02 September 2012

Location! Location! Location!

Tonight, I take a jog to the course of my usual discourse. A jog is probably an appropriate choice of words, since in my continuing state of extended slump, a jog is about the most I can muster. Yet while I remain in the midst of what my countless readers (countless because I can’t stand to count such a small number) may rightly perceive as a slump-induced blogging drought similar to, but in no way as severe as the Midwestern drought, just as like Hurricane Isaac is at least briefly interrupting the dryness, there are hints of my own relief on the horizon. But I digress needlessly. Rather than blather on my own woes, I’ll blather on someone else’s prose.

I hold in my hands a copy of the slim volume, Run Great When it Counts; High School, by Joey Keillor, an author I’ve never met but who is a friend of a friend who is an amazing and rare person, that is to say, she actually reads my stuff. We’ve got a tradition of meeting up, family to family, on an annual basis in a secure undisclosed location where we both prefer to vacation, and this year’s event was a delightful reunion as always. The topic arose of her friend’s pending publishing, and several weeks later said volume landed on my always-overloaded reading pile.

I’d like to tell you that as a famous blogger, piles of promotional equipment, supplements, clothing, books, and bags of cash arrive on my desk weekly. I’d also like to tell you I’m retiring to that island, having reached Romneyesque levels of wealth as well. Neither being true, I’m still easy to sway into providing a quick review of the few perks that come my way, and as a result, I set immediately to intending to publish said review.

That was in July. It’s now September. You know how it goes.

Catholic Guilt sets in as usual. Joey’s work (can I simply call you Joey? It’s so much easier…) is targeted at the high school runner, and good press for his efforts would of course be most effective before the high school running season kicks off. Well, I missed that deadline, but teacher, dear teacher, I swear I have a good excuse. You see, I tried to follow some of Joey’s advice myself, and hoped to have the story of its success or failure ready to include in this story. Alas, that has become an adventure in itself, and a story for a future post. Check back later.

But as for the work itself, my reaction when I read it, both initially, then again to retrieve tips to use personally, and yet again to garner points for this piece, was to compare it to the old real estate adage: Location! Location! Location! In real estate, the finest business can fail when placed in the wrong place, and the lowliest hovel can become a commercial hotbed in the right spot. In coaching volumes, the finest, most authoritative, comprehensive, and superlative work is utterly useless when it sits on the shelf. The most mundane, simplest, and basic work (and in no way do I imply that Joey’s work is such, just making the example here) can carry the value of gold if it actually gets read.

Did you notice that I mentioned I’ve effectively read this book three times? I chide my daughter for re-reading the same books over and over. Her reply, quite logically, is that she likes them, and I really can’t argue with that, but from my perspective there are so many books on the stack to be read and so little time, how could you do that? But here’s a book that I’ve read three times, because I could (and admittedly, because the third time was to complete my homework here, but still, because I could).

Joey has written a book aimed at high school runners. My daughter notwithstanding, she being unique among teens as the giant sucking sound in the middle of the library, most teenagers are not big readers, and given the suggestion by a coach or supportive parent to actually read a book, even on their sport, are quite likely to set it aside and ignore it (at least until it becomes a more palatable diversion than that term paper due in the morning). But Joey’s packaging is the key to the success of this volume: It’s slim, non-threatening to the non-voracious reader, barely over one hundred pages, and organized into quick tips that can be read in five-minute segments. It’s a collection of sound-advice sound-bites for the distracted and overtaxed world of the five-minute attention-span teen. He’s nailed it: Location! Location! Location!

And the advice is pretty good. It’s not sophisticated, highly scientific coaching methodology. Instead, it’s solid common sense. If you’re in high school, you might not have thought about all these things yet (ah, the teenage brain, as seen from the perspective of dad…). If you’re well beyond high school, these points are not only good reminders, but you’ll find that they ring true with many of your own experiences.

Joey doesn’t try to boil the ocean. As the title implies, he focuses on the key goal of surviving the season and peaking when it matters, rather than, as is all too often the case, peaking early and crashing late. Is this real? It took me back thirty-two years to the two state meets I made it into during my senior year in high school And the results? Tanked at cross country states on Long Island in the fall, and tanked again at winter track states at Cornell’s Barton Hall the following March. I always liked to blame that last one on dental work the week prior, but let’s face it, I tanked, and Joey’s advice probably would have been helpful at the time.

So what does he cover? Sound logic, like relying on your body, your brain, and your feelings, rather than devices and fancy schemes. Knowing when to back off, and how to back off, to preserve top performances all season long. Remembering what racing is about, which is beating the other guy, not hitting a certain split (which is, of course, much more applicable to the high school runner than we veterans in large road races). Being confident in your own training and abilities, and being aware that there are no secret formulas. Accepting that while there are many training strategies, nobody has ever truly proven one to be superior, so common sense and confidence take precedence; and not letting yourself get spooked by stories of what the hero across town supposedly does since it’s probably not true. Strategies for preparing in the off-season, including what struck me with some amusement as a thinly disguised use of a quasi-streak (his recommendation of keeping constant daily mileage) to both prepare and motivate. And attending to your health, both on simple, and on some more sophisticated levels.

There were a few things I found somewhat annoying in this work, such as the author’s tendency to refer to various tips throughout the book solely by number that left me baffled and often not motivated to flip the pages to decode these cross-references. The section on stretching and strength, while certainly not invalid, seemed so compact as to appear almost as an incomplete afterthought. These are minor nits.

But there were tidbits I utterly loved, such as the perceived exertion chart, relating how you feel to the comparable workout intensity. I’d just read this back in July and laughed about its description of 100% effort, race level intensity, as “All out, spent at the finish, gasping for air, you can’t wipe the spit off your face,” when a day later, halfway through the Carver Five-Miler, I realized that I really couldn’t wipe the spit off my face. Yeah, kinda’ gross, Too Much Information I know, but the point is that Joey nails reality. He nails it when he drills in that there is no secret training formula. One of the columns I’ve never gotten around to writing is the answer to people asking me what my formula is, and the answer is there isn’t one. No amount of reading specific workouts in Running Times provides better benefit than a few motivated companions and just about any combination of hard work on the track.

There are points here that are clearly targeted at the experience level of a high school runner. Don’t carbo load for a 5K. You won’t dehydrate in a mile. Understand and work with your realistic talent level. And so on. But there is a lot of good stuff that is easily lost on any runner in the heat of any racing schedule, not just the inexperienced youngster, but even the grizzled veteran. I took one of the health suggestions to heart, and the story is still unfolding with great blogable potential. But that will have to wait for another night, as we’re already over quota here…

The bottom line is that if you’re looking for a comprehensive, sophisticated guide to all things running, training, and racing, this is not your solution. But if you’re looking for a practical approach that will actually get used, especially if you’re a coach and you’d like to get into the head of your athletes whom you know have more talent than the time to think about how to work with it to their best success, Joey Keillor has assembled a handy package here.

Click here to go to Joey Keillor’s website.
Click here to view his book on Amazon.

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