Shoot for the Guardrail

PC: Johnny Zang

Last week we had our kick-off meeting for 2017. The purpose was to recap 2016 (which was a big year for us) and discuss how we can be even better over these next 12 months. We talked about how to continue to build our individual brands through social engagement and story-telling. We learned about better sleep and nutrition habits and we set tangible performance goals as a group. But we started the meeting with a presentation from Shannon Thompson, a sports psychologist here in Flagstaff. Shannon took us through an exercise to find our best selves both inside and outside of running. Then she challenged us to work together to define our identity as a group. We came up with a whiteboard full of words that we felt were at the core of what we’re all about.

One of the words on the board was “guardrail.” I can’t remember which athlete came up with the word but, without context, you might not understand why that word made it onto the board. So let me explain what it means to us.

We have a session that we do out on Lake Mary Rd. called the Marshall Lake workout. As a coach I think there’s a huge value in creating workouts unique to your team. This particular session was birthed in my mind one day as I was driving down Lake Mary, watching the athletes run one of our standard Steady State runs. Off to the left I noticed a monster hill that heads up toward Marshall Lake. In college I had a workout that I created for myself during one of my redshirt seasons where I just hammered up a similar-sized hill pretty much as hard as I could for 2 minutes. I’d jog back down for recovery and I’d do it four times. The goal was to get a little farther each rep. Of course, the HOKA NAZ Elite crew is a heck of a lot better than I ever was so I wanted to add a little spice. I decided we’d do a hard two-mile tempo on Lake Mary, take 5 minutes rest and then run the 4 x 2 minutes. And to be truthful this bad boy might be even tougher than my college hill so I drive the athletes back down instead of having them jog down, just to save the quads.

The first time we did it I put a cone at the stopping point of each rep to give the athletes a visual as they neared the end of their two minutes. I can’t remember the exact details but I know we noticed we had almost gotten to the beginning of the metal guardrail on the right side of the road. And with that, “getting to the guardrail” was born.

Last spring, Scott Fauble had Marshall Lake on his schedule during his build-up to the Stanford Invite where he was set to run the 10,000. On his fourth rep he reached the guardrail (triumphant shot pictured above). Three weeks later he smashed his personal best by 45 seconds, stopping the clock at 28:00.43. Two months after Faubs got to the guardrail I put this session on the schedule for Eric Fernandez and Scott Smith (video below). Eric, known on the team as the guy you don’t want to do a hill workout with, was determined to set the new best mark. He did just that, besting Faubs by about five meters. Scott, left in Eric’s wake that day, came back three weeks later and over a six-day span ran 1:02:34 for the half marathon and 28:24 for 10,000 meters, both personal bests.

Our best Marshall Lake Workout so far came this past fall when Faubs and Martin Hehir were joined by friend and training partner Aaron Braun. It was the most athletes we had ever had hammering this thing together. As such, there was a definite air of testosterone as we prepared to start hill number one. The result? They got to the guardrail on the first rep! I believe my exact words were, “Well that was dumb.”

But they knew the rules. You have to get farther each repeat. Aaron, in particular, stepped up to the challenge. He was able to squeak out a few more meters on number two and maybe an inch or two beyond that on number three. On the fourth rep he shot out of the gate, determined to rip the $%!^ out of it. And man did he ever. As I yelled “TWO MINUTES” we looked over and he was a good 30 meters past the beginning of the guardrail. I don’t think any of us thought anyone would ever get that far. Amidst hands on heads there were also high fives and words of praise, not just for Brauny but for all four men who had braved to shoot for the guardrail that day. Two weeks later Martin would debut in 1:03:45 on the very hilly Big Sur Half Marathon course. Brauny ran 1:03:32 for the win.

So what does “shoot for the guardrail” mean to us? The same things it can mean for you. It means raising the bar in terms of expectations. It means working together toward a common goal. It means teammates supporting and rooting for one another to accomplish greatness, even at their own expense. And it means embracing the level of pain and suffering that it takes to smash personal bests, to crush your opponents and to achieve things even you yourself once thought impossible.

– Coach BEN

P.S. Hated that I had to use only the men in this blog post. Stephanie Bruce has also done this workout and I plan on having all the women do it together this spring. And they’ll do it with a slightly different starting line so they too can Shoot for the Guardrail!!


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