A Running Clock: Thoughts on Time

A Running Clock

Time is a funny thing. It’s one of the few things that is simultaneously subjective and objective. It is subjectively experienced all of the time while remaining objectively measured at all times. Running a 400m sprint in 48 seconds feels a lot longer than 48 seconds watching a movie. It’s still 48 seconds. Oddly enough the very concept of time is almost subjective. If humans never attached a value to it, all we would have is our individual experience of time to refer to. The reference point we have created is what really gives time meaning and context when looking at whether or not time is going by “fast” or slowly” or considering how much time one has.

When I look at my time right now, there doesn’t seem to be much of it. I haven’t been able to slow down and take a moment to allow the momentum of my life to swing back and hit me in the face in what seems like a long time. Between work, training for OCR, family obligations, recovery and podcast production, it seems each moment of my life is allocated to something. But I can’t help but question when it comes to my number one goal of making the podium at a Spartan Race, is my lack of success a function of not putting enough time in or not enough time spent putting the work in?

In endurance sport the longer you do it, the better you get, and the closer you get to your potential. Many people may never hit there so called aerobic ceiling. The various aspects of endurance can continue to improve well into middle age (30s and 40s in athlete years) Other physical endeavors like sprinting or max lifting people can reach there potential much faster, but the gains tail off relative to an athletes genetic potential relatively quickly. This is interesting because theoretically, you can gain ground on a person that beats you as time goes by. If they are closer to their max potential than you are, despite the fact that they are ahead of you, they might be improving at a slower rate than you are.

If they are going from 95-96% and I am going from 70-90% I will close that gap a bit. Of course the two factors that control this are time spent per day, week, month and years improving and the total length of time improving. Eventually each person hits a ceiling. The closer you get to that ceiling the more marginal the gains become. Once two people top out the question is: how do their 100 percents match up? When I started out in the sport of OCR I knew I had a ton of ground to make up on the front runners. I knew the transition to get up to the front would require a ton of time. Both on a per week basis and longitudinally.

I went into this OCR season with high hopes. My speed is at the level that puts me in the same class as many of the top competitors in the sport (most podium finishers can run less than 16:30 in a 5k, I’m at 16:22.) I’m steadily working on getting better at the various aspects of the sport needed to do well. This includes grip strength, grip endurance, transition speed/recovery coming off of obstacles and overall durability over the course of the race among many others. In the last 8 months,I have been diligently paving over the potholes to smooth out the track to my goal. Yet 8 months removed from the Spartan World championships and hundreds of hours of training later my results have been similar to last year so far:

Vegas super 16th place winner 1:00:56 my time 1:16:40
Seattle Super 18th (14th without 2:00 minute penalty 1:27:47 (1:25:47)) winner 1:12
Vegas 16:40 behind the winner and 12 minutes off of the podium
Seattle pre penalty 13 minutes behind the winner and 10:30 off the podium

There goes that time thing. Objectively crushing me. Essentially this means I need to get 20-30 percent better.

10-15 minutes might be one year of work or potentially impossible to make up. Many successful people have told me never to set a goal that you can imagine would be easy to accomplish. This will not forge a new you. By setting a goal that seems unattainable you gain access to true transformation. At the same time, I would be lying if I didn’t admit I question if I will ever make up those minutes. When you look at the top 20 of these races they are all putting in a ton of work. They are all willing to visit the pain cave. They throw down the miles, lift the weights, carry heavy things up hill in similar amounts. What makes me so special? Why can I ascend the ranks? These are the types of things that run though my mind when I am in doubt..

This idea hit me as I was burning out in the Seattle Super. Last season each Spartan race my strategy always was to run my own race. Forget the competition, hit my paces and let the chips fall where they may. That attitude might get me a nice finish, but it will never get me on top of the podium. So this season the intention going into each race was to take it out with the leaders and hold on for dear life. I tried this in Vegas and my hopes and dreams of hanging with the leaders took two major hits. First, 5 of the top 8 in the world showed up for this race. Second half of that race took place on sand. And apparently sand slows me down more than others. So within 1 mile the race leaders were good as gone. Seattle was a different story. I hung in there for about 3 miles, blazing at a pace way faster than I have ever covered in an OCR race. First mile 6:02, second mile 6:40 third mile 9:37 including the bucket carry. This entire time I am a matter of yards of the race leader and immediately next to 2,3,4 place. I’m feeling great exploring new territory I have never approached in a Spartan race before. Well I wish that race was 4 miles. The second half of that race had me questioning everything as the race leaders ran off into the distance and out of sight. Why am a I out here? Why am I spending all of these hours training? Will I ever be up there with those guys? Am I just not cut out for this?

Then as quickly as the questions came the answer came. As I pulled myself up a veritable mud cliff with ropes pegged into the cliff side and I hung on for dear life as me and my fellow competitors managed our way up this weird hill I realized: I love this stuff! This is what gets me going. I love the training, I love putting it to the test. I love the process and having a purpose. Everything these courses throw at me, I love. So whether I objectively make up those minutes or not, my subjective experience of the time I spent working towards shaving that measurable quantity of time that separates me from the truly great, is time well spent.

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