“Getting fit is quite simple really, run fast then run slow and repeat…. a lot.”
– Matt Hughes, Olympic steeplechaser.
I think one of the things that people can find confusing about runners is their tolerance for repetition.
Some runners will run the same route on a weekly basis for years in a row. Other runners will run repeats on indoor and outdoor tracks. On Sunday, I did three laps of a route where I’ve probably logged hundreds of kilometers. I’ll probably end up running thousands of kilometers there - since I haven’t worn out the trails yet.
Starting out, runners might do run-walk cycles. We do repeats as part of workouts. A ten-mile workout might happen entirely on a track, repeating the loop forty times in total. We repeat training blocks and periods. We regularly run routes we’ve ran before. We’ll repeat races; I’m planning on toeing the line at one race for the fifth year in a row. And some real masochists will run for 24-hours or more on courses less than a kilometer in length. All this is pretty mystifying to people outside of the sport.
Well, I think we’d be lying if we said we didn’t get bored at times. But in order to be successful, at some level of description, runners need to embrace repetition. This isn’t something unique to running, though.
I play the guitar and banjo, and getting better at music requires repetition too. You repeat scales, chord transitions, picking techniques and songs. You start slow, and build new connections between your brain and your hands. And there’s a similar kind of development in education: I used to teach logic, and one of the more helpful things for students to do is to regularly practice exercises. So if you’ve been a student, a musician, or athlete in another kind of sport, I think you might have a way into understanding the kind of approach it takes to embrace repeating a task in running.
There’s some variation and progression to be sure, but at the right level of abstraction it begins to form patterns. And really, as that quote from Matt Hughes says, getting fit (for running) requires repeating… a lot.
So you have to embrace repetition if you’re going to be in this sport. But how do you embrace repetition?
Well, you think about what it allows you to do. You find aspects of the process that you enjoy. And, in my case, you find places that allow you to do what you need to do, and where you enjoy being. Segmenting is a classic trick for races that also works well with repetitive tasks: you break long series of repetitions into smaller chunks and focus on the chunk at hand. Working with good people helps the repetition pass by and generates accountability, and some of the time turning the work into a game with rewards makes it playful and fun.
There’s something freeing in not worrying about where it is you’ll go or what you’re doing. When I’m running in Huron Natural Area I really don’t look at my watch because I know how many laps I’ve done, and how far it ends up being in distance. When I know my workout is a dozen hill repeats or 1km repeats on a track, I can focus on other aspects of the task at hand.
Much more can be said about the psychology of embracing repetition. The strategies I described above work for running and other repetitive tasks that help to move us towards our goals, like say, a job search, or developing musical skills.
Or well, writing for this blog. I promise I won’t repeat posts though. Or, at least not any time soon. I am going to use this piece as a launching off point for a series of posts. Having a themed series helps structure brainstorming and the early stages of the writing process.
Among the things that I found really valuable from other run bloggers are race, run, and route reports. Since it’s well before my racing season, and what I’m focussing on right now in my running involves lots of repetition, it’s where my mind is at for brainstorming about blog posts. Repetitions is going to be a series about places and routes where I end up doing a lot of repeats. The focus will be on what I like about these places, and what I do while I’m there.
Here are few of the places I have in mind: Huron Natural Area, McLennan Park (Mount Trashmore), Bechtel Park, Breithaupt Park, Waterloo Memorial Recreational Center, Coronation Park, Milkman’s Lane, Tommy Thompson Park, Wilmot Line, and more. This won’t be a weekly series: I mean to have more variety in posts than that. But if you see a post with Repetitions in the title you’ll know what to expect. I’m going to make a point of taking some photos on my next workout, and I’ll likely have the first post of the series up next week.
I think it’ll helpful for me to talk about these places; it will help to rebuild my excitement for running this year, and also to be nostalgic and thankful for some of the places I’ve left behind.
And really I’m hoping that it may be of use to you.
Every now and again, I may share what I’m thinking about involving running - since I can only talk Steph and Mira’s ears off so much.
In addition to Repetitions, I have some other series in mind, such as interviews with runners and race directors. I think I’m going to refrain from gear reviews for the time being. In order to do it right, I’d want to go as in depth as DC Rainmaker or Solereview, but maybe I’ll make a running news post a thing? It’s been relatively quiet in Ontario, but I’ll definitely tailor these to more local things.
Things are looking really exciting for women’s distance running in Canada - did you see that Gabriela Stafford set a new Canadian record of 14:57 for the indoor 5km? And that it was her debut 5km? From what I was reading, she’s still planning on focussing on the 1500m, with the hopes of going sub-4, but I’m excited to follow her progression into 2020.
On the ultra side of things, the Bandera 100km went down over the weekend. I think the most exciting news was Kathryn Drew’s third place finish that seemed to shock a lot of folks. There are a lot of really strong runners training in the Vancouver area, so it’s nice to see success against a very deep field of women. Speaking of Vancouver, Rob Watson set the goal of racing at Chuckanut 50km - it’s always interesting to follow how a fast road runner adapts to trails.
I’m kind of sad to miss out on this race, but I’ve got other plans for the early spring season. Pick Your Poison sold out both the 12.5km and 25km distances nice and early this year. Wonderful course and well organized, with ~440m of ascent and descent per loop. There are still spots for the 50km race, but that’s not the sort of running I’m looking to do in April.
If you’re reading, I’m curious what other things you’re reading - running or otherwise. On my front, I’ve just started David and Megan Roche’s The Happy Runner. I’m going to spend some more time with it, before talking about it in full. It’s relentlessly positive in an endearing sort of way, and I’m really enjoying the inclusion of anecdotes and personal stories.