Thursday, January 27, 2011

Paris Brest Paris: intuiting and relaxing.

When I decided to engage randonneuring and set the 2011 Paris Brest Paris as my objective just shortly after the 2007 edition of PBP (and my first learning that such an event existed) I had a mental image of myself surviving--barely--an event for which I had very little perspective. In fact, reviewing my first post on this blog I find two photos of PBP 2007 participants. One is of a smiling finisher looking pleased but not beaten. The second is of a cyclist asleep on the floor of the gym at the conclusion of that same event. While I bravely posited the question as to which would be me in that post, the truth is my only real objective at the onset was to finish. No matter how I survived, I just wanted to finish. I'd be thrilled to be the guy in the fetal position. And given how I fared on my longest ride to date--the Surf City 600k--I have a pretty clear image of what just surviving feels like.

Today, I here declare that I want more than to finish only. I want to enjoy PBP as an experience start-to-finish, and I want to be comfortable and relaxed in my overall pace. And to do so, I am going to follow in the footfalls of the gentleman above. Well, sort of. Tom Osler is apparently well known to those in the know among the running crowd, but I won't be running my way to Paris. I will, however, adopt Tom's training philosophy because...I intuit that it will suit me and my relaxed PBP finish visualization just fine.

I won't go too far into explaining Tom's approach because the links below to excerpts from his little book, The Conditioning of Distance Runners, speak for themselves. I will expand a little, however, on this notion of relaxation.

I've never really physically competed. Once I was chosen to compete in a track & field endeavor in elementary school and I failed superbly. The only accomplishment was breaking a basement (what we called cellar) window practicing the shot put with a soft ball! Another time I got put into the final minutes of a high school hockey game, and not because I was a clutch player. Nothing to rave about there either. I think that about covers my experience in physical performances.

Nor have I performed artistically. I don't sing or play an instrument. About the only thing I can think of that relates is public speaking: as a panelist, speaker, leader of a meeting. One thing I've learned about that is that being prepared and being relaxed are key, and they are linked. Breathing plays an important role in speaking too.

Another instinct I'm drawing on is my reaction to a book I bought to read on the plane as I went to India last month: Chris Carmichael's The Time-Crunched Cyclist. I know Chris is pretty much the guru cycling coach of the day, and I know that I probably qualify as a time-crunched cyclist, but I reacted pretty stiffly to Chris's prescription. In some ways though, Chris really ratifies what Osler contends. Chris's idea is that you can cheat by putting in less time, but just don't expect the results to last over time. I guess I don't disagree so much with that conclusion, but the notion of intervals, kilojoules, and overloads in a compressed time program put me off. It doesn't feel like it will have me very relaxed, either in training or in Paris.

Too, I am paying attention to my homeopath who winces when I describe brevets or permanents which leave me feeling spent. Spent is a warning word for him, and I listen to his winces. And when I described my intention to my physical therapist (the one I call The Healer) to begin to engage in interval training to build speed for PBP (this is prior to discovering Osler) I heard her silences. And she is an ultra-runner so her silences run deep.

All of this, combined with my bodily intuition that I want to pursue relaxation at a faster cadence, have led me to Osler and perhaps to some breath work as well. So what is Osler's prescription, written in 1967 for endurance runners?

Here is the link to Part 1 as reprinted in Runner's World in 1984.
Here is the link to Part 2 as reprinted in Runner's World in 1985.

The photo above of Tom running more recently is from his own website which is also worth pursuing. There you'll discover Osler's prolific and successful running career and rather astounding mathematics career. One glance and you'll see Tom Osler is not some goofy uninformed weekend athlete. Nope, he is that rare character that is wondrously athletic, analytical and intuitive all at once.

I thank Ian Jackson for turning me on to Tom, but Ian is a story for another day.

All this is not to say that I wouldn't be grateful just to finish PBP. I would. But my visualization is grounded in randonneuring as ambling, faster ambling. And to get there, I am going to eschew the frantic and the rigid, favoring intuition and relaxation instead. That previous sentence is not just about my cycling, it's about my visualization for my life.

Keep it visualized,