Matt Wisner wrote a very honest blog. In this column, he talks about the challenges of training outside of the team structure. It was honest, fun, and true to form. When one has that kind of private time, introspection is a real part of the daily runs. It is how I became a writer.
Enjoy this column by Matt Wisner.
Matt Wisner wants to run fast in 2022, so he had to train over the holidays, and it sucked, photo from Matt Wisner
Running over the holidays sucks so bad.
Training at home is always terrible but it’s also taught me a lot of important lessons. Apparently it’s terrible for a lot of other people too.
By Matt Wisner
At the beginning of December I boarded a plane and headed east to visit my family for Christmas. I was in Pennsylvania for three weeks, and because I want to be fast this winter, it was important that I take my training seriously. Of course it sucked so bad. It does every year.
When I’m at home I have to run on my own a lot. At first it’s nice, a needed reprieve from running with teammates every day for months. I let my mind meander and sometimes that meandering brings me to my best ideas. Sometimes I daydream about my running fast. In my mind I’m on the track, coming down the home stretch as the clock ticks toward 4 minutes. I unthinkingly submit to the fantasy and my pace quickens and eventually I snap out of the daze and remember I’m in Pennsylvania and not Tokyo.
But sometimes running alone is a downward spiral. When I was at home I’d be floating through a run and then unexpectedly remember the most cringe and awful things I’ve ever done. I’d think about awkward sentences I said out loud, stupid haircuts I had, embarrassing rants I posted to the internet. I became very vicious to myself, and once it started it wouldn’t easily stop. I’d start thinking about running and tell myself that I had never run a race worth celebrating, that I had never really been that fast and that I’d probably never really be that fast, so why am I still training? What am I doing here on these backroads in the cold? I don’t have to wear Oregon across my chest anymore, and nobody’s making me do the training. I’m making me do the training. I’m supposed to be doing this for fun. But it’s not fun. So what am I doing? The questions flooded in. I stopped to walk a lot.
It’s a cliche, but it’s true: Your mind can be your best friend and your worst enemy.
The cycle lasted a few days. I decided I had to change something so I started to run with the kids at my high school. My coach told them some of the things I’d achieved, and they oohed and ahhed and I remembered that to most people I’m actually incredible at running. They told me how fast they want to go. They set goals that seem unrealistic. One kid told me he wanted to one day be a pro runner and I said I think I do too, and he asked for my autograph and I said only if you give me yours. I went back every day. Running was suddenly very easy.
One day they were doing 1200 repeats, and one kid was falling off his pace so I hopped in to help him, and the moment we crossed the line on the final rep he didn’t slow down and ran straight off the track to grab his backpack and head for the gate. He skipped the cool down because he had to be at Chick-fil-A in ten minutes. He was working until midnight. Still out of breath as he frantically searched for his keys, he revealed that he had eaten two lunches in anticipation of working late and that’s why the workout was so hard. He squeaked out a thank you and rushed off and I never saw him again.
Sometimes that’s how it has to be. He gave what he could that day, cut his losses and didn’t ask questions. He wants to be fast just as much as the next guy but he also has to say “My pleasure” every time somebody thanks him for their chicken sandwich. I can’t get that story out of my head, and I know I’m supposed to learn something from it but I’m not sure what it is.
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My holiday break training problems were entirely psychological. The Pennsylvania December was milder than I can ever remember, but other people had a tougher time with the weather.
My teammate Matti Erickson came back to Eugene a week earlier than planned because all of British Columbia was beneath a foot of snow. Another teammate had it worse. McKenna Ramsay’s family lives in Summit County, Colorado, which sits higher than 9,000 feet. The town doesn’t have any indoor facilities or a track. She says, “All of the roads and trails are icy or packed under snow.” She continued, “Below freezing temperatures and icy conditions mean that pretty much every workout needs to be on the treadmill.” It might as well be Antarctica.
Mick Stanovsek, who runs for the Oregon Track Club, said he had a tough time training in New York City, where everything is concrete and it’s always cold, but he made it work despite staying only kind of near one of the three decent places to run.
Other people were more strategic with controlling what they could of their training conditions. My old teammate, Charlie Hunter, for example, chose to travel to Flagstaff to focus on getting quality training instead of going home to Australia where he’d be sequestered to a hotel room for a week or two. I think a lot of professional runners made a similar decision. The Bowerman Track Club has traveled to Flagstaff, and Mark Coogan’s New Balance Boston group is also spending time in Arizona.
It’s one of the piercing truths of our sport: There’s no true vacation when everything you do affects your performance. Distance running is not a job where you can punch out at 5 p.m. or take the weekend off. And while that’s part of what makes a good race so gratifying and worthwhile, dedicating yourself to the lifestyle that is required of competing at a high level doesn’t come without consequence. Some people didn’t see their families for Christmas. Sometimes people make really difficult decisions to succeed in this sport.
December has now turned to January. I’ve returned to Eugene, and by now everybody else has probably returned to wherever they live, and the challenges that come with training around the holidays have subsided. Maybe if I try hard enough I’ll forget the difficult questions I asked myself over the past month, and maybe if I’m lucky they won’t surface again until I’m ready to answer them. I still don’t know a thing. Maybe I never will.
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