But unlike last spring, I have an antidote.

It’s all part of the remodeling project I’m focused on during the winter months to make myself a better runner through several non-running strategies noted in my last post.

Note I am calling it a remodeling project. Not rehab or even a rebuilding project.

In the absence of fitness, endurance or a debilitating injury, I am remodeling my off-season training to improve myself as a runner.

When the ankle issues flared up again, and caused a bit of worry, I found my antidote by chance. Earlier this week, during a strength training session, my routine included some calf exercises. And nearly instant and drastic improvement. Not perfect, but a 70 percent improvement – before I had even left the gym.

All the more reinforcement for me that a remodeling project – to address weaknesses – is the perfect plan for the winter. Along with a steady diet of 15-mile weekend long runs.

What’s different

“If you want to become the best runner that you can be, start now. Don’t spend the rest of your life wondering if you can do it.” – Priscilla Welch

Lately, my mind flips to a singular question every time I run.

What’s different about the off-season this time?

For the past few weeks, I’ve pondered the answer as the winter months present both challenges and opportunities. The challenges include addressing weaknesses, adjusting habits and routines, and preventing burn out. The opportunity to build myself as a better runner comes in the form of an off-season program addressing those challenges.

In past winters, I’ve maintained my running frequency, with little variation in the workouts. Day after day I logged the miles, and at times found the motivation and discipline for speed work in the spring. Mostly, my finishing times were decent, but I always felt like there was something more I could do.

This past reminds me of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

What will it take to find that breakthrough, one defined by a personal best and a new level of fitness? The answer lies somewhere in better nutrition, strength training, cross training and specialized workouts to improve speed and fitness. It also helps to find ways to make running fun through the winter doldrums.

For those in Fargo, all runners are welcome to start at 6:15 p.m. Thursday from the Downtown Y for a group run. The route includes a loop through the Lindenwood Holiday Lights display. An after-run gathering for food and cheer expected in a downtown establishment.

Another option will be the Ugly Sweater Run set for Saturday in Hillsboro, N.D. The weather forecast looks decent, and the event sounds like a hoot. Both events, along with several in 2015, are listed on my race calendar.

The breakfast run

“Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle.” – Wilma Rudolph

Driving east of town, a heavy fog blanketed the highway. The next few hours would be simple as they get: one foot in front of the other, mile after mile.

By the time I arrived at the parking lot to meet Tim, I had guzzled a tall dark roast. For good measure, I swallowed half of a 5 Hour Energy. My hope was the clothes I wore would be enough for a mid-December run.

Some runs are simply different. This one would be one of those.

These gravel roads had been the course for dozens of runs. The hills had earned names. This time, though, Tim offered up an alternate route, an idea that I was more than eager to try.

As we ran, I felt the strength of my New York City training. Over the past few weeks, I’d worked to maintain the endurance and fitness from months of early morning miles.

The first hill proved steep. Breath-taking. The downside allowed my legs to turn over quickly as gravity controlled the pace. The next incline offered a long, gradual climb. Then a bunch of rolling hills past the egg farms.

But I couldn’t run here without giving a name to the loop. If nothing else, naming these hills were proof that they had been conquered. To Tim, I declared these hills as the over-easy loop – cooked on the outside, gooey on the inside – for the way my legs felt afterward.

Of course, we still had the bacon loop ahead of us. Several years ago, I dubbed another set of rolling hills here for resembling cooked bacon.

In the end, though, the names of hills and routes aren’t important. Instead, the challenge of running, and the camaraderie of sharing it with a friend, is what brings me back to the hills every chance I get. To celebrate, we headed into town and ate at the local cafe – where I promptly ordered eggs and bacon to commemorate the experience.