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Test Yourself

It’s the point in the summer that can make or break a fall athletic season.  Most athletes have worked extremely hard and stuck with the plan the first four to six weeks of summer training.  If they have seen some gains during their training, they are more apt to continue to work hard and have a good season.  But too many athletes feel a little drop in motivation this time of the year because they have not been able to see their growth.  This could set the athlete up for a poor season.

For me, I think its vital to test yourself at this period of the summer to see where you stand in your training.  It’s easy for a runner to “test out”, as they can simply do a standard distance like the mile, two-mile or the 5k.  If your sport is basketball or soccer, you might have to get creative.  But I know there are some things you can test as well.

I believe so much in testing, that I actually add a small test during each training cycle throughout the entire season.  In order to stay organized and on track, my coaching staff and I tend to break the season into four cycles or training periods.  Each cycle tends to have a theme and there are some goals for our athletes in each cycle.  Ultimately, the athlete can set themselves up for a great season if they focus on each cycle that they are in and don’t try to rush their training or their progression.  That’s why we add some test periods in each cycle, to keep them on track and help them stay motivated.

How does this apply to the non-athlete, former athlete or the professional that is sitting down at their desk looking to increase performance?  Well, it’s the same premise.  We can all get stale in our personal and professional lives.  The work environment can become cumbersome or boring, so its crucial to evaluate and assess your place in life too.

Below are some tips that the non-athlete and athlete can use to find a way to “test out” in life:

Set a test date well in advance:  Give yourself a test date and mark it on your calendar.  The coach in me likes to see the date on the calendar and works towards it.  It keeps me motivated and helps me work hard.  The professional in me likes to put the date on the calendar so that I can prioritize this event and help me plan out my day.

The test should be measurable:  My runners usually like to see what their mile time is and how they are progressing.  They have an exact number (in this case a time) that they can see and know they are progressing.  It can be the amount of push ups you can do, the amount of words you can type in a minute or the amount of customers you can efficiently serve without a slip up.  Test yourself with a number or time that you can write down and look at later.  It will help you evaluate again two months down the road.

Don’t forget that failure is a big ingredient to success:  While doing some research for this blog, I ran across a quote that has quickly become one of my favorites.  Vernon Law, former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and Cy Young Award winner, once said “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward.”  If your perception is that you failed the test, don’t get discouraged.  Chances are you are progressing and it didn’t show itself yet.  Let it motivate you to be better the next time.

Test out consistently and sporadically:  Make sure you give yourself some time to make gains.  A mistake can be to test yourself so often that you “water down” the test and don’t allow yourself the time to make gains that will show you that you are progressing.  This can become frustrating if you test yourself weekly and only see minor gains or no gains at all.

All of us are in different stages or cycles in our lives.  Some might be ready for their Super Bowl tomorrow, while others may be in week three of a 25-week training plan.  No matter where you are at, step back and test yourself and evaluate where you are in the process.  You will be a better athlete and a better person for doing so.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Heat Acclimation

Summer is here!  We made it through the time of the year when snow cancellations scroll across the bottom of the screen.  We made it through the time of the year when we not only check the air temperature, but we have to figure in the wind chill.  We finally moved on from “Frosty 5Ks”, thick ski gloves and six layers – not a cake or lasagna – but layers of clothes.  As a runner, I am ready for the warmer weather.

This weekend it was warm; 80 degrees and sunshine each day for the last 3 days.  It was amazing to run in shorts and t-shirt.  I was smart too, as I hydrated throughout the morning, wore light clothing and chose some shaded routes.

BUT, it was still hot and my workouts suffered.

It reminded me of a discussion I would have every once in a while with our retired tennis coach.  He was a big believer in heat acclimation (or in some cases cold acclimation).  He had a theory that this was one of the factors you had to work into a strategy for a good training plan.  The younger “me” didn’t put much thought into it, but the older I get, the more I believe he was spot on.

The Korey Stringer Institute (ksi.uconn.edu) defines heat acclimation as “a complex series of changes or adaptations that occur in response to heat stress in a controlled environment over the course of 7 to 14 days”.  The Institute describes some of those changes as increased heart rate, increased sweat, the lack of blood distribution and lowering of overall performance.  Heat acclimation is real, and we need to take it really seriously.

Consider my situation in southwestern PA:  I have been running 20-25 miles per week continuously for the last 25 weeks.  The average temperature in that period is 38 degrees (with an average low of 25 and an average high of 62 degrees).  Naturally, my body is not going to handle a big chance in temperature.  Heat acclimation is real, and we need to take it seriously.

There are a few things we can implement in our training that may help with heat acclimation this time of the year.  Here are a few things to consider in your own training:

  • Wear lightweight and light-colored clothing
  • Work out in the morning or when the sun is about to set
  • Cut the workout in half and do one half in the morning and one half in the evening
  • Add in some walk breaks
  • Find a shaded route to walk/run
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day and carry water on your training run/walk

Morale of the story for me today – take heat acclimation seriously.  We all want a long and rewarding running career, so take some steps today to prepare for the heat.  And don’t be afraid to back off if the weather gets a bit too hot or you aren’t feeling good that day.

One misconception out there is that performance will suffer from one day off or one workout skipped.  Trust me, that is not the case.  It take 10 days or longer for your fitness level to decrease.  Research and science are on my side.

Stay cool, stay safe and enjoy the summer!!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

The “Game Changers”

The Class of 2018 walked across the stage yesterday during the Commencement Ceremony at Waynesburg University.  I wanted to congratulate the entire class – and I wish you the best.  Go out an change the world!

For this particular blog, I wanted to write about my feelings regarding a small portion of that class – the WU distance squad.  I call them the “Game changers”. It’s a term I remember from a book I read a few years ago regarding the 2018 presidential election (The book is titled Game Change and was written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin). Every time I use the term “game changer”, I think of that book. The book details a lot of events and decision made that helped Barack Obama become President of the United States. Similar to the theme in that book, this class put some things in motion that changed the course of history for our cross country and track programs.  Ultimately, they changed the culture. They changed the way the game is played. They made history.

10 men and women graduated in this class. Sure they had some similarities, but they had a lot of differences. One of them grew up less than a mile from campus yet another drove a car over nine hours to return home every break. Their majors range from sports broadcasting to business to nursing. Some of them excelled at short distance races (including the hurdles) while a handful preferred running 25 laps on an oval track (the dreaded 10k).  Some of them preferred cowboy boots and country music, and others preferred putt putt golf and Taylor Swift.  They didn’t always see eye to eye. For some groups (or teams), these differences could have destroyed any path to success.

But… They are FAMILY.

What’s particularly admirable about this group of “game changers” is that they always put the team first and sacrificed individual goals for the betterment of the program. Their numbers are incredible. In fact, what they accomplished may never be matched by another incoming class. But what you cannot measure that makes me so proud (as their coach) is that they changed our culture. The team was successful before they arrived to campus but they took us to a new level. They brought confidence. They brought cohesiveness. They were selfless. And they came to work every day trying to make themselves and their teammates better.

To say that I am grateful for their time here is an understatement.

Their lasting legacy will be that future generations of Waynesburg distance runners will be grateful for their time here too. Why? Because they changed the game and the way that game was played!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

The Excitement of a New Season

Life comes at you quick.  It seemed like yesterday we were ringing in the new year, and here we are in the second week of March.  Where does the time go?

A great example of the time flying by is the start of the Major League baseball season in 19 days.  Here in southwestern PA, there are mixed emotions about the team this year.  Some think we might be talented enough to make a playoff run, while the majority of fans are bracing themselves for another long summer of losing baseball.  No matter what side of the fence you are on, I think the excitement for this year is growing day by day.

Personally, I like the feeling right before a new season.  I think we all look forward to the start of something new, and I am no exception.  From the Pirates fan’s perspective, you could be only a few short weeks away from the most memorable season of all time.  Sure, the wheels could fall off and the team could lose 100 games, but you just never know.  Every team starts opening day with a 0-0 record and everyone is tied for first place.  That is what is so exciting about the start of a new year…you just never know what the future will bring.

As a coach, you have a similar feeling about the start of a new year.  But in my experience, there is also a lot of pressure, stress and a lot of work to get done in anticipation of that opening day of competition.  We don’t really savor that feeling of an opening day like the fan does.  Don’t get me wrong, the excitement is still there.  It’s just a different feeling.

No matter where you are in your life, you are probably anticipating the start of something new on the horizon.  Maybe you are going to be starting a new job, moving into a new house or planning a wedding.  That is the start of a new season for you.  I am sure you have butterflies in your belly; just like the professional or college athlete when they step into the batter’s box on opening day.

Today I wanted to give you a few things to consider as you prep for that new season ahead.

First, I suggest you write out a plan on some paper and post it where you can see it.  That new season will be coming quick, and you want to “master” the first few weeks.  The plan will keep you on track.  On this plan make sure you checklist some things you want to complete and outline how you will accomplish them.

Second, come up with a theme or a slogan that will drive you every day.  I know it can be corny or cheesy, but having that slogan in the back of your mind when the times get tough will keep you focused.  A couple of good examples are “Believe” (used by our championship track team in the mid 2000s), and “Embrace the Challenge” (which I pull out a few times a year with my distance squad).  Whatever it is, it has to be related to your long term goal.

Lastly, remove the negativity in your life (and on your team).  If there is negativity in you or in those around you, it makes the journey difficult.  I bet your “new season” is already tough, but you are just making it tougher if you hear from those around you that you cannot accomplish the task.  You don’t need that in your life.  Surround yourself with positivity through motivational quotes, caring individuals and loving teammates (family and friends).

Good luck to all of you who are starting a new season – opening day is right around the corner!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Too High or Too Low

My life has been a roller coaster the last few months.  There isn’t one particular reason  for that, it’s been a bunch of things in work and in my personal life that has caused me to be apart of a whirlwind of emotions.  I bet you are just like me at times in your life.

Some things in my life get me to be very “high” with a lot of positive vibes.  These moments in my life are very rewarding and put a smile on my face.  There are small victories every day, and they come when you least expect them.  They tend to give me an adrenaline rush and my confidence spikes.  After they happen, I think I can accomplish anything.  I might be a little cocky for a while too.  That’s what I mean when I get “too high”.

On the contrary, there are “low” moments in my life.  I would assume there are low moments in your life too.  We all struggle through them.  Something negative happens in our life and we don’t handle it very well, and it sets us into depression.  Our immediate response inside our head is, “I can’t do anything right”.  Our confidence drops quickly and we aren’t sure we will ever be able to turn things around.  That’s what I mean when I get “too low”.

It’s easy to turn this concept into an athletic analogy – in fact, let me give you two off the top of my head.  First, let’s think about the life of a college recruiter.  (I know, this is a topic I reference frequently….sorry)  On a Monday I could get a commitment from a top recruit, and I get so “high”.  I can’t help but think about the next four years and all the championships we are going to win with that recruit.  He or she is going to be a “game-changer”, and I am on top of the world.  Little did I know, I get a call on Tuesday from a recruit who tells me that they are going to attend our rival school because it seems to be a better fit.  I hang up the phone and head into depression for the next week.  Ask my wife, this happens dozens of times in the recruiting cycle.  On a side note – my wife is a saint – she puts up with a lot!

The second scenario happens every season, and if you coach, it has happened to you.  One week, you are the dominant team, heading towards historic accomplishments.  You are on a roll and riding high.  In the snap of a finger, things change.  Your star athlete gets hurt, and is out for the season.  You are beaten by a team that is ranked lower than you.  Someone quits the team.  All of sudden that dominant team is lucky to make it through the year.

How does that happen?  How do we go from being on top of the world in that moment of extreme high, to being in the dumps, on the verge of losing everything, in that moment of extreme low?

I don’t think any of us has a really good answer.  Why?  Because if we are placed in a situation of failure, we are going to respond a certain way.  No matter how much we have prepped ourselves for that moment, most of us do not like to lose.  All I can offer is a suggestion.  In the moment of extreme “high”, pull yourself back to the middle ground.  Sure, you might still be excited and looking forward to the future – that’s good; keep that feeling.  On the contrary, when you face moments of extreme “low”, pull yourself back to the middle ground.  It’s okay to grieve and suffer for a bit, but move on.

Seek middle ground in your life.  It will guide you towards success.  With that said, do not be afraid to celebrate the joys (“highs”) and learn from the failures (“lows”).  Those ups and downs will be your “story” forty years from now.  It will be an amazing story.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

636 Miles and 11 Hours

I get the question from time to time, “what is it like to be a college coach”?  It can be tough to answer, and it varies based upon when the question is asked.  But for the most part, it is such a rewarding job and I recommend it to those who have a passion for a sport or for those who are passionate about seeing growth in others.

One of the parts of the job that I particularly like is recruiting.  Every coach is a bit different, and some find this the worst part of the job.  But I like it, mostly because I like challenges.  And to be honest, recruiting is about as challenging as it gets.  You spend a lot of time explaining the program and the student-athletes role…just to get a call that they are heading to a rival school because of variable A or variable B.  It can be really tough.

But, what I have learned, is that you have to embrace the recruiting journey.  If you want to be successful, you need to put the time in and take chances with talented athletes.  You have to have thick skin.  You have to be OK with failure 94% of the time….that’s my failure rate the last 14 years.

But one part of the recruiting job that is semi-exciting is the road trip.   I thought I would outline a recent trip so the readers can see what I am talking about when I mention challenge to coaching at the collegiate level.  Take a look at my journey below and think about the commitment recruiting can be…even for a small private Christian school in southwestern PA.

6:30 AM – Wake up prior to the alarm; run three miles and get an ab workout in because I intend to be on the road most of the day.

7:15 AM – Spend two hours with my amazing 3-year old daughter because I won’t see her all night.

9:15 Am – Depart for the recruiting event.  I packed a cooler of food and purchased a large black coffee on the way out of town.

10:00 AM – The office called and I listen to our weekly staff meeting.

11:30 AM -Believe it or not, no stops yet…but I have ripped into the cooler of food and have downed a PBJ sandwich and a string cheese.  The coffee has been gone for a bit and I started on a bottled water.

1:00 PM – My first stop of the day, but only for a bathroom break and to fill up on gas.  As always, I am worried about getting there on time, so I don’t grab food or drink (Subway has three people in line)…I packed a cooler of food for goodness sake.

2:30 PM – I pull into a McDonald’s after 25 miles of no cell service or GPS.  My thought was to grab a quick burger, but they misplaced by order so I end up waiting for 15 minutes or so.  At least I got to use the restroom and I also received a free apple pie.

3:30 PM – Arrived at the venue; and for two hours I spend time with the recruit and their family.  This makes the trip worth my while, as they are kind, caring and very interested in finding out more about our program and what we can offer their child.  I LOVE this part of my job.

5:30 PM – Back on the road; the same roads I came in on, so I am anxiously awaiting the Subway I saw at 1pm on my way into the venue.  At 7pm I reach that same plaza and spend 15 minutes filling up on gas, grabbing a sandwich and using the restroom.

7:15 PM – I pull out and pull behind a white truck with WV state plates.  Oddly enough, I am with this car for the next two hours on numerous roads in PA.

9:00 PM – This old man is getting tired, so I pull of at a Sheetz to get some gas, an iced tea and to use the restroom.  While I am filling up my tank, I stretch for a minute and walk a few laps around the car.  This is exactly what I needed for the final stretch run.  I pull out of the station, and believe it or not, I get behind the white truck with WV plates.

10:00 PM – Late night (for me) thought: PA has evening construction on major highways!!

11:15 PM – Finally pull into my house.  Of course I couldn’t sleep, so I took a quick shower and caught up on email.

12:30 AM – Head to the bedroom to sleep (finally)…..it was a long day with over 11 hours in the car.  Next time, I would like to fly…except my budget won’t support that.  So I am pretty sure I will be doing this again in my Jeep Patriot.

The moral of the story:  College coaching is amazing, and I love it.  But it takes time, and it can be burdensome to those  close to you (my wife is a saint).  They sacrifice a lot while you are sacrificing a lot.  That’s a lot of stress and anxiety.  So be prepared if you want to coach at the collegiate level….it isn’t just one hour a day of practice.  There are so many things behind the scenes that are time-consuming and frustrating.  But, you need to embrace them and be willing to work harder than the other coaches you are going up against.  That’s the only path to success.  Oh, and you need an amazing wife like my Kelley.  She puts in more work than me keeping our family afloat..and I love her more than anything.  Find a Kelley in your life and let him/her know how much you appreciate them.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Lessons Learned: Family

It’s amazing to me how God really opens our eyes to things.  It’s his show, and he puts all the pieces in motion in our lives.  He has really taught me a lot about family in the past month.

Lesson #1: A point will come when you will need to step up and help family

My dad is an amazing man, and someone I think about every day of my life.  He taught me some life lessons about love, compassion and hard work.  Throughout my day, he comes into my mind as I ask myself, periodically “I wonder what my dad would do”.  But the most recent lesson he taught me is that you need to step up when it’s your time to help the family.   He always hit challenges head on if he knew it would help those around him, and he has done that yet again.  We are blessed to have him in our lives.

Lesson #2: Don’t squander moments that you can share with your children

It is true, I am a new father.  But I have learned so much about being a dad this past month.  This is the time of the year where I start to feel guilty.  One of my passions is coaching, and I am truly looking forward to the cross country season.  But I also know that this will lead me to miss a few moments in my daughter’s life this fall, and I am not ready for that.  But I was blessed with an amazing, but exhausting, weekend with my wife and daughter.  It’s one of those weekends that you look back on and smile because we truly took advantage of every minute of the day.

Lesson #3: Family comes in a variety of different ways

We all have family.  It may the family that we grew up with from a small age, or it could be a group that comes out of no where at some point in your life.  Family can blood, but it can also be a strong friend group or a team of athletes.  Family can be positive at times, and even though we don’t want it to be, it can be frustrating.  Family can have four paws and a tail.  This lesson hits home as we prepare for the start of another school year.  A thousand WU students will come together in a few weeks and this will be a life-changing year for many (if not all) of them.

The moral of the story is to pull your family in tight and take advantage of the time you have to spend with them.  Whether it’s your grandmother, your cat, a teammate or your child embrace every opportunity that you have with them.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.