What It Takes To (Almost) Be a Pro

There’s an interesting group of runners somewhere between people for whom running is a hobby and for whom running is a profession. Hobby joggers may follow training plans and run a marathon or five a year, but their lives are defined by things other than running and they may even have hobbies outside of running. Professional runners are at the other end of the continuum, where running is their job and all of their activities turn on becoming 1 or 2% better at running. There’s a whole other group of runners, however, who fall in the middle and with whom I align. We’re called a variety of things from “sub-elite” to “seeded” to “national class”. We aren’t likely to make the Olympic team and we don’t have multi year shoe contracts but for the most part, our running is paid for and we are often invited to fill in the gaps between the elite Olympic level runner and the hobby jogger in races to make things more interesting.

Running Times has an article on this middle group this month entitled “How to Train Like a Pro While Working a Day Job.” While the article is shallow and mostly common sense, it raises a bit of awareness of how those of us in the middle live. We may not be household names even in a small community, but we are a lot like our professional peers just with non-running jobs augmenting our training sessions. All of this has been rattling around my mind lately as I find myself starting the final eight week approach to VCM. I’m at peak mileage and my entire day (week, month) is scheduled around running, stretching, fueling, sleeping and lifting.

In the second version of his book, Jack Daniels talks about the difference between the perception and reality of training schedules. He uses the example of an athlete who brags that they run on average 150 miles a week. In the same interview, that runner answered questions that were phrased differently but asking the same question with mileage totals that were higher and lower than this figure of 150. Daniels’ theory is that runners (especially professional) may exaggerate training volume, which makes it difficult to analyze what works and doesn’t work. I see this a lot with runners with whom I train. Some exaggerate their training and claim to run 70 miles a week. Some underplay their training and claim to have “barely run” over the past months. Both are frustrating to listen to, although it’s far more frustrating to hear someone claim to have barely run then crack a PR than someone way underperform for their training load.

I’m not entirely comfortable in my new position as a sub-elite. I’ve always been an above average runner but in the past year, I’ve made some training shifts that have seriously upgraded my running. I’ve been consistently running 65 to 70 miles a week since August (really!), I’m working with a coach who spends inordinate time tailoring my training plan (and not just because he’s marrying me) and to be honest, I started working my ass off. There’s a risk in admitting this and I think this is something that a lot of runners wrestle with, but rarely articulate. What if I work the hardest I can work and my results just aren’t that much better?

I guess I won’t know the answer to that until VCM and possibly after if (ugh) I don’t have a great day. Until then, all I can do is log my miles, fuel well, sleep a lot and make sure to attend to the extras. And go to work, walk the dog, pay the bills…


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