Posted by: Joe English | September 28, 2011

Multi-sport — Coach Joe Races the World in Gijon (part 1)

running-advice-bugMy footsteps were the only sounds breaking through the night, pounding out a frantic rhythm on the broken pavement flying past under my feet. There was no wind and little moon. The darkness would have been nearly complete had it not been for the small head-lamp pointed out from my forehead at the undulating road ahead. My eyes couldn’t make out the track of the road, but I could see red and green flashing lights on the backs of runners ahead of me. They were moving slowly and I was catching them at a brisk pace. I used their position relative to me to guess which way the road was going to go next.

If I had looked at the time, it would have been just after four in the morning. We had traversed nearly 200 miles of highways and back roads from Mt. Hood toward the Pacific Ocean, this being the closing stages of the Hood to Coast Relay. My legs were tired. They were aching from almost a half-marathon that I had run earlier that day and night. Now I was trying to push myself through the last seven miles of dark country roads to finish my part of this effort. I was only about half-way through this section of the course, which meant I had another three miles or more to go.

Nearly at the point of cracking, my mind was starting to tell my legs that they could give up. And that’s when it happened. I closed my eyes. I closed them and kept them closed. I focused. I quietly commanded myself to breathe the pain out with each exhale. “Push it out, push it out” I thought. And there with my eyes closed, rumbling through the dark, I turned off the pain in my legs and started running even faster.

Not long ago, I began practicing yoga. Quite honestly, I didn’t understand why I took it up. I understood that it would be good for my body, but I didn’t know what it would mean for my mind. I quickly learned that there is great power in having control over ones thoughts and the ability to control mental anguish, to shut off pain, to turn one faucet on while turning another off. I was starting to see how this could be useful in controlling the pain and torture that I had already been good at inflicting on myself in my racing.

Coach Joe at the start in Gijon

Now I was standing at the starting line of the ITU Duathlon World Championships in Gijon, Spain. With just a few minutes to the start of the race, the officials moved us up into position. Standing under the arch, I looked around me at some of the world’s best multi-sport enthusiasts. Hailing from countries all over the planet, these were the best in this quirky sporting outpost in which we run and bike and run again, just to see how fast we can go.

The past week had been full of moments when I wondered what I was doing among these men and women. Looking out my window at the road by the beach, I would catch a glimpse of a couple of guys busting out five minute miles and think, “wow, those guys look fast.” Then I’d see another group sizzle past on Cervelo P4s and I’d hope secretly, “maybe they’re pros?”

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