Thoughts on Running by Feel, by Matt Fitzgerald

Over the past month I have been really looking hard at my running again and what my real goals are versus my various delusions of grandeur. Which also means that I have been re-reading some of my old running books (ebook and hard copy), to ponder on what people who are much smarter than I am, write about running. You know books like the one below:

No matter what I want to believe, eventually Father Time wins all his battles. However, I do want to keep making the old bastard chuckle at my feeble attempts to keep running as far and fast as I can, for as long as I can.

Which means that I have to work on my knowing what I am “supposed” to do as I get to be an old fart according to the experts versus what I think I know, in addition to actually doing the work when it comes to MY running.

What can I do?

So my latest reading about running binge focused on books and articles that get to the basics of training, especially how it affects an aging runnah and what kind of training mileage/paces I need to reach my goals. No woo stuff, just things I can actually use.

After re-reading all those books and articles on running, then doing a bit of thinking about how I look at my running, “Running by Feel” by Matt Fitzgerald is closest to the way that I think and actually have trained over the years. He puts words to many of the thoughts that I have about my running.

I have read Running by Feel several times and have read many of Fitzgerald’s other books. While I don’t agree with everything he writes, he does present information in such a manner that he makes me think about why I agree or disagree with his ideas on running, along with how or whether they will work for me – or not.

All I know is that each time I re-read Running by Feel, I find myself nodding my head and finding more nuggets of information that apply to how I train.

Biggest Take-Aways

The biggest take-aways from re-reading Running by Feel by Matt Fitzgerald this time for me are:

1. The Mind/Body are not separate. I think runners tend to compartmentalize the mind and the body too much, I know that I do. I write and talk about them as separate things – they are not. Separating the two might make it easier to say, treat or describe certain things relating to how some people think or view the mind/body connection. However, that is not reality, there is only the mind and body that work as a unified whole as Fitzgerald suggests in Running by Feel and I agree .

2. You are not anyone else. It comes down to the idea that I am not like any other runner, I am me. That runner who is: proud, determined, persistent, stubborn, pig headed, injury prone, a bit of a head-case, past my prime by a good deal and still wants to run to the best of my ability. In other words using those immortal words, “I am an experiment of one”. Yeah, I am nothing more than a damn lab rat. 🙂

3. Listen to yourself and how you feel. I know better than anyone else when I am tired, sore, hurt, when life is getting in the way of my running or when things are going well. I just have to be careful about comparing what do now versus what my younger self used to do when doing the same sort of workouts – I am no longer that person and not remembering that sometimes is the source of many of my strains, pains and injuries.

4. Not be a slave to a plan. After so many years of attempting to conform to this or that plan for whatever distance I wanted to run (usually the marathon), when I re-read “Running by Feel” last week, it finally clicked to what a canned training plan actually is to me. A training plan is a framework to build my running around, but I need to keep it, more like guide or is that guard rails that help keep me focused on doing enough, but not too much in a progressive manner.

In other words I need to do what I can do, when I am ready, rest when I need to and change things to meet my needs, not someone else’s ideas I have taken from the pages of their book or website.

5. Trust my instincts. I have been running for over 40 years and have a pretty good idea of the basics of running, but more importantly what works for me. I know consciously and subconsciously my strengths and weaknesses and what I need to do to meet my goals. Some of my best runs this summer have been the ones where that morning or a couple of minutes into a run, something tells me to do a completely different workout than what I had planned – including simply taking the day off. I am starting to trust those instincts.

6. Racing is going to hurt. Yeah, I know that I have to accept that there is going to be pain to achieve the time goals that I have for racing and this is a weakness for me. I make too many excuses based on ancient history and don’t step into the pain locker the way that I need to in order to race well.

Photo courtesy of Brendan Gilpatrick

I get to the edge and step back. Instead of stepping up to the pain, smile, acknowledge and accept what is coming then keep going. This is gonna need some work and more reading/studying to help this head-case out for this one. Fitzgerald has been very consistent across his books on this one and it is the hardest one for me to do.

Then again, is it worth going deep into the pain locker to simply finish with a certain time? This is something I am going to have to figure out, whether or not it is worth it to me to endure the hurt that goes along with racing hard.

7. Repetition is a good thing. Like Fitzgerald I got all caught up with the idea that it was better to be doing several different workouts during a training cycle and not repeat them very often, if at all.

In the book it validates something that I have learned. That I like to have a basic weekly routine that repeats, using different courses for variety and I run my best when I follow my routine. This routine and using the pretty much the same variety of courses tell me where I really am. I have learned the hard way that there is a lot to be said for being comfortable with my running and keeping the repetition in the 4-5 range seems about right to me.

8. My stride is MY stride. I have read too many “you too can run better if… and send me money to let me help you run better.” Over the past five years I have spent too much time attempting to “improve” my running form.

While I would love to think that it is better now than it was before I consciously attempted those changes, when I look at race photos – I really do not look all that different than I did before. I think I land more quietly and don’t pound my heels like I used to, but did that come simply from running more, versus consciously attempting to change my running form/mechanics?

Who knows?

Running by Feel and a few other books make me think that maybe I just need to run, versus consciously attempting to change how I run.

9. Simple is better. I don’t know if this one truly comes from Running by Feel, but when I was reading the book this time, I thought about all the distractions that I have let creep into my running. The constant search for the perfect running shoes, competing running philosophies, GPS watches, books, magazines, blogs, online websites, this blog, my need to have multiple running logs, technical clothing, music play lists, taking photos while running and all the other things in today’s world that seem to distract other runners and myself from focusing on gee whiz – running. I have attempted to simplify my running quite a bit over the last year and realize that I still have a ways to go.

10. Injuries Happen. Yeah, tell me about it! Oh well, I have learned from experience that what Fitzgerald says in the book is pretty much spot on. Sometimes there is no real rhyme or reason to how an injury happens and most of the time you just have to keep moving forward. In the book he alludes to the idea that time and rest heals the body as much anything, other than when something tears and/or needs surgery, I have found this to be true. I have pretty much stopped bothering medical types with my minor injuries and let nature take its course. Though I do tend to rush things a bit too much too often, which doesn’t always work out for the best.

The reality is that

My running focus isn’t on setting World, Country, Age Group or any kind of records, winning races, making it to the Olympics or hell even running a Boston Qualifying time (though it is still a dream). I simply am not that good of a runner.

Most of the books, magazines and websites that are published in today’s world focus too much on the younger “competitive runner” and insinuate that runners should always be working towards improving our race times or training for a certain distance that you have to do.

I wonder if that is the be all and end all of running?

All I know is that I get caught up in all that stuff too often and instead of doing what I enjoy in my running, I attempt to do what others are saying runners should be doing.

My focus should be and needs to be on enjoying my running for at least next 30 years or more and when I decide to go to a race, I need to do the best that I can during the race on that day. My best should be based on my current training, mental outlook, weather and yes, my age, not some artificial thing that isn’t the me I am now.

If I can do that and stop comparing myself to others and myself – the way that I used to be, I will be a happy and a decent age group runner, who enjoys continuing challenge myself and enjoys being around other runners.

Honestly, this will be a substantial change in my mindset and no, I have not completely and totally accepted that this is my future. One part of me still believes that I can do more and be more as a runner – those damned delusions of grandeur that are so hard to bury. However, I do not think that I am alone in that belief – that part in all of us that wants to deny that our best years are probably behind us and there are only slower times coming ahead.

Reality is a harsh mistress, but one that I really need to accept as a bigger part of my running.

I will get there.

Now to trust my intuition, well within limits.

Yeah, Running by Feel by Matt Fitzgerald does make me think about running from a different perspective than the usual running books that seem to say if you do this, this and this, you will achieve that. It puts the responsibility for your running in your lap and empowers you to think beyond the canned plan.

I own the eBook and will be ordering the hard copy version of Running by Feel. It is a book that I know that I want to keep in my library and one that I have a feeling will get pretty dog-eared, because it does have a lot of common sense wisdom in it for most mortal runners.

I just gotta remember that:

I don’t have to run, I get to run.

There is a big difference.

One thought on “Thoughts on Running by Feel, by Matt Fitzgerald

  1. Good thoughts! Thanks for doing the reading so I don’t have to! 🙂
    I think when I first (re)started running, I didn’t trust myself to know when I could go harder or easier. Now that I have some experience, I’ve tried to be much more in tune with how I’m feeling on the day or in the moment.

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