Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thinking Outside the Box

When I was writing my book, I got to sit down with some truly amazing individuals, from athletes to coaches. Lorraine Moller, Colleen Cannon and Diane Israel were just three of the exceptional people I interviewed. I loved the way that they challenged my thinking. Since my book focuses on my recovery from anorexia, our discussions centered around their experiences, struggles and thoughts on the matter. Despite anorexia being an intensely depressing subject, I had a blast interviewing Colleen, who never went down the all too common road of self starvation as an athlete. In fact, I would say that her story was pretty much the opposite of mine.

When I went to BYU my first year of college, there were three girls from Ireland on the team. These girls were solid in every sense of the word. They were mentally tough, physically sound and definitely not the average waif-like runner that was so prevalent in the 80's. In cross country, I was running 4th on the team. There was Jill, the three Irish girls, and then I was not far behind. The transition from always being in the lead to being 4th on a team was a hard one- big fish in a small pond to the opposite, no doubt. However, I was more focused on the fact that I was the youngest of the group and running well, despite no longer being number one on a team. The great thing about my coach at the time was that he never gave the girls a hard time about weight. On of the girls was quite a bit bigger than the rest of us, but what could he say? She was running well, so he just told her to keep training and let her weight do what it would.

Colleen is someone who has to be admired for not only being among the best triathletes in the world at one time, but for standing her ground when it comes to weight. Her coaches told her many times to lose weight and even tried to have her banned from the ice cream shop, but her solution and maybe even retaliation was to run well anyway. She broke a school record in the mile after refusing to mess around with diets, and then went on to become ranked 3rd in the world in the triathlon at one time. In the past, there was this ridiculous notion that being thin will make you a better runner- the thinner you are the faster you will run type mentality. It's as silly as thinking wearing a certain shoe will make you faster. I can't tell you the number of times when I was in high school, what I was wearing on my feet became a topic of discussion, as if it had anything to do with why I was running well. I do understand that if you're obese, chances are you're not going to be breaking any records on the track, but I'm talking within the normal range of weight for people here. Bobby McGee has trained all kinds of athletes of all shapes and sizes. What's more important in training than weight or shoes to him is knowing how to train for your body type. For example, one runner Bobby coached was a pretty heavy lady. Her body couldn't take lots of extra miles, so her workouts were more about speed and plyometrics. She also ran exceptionally well, despite not quite fitting the mold. If I remember correctly, she ran a 5:19 mile in high school under his coaching.

In my own experiences, I ran much better at a heavier weight. I broke all my course and school records my senior year when I was 8-10 pounds heavier than the year before. My running well had less to do with being thin, and more to do with how I was training. Plus, I had years of repressed anger that was a huge motivation at the time. Running to me was a big FUUUUUCCCKKK YOU!! to the world. I was angry. Fortunately, I eventually moved past that stage and was able to train in a more healthy state of mind and body, but in the beginning, all that anger and resentment pushed me quite far. What I'm getting at is that I had a purpose with it. Lorraine used to say that when we have a purpose- running to support a cause, get over a relationship ending or keep a place on a team- we will usually run better.

Of course now that I have said all this, I'll have to go into other things that improve performance.

Obviously running burns calories. Often runners are naturally thinner, because so much energy is used up running. But being thin doesn't naturally lead to being a better runner. It's true that V02 max will increase as extra fat drops off the body, but V02 max isn't the only thing that contributes to better performance. And this is only true up to a certain point, because once you drop too much weight, V02 max will not only not improve, but your body will start breaking down muscle to get the nutrients and energy it needs if those nutrients aren't coming in from outside sources. But weight, and really more fat percentage, is only one part of what contributes to a better V02 max. Testosterone, but not estrogen, will promote the production of hemoglobin. Testosterone also increases the concentration of red blood cells in the blood, while estrogen again has no effect. Generally speaking, metabolism and a lower fat level in the body can help improve performance, but this combination of factors really is only one aspect of better running.

V02 max aside, running well also has to do with being sound and efficient. It was found that people with a longer stride and those who were more efficient generally ran faster. There's something to be said about good form. I know that my performance improved tremendously when I worked on my form. I actually had horrible form for a runner, but once I started working on it, my times improved. Anyone who is genetically blessed will have an advantage, and in terms of body type, it's quite possible that I was. Running was in my genes, in my blood. In fact, my grandfather was a marathoner way back when leather shoes were still used for running! In the end, running or racing well has to do with genetics, a certin mind-set, the ability to utilize oxygen in the body well and good form. I think of race horses and how a certain kind of breeding makes the best racers. Ha- I wonder how that would work for humans! Yikes..

Hard work and dedication combined with sensible training will get anyone far, but to be among the best, there has to be a fire within, a passion for the sport and competition. I loved to race. I absolutely loved to test my limits mentally and physically, even though, like most people, there was a fair amount of fear to overcome every time I stepped to the start line. I'm no longer in that place, though I am having fun pushing certain barriers. Still, it's worlds apart from where I was when I was at my best, and I'm generally OK with that.

Grandpa Brittin

Now for my sad little "running" update part of the post:

I've been increasing a little bit. I have no idea when I will be able to really train running, but I've done a few 40 minute runs this week. Because I'm still limping just a bit though, I have to watch my knee and other body parts. Fortunately, I was issued a few more weeks of rehab starting next week. Woot! I did forget to mention to the doctor that I still have the nerve damage funky feeling going on, but I'll take that over what was going on before any day. Plus, I don't really want a shot in my foot after all it has been through. I think I'll let it go and hope that it keeps ever so slowly getting better. There's a part of me that really wants to run. I'm amazed that I ran the way things were before. It's hard to imagine now. And wow- less pain in life is an awesome thing! Go figure.