What Makes A Great Training Partner?


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My European training partner, Ashley Higginson.

I have trained by myself before, and I can do it–but I don’t like it. You will learn a lot of lessons when you step out on the track by yourself, with the watch as your only means of being kept honest. Having a coach there to scream out splits, and provide encouragement is a boost of motivation in itself. Though having a few good training partners is even better. There’s no greater impetus than pride, and the fear of embarrassment from being dropped sometimes is the best way to get the most out of yourself.

There are a few benefits to being able to complete a session solo. Mainly is the process of developing some mental fortitude that will [hopefully] carry over onto race day. Additionally, you are in complete control of the workout and can determine just how much effort should be put forth based off how you are feeling. For the most part the gains of having company day in and day out offset the potential downsides. That is assuming you have teammates who are worth having around.


To shed some lights on some of the “Do Nots” while training with others I have assembled a list of the characteristics that make great teammates below:

This is my prettiest training partner, Patricia. I like letting her lead and looking at her butt. (Photo: Justin Britton)
This is my prettiest training partner, Patricia. I like letting her lead to look at her butt. (PC: Justin Britton)

Positivity– There will naturally be ups and down in training and racing through the years. Sometimes things may suck for a long period of time, and this is when you need teammates more than ever. They’re there to talk you through it, and to be your therapist. I have spilled my guts out to teammates on 10-mile runs, and have then reciprocated by cleaning up their messy guts when they eventually need it. A good teammate will put things in perspective, offer up some ideas, and find a reason to look forward. You need someone who will not only listen, but also hold your hair back and tell you that everything is OK. Now that is a teammate that you want to hold on to.

Pacing- We have watches on, and the track is marked out every 100m. Don’t try and tell me that you ran 8 seconds too fast by accident. YOU KNEW WHAT YOU WERE DOING! It’s ok to go a bit quicker than pace if it is progressing naturally each rep and everyone is feeling good. But don’t go to the front of the line and start hammering the second rep when we still have eight to go. You’ll get called out passive-aggressively at first, but it won’t be so subtle the second time around. And if you do go out too fast, and want to go back out on pace, don’t go from a sprint to hitting the breaks–just get on pace.


This is Ford Palmer. He wasn't that good for a while, and then got good so I have to explain things to him regularly. (Photo: Foon Fu)
This is Ford Palmer. He wasn’t that good for a while, but then got good so I have to explain things to him regularly. (Photo: Foon Fu)

Communication– Inevitably someone will feel great one day, and others may be feeling fatigued. Say it! You’re allowed to go ahead, but don’t get up on someone’s shoulder to one step when they’re already hitting a fair pace. Especially on easy days, everyone needs to do what his or her individual body needs. Sometimes that means speaking up and saying, ‘Go ahead, I am going to slow it down.’ And other times that means taking the last rep and verbalizing that you may run X seconds faster than prescribed. Getting upset at someone for doing what they think is best for their needs is unreasonable, as long as it does not negatively impact your workout.

Consistency- When you’re in a training group, you have people that are counting on you to show up [especially if you’re on a XC team]. That means you can’t stand them up for runs because they need to know that you’ll be there. And showing up extends beyond just having a physical presence, but to also be taking care of your body so you can game when it’s game time. If you are dropping out of workouts weekly, then you’re not much of a training partner. The best training partners are the healthy ones who always give you a back to stare at when it’s your turn to block the wind.


This is my friend Riley Masters. We don't train together full-time, but when we do it's fun minus his one stepping. (Photo: Aric Van halen)
This is my friend Riley Masters. I like him, but he one steps. (Photo: Aric Van Halen)

Fun- Finally, this is a sport! Even if it’s my job now, the essence of it comes down to doing it for the enjoyment of it all. I don’t want each run to be a chore. There is a lot of work to do, but if it’s a drag doing it then it’ll actually feel like work. I’d rather joke on a warm up, tell stories mid-long run, and share a post-run meal with my friends. Chasing smaller numbers is a long process, why make it tedious too?

Confidence- More likely than not, your training partner probably has the same coach. If you ever question our coach’s plan in our conversations, then we will no longer be talking about running together ever again. There are a million ways to train, and perhaps the biggest factor is finding a reason to believe in what you are doing. If you have an issue with the workload then take it up privately with the coach. Not with me on a recovery day, and not at practice when we are stepping on the line to workout. Things that are encouraged: Crossing the finish line at the end of practice and high-fiving your teammates and saying things like, ‘We are awesome!’…‘You look so skinny!’…’This year state is ours!’ That kind of stuff builds confidence.


This is Donn taking a selfie with the NJ*NY squad after qualifying for Beijing.
This is Donn taking a selfie with the NJ*NY squad after qualifying for Beijing. (Photo: Donn Cabral)

That’s my list. Everyone has their own values that they look for in others, but if we are to run hours a week together, than you better do all this and more. I am lucky enough to have some amazing training partners with the New Jersey*New York Track Club. And I have to give a shout out to one of the best training partners I have, Donn Cabral, who is representing the United States at the World Championships (starting Saturday)!

Next up for me is the Hoka One One Long Island Mile on Wednesday, September 9th. I’ll continue to hype this event until it comes, but if you want to hear more about it check out this interview I did with NY Milesplit (http://ny.milesplit.com/articles/160100-kyle-merbers-hoka-one-one-long-island-mile-looks-to-bring-sub-4-back-to-long-island). And if you are interested in running yourself, you can sign up at LongIslandMile.com!

Hoka:LI Logo


Building Confidence/USAs

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(Photo by Zach Hetrick)

Confidence used to come and go in waves. When present, it was overwhelmingly powerful. But in its absence, I was equally powerless. This year I have been working to halt the sin curve-like fluctuations, and instead transform that line into a gradual up-slope, which instead builds on itself week after week. The dependence on what happened last in practice was both exhausting and unreliable. A shakeout and strides the day prior is no less telling of race day results than the number of pushups one can do. But that’s the thing about fitness—it’s not just one thing, it’s everything combined. So why allow any individual session to ever dictate the confidence you should have in your fitness? Exactly, you shouldn’t. The week before heading down to Furman [where I would go on to run a PR of 3:34] I posted the best 400 workout of my career [8 x 400 @ 57-58-57-57-56-56-54-52 w/ 2.5/3.5 mins rest]. I walked away with a ton of confidence. I hit race pace, and it felt fantastic. Then I ran faster than race pace, and it still felt fantastic! This was the workout that told me I was ready to set a personal best. My confidence had been building on itself for months, and this was a big step forward. But a few days later, just before the race, I ran another workout that was supposed to be easier, yet was significantly harder. I struggled to get through 12 x 400 @ 67 w/ 1 min rest. My body was exhausted. Lining up for the race, I had to push back the feeling of tired legs and heavy breathing that I had experienced just a few days before. Instead, I thought about the many months of uninterrupted training, and the feeling of gliding along at the pace that mattered, and then closing in 52. It is OK to have a bad workout. It happens all the time, but it is what you do when your body is worn down that is important. Many athletes try to push through it as they are worried about losing fitness, or they blame a lack of such on a poor workout performance. However, the right move is more often than not to back off and recover. Your body is telling you to slow down for a reason. Rarely will fighting through heavy legs result in lighter legs.


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(Photo by Foon Fu)

A week after Furman, I would be challenged again with maintaining self-assurance despite less than ideal conditions. A small spider bite-like mark appeared on my right calf and I originally thought nothing of it. However, a couple days later the mark had grown quite sizably and had become painful. I initially went to the hospital, was given some antibiotics to treat it as if it were a bite, and thought I would be on my merry way. Unfortunately I woke up the next day and the mark had grown. By that evening, walking had become excruciating, and my calf was throbbing. I sent a picture of the mark to my doctor, and it was back to the hospital I went. The initial confusion was cleared and I was diagnosed with MRSA. After a few days in a hospital bed, in which I could not sleep a wink and where I obviously did not do any running, I was sent home with some antibiotics and well wishes. I now had about two weeks until USAs, but as Gags reminded me, ‘wherever you finish, it won’t be noted with an asterisk because things didn’t go perfectly leading in. ‘

The MRSA Infection
The MRSA Infection

Training had suddenly gone flat following the admittance. Whether it was from the antibiotics, lack of sleep or just the broken rhythm, it is unclear. Nine days out from my prelim in Oregon, I was due for some work at race pace—which resulted in a post-workout trash can visit [but I did hit my times!]. A few days later I had to stop some long intervals half way through because my legs felt as if they were carrying an extra 50 lbs. My body was not responding, but I wasn’t overly worried because I was willing to listen. I had finished off the antibiotics, and I was committed to sleeping long hours each night, but most importantly, I took my runs easy. My legs were coming back to life. The Thursday prelim was a small, but stacked field with a number of us who probably “deserved” to be in the final, but there is a reason we race. Although I felt strong aerobically, my legs were not turning over the last 100m like I needed them to, but I held on to get the final time qualifier. That was the rust buster I needed. My legs opened up a bit, and I got my ass kicked, but I felt normal after that and a resurgence of spring returned to my steps.


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Hoka One One’s Mid D Spikes

Saturday came and I was calm and relaxed leading in. I have learned that I do my best racing when there is a balance between nerves and normalcy. In the past, I would focus on the first portion of the race; how do I get out that first lap? But this year, I have been focusing on the final 150m instead during my pre-race visualization. That is where the race really starts. After cruising along at a reasonable, but not swift first 900 meters, the race took off and I was close enough to the front that I was able to respond and connect to the group. It was a game of follow the leader meets hold on for dear life and I came in 6th. I crossed the finish line wiped out and knowing that I had done everything in my power to give myself the best chance on the day, and that’s all you can ask for. I wanted a top 3 finish and the opportunity to represent the USA in Beijing, but this whole year has been a tremendous leap forward in my fitness and more importantly my racing. It is better to walk away from a race being happy and finding positives in the performance—it keeps you sane. If I continue to close the gap on the front of the field then I will be there when it counts most with 150m to go next year. The next level comes with consistency, mileage, a better lifestyle and more hope, but most importantly confidence that I belong there.


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A Picture of Hayward Field

My Summer Schedule: 7/7-Cork, Ireland (1 Mile) 7/11-Madrid, Spain (3k) 7/18-Heusden, Belgium (1500) 7/23-Toronto, Canada (1500/Pan Ams) This season has been incredible, and I am excited for what the summer has ahead. Big thank you to Hoka One One the New Jersey*New York Track Club and Flynn Sports for the continued support!

Furman Recap

It is ok to hate your personal bests. Actually, I’d encourage it. I hate most of mine. When you get a new one, it’s so exciting! You see your name printed next to a fancy new number that you’ve never seen before, and it validates everything you’ve been working towards. But then the next day you wake up, watch the race video and think, ‘I could have gone faster had I just done this, this and this.’ Maybe the next few weeks you’ll still beam with pride when congratulated on the number, but time passes and it grows old. Then you’re sick of it. And then it’s 3 years of self-loathing and conversations about the existence of short tracks. But when I crossed the finish line in South Carolina and saw the clock was way lower than ever before, I flipped out!

(Photo Credit: Foon Fu)
(Photo Credit: Foon Fu)

In 2012, while a senior at Columbia, I was able to use a few connections to gain a late entry into a small Monday night 1500 at Swarthmore College. Training had been going really well, and racing was on a sharp upswing. I stepped on the line calm and ready, knowing that the 3:39 Olympic Trials qualifying time was well within reach of my fitness. The plan was just to follow the leader, and slowly move up in the field. We strung out immediately, and with the help of Nick Willis pacing for 1300 meters, I ran splits of 59-58-57-41 for the American Collegiate Record* of 3:35.59.

A couple years later I had a conversation with Nick about why that race was so fast, and I think he summed it up perfectly: Most rabbits go out fast, slow down and step off after their slowest 100. Now the athletes behind have lost their momentum, and have to shift gears again to head into the kick. In that race, we were wound up and released.

Photo Credit: Foon Fu
(Photo Credit: Foon Fu)

If your goal is to break 5 minutes in the mile, you can most likely find a race that would set you up for a chance to do it. It’s nice in HS and most of college, to have so many prospective races setup to get the times you are chasing. Unfortunately, at the professional level, you have to earn [deservedly so] the right to be in those races unless you get lucky being in the right place at the right time (i.e-Swarthmore, Furman). Once you reach the Diamond League level, you have world-class rabbits and competition that produce sub 3:35 races with regularity. At a certain level you run into this problem again since 3:26-3:29 races are extremely rare, and getting rabbits that are capable of coming through in 2:45 is a tall order.

From Swarthmore until Furman, the fastest race I had been in was a 3:38.5 race last summer in the ‘C’ heat at Heusden-Zoleder [and I won]. Saturday night at Furman, I was lucky enough to be in a fast race that ran from the gun. We had a fresh and capable rabbit, as well as a couple brave runners who were fearless about attacking the pace and chasing the standard. But as noted, these opportunities are special, and it’s of utmost importance to capitalize on them when they do come. And hopefully then, you run fast enough to climb the ladder and get into the next tier of professional meets. It’s a tough, but fair process.

During our cool down the conversation was overwhelmingly positive about the success of the meet, and we couldn’t help but wonder why there aren’t more races like this in the United States throughout the summer. The atmosphere was intimate, the field was competitive, and the pace was honest. After last summer, having attended the Michigan Track Classic and the Falmouth Mile, I was inspired to create my own race, The Hoka One One Long Island Mile this September 9th. It’s an easy formula to replicate, and if enough individual race organizers through out the country decided to put one of their own on, we could have a competitive domestic circuit in our own backyard during the summer months that could rival Europe’s. The US distance scene is plenty deep, and it’d be a great boost to the local running community and for athletes who cannot afford to spend multiple weeks overseas.

Just food for thought.

A huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders for the next two US Championships by achieving the World/Olympic ‘A’ Standard. I am stepping away with a lot of confidence having closed in 54-mid off an honest pace. Now the focus shifts to the US Championships and a top 3 finish. Back to work!

My next race on the schedule is an 800 this Thursday at the Adrian Martinez Classic in Concord, MA.

(By the way, I think it’s an awesome experience and fully support HS runners getting a chance to compete at professional races. I apologize for the inability of sarcasm to be translated via the Internet.)

(Here is Kyle in HS competing at professional races. At BIG he received a backpack and many other free things.)
(Here is Kyle in HS competing at a professional race. At BIG he received a backpack and many other free things.)

Reddit AMA with /r/advancedrunning

Last week I did a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) with /r/advancedrunning. It had a good turn out and I received some great questions from the community. I wanted to post a few of the exchanges here and link to the full “interview” below.

New Hoka One One Speed Trainers (Release Date: 4.1.2016)
New Hoka One One Speed Trainers (Release Date: 4.1.2016)

Q: The fuck is up with Hoka One One? Are they fake or are they real?

A: The realest. I was skeptical before ever trying them on. I made the jokes everyone makes. And then I put them on…game changer. I haven’t had an unplanned day off from running since getting my first pair of Cliftons. (knock on wood) If you’ve followed my running career at all, then you’ll know how big of a deal that is for me. I overpronate on just one side and so I was always confused about what shoes to wear. I played with orthotics, and stability shoes but to no avail. Got in Hokas and the meta rocker technology is very real.

Q: What do you do in your time off from running?

A: I worked in a shoe store last year in NJ called the Sneaker Factory, but now I am a full-time runner. All that really means is that I am doing the same thing, but can dedicate a little bit more time to Netflix/recovery. I read a lot of books, which is probably my favorite thing to do over a cup of coffee. We hang out at our town’s coffee shop for hours a day with books, computers, each other. I also enjoy writing and photography, which I show off a bit in my blog.

Q: Can you describe your training and workouts leading up to the 3:35 1500 when you were in college? It seems like that race was a huge breakthrough for you. Could you sense a big pr coming on in the weeks leading up to it?

A: I had been up and down for a lot of that winter, but once spring came around I was just consistently running 65-70 miles a week. Honestly. there was nothing crazy leading up to that which would really indicate such a big personal best, except that I was feeling amazing for everything in practice. I walked away everyday with a lot left in the tank, and then I was sleeping 9-10 hours a night like clockwork. There was just a rhythm to training that spring.

When I was younger, I used to think I was the type that didn’t need to race a lot and just come out from a block and crush it. Eventually I realized I was the opposite, and at the end of that spring I had raced myself into fantastic shape and had found a lot of speed. A couple weeks before I did a 7 mile tempo in the morning and 6 x 200 in the afternoon. I went all out on the last one vs an 800 guy and went 22.9. Last summer I saw the same thing; the more racing the better.

edit: 4x2x400 w/1/3 min rest 64-62-60-58 w/ mark and Behnke.
(62.8–62.0–60.8–61.0–58.7–58.6–57.3–55.5)
This was the workout I did a few days beforehand. In my log I noted how easy this felt and talked with a big game of confidence.

Q: You’re hosting the Long Island mile with support from your sponsor later this year. Do you have any expectations in terms of time/performance? Or is it more of a get your feet wet with putting on a larger race?

A: The Hoka One One Long Island Mile will not be for me. I really just want to help put on a show for the fans in my own backyard. I will make sure that’s a fast race, no matter what place I come in. I know that I want to stay in T&F after my running career, but I am not sure yet what that means and in what capacity. I think this will give me some insight into the next step and if I’d enjoy being a meet director/agent. Even though I am just 24, I didn’t want to wait any longer to start giving back to the sport either. Really can’t express enough how important that meet is to me and I just want to create something special.

Q: Any words of wisdom for me to pass on to the guys that run for me?

A: I am a big believer in the mental component of the sport, and having to buy into every aspect of the process. From understanding the training and why we do it, to visualizing yourself being successful. It’s kind of like the day before a meet, I like spiking up and getting out on the track and just feeling the track and being light on my feet. I can imagine what it’ll be like the next day gliding around the final bend into the homestretch, and what I will feel like at that crucial point in the race. You need to extrapolate that mindset into your entire career. You may have run 4:03 in the mile, but are you thinking like a 3:59 guy yet? Because a 3:59 guy comes through 800 in 1:59 and says ‘perfect.’ Or are you going to come through in 1:59 and say, ‘too fast.’ First you need to think that you can do it, and then you can do it.

Full AMA: http://www.reddit.com/r/AdvancedRunning/comments/35rmd6/reddit_whats_up_i_am_kyle_merber_of_hoka_one_one/

Working out at Occidental College 5 days prior to the Hoka MDC. 2 x 600 + 4 x 400 (127--125--58--57--55--54)
Working out at Occidental College 5 days prior to the Hoka MDC: 2 x 600 + 4 x 400 (127–125–58–57–55–54) PC: Ford Palmer

Additionally, in a different thread I was asked for a race report from this past weekend at the Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic. Here was my response: 

I like getting out a bit slow in the 1500. I came through in 44 high and felt good, but started slowly working my way up as some guys let a gap open up between them and the rabbits. I followed Leo around, and it felt like I was flying that second lap. Turns out I went 56.4 from 200 to 600. Once bridged, I felt settled again and back in control, but when the rabbits stepped off the front hit the breaks and all those guys who didn’t drop a 56 to catch up made up the ground easily and swooped up from behind. (what a waste)

At 1200 I saw we were like 256 and I felt fantastic and thought if we moved immediately I could still get under the standard, but no one moved for a while and I was hugging the rail and trapped. The turns on the Oxy track are incredibly wide and long, and so being in lane 2 for a turn adds a lot of distance [smarty pants, Chris Derrick, has pointed out to me that this isn’t true], so I was sort of planning on riding the rail for the majority of the race anyways, but it ended up getting way too congested. I would have assumed beforehand that it was going to be a 335 race, and that there’d be room, but with 200 to go, we still weren’t moving that fast and I was getting swept by on the outside. Luckily with 75 to go I found a few holes and shot back and forth a few times and passed 6 or 7 guys for 3rd.

Walking away, I am happy because I felt fantastic and beat some really good guys. At the same time, I was just upset that the race didn’t accomplish the main goal of hitting the standard. Even more so, I felt like I never even gave myself a chance to try and win. However, stepping back I think it shows incredible growth for two reasons:

1) I am upset that I didn’t win, which is quite the mental jump for me. A year ago I would have certainly been pumped to finish 3rd in that field, but I seemed to have turned a corner recently.

2) In the past I have had a hard time piecing together multiple good races in a row. In the back of my head I was a bit concerned about racing a big one immediately after the World Relays. The few days after WR I slept terribly, and was just completely drained. We were originally going to race at the Oxy Invite 800, but Gags pulled it because I just wasn’t in the position to race yet. But I bounced back really well, so I am proud of myself for that.

Last year in Ireland I ran 3 x Mile races in a week. I pr’d by 2 seconds the first one, then another 2 the second one, and then ran a 4:06 in the third. I walked away from that thinking about the OT and how I will have to race 3 times back to back to back and be dealing with a lot more emotion and excitement.

World Relays

‘You are patriots! Trying to serve your country in a way that a lot of people won’t understand until they finally see the U-S-A on your chest! Then…they will get it.’  

World Relays4

It was one of the first days of practice in October, and we were huddled inside the shed at Rutgers University during a downpour at the track trying to get warm before our workout. This was the type of day when we needed a speech—something to get us excited and serve as a reminder as to why we are doing this. Nohilly has been known to provide some timely bone-chilling words on occasion. His voice vibrates with sincerity, and the motivation is seeping into us. My goal is simple: represent this country whenever I can, as best as I can. And that is earned on practices like today.

Since the indoor season I have been healthy and clicking off the usual 3.5 workouts a week and following it up with consistently long long-runs. I opened up at the Larry Ellis Invitational at Princeton two weeks ago with a personal best 800 of 1:47.2 and Gags was fired up about it. For where I was at in training, this was an exciting sign for the future. And when Coach Lananna called up the next day and asked what I thought of running a 1200, I spoke confidently about my abilities. But I think Gags had already convinced him.

Before I knew it, there was a suitcase filled with USA gear in my living room and I was celebrating like Christmas morning in April. And just a few days later I was flying to the Bahamas for a chance to compete on the biggest stage of my career. At this point, it is no secret that I am a pretty big track fan. My eyes light up in awe when Sanya Richards-Ross walks into the room. I have flashbacks to my 13-year old self, freaking out in front of the TV as Jeremy Wariner sprints home to gold in Athens. Now we are wearing the same uniform, except they are the ones getting stopped in the hotel to take pictures with fans.

We arrive on Wednesday for the Sunday race. In my head, this meant I had two and a half days to sit on the beach, and get a nice TV tan. Instead, it was nothing but rain and clouds, so we were forced to play the waiting game from underneath the hotel’s bed sheets. Ben, my roommate and our 1600 leg more or less slept for 3 days straight. It was fascinating seeing another athlete’s routine and peeking into his mindset approaching the race. The days leading in, Ben just talked about how he hoped he would at least break 4. So I had to remind him that he had just run 3:35 for 1500m indoors, and how we’d probably need something closer to that if we were going to win. The day before on the track we did a 200 because Ben wanted to find the pace. When we crossed the line in 30.5 and he said, ‘Perfect!’ I started to get a bit nervous. What do you mean perfect? That’s 4:04 pace!

A lot of the athletes who weren’t competing until Sunday opted to stay back and have a quiet night at the hotel. But on Saturday night, I went over to cheer on the squad and to get acquainted with the stadium’s atmosphere. By watching the action live it gives me the opportunity to visualize myself on the track better, and to get comfortable. So when the doors open and we first run out on the track, the crowd’s deafening roars aren’t a shock to the system. I sat in the stands alone, watching quietly. But when the men’s 4 x 800 won in dominating fashion, my heart was jumping. If I needed any extra inspiration, those guys provided plenty of it!

World Relays 3

By Sunday we had been there so long that the anticipation had reached all-time highs, and we were ready to race. We finally knew who our 400 would be and I was excited to have Brycen with us because he had just split 45.xx the night before. The 400 leg is easily the most underappreciated leg in the DMR. If run well, all the other 800 legs have to go out chasing. All it takes is an 800 runner going out 1 second too fast to blow up and change the dynamic of the race.

Vin wanted to meet with me to talk strategy, and I could tell he was a bit nervous. Putting the DMR together required a few more coaching decisions than the 4 x 800. He told me to just keep it close. Run conservatively and just make sure I finished hard the last 50 so Brycen could get moving and do work. Nothing fancy, just stay patient and be there. I could do that.

They were moving us into the call room early, so we warmed up almost 90 minutes prior to the race. That’s a bit more than I was used to, but the one thing I have learned in racing internationally the last couple years is that you have to be willing to adjust your routine. The more open to change the better.

We came out of the tunnel shadowboxing, and I felt good. This was exciting. My head was right where I wanted it. I was wearing my country’s colors and I had confidence in my teammates to get the job done after I got it started. This was the fun part. We train to race.

The race went out, and I couldn’t get over how nice the track was. It just felt fast. Every step generated so much power, and I felt smooth. When I saw us come through 200 in 29, I was shocked. With Kenya in the race, I expected the normally tactical 1200 leg to be more of a time trial. When we came through 600 in 1:30 I was sitting just off the lead on the outside of lane one, and I thought: if we want the record, I’d have to go now. I was fully aware of how fast we needed to run to get the American and World Records. I told Ben the days before that if he sees it’s going to be close that he better dive across the line. And just as I was considering taking the lead, something I don’t ever do, I remembered Vin’s instructions, so I just waited. After 800 in 2:00 the pace dropped a little bit, but nothing drastic. It wasn’t until 200 to go that Gregson of Australia, made a huge move and shot out of a cannon and opened things up. I reacted a split second too late, and got caught in 3rd, but closed well the last 100 to give it just a few steps back for a 2:53 in 2nd.

Brycen took off, and did what he does best—sprint. And after a phenomenal hand off with Brandon we had the lead. Brandon is a former 400 hurdler, and he’s got some wheels. He went out hard, but after 100 meters, Rotich of Kenya absolutely blew by him at a suicidal pace. But Brandon kept his composure like a professional, and despite Rotich’s 47-second first 400, he hung in there and ran smart. He closed hard for a 1:44 split and Ben would get the lead even with Kenya.

In perhaps the most clever and race savvy move I have ever seen, he jumped into lane 2 and hand motioned for Cheruiyot to take the lead. At which point he exploded forward in what would be a 51-second lap. Ben stayed poised, and hung back. He’d have to do this the hard way. I took a quick glance at the clock, and even with the quick first lap, I deemed the record-chase over. But less than 2 minutes later, that all changed. Ben was closing the gap, and doing it quickly. With just over 200 meters to go, he made a strong bid to the lead. After the race we joked that everyone watching was thinking that same thing; he went too early. With 100 to go, Kenya was on his tail and coming back. But in heroic fashion, Ben put his head down and stormed forward and pulled away. He ran through as the fireworks launched at the finish and crossed the line in 9:15.50—The World Record!

WorldRelays2

I didn’t know what to do. I jumped. I yelled. I cried. I hugged. We did it. I have never had an influx of emotion in such a dramatic fashion. We huddled together. An unlikely team of four guys, strangers a week before, embraced and tried to make sense of what we had just accomplished. We were draped in flags and sent on a victory lap. If only the track had been a bit longer around so I could have held onto that feeling for another couple minutes.

We climbed onto the podium, and had gold medals placed around our necks as we turned to the right and watched our flag slowly rise as the National Anthem played in the background. I put my head back, with tear-filled eyes and a smile from cheek to cheek. The ups and downs. The workouts in the rain. The time in the weight room. Miles on empty trails. It was all worth it. And while up there, I paused for a moment to remind myself to never forget this feeling–This is why we do it.

(Photo 1&3-Getty Sport, Photo 2-Kirby Lee of Image of Sport via Letsrun)

A Labor of Love

Marx

My apologies in advance, but I want to talk philosophy. Not about the historically well-endowed Socrates, but instead of one bearded old German guy whose ramblings did justice to the feelings I share but have failed to articulate so profoundly. When I say his name, I expect the hypothetical room to go silent, ready? Karl Marx. I know. Unfortunately, as history would have it, most people think he just went on and on about communism and inspired everyone that America has ever hated [for some people, that’s our own President]. But I don’t want to turn this into a McCarthy-esque witch-hunt, and hope that I will not be misinterpreted as someone who thinks poor people deserve medical care too, because that’s just asinine! To the surprise of many, he had some good ideas and one in particular encapsulates everything I love about running, and that’s his theory of alienation.

“And this life activity [the worker] sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. … He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labor itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another.” -Karl Marx

Individuals used to be independent. Within the nuclei of our family, we would roam the land eating berries, stealing nuts from squirrels, and maybe even killing the occasional woolly mammoth. But at a certain point in time we discovered the benefits of not doing that, because that sounds hard. So we learned that if we settled within the comfort of a village, threw up some walls, and distributed the necessary tasks of survival, we’d have more time to play the newest video game consoles. This is specialization, and it was among the greatest achievements until sliced bread. But there is a nasty side effect of living in a socially stratified society [besides tax breaks for the rich], and that is because the estrangement of labor is real.

Inspired by the meatpacking district of Chicago in the mid-19th century, Henry Ford popularized the assembly line technique for the completion of the Model-T. Workers would stand next to the conveyor belt, focusing solely on one task, and upon its completion, would pass it along, and repeat the mind-numbing job. Between the first punch in and the last punch out, factory men remain unchallenged and replaceable while on the clock. There is a distance that exists between the worker and the product. His monotonous labor lacks any form of stimulation and he fails to see how his specific role contributes to the final result. An entire day is spent putting two pieces together, but never seeing the finished puzzle. That disconnect between the subject and the object is neglectful to the human spirit’s need to feel purposeful. This is why people are miserable.

For Marx, this problem could be solved by communism. But good luck enjoying your job when America hears you like sharing. Instead, I believe in an input-output model. When my passion for running began, it was addicting. Thinking back to the exhaustion from those first runs at the dawn of my career, it’s amazing I ever fell in love with the sport. I remember stopping to walk for a few minutes with a couple teammates when coach wasn’t looking. But as the miles passed by, I experienced small bouts of success daily. There was no more walking. A two-mile run felt about as hard as one-mile once was. And before long, I was running three and four daily. My paces were getting faster, and my personal bests were being lowered. I wanted more. And it was so simple; if I worked hard and smart, then I would run faster than before. For a confused kid wandering the labyrinth of a middle school’s hallways, I cherished the straightforwardness that came after the final bell. The correlation was direct, and the results were tangible. Motivation stemmed intrinsically, and I prided myself in what I was doing. And many miles and minutes of running later, the same phenomenon still exists. The more I put in, the more I get out.

In running, your labor is not replaceable. You cannot run a mile for a friend, or skip a day and make it up. But you can say that the times you run, and the races you win are all yours. That is because, in the end, your work is the final product.

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The past two weeks I have been on the road a bit as I spent a week working at 5 Star Cross-Country Camp, and then a week staying at a cabin in Maine. Déjà vu. I came home inspired, and hungry. Additionally, I had the chance to do a motivational talk of my own at Westwood XC Camp. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a few different camps, and it is always a fun way to get some kids excited about running. Those weeks away were motivating and fortunately, I have returned a bit more fit than when I left.

I have written before [on this blog] about the ‘Juice Theory,’ which values the added benefits of the gradual build up, so I will stay true to that, as I believe it has done me a lot of good so far during this summer. Under the guidance of Gags, I have been made patient, and in my 10th week, hit 60 miles in 6 runs. I will continue to climb a bit higher the next month, and I will slowly integrate some [very] easy workouts into the routine.

Additionally, I have been experiencing what I call the ‘Balloon Theory,’ which in short states: Fitness is like a balloon. It is much harder to blow up the balloon as it expands to a point that it has never been before. But once the air is let out, and an attempt to blow up the balloon again is made, it is much easier to achieve levels of expansion previously reached.

Now that I am home I have to figure out my apartment situation, and finding a job that is content to let me come in late everyday and have the freedom of traveling regularly. Ideally it’s not on an assembly line.

The Summer Running Convention

Before the close of my sophomore year of high school, my coach approached me at practice with a brochure. On the printed cover there was an eclectic group of boys and girls, strategically picked to mirror the diversity of the United Nations, running down a trail. I was skeptical. He opened up the pamphlet and pointed at one of the pictures, “Look! This camp brings you to where this year’s state meet is going to be. Go.” I did not have the fortune to matriculate into a high school powerhouse. Instead I came into a program of sprinters, and under the guidance of a soccer coach. But despite having limited experience with distance running, he was smart and willing to learn. So together through my high school years we read books, talked to other coaches and athletes, and developed a program that would work. For what he lacked in knowledge of lactate thresholds he made up in wisdom. And sending me to cross-country camp was one of his best moves.

 

There was no way I was going to camp alone though. I was a social butterfly of prodigious standards, but I wasn’t going to show up without a backup plan. I convinced my teammate Leroy to tag along, who was more a wrestler than he was a runner, but he was always down to make new friends. We pulled up to the campgrounds, and we were baffled. Cross-country camp was nothing like we had imagined. Everyone was having a good time playing basketball, but the kids were a bit bigger than we imagined. I looked at Leroy who sat beside me in the back seat to see if he was equally confused. His initial concern about camp had been resolved, “It looks like I’m not going to be the only black kid.” We rolled up in our car and spoke to one of the counselors. It turned out that the cross-country camp was a bit further down the dirt road. We followed the path and crested the hill only to see dozens of shirtless kids tossing a Frisbee across the field. That’s more like it, I thought.

 

Coming from a high school without a real running tradition, I was regularly mocked for sporting short-shorts to practice. In the most stereotypical fashion, the football players would call out and whistle as I ran around their field. This was flattering. But at camp, I was no longer the lone soldier. Within a couple hours of being there, and before even heading out for a run, I had been accepted solely by the condition of being a fellow runner. In that one week of camp, I listened and absorbed the lessons from such runners as Dick Beardsley, John Gregorek, Henry Rono and others like my running group counselor who was a former Footlocker National champion. I left camp with a new sense of pride to be a runner. As an athlete who was participating in one of the less popular sports in school, it was comforting to see that I was not alone. Somewhere out there were running nerds, just like me. But I didn’t find them until I went to camp.

 

Eight years later and I am headed back to camp again, yet now I return in a different role. Now it’s my turn to motivate some kids, share some wisdom, and make them laugh on the longest runs of their lives. However, at the end of the week when I am exhausted from waking up for early morning runs, playing Frisbee, putting on skits, swimming in the lake, and teaching clinics, I will come away with a spark of inspiration myself. As I am doing my best to eclipse my personal bests, and make a splash on the elite scene in the upcoming year, it is easy to be consumed by the business-like side of racing. But spending a week with kids who enjoy running for its purity is a refreshing look back to where I started, and to appreciate where I have ended up, so far.

 

Since cross-country runners have more camp pride than a wizard and their Hogwarts house, I’ll plug and say next week I will be up in Rockhill, NY at 5 Star XC Camp (www.5starxc.com). There’s still time to sign up and drink the ambiguously flavored red drank.

Summer Running, So Much Fun

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The rain is pouring down, and I have one mile left. My friend is on the bike next to me, shouting words of encouragement and kicking up the puddles in his tracks. I am lifting my knees up, and my arms are chugging. It’s just a training run, and it’s just the summer. But right now, anything is possible.

“So what are you going to do?”

“I am going to run.”

“Yeah, but like, aside from that?”

“I don’t know. Read.”

It seems as if most adults lack any form of awareness that professional running is a viable option for athletes. Normally I will hear a follow up along the lines of, ‘Like, Olympics and stuff?’ In which turn, I affirm yes and add a subtle ‘hopefully.’ Returning home and being back in my natural habitat took a couple weeks of adjustment. At first, I was saddened by the disappearance of my childhood friends who have all moved into the city to tackle the world on a new level called, “real life.” Meanwhile, I am back having Mom make home cooked meals and enjoying the luxury of a fully stocked pantry. This is far from a permanent settlement, but I am currently in an awkward phase of limbo, and so this is a comforting place to be. Sometime soon I will move back into [most likely] the city when my self-proclaimed summer vacation is over.

When my season came to an abrupt end this past spring, I felt more relieved than I was upset. For months things hadn’t been going my way, and I was frustrated with my body. Mentally, I was burnt out. All fun had been zapped from the game, and I was at peace with having to take some time off to regroup. Upon finishing, I knew I had to get away. I weighed my options between traveling around Asia, or getting in my car and seeing the country and visiting friends. Financially, the latter won out, and I spent the next two weeks and 7.000 miles on the road, seeing incredible things, making memories, and most importantly, having time away from the sport. I ended up taking three much needed weeks off from running, to allow my body and mind to fully heal.

I have just begun my fourth week of training, and to say that I am being conservative would be an understatement. I get a phone call from Gags just about every other day checking in on me, and his only concern ever is if I am feeling healthy. As a close friend of mine always preaches, ‘the goal of an athlete should only ever be to be, stay or get healthy.” I started by running 20 minutes a day, and over 3 weeks later I am up to 35 minutes a day. My new stretching and strengthening routine (http://www.whartonhealth.com/flexibility-strength-dvd) has become a daily ritual. Each day is surrounded with infinite time to do everything I need to do to be successful, as I cautiously build my mileage back to normal levels. Luckily my mother works at a bookstore and can fulfill my voracious reading habits, because recovery has been key for me this summer and there’s a lot of sitting around.

My gleeful return to New York has reminded me of the importance in balancing sport and life. It’s been a relief to set myself in place with friends and family who share no concern for running. I have high school friends still making fun of my shorts and who are confused about why I shave my legs. And that’s nice to hear, because it puts things into perspective, which is essential when I am watching European escapades from afar. Now that I am back training in some capacity and seeing the recent success of US distance running, it has been a source of inspiration, and I am hungry again.

But motivation has come from other directions as well. Last week a few friends and I met up for a short jaunt around the local state park. I don’t know why I had never explored this place further when I was younger, but it is filled with trails. One of my buddies brought his little brother who was going to tag along. We got talking about his training, and what his plans were for the summer. The more and more we talked, or rather, that I asked, I realized—this kid has no clue what he’s doing. I asked him what he wanted to accomplish this fall, and what some of his long-term goals were. He was light on his feet, and a fluent stride. I thought surely he’d tell me about his plans for states, or to qualify for nationals. But he was just out running and trying to keep up with his big brother, having some fun and trying to get faster. And that’s exactly what I was doing out there. So as the summer miles pile up, I’m reminded to allow my mind to wander and dream, because right now, anything is possible.

My Time in Texas

“Areté implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency… or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself.”

-Robert M. Prisig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Have you ever heard of Michael T. Joyce? Neither had I. Until author, David Foster Wallace introduced him to me. He is an incredible talent, who has worked for years to tirelessly develop his craft.  At 22 years old, he had aspirations to improve, and to beat the best and to push back the walls that bound him. During the summer of 1996, Michael T. Joyce was ranked the 97th best tennis player in the world. If he played on a public court, he’d be a spectacle and amass a crowd of onlookers who’d watch in awe. He’s fast, he’s strong, and he can hit a tennis ball with pinpoint accuracy with a backspin that could bring the ball right back. But he’s not Pete Sampras, and he hasn’t earned his way to play against Andre Agassi. That’s when I realized; I am Michael T. Joyce.

I skipped my cool down. It never even crossed my mind to do it. I was done, and my collegiate career was over. I entered the showers more numb than upset. I stood there for a moment, with my eyes closed as the cool water rushed against my face, and then I sat. My back was against the wall as I was sitting in a puddle of my own filth. The thought popped into my head to where I was about a year ago. Finishing the season prior with a similar sense of disappointment, but with an optimistic outlook of what this year would bring. If I could go back to then and see where it is that I am now, would I do it all over again? Undoubtedly, yes.

When I committed to run for Texas following my junior year, I had missed the three previous seasons and had not produced a single result in over thirteen months. But in an act of faith, Coach Hayes and Coach Thornton decided to take a risk on me, for which I am forever grateful. Unfortunately, this year did not unfold as I had planned. There was so much more that I wanted to give to this team, but I did not PR and I did not hit my goals. I was perpetually injured and unable to compete at the level my teammates deserved. My performances were lacking, and I was a constant headache for our training staff. Following my final race, when Coach Hayes entered the locker room and saw me hanging up my burnt orange jersey for the final time, we shook hands and I thanked him for everything. But there was one thing I wanted to make sure he knew, as well as everyone who I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with while spending the last year in Austin—I loved it.

I woke up this morning, and I still have a smile on my face, and isn’t that the ultimate purpose of running, to find happiness? It just so happens that in my hedonistic pursuit I stumbled upon the sport of running and acquired the desire for arbitrary feats of endurance. Athletics is one possible mean to the same end we are all chasing. And while it is easy to become absorbed by the tunnel vision required to be successful, now at the conclusion of my season, I can look back with the proper perspective that is no longer blinded by frustration. Although the list of things I hope to accomplish continues to grow, I try to remind myself that they are all part of the single greatest achievement worth pursuing, and that is satisfaction.

As articulated by Aristotle, the ultimate virtue is namely eudaimonia, translated literally as “good spirit,” but often intended to mean “well-being.” As people we are ceaselessly striving towards this ideal, but perhaps aiming towards it is what provides it most fully. And through the various stages of my career, I expect to have many bad days to accompany the good. But much like an aspiring tennis star, I will continue to look towards winning against the best. Yet whether I get there or not, I hope to conclude in much the same way Michael T. Joyce was personified: “He will say he is happy and mean it.”

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I was recently told that the biggest advantage a post-collegiate athlete could have is a strong support system. To be surrounded by people who believe in you and accept your decision to put aside some of the temptations of the real world (re: money), to pursue a dream you have been chasing since you first started competing at five years old. Throughout my years in college, I was given endless opportunities by so many people to play a sport I love, and I could never thank everyone along the way enough for what they’ve given me. To my parents, family, coaches, teammates, friends and fans, thanks for being a part of the journey, and I am excited to enter into the next stage of my career, and I trust you will join me. Right now, I need some time off to recover, get rested and healthy, but I am excited to make up for some lost time.

 

David Foster Wallace-The String Theory

 

The Juice Theory of Fitness

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Think of gaining fitness as a similar process as squeezing oranges to make a fresh glass of juice. Each orange you squeeze is a different stage of training in the building-up process of working towards a peak. Each orange you use, you want to squeeze out as much of the juice as possible, because you’re thirsty and you love orange juice. You are willing to squish and grind that orange to make sure every last drop falls into the glass. However, if you are impatient, and you know that you could get more juice quicker by throwing one orange out and moving on to the first squeeze of the next orange, you’re going to run out of oranges. But you’re thirsty, and you want to enjoy that juice now. Although you may be enjoying the sweet and savory taste of that orange juice sooner than you would have had you completed the squeeze of each orange properly, that glass could have been a little more full if you didn’t rush to enjoy the fruit juice of your labor. Instead, you’re done drinking your juice and you’re not satisfied.