Trail Running Challenge Blog (Ethan Banks)

What Did You Do Wrong This Week?

My coach asked me a question I haven't shaken since she asked it. What did you do wrong this week?

That question came after we'd done our normal patter, running through the week's events, strategizing for the week ahead, catching up on my work and travel schedule, etc. What did I do wrong this week? Wrong? Wait? Where is this coming from?

The question gave me pause, not because I don't do things wrong when it comes to my training. I do. Rather, it was because thinking of the question as bluntly as it was put to me and coming up with an honest answer was hard--especially on the spot.

The feeble answer I was quickly able to come up with was along the lines of poor sleep, which if I'm completely honest, has been not great for a long time. That was a valid answer. I don't get enough sleep, and the quality of the sleep I do get is hit and miss. I watch screens in the hours before I go to bed. I stay up later than I should if I'm engrossed in the algorithm. YouTube is my crack, and hey, watching another ultra doc pretty much qualifies as training, am I right?? 😂

But I have been making other mistakes. Some of them are not avoidable mistakes. MTB riding is part of my training. I suck at it right now. I don't get the training stimulus I need because I'm learning to ride on trails again. When I was in my early 20s, I rode all the time. I was living in SoCal, and I'd ride as much as I could with my wife. We'd cram our bikes into the back of our '86 Accord hatchback, and go to places like Carbon Canyon and ride all day. I'm now in my early 50s, and the full suspension rig I have today is a technological marvel compared the rig I had back then. I have far less talent than I have bike. I keep watching YouTube videos of modern MTBers doing their thing, and realize I have no idea how to ride anymore. In short, I get it wrong every time I'm on my bike in the woods, and it's hard to meet the intent of the training my coach lays out. Only time and practice is going to fix that.

Food is another series of mistakes, although it's getting better. I spent about 3 weeks putting everything into MyFitnessPal, and learned my macros were out of whack. Not enough protein, not by a long shot. That's fixed now, and I'm burned out on the daily entries into MFP. But even with the macros about right, the temptation remains to eat too much or at the wrong times.

That observation goes back to the staying up late while watching screens before going to sleep. What goes hand in hand with that for me is a desire to munch. Not junk food these days, but fruit is a big go-to for late night snacking. Apples and grapes usually. Little wrong with that, but if I don't need the calories, I don't need them. So that's another "wrong" thing. Eating extra calories while sitting in front of the TV when I should be going to sleep, allowing my body to prioritize recovery.

Yet another "wrong" thing I'm working on, but don't 100% know how to balance yet--that's the balance between work, training, volunteerism, and interpersonal relationships. All four of these things pull at my time and attention. I don't know how to either integrate or balance them completely as yet.

Work. I am the half-owner of a small, growing business that demands a lot of attention. We are a podcasting company, and in addition to producing technical content that requires planning and research, I deal with the majority of the business operations. Sometimes I travel, often to the west coast (while I am based on the east coast). My trips tend to crush training, depending on the event I'm attending. Often I'm scheduled from 7am until 10pm with presentations, meetings, and social events. Other events it's not nearly so bad, and I can find time to get in a road run or a session at the hotel health center as long as I'm disciplined to get it done.

Training. I am training for endurance events, and my time on feet is ramping up, where my weekly running or riding sessions are ~80-90 minutes. Plus strength training 3x a week, which for me are another 60-80 minutes if I do the entire routine (and I usually do). If I add in time to get dressed before and cleaned up after, I end up with 2+ hours some days, and ~3-4 hours on others. Plus a long run, usually on the weekend. Let's call it 2.5x2 hours, 3.5x3 hours, and 6x1 hours for a total of 18 hours of training each week on the current cadence.

Volunteerism. I have a couple of main activities right now. I volunteer at my church. Usually I do tech stuff, working as a sound engineer for the worship band and live stream on Sunday mornings, and covering music practice Thursday evenings. There is a small rotation of us that can do sound work, but I tend to do most Sundays and Thursdays the way things have been going lately. If I'm not doing tech work, I might be singing. The other activity is trail maintenance. I have adopted a trail, and help out with another trail our church maintains. Plus I do minor clean up work on PrkrMtn since its in my backyard.

Interpersonal relationships. Right now, this mostly means my relationship with my wife of 30 years. We prioritize time together, and make sure our marriage is maintained above and beyond everything else in our lives. It's worked for 30 years, so we'll keep on doing what we've been doing. Seems to be working.

There are other things in my life, most of which aren't necessary things, but they are there. I won't itemize them. Going back to the theme of what I'm doing wrong, I'm not balancing everything quite right. Training seems to take a hit before other stuff does, but I don't think it has to. I need to think through what eats up my time and mental attention so that I can focus more clearly on training. Questions on my mind related to this...

  1. Can I do less at work? To address this (and other issues), we have hired someone that starts in about a month. Much of what eats away at me while in my office, and sometimes while I'm bed supposedly asleep, I'll be able to delegate to this new person over time. Eventually, that should mean I can walk away from my office both more often and with a freer mind. More training of a better quality.

  2. Should I cut back on screen time? The answer here is undoubtedly YES. I watch too much TV, period. It's my way to unwind, disconnect, and calm down. But I think I'm treating a symptom of a problem, and not the problem. Sort of like treating diabetes when obesity is the core problem. If I need an excessive amount of screen time to unwind after a day in the office, then the root problem is the stress I'm experiencing in my office. Perhaps the new hire reduces my stress...and then it's easier to break the habit of mindless screen time...which in turn gives me back more hours in my day and improves my sleep. Sounds like a virtuous cycle.

  3. How do I not feel guilty about not being able to do everything? I feel like I should able to do everything I want to. I have that much time in my week. At least, I think I do. In my 30s, I commuted 2+ hours in the car most days. I studied outside of work to earn professional certifications. I operated side hustles for extra income. Wrote a nearly daily blog. I was a husband and father to two kids. I was active as church volunteer back then, too, often teaching weekly classes and singing in groups. How is it I did all that in my 30s, and now that I'm an empty nester with seemingly fewer demands on my time, I'm struggling with the training schedule, fighting my calendar and lack of mental energy to go do the training work that leads me to my goals?

I don't have all the answers to this yet, other than I know I'm doing too many things. I've taken the first step of hiring someone. That should payoff, but it's a roll of the dice.

I've taken a second step of changing my sleep routine. The schedule I had on my Apple devices previously was 11:30p - 7a. Now it's 10:30p - 7a. In addition, I'm not going to watch YouTube until 10:29p. I'm going to shut it all down about 9p, and then read or otherwise relax before going to sleep at 10:30p (or earlier if it works out that way). Last night I tried this for the first time, and I slept 8.5 hours. I don't know that I need 8.5 hours every night, and I'd been waylaid by a seasonal allergy attack beyond what I've ever experienced in my life for the 5 prior days. Maybe I just needed a little extra last night. But the new schedule feels like something I know instinctively I need to do to both improve sleep quality and reduce ingestion of calories I don't need.

We'll see what the effect is of the new hire. If she's all she seems to be, I think I'll be able to cut down to either half days, or perhaps to alternating 3 and 4 day work weeks. That should also translate well to improved training.