A fellow blogger that recently posted this blog and really got me thinking. In fact, one of the best features of the blog was that he didn't attempt to answer the questions and left it up to the reader. As the reader, I decided to take a crack at answering a few of those questions for myself.
Let me start by saying that I don't like the term "heart runner" because I think that it somehow implies that "head runners" don't run hard or with courage. I don't think that was entirely the idea. The idea, at least as I think of it, is more about how much risk you take in racing. How much you throw caution to the wind and go for it. Or, conversely, how much you measure and calculate everything in an effort to only take quantifiable chances.
In the sections that follow, you will find some the qualities that I think make a "heart runner". Before reading on, know that I am writing this article in consideration of the experienced racer that has a well-defined goal. There are plenty of people that run just for fun and are not covered in the discussion below. I find this type of running very commendable, but I think the factors that go into that type of running are very different.
Properly trained mentally and physically
The elites do know about V02 max, lactate threshold, nutrition, hydration, specificity training and all the various components that go into racing. Dramatized articles and books often tell stories of runners showing up at the starting line with little or no preparation and then winning or setting course records. In truth, this almost never happens. You must be trained to run the distance you intend to race -- particularly endurance races -- or running with your heart will lead to disaster nearly every time. It won't be a 50/50 probability of finishing or having a PR. Instead, it will be a 99.99% probability of a DNF or a total disaster. Even a heart runner must use some data and calculation to his advantage on race day and in goal setting.
Only have one goal
A lot of runners go into a race with more than one goal. And, while I don't take particular issue with that, I think a "B" goal can be come a crutch if an "A" goal seems too hard or unattainable. My guess would be that almost all competitive runners have done this at some point. To me, running with your heart means that after the race is well underway you throw away any "B" goals. You go after the "A" goal at any expense. That means risking a blow up. Is missing a goal by 5 seconds or 5 minutes a different type of failure? I would assert that a "heart runner" is only concerned with one goal and missing by any amount of time is failure to reach the goal. Having a "B" goal just softens the anguish of missing the real goal -- at least outwardly.
Fully accept the outcome
Heart runners don't make excuses. They give it their all and then accept the outcome. All the factors that become excuses are just parts of the story that make it either magic or tragic. But they are not reasons for pity, sympathy, or compliments. They are just part of each unique story that make it worth living!
This year I have had my first experience at both ultrarunning and "advanced" marathon training. While I don't particularly enjoy the amount of precision that goes into advanced marathon training, I do respect it. In the end, training for any length of race is a journey that lasts many weeks and months. And how the runner approaches that journey determines whether she is a "head runner" or a "heart runner". My season has been full of success. I believe that part of my succcess comes from being a predominantly "heart runner". My approach has been to train and prepare like an obsessive person, and then throw my chips on the table and give it 100% on race day. I have not made every "A" goal, but neither have I asked for sympathy in any challenges I've faced. In fact, I find the challenges make the journey even sweeter.
My 50 miler is perhaps the best example. Two weeks before I went to the Leadville Marathon and gave my best effort, beating my goal of 5 hours. The week of my 50 miler, I wound up very sick. Is it possible that putting a 100% effort into a race two weeks earlier contributed to me getting sick? Yes! The day of my ultra I ran with a 101+ degree fever and terrible stomach problems. In fact, I barely drank and could not eat for final three hours of a ten hour race. There were many moments when I tried to persuade myself to pick a "B" goal, effectively quitting. I am so glad I did not! I missed my goal by more than twenty minutes. (I publicized I was going for 10 hours, but I was really hoping to beat my buddy Tony's 9:42 from 2009). I would not go back and give less than 100% at the Leadville Marathon. And, I cannot definitively say that having a fever hurt me during my ultra. A case could even be made that I paced myself better early in the race because I was ill. It is all just part of my story, and it was an incredible ride.
That is how I feel about "heart running" and "head running". Perhaps I am just rationalizing my way into making myself a heart runner. Perhaps I have tried too hard to put boundaries around this topic in an effort to answer the questions. The beauty of the conversation is that I think it really mirrors how we approach life. Life is such an amazing journey. But it is a journey without guarantees. The best way to ensure success is to learn to enjoy the ride and all the unique aspects that make it your own.