Interview with a Powerlifter/Ultra Runner
Suzanne Taylor attends UNC Chapel Hill and in addition to her double major in Geography and computer Science she is a member of two athletic clubs at the UNC.
Interestingly though, Suzanne’s chosen clubs are located at the absolute opposite ends of the athletic spectrum; Power Lifting and the Marathon Running clubs. My guess was that she is the only person to be a member on both clubs. She confirmed, “Yes, I am the only person who is part of both marathon and lifting clubs. Marathon club members poke fun at strength training and powerlifters hate on cardio so being in both groups is certainly entertaining.”
As an endurance sport and strength training coach, I appreciate the rarity of this. I can also appreciate that finding an athlete who is drawn to these two pursuits that exist at either ends of the spectrum, it is certainly going to be an interesting conversation.
When I first saw Suzanne, I first noticed her composure and focus as she was lifting. Quietly loading the barbell on the squat rack with an impressive 200 plus pounds, her following actions were a stark contrast. Once under the bar, she proceeded to knock out 5 solid repetitions. Neatly rack the barbell and calmly walk away to spot her lifting buddy. I thought to myself, ok this young lady if for real.
Curiously, I inquired if she was lifting as her focus or if she was training for a sport. Her answer surprised me. “I like Ultramarathons.” An ultramarathon is a 100-mile running race. It is harder than hard core running and breaking 24 hours is a common goal for this distance. Suzanne has three (3) Ultras to her credit.
However, Suzanne’s big goal this summer is the RDR200 which is a 200-mile running race that takes place in Ohio. For this event, there is a 90-hour time limit. Wait, what? 90 hours?! Doubling the distance of what is an incomprehensible 100-mile distance is consistent with the mindset that makes Suzanne who she is. “I am drawn to running more, to go farther.”
Like many runners, she loves the solitude of getting away and existing in that world of your own thoughts while running. Trail running is her preferred surface. Checking through her training log I humorously, yeah, not many runners would join you on a 40-mile training run. So best to be able to thrive in the solitude that long distance trail runs offer. Or shall I say demand.
I checked out the website for the RDR200 and looked at the list of entrants. First, not a lot of runners had signed up for this extreme event. Second, Suzanne was by far the youngest athlete to sign up. The athlete closest to her in years was twice her age. Endurance sports commonly attract athletes in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and even the 70 plus crowd. Peak performance currently comes in around age 35. That leaves our athlete with over a decade and a half to ascend the ranks.
While talking to Suzanne, I sensed a maturity and composure that is beyond her years. It’s not surprising to find that she creates and tracks her training in a well thought out and methodical manner. But it is the exception when you find out how well planned it is when she told me about her training.
She uses some key technology to help her with training. Google docs are used for plotting her training on a weekly basis. She uses Gravitus for her weight training work and then Strava to track her running. She also proudly displays a COROS watch on her wrist which is the lightest GPS watch on the market. She handed it to me to check the weight. Feather light. Funny detail, the COROS watch only has a 30-hour limit which adds a bit of a hitch when you are looking to use it for a 90-hours straight in an event.
Once I wrapped my head around the day’s long duration of the RDR200 miler, I asked her about strategy. Two major components are sleep and nutrition. Her plan is to sleep about 5 hours after the first 100 miles. And then 1 to 2.5 hours there after until the finish line.
For fuel, she has a definite advantage in that she has found that she has an iron stomach. A clear advantage because if you can’t fuel (eat) you will not finish and event such as this. She will consume everything from fruit to ramen noodles and sandwiches. Sports drink will be a must and holding everything down as one pushes the human body to its limits is essential. It is going to be a heck of a stretch of days to say the least.
Training. Suzanne is that choice athlete who enjoys both training and competition. In training, she relies on her high sense of intrinsic motivation. And in competition, she loves that extrinsic motivation of going up against all other competitors.
A typical training week consists of 6 runs per week and 3 lifting days per week. After decades of training endurance athletes, I was very impressed as she shared her program details at how consistent the program she has created is consistent with the best programs that are laid out by a knowledgeable coach. In running, she has one or quality running day where she is on the track and performs something like 6-10 x 800 repeats. There is one long run weekly and other runs are relatively shorter and low intensity.
Again, keep in mind that she also trains for maximum strength. Although endurance athletes are very wise to incorporate weight resistance training. It looks very different from a lifters workout for competitive Powerlifting. Suzanne smartly adjusts her training phases. When she is on a higher volume of run training for example, she will deemphasize her lifting and vice versa.
I am grateful to have been able to sit and talk to Suzanne. In the hundreds of athletes I have had the pleasure of meeting, she holds all the key ingredients for success. Confidence, motivation, organization and all in a wonderfully respectful manner and good dose of humbleness. She has a true love for what she does, and it shows.
I truly appreciate the opportunity to learn about truly amazing athletes and thank Suzanne for sharing her story with me.
I hope you enjoyed this article and our glimpse into the world of an athlete who has impressive range and breadth.
Suzanne’s Running Highlights
Myrtle Beach Marathon
FKT Stone Mountain – Grandfather Mountain 100 Miler
Power Lifting Bests
Bench Press 130
Links to the technology referenced.
Try all you like, but you can never get even one minute back. With that, let's gain the proper focus of how to live in our world.
Greetings! CoachDave.Fitness and Coach Dave are both back online. I am a big fan of trying new things and over the past 2 years I ventured away from full-time coaching to pursue an opportunity. Over that period, I furthered my learning in regards to business, customer service, working environments and the importance of feeling a true sense of satisfaction from how I (we) spend those many hours week after week, month after month at what we call our job.
In looking at my training/coaching business from the outside so to speak, I am excited to offer new services and connect with clients once again.
Starting with this post, I have changed the page name on my website from blog to rationale. I believe that it better represents my position and what I want to present to my prospective clients and for those who check in with me on the site.
Rationale as a page title communicates a much more purposeful and guided message to an audience.
My goal is to present sound ideas, that draw off of an informed outlook in the context of over 25 year of experience to make people fitter, stronger, more powerful so that they can operate at their greatest capacity!
Thank you- Coach Dave
List of Favorites...
Pine trees covered in snow
Fritos (yes, the junk food - not often eaten)
Peet's Coffee - Major Dickenson's Blend (consumed daily)
Dire Straits (music group)
The movie - Local Hero
Drinking cold water on a hard mountain bike ride - stopped in the woods
Saying hello to people - exchanging a smile
Making turkey chili
Eating turkey chili
Meeting or spending time with people who inspire me.
So much more...
If you want to do something, but you're not in the perfect place to do it, find a way. It means adapting. I'm really enjoying my new hobby of roller cross-country skiing. Not a lot of snow down here in NC but adapting to the environment and finding a way to make it happen is something we can all do. Learning a new technique is really fun and really challenging. Go get it, whatever it is you want and be flexible!
So I know I have seen headlines to articles that read, "The struggles of..." You name it, whatever pursuit in life and someone talks about the struggle that they endure. For me, there is always a first impulse, a feeling that kind of stops me and there is momentary feeling of anxiety. It must be my empathy that kicks in.
But then, I finally realized that to struggle is a good thing. Well, let me get more specific. The articles that I am referring to are about some kind of mental struggle and not a physical struggle- one that would actually endanger ones life. But the mental struggle, say of how are you going to handle that busy day or week you have coming up for example.
Here is a copy of the definition of struggle. make forceful efforts to get free of restraint or constriction
Struggle, what a great word when talking about a mental challenge. Or, a planned physical challenge, either way to struggle is good. If you are really going to honor the definition, then you really are in for a bout. And in any real challenge, you don't know the outcome. You may not have any definitive proof that you are going to come out on top. Not being sure, is such a great place to be. Yet so many don't want to go near that place where they actually do not know the outcome.
Getting comfortable with not knowing is a great mental strength. We should strive to put ourselves in a situation where we truly have to struggle to achieve success. That is uncomfortable. So, imagine if you faced a true struggle or even put yourself in a situation where you really had to struggle to succeed. That is what it's all about. That is real living!
I capped off practice on Sunday with a few words that I hoped would reach everyone in some positive and hopefully thought provoking way. I wanted to recap for those of you who were not there.
First, I am super excited every time I look at the group and see how we are developing and reaching new levels.
With masters nationals coming up here just weeks away, open water right around the corner as well as triathlon season, it will be time to put ourselves on the starting line and go. Go time! That's what I like to say.
My main goal is to have you at the starting line feeling like you have an opportunity to unleash your effort and go for a personal best performance.
Hitting the starting line balanced in thought, putting all your desires, expectations, jitters and anything else aside for that special time of getting in your PUSH Zone.
The PUSH Zone is where you don't evaluate yourself or your performance. It is were you focus 100 % of your energy on letting your body do on a subconscious level what you have thoughtfully and deliberately trained it to do.
Being in the PUSH Zone (I may have to copyright that term!) is beautiful to feel and for me to observe as your coach.
We will continue to explore this concept...
Now here is a list of vocabulary words for you. These are my definitions - your choice to buy into it or not. Darn right I hope you choose to buy in!
Pain vs Feedback
Pain - this is what we feel from an injury - you don't push through it.
Feedback - this is the sensation you feel when you are pushing your limits - characterized by burning muscles and lungs - greet it, look forward to it because no great performance comes without it!
Choice vs Sacrifice
Choice - We choose to pursue athletic goals - no one makes us do it. From a weekend warrior to a highly paid pro athlete, it is our choice to put ourselves through any athletic event. When you really think about it, achieving our goal or getting a multimillion dollar contract benefits only you.
Sacrifice - This is what firefighters do when they go into a burning building to save someone knowing full well they may not come out. The same for other rescue type workers or those who intend to help someone else.
Normal - Coming into frequent contact with a variety of people of all ages, my observation is that the normal is a tendency to avoid more than mild physical exertion. In this sense, when I see you day after day at the pool, on the track, on the road or in the gym pushing it, you are outside the norm. In my eyes you are the folks that I want to be with.
I am a firm believer that a slap in the face is a good thing. Well, figuratively speaking that is. Everyone needs one once in a while. I welcome them myself.
What I'm talking about is that sudden, harsh realization, that lightbulb moment when we see clearly. So clearly that the message that slapped us causes us to take action and take it soon. In so many ways we should take action sooner than later but everything from our commitments in life, work, school, family, you name it cause us to procrastinate. (Procrastinate is about my most unfavorite word.)
The known behavior regarding health is that for most people to change their lifestyle there has to be a drastic life-threatening event such as a heart attack. So many folks will ignore every warning sign and deny that their actions are putting them on a trajectory heading to the bullseye on the disaster target.
Today, in my humble opinion there are a multitude of well placed disaster targets in every direction. Look anywhere and you will see them. Let's start with food. What are my food options? We know we need to eat. What are you going to eat? Hmmm, fast convenience. Fast food! Once in a while - ok. (My definition of once in a while by the way is - 1-2 x per month.) Consume fast food to often and you will pickle your insides and take in so many unneeded calories that you will alter your body mass in an unfavorable way.
While poor food choice intake can represent a hitting a disaster target in the physical sense I believe that listening or consuming to much media can represent a psychological disaster target. Sure there is great journalism somewhere, but most of it is packaged to evoke a reaction or support a narrow viewpoint that makes folks feel as though someone else understands your particular point of view. In a quick sample of news media, I see and hear so many stories where negativity thrives. Check this yourself. When you watch the news how does your stomach feel? What is the expression on your face? These seemingly simple things can tell you a lot, but you have to be objective and a bit self-analytical.
What can you do about all this? Well, as I told a group of my regular athletes who I was training this morning at 6AM who swim in my masters swimming workout. 1) Attitude is everything. What we do and how we do it and what our attitude is while doing it is important. When you choose to do something, do it right, with a smile on your face even! (Exercise is good!) 2) Do a quick and brutally honest review of yourself. Do you do anything like smoke and eat fast food to often? Can you really justify either? Now, I'm not judging, I'm urging you to ask yourself. I ask myself all of this constantly - FYI. 3) Find a positive thing or habit in your life and replicate the system and/or thought process that makes that positive behavior a habit. Apply the same approach to anything you want to change.
When you look around you and see what you see and hear what you hear, make sure look at it objectively. And just because something everywhere, like a fast food joint, resist the idea that it's ok to indulge and find yourself eating there frequently. (Frequently = more than 1-2 x per month.) Look at whether a behavior or accepted attitude that manifests itself creates any good for you or someone else. If not, then why maintain it?
Finally, I embrace the idea that we should question everything around us. Especially those things that we believe are common place, accepted or important. In my opinion - the most important things in life are, health of body and mind. It is therefore essential that we limit our consumption of very accepted, common place things as basic as food and even the news media.
Be healthy, be objective, make good choices.
I've been intrigued and amazed for decades by the concept of PEDs. PED stands for Performance Enhancing Drugs. Somehow, even as a young competitive athlete who I will say built my self worth and very existence, based on how well I thought I did in my chosen sport, I never reached for a PED or took any. That said, I witnessed other athletes take them. I talked to them about it. I was amazed. Why?
I first learned about PEDs from a friend of mine back in 7th or 8th grade. His older brother was a star athlete and they told me that some athletes took steroids. "Steroids, what's that?" I asked. They also said that steroids made you big and strong. But the downside was that they also made parts a guy shrink. Baffled, I thought, "what, why would someone...?"
So current day, I see full blown high profile cases of athletes using. In different sports, with both sexes relying on them for performance and paycheck, I ask what is real? I think athletes all have to ask themselves what is real and what do I want to do with myself. More so, we should look into the future and ask ourselves, when I look back on my athletics, what do I want to see? What do I want to learn from my experience? What do I want to say to others and what do I want to say about myself?
PED use to me represents a short term outlook. An "I've got to get this now," and never mind tomorrow kind of mindset. But tomorrow when you are asked about that performance, what will you say? From what I see, athletes who win with drugs will usually lie about it - at least for a while, but maybe forever. That is something that goes against the very idea of personal search for exploring your own personal limits. Is that worth it?
It also represents some kind of entitlement i.e. the "I deserve this" kind of attitude. Those who make the argument that they indulge to keep up with the other athletes in their sport who they believe are indulging is pure bs to me. As a coach, I say, go out and compete. Find out who and what is out there. But find our where you truly are in the arena. You will always have that piece of mind of who you really are and what you are truly capable of. That in itself is priceless.