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  • Coach Jacob Puzey

RUNNING & EGGS

There are a number of phrases, terms, idioms, and analogies in our everyday language that use eggs to describe and teach essential life lessons and values. Many of these life lessons apply to running.


DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET


Certainly, goals should push and stretch us, but they should not crush us or create so much pressure to perform that we don’t enjoy the process or allow ourselves to reach our true potential. Avoid the tendency to put all your eggs in one basket by planning regular check-points or benchmarks (workouts or build-up races) along the way to measure progress and evaluate if you are on course to reach your goal.


If you have a couple of these predictor workouts and dress rehearsal races as part of your seasonal build up toward a goal race you’ll be able to determine what is going well and what you’ll need to do differently to reach your goal within the timeframe you have set. If you aren’t on track to reach the goal within the given timeframe, it doesn’t mean you have to double down. Sometimes it simply means you have to adjust the timeframe.


Read "Race Strategically" for more on how to set up an effective race schedule.


Similarly, goals should not consume us and make it impossible to work with or be around us. If you find that your goals are not actually helping you to become better (not just as a runner, but as a person – friend, colleague, partner, parent, neighbor), it is time to reevaluate your goals.


While I fully endorse and encourage setting ambitious goals and working toward them, I am an even stronger proponent of balancing ambitions with reality (life). As ambitious people, if we are not careful, we can get so fixated on a goal that we put all of our thoughts, energy, and resources into chasing that goal – a particular weight, a personal best, a Boston Qualifier, winning one’s age group, or standing atop the podium – and neglect other, more important elements of our lives: relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and community. At the end of the day, if your training and racing don’t improve your life and your ability to be a contributing member of a family or community, is it even worth it?


DON’T KILL THE GOOSE THAT LAYS THE GOLDEN EGGS


Our bodies are incredible. Pushing our bodies to the limit and finding that we are more capable than we even imagined is exhilarating and addicting. However, despite the extraordinary capacity of our bodies, it is important to understand that our bodies can and will break if pushed too much or too often.


In the legend of the man who killed the goose that laid the golden eggs in hopes that he might acquire all the wealth at once, he learned that the value the goose provided was in the reliable, consistent contribution from the goose that could be enjoyed by patiently waiting each day for the gift it would bring.


Similarly, we will find more cumulative value over time by being grateful for the simple gift of consistent, sustainable training than we will by racing every weekend or accumulating unsustainable weeks of training. Be grateful for the places you are able to access on foot, for the people you meet, for the lessons you learn, for the qualities running builds within you, and the things it teaches you about yourself and others. Remember, long-term sustainable goals will bring more fulfillment over time than short term goals with fleeting and fickle outcomes. Read "The Steady Dedication of a Lifetime" for more on consistency.


Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.


TRAINING IN A GROUP HAS BEEN COMPARED TO THROWING A CARTON FULL OF EGGS AGAINST A WALL


There is value in training with others. The momentum, the collective energy, community and accountability are all important ingredients when it comes to training. However, there are also risks involved for athletes and coaches when training in a group environment, least of which is that each person in that environment is different and needs different stimuli – duration, intensity, and frequency – to best meet their needs and help them maximize their potential.


When different people train in a group or follow the exact same training plan or schedule it can be described as throwing a carton of individual eggs against a wall. Those who survive will be strong and resilient and those who break are simply discarded, deemed weak and should find another activity. While this may sound harsh, this is unfortunately the norm in many high school and college programs around the world.


This is not to say that great results do not come from group settings. Many of the best athletes in the world choose to train on a team so that they have others to train with, but the best programs have a coach who individually tailors the training to each athlete. They don’t all train at the same frequencies, durations, or intensities every single day. They simply join each other for occasional runs or workouts (which are still often closely monitored and tailored to the individual).



Coach Patrick and NN Running Team physio, Marc, observing the team training as a group in rural Kenya. Photo by Malc Kent.

For example, the group may all warm up and do strides and drills together. Then part of the group may do a continuous tempo run while another segment of the group may do tempo intervals depending on the strengths, weaknesses, experience level, and goals of each athlete. They may all regroup toward the end of the workout to cool down. They may even do a core or strength training routine, but they wouldn’t all be expected to lift the same weight or even do the same number of repetitions.


Some athletes may have specific exercises prescribed to them to address areas of weakness, while other athletes may avoid certain exercises because they may cause them to bulk up. Those same exercises may be prescribed for another member of the team to increase strength, stamina, and durability.


I coached middle school and high school track and cross country for over a decade. Many of the teams and athletes against whom my teams and athletes competed had strong traditions of kids doing serious mileage in the off seasons – 100K to 100 miles per week during the summer. Many of their athletes got injured throughout the season, but those who could handle that kind of mileage were tough to beat.


When I returned to my Alma Mater in Oregon to coach, I tried to find a sustainable way of competing with these teams and athletes without compromising the short and long term health and fulfillment of my athletes. In my first year as a coach we had a talented group of kids who had just come off a disappointing fifth place finish at the Oregon State Cross Country Championships. They were hungry and willing to work hard.


In June, we attended a camp where the boys team made the goal that each team member committed to average 50 miles per week in the months of July and August. By the end of the cross country season we had the best top four runners in the Pacific Northwest and we placed two points behind the fifth ranked team in the nation. Why? Every single guy (about 14) that committed to run 50 miles per week actually ran 50 miles per week. Those that were healthy by the end of the season were fit, but unfortunately more than half of the guys who ran 50 miles per week got injured at some point along the way.


That is not to say that what the team accomplished at the end of the season was not something to be celebrated. It was the highest any team from the school had ever placed and they collectively worked hard to get there. The hard part for me as a coach was realizing that had even one or two of the other guys been healthy at the end of the season our team likely would have won the state meet and been one of the top teams in the country.


To be fair, the team we were competing against had an ever more serious problem. We had raced them multiple times throughout the year and each time we raced them their top guys got better and better, but some of their other guys performed worse and worse. Why? They had been running 80 to 100 miles per week as 14-17 year old high school kids. The top guys who were naturally efficient runners could handle it, but not everyone on the team could.


I learned a valuable lesson that season. Optimal training for one athlete is not optimal training for every athlete on the team.


I now coach athletes from around the world, of all ages, abilities, and ambitions, from middle schoolers to masters, newbies to national champions. Most of the athletes I coach do at least some of their training on their own. In the rare instance that an athlete reports an injury, more often than not that injury did not happen when training alone, but rather when joining a group for a speed or strength workout.


Again, I am not opposed to training in groups and spent over a decade coaching 60-100 athletes at a time, but it is important to recognize that when we train alone we are better able to listen to our bodies. Whereas when we train with others, we often try to save face and simply do whatever everyone else is doing (even if we aren’t certain about a particular activity, technique, or movement). This often leads to increasing the volume, intensity, or duration of activity more than we should and consequently we end up sidelined with an injury.


While I do not discourage training in groups, I recommend that those who train on their own learn to listen to their bodies and consider teaming with a coach who can help them determine the optimal durations, intensities, and frequencies at which they should train to reach their potential without breaking down. If you do train with a group, know your limits. Feed off of the positive energy of others, but also follow a plan designed to help you train optimally and not merely a plan designed for the masses.


For more on effective group training, listen to Episode 2 of The Art and Science of Running.


TRAIN, RACE, AND LIVE CON HUEVOS


Regardless of how well you train or how well you map out your race schedule, one quality will determine whether you reach your peak or not: huevos. Huevos is a Spanish term that translates literally to “eggs," but rather than being a purely feminine attribute it also translate to “guts” or “balls.” If someone has huevos they have guts. They race fearlessly and maybe a little recklessly. Steve Prefontaine had huevos. Jim Wamsley races with huevos. Des Linden races with huevos. It takes huevos to run the third quarter of a race as though it were your last. It takes huevos to stick to a plan and not get caught up in a group workout. It takes huevos to trust your coach even when you are suffering from a serious case of FOMO watching other races take place and you have a long run scheduled for the same time.


I was fortunate to be raised in a hard-working farm town in rural Oregon. Most people in our town either farmed, worked on farms, or worked in the distribution of the produce from the farms. The ground is so fertile and the water so plentiful that nearly half the community moved to the area from Spanish speaking countries to work in the fields. This is where I became a runner and also where I returned to coach. The greatest compliment I ever received from my high school coach was that I reminded him of a former runner from my high school, Juan Sanchez. Juan was notorious for training hard and sticking his nose into competitions that he didn’t have any business running in. I did my best to do the same as an individual, but no matter how hard I tried our team was never able to compete with the best teams in Oregon and Washington. They had a culture of winning. We had a culture of hard work, but our teams were never as deep.


My brother, Tommy, was a few years younger than me. He was smarter than me. He was tired of merely qualifying for the state meet and taking home the fourth or third place team trophy. He wanted to compete with the likes of Central Catholic led by Galen Rupp. He knew that the only way to do that would be to get the toughest kids in town to join the cross country team. He knew that many of the top PE miles were run by kids who either played soccer or boxed on the weekends. Most of those kids were from Mexico. Unfortunately, at that time our community was segregated and with a few rare exceptions the cross country team was too. It was a middle class white kid’s sport. Tommy and I were actually born in New Mexico so we didn’t see color, knew some Spanish, and figured everyone ate tacos. Tommy did what any creative kid would do – he designed t-shirts for the cross country team with an eagle eating a snake reminiscent of the Mexican flag on the front. The shirts became popular and the boxers and soccer players in the school wanted their own. Eventually they realized that Tommy didn’t care what color their skin was or what language they spoke. Tommy simply wanted the toughest teammates in the state to suffer with him. Within a year the team went from being a contender for a state trophy to being regular contenders for state titles.


Fast forward a few years when I returned to the same high school. By that time, many of Tommy’s former teammates had younger siblings and cousins. They joined the cross country team because their older siblings or cousins had positive experiences and many of them had earned college scholarships. They trusted me because they assumed that I was like my brother and valued hard work and huevos more than an address.


In 2010, I was fortunate to coach the first team from Hermiston High School to ever win an Oregon State Cross Country team title. All seven members of that varsity team were either siblings or cousins of people that were recruited by my bother years before. They all had the same old Hermiston Cross Country t-shirts with the eagle eating a snake that my brother had designed and screened years before. They were competing against runners much more talented, from bigger cities, and with more money than them. They didn’t care. What they cared about was making it a race. And that is what they did.


They made it a race at the conference championships when they perfect scored the meet (placing 1-2-3-4-5 for a score of 15) defeating a former state champion from another school who didn’t even qualify for the state meet because he didn’t finish in the top five. They made it a race when they led from the gun and kept digging and digging to put four guys in the top ten at the state meet. They made it a race every day of the season when they stayed after school to help each other with their homework and work over the weekends so that they had enough money for shoes to run in and food after away meets. They made it a race every day of the summer when they were up before the sun to beat the heat and get in 50-60 miles a week. They made it a race each time they were challenged and didn’t back down.

I have received a lot of praise for the things that those boys did and continue to do as students, runners, and members of the community. Some even thought I knew something about coaching. However, I knew and they knew that the reason they were successful had very little to do with me or my brother and much more to do with what their parents taught them and what they internalized and chose to do when faced with adversity. They were taught from a very young age to embrace challenges, avoid making excuses, and never back down. I learned from them that to reach your potential in running and life you have to have huevos. You must embrace challenges rather than run from them.


In summary,

  • Don't put all of your eggs in one basket,

  • Don't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,

  • If you aren't careful, group training can be like throwing a carton of eggs against a wall,

  • Train, race, and live with huevos.

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