Running with the Buffaloes

Running with the Buffaloes is an excellent running book written by Chris Lear, and describes the 1998 season of the CU: Boulder cross country team. There are plenty of running books out there, but very few capture the true essence of what it’s like to be a part of a cross country team. If you want to capture the essence of being a runner, the book “Once A Runner” is closer.

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Cross country is a team sport. Eliud Kipchoge, a famous marathoner and part of the Nike Breaking2 project, says “100% of me is nothing compared to 1% of the whole team.” There’s a synergy required as a team. Without this synergy, the only incentive in a race to score better as a team is the individual’s own intrinsic desire to do well. When you know your teammates, when you’ve bonded with them over countless long runs and intervals, you can respond better when you’re together with them in a race. When you have a bad patch, they’re there for you and vice versa. No words have to be spoken, but you both know the fact that if you could hang in together through that terrible last mile repeat where you both set a PR, you can work together to beat some more people before the finish line.

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Beyond being an incredible true story and a compelling reading experience, there’s more to this book. Even from the perspective of a casual runner (the person I was when I first read this book), there’s a lot to learn from reading about the trials this team went through. From a personal perspective to a “professional” – bridging the mental gap to training and learning about training philosophies from one of the coaching greats, Mark Wetmore. While the training may not be for the faint of heart, the principles are good for runners at any end of the competitive spectrum. The mental ideas you can learn from this book (as a runner) are equally applicable, and can be more effective in the long run *badum tshh*. Here are some of the general ideas to take away.

  1. Consistency is everything*
  2. Outcome is driven by process*
  3. Periodization & Prioritization
  4. Holistic Stress

Consistency is really everything, and this is built up with smaller goals & building habits. Habits are a viable outcome only through process goals, and taking the steps and sacrifices necessary to accomplish your goal. In the scope of running, this means getting up every morning to get an extra run in, and doing it every week up until the end of your season. Without this consistency, even a small change can mess with the way your body adapts to training, and you’re suddenly overworked. This is where periodization and prioritization come into play.

You need to make sacrifices for sure, but make them at the right time. There is a difference between working hard and working smart. You can run 100 miles a week for 10 weeks and be incredibly strong, but you’ve had no rest. Your legs are going to be extremely fatigued, and the workouts you do in the later stages won’t be as effective for your races. Instead, every few weeks make sure to take a break. This applies equally to school and work, and is where holistic stress has to be considered. If you’re concerned about paying rent, that is most DEFINITELY going to affect your run for that day. You won’t be thinking about tactics, form, breathing, etc. You’ll be thinking about how to manage your utility bills and adjusting your grocery trip. All of a sudden, you’re trying to lower your calories just because you’re saving money, and your training takes a hit. Periodization & prioritization can help avoid this, if you’re at least mindful of stress.

This is all a guide to life, but I suppose that’s what running is. After all this time, it sucks to go a day without running. Another quote from Eliud Kipchoge summarizes these ideals and this feeling best: “You live simple, train hard, and live an honest life… then you are free.”

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