An Exercise In Continuous Improvement

A shameless, sweaty selfie of yours truly at the finish of the Carlsbad Marathon.

A shameless, sweaty selfie of yours truly at the finish of the Carlsbad Marathon.

I ran and completed my sixth marathon yesterday.  Yes my legs are quite sore today.  Thanks for asking.  It was a beautiful day for running in Carlsbad, California.  One goal that stood out above the rest for me was to finally break the 3:50 mark.  My personal best was a 3:51 effort at the same race a couple years ago.

As runners often do, I reflected on my last marathon, a 4:20 effort on a difficult course, and decided to try a few things differently to see if I could run a great race and shave a couple minutes off my personal record.  Here are the three major changes I made to my routine:

1. Lose 10 Pounds- Running with excess weight can’t help us go any faster and over the last year I have turned gaining weight while exercising consistently into an art form.  It was time to lighten my load and see if that improved my speed and endurance.

2. Cut The Carbs- To lose the weight I cut a bunch of carbs–mostly breads, candy and desserts.  Snacks looked less like candy and more like fruit, veggies and nuts.  I immediately noticed a difference each morning when I set out for a run.  Given that carbs are known to cause inflammation in the body, I noticed marked improvement in my muscle recovery after long runs.

3. Fuel Differently- I switched from packaged energy gels during my runs to medjool dates dipped in sea salt.  Yes, I was that guy carrying a ziplock bag with the unknown substance.  I made the switch after realizing that the calories and key electrolytes (potassium and sodium) were almost identical.  When in doubt, go natural!

Over the course of my training, I was totally consistent with these three goals.  During the race, I knew it was going to be close and while the marathon was no less painful, I ran strong and was elated to cross the finish line in 3:49 flat!

I’m a huge fan of continuous improvement, or as they say in Japan, kaizen.  In running, business and in life, it’s critical to step back, find ways to improve, set goals, stick to those goals, evaluate and then try again.  This is a continuous process that never ends.

It takes a lot of courage to try new things–especially if the current method is working well enough.  If you commit to this discipline of continuous improvement for long enough, you will be stunned at your improvement over time.

I ran my first marathon five years ago in 4:17.  Having improved that time by 28 minutes leaves me rather proud of my progress.


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