Dear Younger Me: Chris Walden

Dear Younger Chris, 

I am future you. If you are thinking about getting serious about running, obey these laws, and you will do great.

Ten Directives

1. Enjoy Running

Running is not for everyone. People enjoy running for a number of reasons, find your reasons. This sport has a lot to offer and has about the widest accessibility of any. A 90's running shoe ad put it well "There are clubs you can't belong to, neighborhoods you can't live in, schools you can't get into, but the roads are always open." The simplicity of the venture makes it easy to enjoy the process of improving. The watch doesn't lie; your self enhancement is easily quantified. Unlike many other sports you can continue to polish your skill late into life. Running provides health and community through life. Yet life is very short and precious. Even with its access I cede running is not something everyone finds joy in. If you are not looking forward to your run each day, either see if you can change something to make it fun, or reassess if running is for you. Whatever brings you joy, make your enjoyment contagious, positivity breeds positivity.

2. 80%

Business folk refer to this as the 'Pareto Principle': 80% of sales come from 20% of clients, 20% of the living room floor gets 80% of the wear, 80% of the land is owned by 20% of the people, etc. How does this apply to running? 

It might sound crazy, but do not exceed 80% of maximum effort in workouts. Reaching beyond 80% the risk of injury spikes way up and the benefits are marginal. It is better to just put in a solid effort day in and day out. Take baby incremental steps and maintain your health. Suffering an injury for several weeks or even a couple days can be fatal. 80% workouts ensures consistent training in the long term, and avoids the 'good workout/bad workout' yo-yo pattern. It also ensures running your best on race day. Do not leave your best at the practice track.

3. Little Things

I often hear people talk about doing the "little things": stretching, core, diet, having that chocolate milk and banana ready after every run, recovery, sleep, and basically anything accessory to running. Referring to them as little, belittles actions that are actually quite important. Such slander makes it seem like you do not have to do them or they can be cut out. While each of those "little things" may only provide marginal benefits individually, when taken in aggregate these "things" amount to something quite large. Turn this around to your advantage think of these "little things" as "BIG things." Do the big things. Eat right. Do your core. Do your strides. Get to bed. The list goes on, get it all done, no shortcuts, no excuses.

4. Listen to the Body, with an attentive Mind

The connection between the mind and body is an important tool for a runner. Like a blade this tool can be honed, sharpened, and strengthened to grant an edge. I can only partly explain this body-mind connection, because 1) we do not yet understand it fully 2) it is in part beyond words 3) I can only be sure of what is going on my own head. 

In physiological terms, this connection is the nervous system. Networks of neurons weave through out the body to transmit signals between the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. By focusing your awareness towards your nervous system daily, neural networks grow and become better at signaling. Become hypersensitive to these signals. This connection can keep getting stronger year after year; just like capillary building for increased blood transportation and aerobic capacity. 

Listen for each heart stroke, try and feel your blood pump from within, feel each and every blood vessel throughout your whole body. Listen for each breath, feel the oxygen-rich air rush in providing fuel to convert to energy. Feel your diaphragm expelling the waste to make way for more clean air. Try listening to the heart and lungs while sitting. Once aware of these signals idle, try adding in a light jog now listening to each step, is the whole body complex giving you what you expect? Are your feet catching you softly? Are your glutes giving you power? Are your hips as mobile as they need to be? Is your core engaged? Is your arm carriage efficient? Do any muscles, tendons, or bones feel damaged? Increase your awareness of every piece of the machine you've been given to work with. With your mind gain supreme control of the body, usurp command of actions that at other times might be involuntary. Be attentive to the interplay of the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems at different paces: jogging, the threshold of oxygen consumption, sprinting. Learn to read this signal. 

Be aware of how you feel based on how much sleep and what fuel has gone into the body in the last 48 hours. Log these details.

5. Make Wise Choices

We are all constantly in a process of transformation, you were not the same person you were moments ago, and you will not be the same person moments from now. Some of this transformation is out of our control: aging, growing, repairing damaged cells, circumstances surrounding birth. Much of the transformation is under our control by the choices we make. Every choice made either leads to your progress or is in opposition to it. If you are not getting better, you are getting worse. It is not just the choices made from 3-5pm August-October. It is the choices 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, year after year. Everyone works hard at practice, it is what you do while not at practice and not in season where the difference is made. Some of the choices you are making right now, might be out of habit, and could be hurting you. Be aware and ask yourself often "Is this the best course action to reach my desires?"

6. 20 minutes

The 20 minute rule is to be applied on meet day. Following a performance good or bad, you as an athlete get roughly 20 minutes to feel some type of way, after that you have to put it behind you and look forward. If you won the day, you can bet those who didn't are already plotting how to knock you off. If you lost, getting upset or wallowing in defeat is only getting in the way of your progress; find the silver lining and move on. Outside of those 20 minutes, you have to be pretty emotionless, you can not get too up or down about anything, even keeled, working towards your improvement.

7. The Worse, The Better

If conditions surrounding a competition are less than ideal, it can be easy to fall into negative thinking. "It is too muddy or windy to run fast", "I am cold and uncomfortable I can't run well" Realize the conditions of the race are out of your control and will be exactly the same for everyone. If anything poor conditions are an advantage to those who know this secret because it will only get in their competitors heads and not their own.

8. Expect Low, Aspire High

Expectations are a fickle thing, one must mind them carefully. The higher an expectation is set, the higher the chance of falling short of that expectation. Where setting low expectations means one can be constantly exceeding expectations, and avoid a sustained feeling of discontent. Careful though, exceeding a low expectation can also mean low achievement, so these low expectations must be coupled with high aspirations. If you aspire high and fall short you can still relish in smashing what you expected. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

9. Believe

No matter what, you have to believe in what you are doing, believe in yourself, and believe in those around you. Few have triumphed going in with thoughts like "I have a bad coach", "I have bad training", "I have not prepared well" NO they are thinking thoughts like "I have the best coaches", "I have had the best training", "I've done everything to prepare" And not only are champions thinking thoughts like these on the line, but in the many moments leading up to the performance. All great human achievements happened in a mind before ever manifesting in reality. Visualize your future success often. If you come to the line without having bought in or believing you have already lost.

10. Save Your Best for Last

You can not go to the well every race. Definitely get in there and compete hard in earlier contests, race instincts must be developed and that can not happen going through the motions. The bottom of your well must be saved for those 1 or 2 races a year where you really want to do your best. That final gear, that fit of rage, that big adrenaline jolt, must be harnessed and savored for that critical moment you've visualized often.