Written By: Matt Rayment
For as long as I’ve been able to I have worked. The day of my 15th birthday I had a part time job pushing trollies at Woolworths in New Lynn. All through school, University and now my professional life (having been registered as a nurse for 16 years) I can say that I have never been unemployed. Even if I’ve had two weeks off between one job finishing and another starting, I’ve never not had employment. At times in my life I’ve had multiple roles, be that tutoring or giving music lessons, and over the last few years I’ve started writing about running for different publications, which has been fulfilling and engaging. Now, my work continues. I’ve added running to the list of things that I would consider work. This isn’t to say that this is a bad thing. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills over the next twelve months, however there is a reciprocation involved. I get trained and I write about it. There is obligation (both internal and external) to preform, meet deadlines and goals, that simply has not been present at any other time in my running life. I summed it up in an email conversation I had with Vicki Michelle, who made the (very logical, and as it turns out, incorrect) presumption that I use running as a means to decompress from work. I replied “Running at the moment, feels like work. And I don't mean that in a negative or pejorative sense. I meet EVERY training session as there is expectations, and I'm loyal. I put out. Every time I waver I think of my family, you, and James. People who've invested in me. So I go and do my work. And I'm loving it”. So there you have it, the arthritic kid, the guy who at 33 couldn’t run 200 metres now has running as a part time job. And like every job I’m sure there will be times where I’m less enamoured with it than others. The whole “falling out of love” thing hasn’t happened yet, but certainly in the first 5 months of this process I’ve faced some major challenges.
In this year’s first edition of Kiwi Trail Runner, in my very first article of what will be a whole year’s worth, I saw the words “Weekend Warrior”, “Middle Aged” “Underwhelming”and ‘Middle Aged Spread” concerning my athletic ability and physical state. These words were incredibly confronting and all true I guess, except for the part about having middle aged spread. This is life long spread. When I put my starting weight as 89kg all those months ago, that was less than I weighed when I was 14. I’m stating this not as a justification, but as a simple fact, and one that I need to acknowledge; I’ve been overweight my whole life. Which is bizarrely comforting in the sense that I’m essentially reverse ageing: I feel fitter, faster and freer at 39 than I did at 19, or 29 for that matter. Conversely it is crushingly difficult and mentally exhausting to come from a lifetime of ill health towards well being. It feels incredibly challenging seeking performance in sport for the first time, vs. a return to form. It’s the difference I guess between starting from Zero vs starting from -10. The latter is infinitely harder. It’s no surprise that the first major challenge I faced through this process wasn’t running, it was talking about running; and with that all the unconscious assumptions about myself that I held. I didn’t consider just how confronting this would be, putting “raw data” on paper, especially concerning my weight. It’s the equivalent of taking your shirt off in front of the whole school at assembly, and maybe doing a little dance while your geography teacher plays drums. Awful, right? Then someone takes a photo of that moment, and THEN that photo is available in shops. All of a sudden, I’m vulnerable. I dislike that word, and the emotional state even less. Being raised as I was, with mentality of “Can’t Win, Don’t Try” my first honest thought when I got the proofs back for edition one was to give up and walk away. It just felt too hard, too destabilising. I acknowledge these thoughts were honest. I acknowledge also they were aberrant and frankly incorrect. I automatically took those statements in James’ Coach Perspective section completely out of context. Both in terms of what was written and the context of James and my relationship. Psychology Alert: We all look for stimulus to reinforce how we subconsciously feel about ourselves. I am no different. The benefit of having James’ support through this process is it reinforces the strengths I have identified through my growth as a runner. I know that I can take a beating (psychological or physical) and keep going, I’m competitive, and I’m hungry to learn and implement what I have learnt. I have a long way to go to achieve what I want to achieve, which is a greater efficiency for the rest of my life, not simply over the next twelve months. Having this opportunity to work through my automatic unhelpful assumptions has markedly lessened the distress of confronting my starting point, replacing it with determination, not self destructive resentment or ill feeling.
As athletes we constantly talk about mindfulness or whatever supposedly therapeutic mind hack is de rigeur and actually, 98% of us will be terrible at, because the studies show us that most of us (myself included) are to varying degrees the psychological equivalent of a train wreck. I don’t have any answers, but I’d like to put forth the idea that if you are considering undertaking a commitment to a coaching relationship or looking to undergo a period of prolonged training to meet a goal, it will be psychologically confronting process. This process will require support, awareness and kindness (from yourself and others) to adaptively and positively overcome the challenge you’ve set yourself. The term “Bear it in mind” has never been more germane, as paying attention to your psychological state is at least as useful as attending to your physical one.
Fear not, gentle reader, It’s not all Sturm und Drang. Far from it. I’ve found my efficiency has greatly improved with the continued focus on long, slow miles and keeping my heart rate to 147 bpm, which is my predicted aerobic maximum. Running consistently at this pace has altered my nutritional needs significantly, in short, running at a pace which I am not burning glycogen means that I no longer have “runger” or a runner’s hunger. I find myself able to knock out a morning 20 km on gravel having not eaten anything since dinner the night before. As a result of what I believe is my body burning it’s natural fat stores, I lost four kilograms in the first 12 weeks of training. My diet is wholly plant based and has been for some time, I’m eating as many nuts, leafy dark green vegetables and kumara as I can and have upped my olive oil intake significantly. To make early runs easier I’ve all but stopped drinking beer, as even one the night before will have me reaching for the snooze button. I find that with a focus on building my aerobic base I no longer have spikes of hunger, so I’m not snacking. On the occasion where I have allowed myself to run freely It seems like I’m boundlessly strong and significantly faster. In Wellington recently for the Runfest, I found that I had another gear both in terms of endurance, cardiovascular capacity and pace. With the increased cardiovascular ability, I’ve found my trail skills, which I consider a strength, have improved too, as I’m stronger, lighter and faster.
Whilst in Wellington, A runner whom I greatly admire (and whose achievements outstrip many) commented on the manner that I descend technical trail . I thanked them and replied that “Barrels roll down hills”, however secretly, if I’d been wearing roman sandals, I would have been scuffing one in the dirt behind me with happiness. Going back to my prior point about unconscious thoughts and assumptions, it’s interesting to note that my immediate response was to self deprecate, basically stating “I passed you because I’m fat, and you know... gravity”, rather than simply saying ‘wow, thanks. I’ve been working really hard at that”. It’s incredible to me that over the course of this process my perception of the challenge has altered so markedly. Give me 400’s till the sun goes down, the real challenge (and one I did not expect) over the next twelve months will be whipping my thought patterns into shape. Efficiency is a whole-of-system state, after all.
I was going talk this month about the importance of sleep, eating your greens and my distaste for big shoes, I’m glad I didn’t because the stuff I did talk about is important. As is the nature of things, I pulled out of the Riverhead 30km on Easter Saturday, opting instead to take a hand in organizing the event. As an alternative event I have taken on the Paymark Xterra 21km in Rotorua, where I will be shooting for a half marathon PB.
The fundamental goal of endurance training is: Physical load + recovery = physical gain As a coach it is my goal to guide an athlete through this process in order to achieve maximum gains. Lifestyle factors (sleep, nutrition and hydration, relationships, work and effort, extracurricular commitments, stress, etc.) have a huge impact on the load to the mind and body - and therefore the ability of the body to recover and make physical gains.
The process can best be described as educated physiological trial and error in
the pursuit of constantly changing perfect balance:
• Too much load and the athlete will likely break down physically and/or mentally.
• Too little and the athlete is unlikely to make physical gains.
• Poor integration, recognition and/or adjustment to lifestyle factors will also likely lead to physical and/or mental break down.
The process is akin to walking a high-wire tightrope: if you find the balance point you can progress along
the tightrope; if the balance point is lost, you will likely fall. As the tipping point
is constantly changing I believe it is important to have a series of subjective and objective measures in place to act as a safety net to catch the athlete before they fall from the tightrope.
After two months of solid training, we re-tested Matt’s 8km Time Trial and 3km Hill Time Trial shortly before he went
to Runfest Wellington. As expected we witnessed a massive improvement over both Time Trial distances.
Immediately Matt returned from Wellington we once again conducted the 8km Time Trial at Predicted Aerobic Max and 3km Hill Time Trial at Predicted Aerobic Max. With increased and increasing lifestyle factors impacting
on Matt’s ability to recover, we saw a moderate to severe decline in performance over the distances using the predicted aerobic max.
This was not expected, nor consistent with the week before and therefore acted as the safety net to catch Matt before symptoms of a sub-optimal expression of health took hold: Matt became unwell and required a period of rest and low-intensity training.