Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chris Lundstrom on How to Manage a "Full Life"

Chris Lundstrom has learned that life is often an exercise in "juggling," and he seems to do well with lots of "balls" in the air.  Below he talks about how he fits everything in and how to "simplify" a "full life.'"

Down the Backstretch:  You’ve got a streak going at the Superior 50K.  Does that keep you coming back or does the race just fit in with your schedule?

Chris Lundstrom: Really neither. It's just a run that I enjoy doing. I have done it a couple of times as an over-distance training run leading up to Grandma's Marathon, and I've also come off of other "peak" races like the Boston Marathon and the American River 50 mile and just gone out and done what I could do.

I do think it's a beneficial run in terms of building fitness and not trashing my body too much. I find I'm sore in really weird places after Superior, I guess due to the extreme variation in the terrain. So I'm hurting for a couple of days afterwords, but then I seem to experience a boost in fitness.

DtB: The reports were that the snow up north had melted by race time, replaced by mud.  Was the footing an issue or is it pretty much the same every spring up there?

CL: Every year is different, but it's usually somewhat muddy. I would say it was more muddy than usual this year, but not the worst I have seen it. Sometimes you have downed trees, etc., and that was not an issue this year. The rocks and roots are a bigger issue as far as footing goes, and they are always there. 

DtB:  You’ve done it all, track, roads, mountains, and trails.    Any one discipline have an edge over the other?  What adjustments do you have to make going from marathon training to ultra training?

CL: I have always enjoyed variety in running. Track has never been my strong suit, or something I've enjoyed as much as the other stuff. I do enjoy track workouts again now, after several years of avoiding them like the plague. 

Trails are probably the best fit for my life right now, in terms of what I get excited about and have the capacity to train for. Mountain running is great, but living in Minneapolis, training for it is a challenge, and not particularly enjoyable. 

The road marathon has a special place in my heart, but I hold myself to a pretty high standard for how fit I want to be before I consider running a marathon. I guess I am able to move from one thing to the next fairly easily just because I keep a good mix of stuff in my training -- hills, tempo runs, intervals, long runs, trails.

DtB:  How do you fit in everything that’s “on your plate” right now.  New dad, coaching, exercise physiology, eat, sleep?

CL: I just have to prioritize and consciously limit the time I'm putting into particular things. Also, I have learned to say no. I used to try to do everything that someone asked me to do, but I can't even try to do that anymore. The number one priority is my daughter. My academic work, and trying to get my PhD, was put on hold last fall as I stayed home to take care of her. I started back up in January, and I really did suffer in terms of sleep and nutrition. Summer should be much better, as I don't have any teaching responsibilities at the U.

I'm doing better at carving out time to do the things I want and need to do. For example, for several months I was just running either on the treadmill in my house while my daughter was napping, or at night after she went to sleep. Now, I have three to four days per week where I have a window of time set aside to run.   

It might not be a lot. Sometimes, I only have an hour, so I'll get right out the door and put in a good, solid hour. No stretching or messing around. I do very little easy jogging, and I rarely drive to go run at different places or even run with other people anymore just because of the time efficiency element. Workouts just have to fit in where they can. 

I don't have the flexibility to say: "Oh, I'm not recovered, I'll put it off until tomorrow." Those windows of time are pretty fixed, so I just have to go for it when I can. I end up doing a lot of altering of workouts according to how I'm feeling. By the same token, my racing schedule ends up being dictated by what I'm able to do in training, rather than setting a goal race and working back with the ideal schedule of how I will peak for it. 

I've been pleasantly surprised at how well that has worked out. I ran faster at the Irish Run 8K this year than last year, and faster at Get in Gear 10K than I had run a couple of years ago. Mentally, I think I'm easier on myself now, so it's freeing in a way. I'm happy to make it to the starting line when I do, and any performance I can pull off given the limitations of my life right now seems like a pretty big success. And frankly, it's a lot of fun and exciting being at races in a way that I hadn't felt for the last few years.

DtB:  Kinesiology is a big thing right now.  Coaches are trying to help their athletes become more efficient, faster through better “mechanics.”  Do you buy into that or are you still and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” sort of coach when it comes to form?

CL: My field is exercise physiology, rather than biomechanics, so I haven't gotten into analyzing joint angles or anything like that. I guess I'm sort of old school in my approach to mechanics, where you look for obvious wasted energy and maybe work on reducing those types of movements. I do encourage runners to do a lot of form drills, plyometrics, strength exercises, etc., which over time should translate into more efficient movement. Most people don't like to do that stuff, but I really do believe in the benefits. But no, I'm not a coach who spends a lot of time making runners think about their form.

DtB: Has what you’ve learned in your graduate program helped your coaching?  Your own running?  If so, how?

CL: Ultimately, yes, but it has also given me some insight into why a purely scientific mind could be an absolutely terrible coach! I do have a much greater ability to look at scientific research and understand what the implications are. But perhaps more importantly, I can also see its limitations and some of the problems with the way a lot of that research is conducted. 

Researchers and people who read research and report on it sometimes make these huge jumps in logic based off very short-term studies that don't have a lot to do with a real world situation of an athlete training for the length of their career. I will say that getting a deeper understanding of human physiology has allowed me to take a broader view of training than I used to, looking at sleep patterns, seasonal variation, environment, nutrition, and other factors that could influence the way an individual responds to training. 

Ultimately, it's still 90% about what the athlete is telling me, and that last 10% is my contribution of trying to figure out what else might be going on. I guess I have a few more tools than I used to, that's all.

DtB: Do you have any views on the whole “minimalist” movement regarding running footwear?  Not that you’d go minimalist, but as something that might be valuable for those you coach?

CL: Wearing flats or spikes in workouts and doing strides in those type of shoes or barefoot has long been a part of the culture of serious distance runners. That's basically a minimalist approach. Some runners do more than others in lightweight shoes, and some can't handle much at all. 

I tend to encourage athletes to do at least some workouts in their racing shoes. I also encourage high school runners to start out in a neutral type of shoe and go with that unless something occurs that suggests they need more support, while at the same time doing some of the auxiliary strengthening exercises that will hopefully guard against injury. 

My personal view is that unless an individual is walking around all day barefoot or in a minimalist shoe (which is unlikely, living in Minnesota), it is asking for trouble to put them in a lower heeled or minimalist shoe for their run. The run is the most stressful activity they'll do on most days. They don't need the added stress of lengthening their achilles and taking away the arch support, etc. that they've had the rest of the day.

DtB:  Many coaches see the profession as something of an exercise in making oneself obsolescent—i.e. you teach your athletes how to coach themselves.  Is that your philosophy, or do you see the coach/athlete relationship as something that can last for an athlete’s full career?

CL: To a degree, yes. Even with my high school runners, by the end of the season, I hope that they don't feel like they need me there two minutes before the race telling them exactly what to do. Coaching is basically education, and the best education is about giving people tools to work with. 

However, there's still a role for the coach beyond those basics, and I'm finding that the most rewarding relationships are those that go for years. I do feel like many of the athletes that I have coached for more than a couple of years probably could guess what the training is going to look like, and I believe that they would make good decisions about what to do without me writing their program. 

However, there are always new situations that people encounter in their running career. I coach a lot of athletes who are in their mid- to late-30's and 40's, and might be finding that their body doesn't respond exactly how it used to, so they need to change something. Or athletes continue to build their aerobic fitness year after year, and can gradually handle workouts that I would not have suggested when I started coaching them. 

Other times, it's just new situations or opportunities that crop up, and an athlete needs someone who knows them to bounce ideas off of, and help them make some decisions. I'm definitely interested in the evolution of the individual, not just as they reach the peak of their career, but also as they sit at that high point and look around wondering what's next, and as their life changes and the role that running plays changes. 

It's just as interesting to me to figure out how to help someone be their best on six hours per week as it is to coach a professional-type of athlete who has all the time in the world to dedicate to running.

DtB:  Any running “bucket list” for you in terms of things you still want to do as an athlete?

CL: Nothing definite, though I do think it would be fun to complete some of the classic trail ultras at some point in my life. JFK 50 miler, for example. I also have always wanted to win a USATF National Championship. That's clearly not going to happen in any shorter distance race at this point, so maybe I'll go after that at an ultra distance at some point soon, or maybe that'll be something I try for as a masters runner. 

I'm currently feeling like I might want to train for a road marathon again. It's been a year and a half since the last Olympic Trials, which was my last marathon, and I definitely needed a break. But I'm starting to get the itch to give it another go. So, if the summer goes well, I'll probably run Twin Cities in the fall. I just enjoy being around the amazing running community in the Twin Cities and Minnesota, and as long as I can keep doing that, I'll be pretty happy.

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