-Article Written by Mindy Robertson
I enjoy being a both a runner and disc golfer. But, I’m not particularly good at either sport. I’m short and somewhat stubby, so other than a bit of good muscle coordination, nothing comes easily or naturally to me physically. Considering both of these activities are essentially hobbies that always need to take a back seat to my work and family obligations, it’s difficult to find time to get better at either, and especially difficult to get better at both. There are some weeks that I only get to play the 9 holes we punch out at ladies league. It’s hard to get better playing only 9 holes in a week. I do spend a bit more time running, as I’m training for a half marathon in October. However, a lot of the time I find to run is in the dark hours after I wrangle my little guys to sleep and have finished with all my other daily obligations. While I love a good night run, a shroud of darkness doesn’t allow me to easily find new places to run which might offer better hills or softer ground to pound. In those rare moments when the sun and moons align properly, and my children are subdued by someone other than myself, it’s difficult to decide where to divide my time. Disc or run? This got me thinking… What if I didn’t have to divide my time? What if there was a meaningful way to combine these hobbies that might benefit my advancement in both areas? Hadn’t I allowed a ton of sweaty guys to “play through” a hole when they arrived carrying a single disc? Maybe they weren’t just in a hurry… Maybe they were ‘speed golfing’…
In theory, this all seemed very simple. Pick a disc, head to a course, and throw. Yet somehow, as with all new things, the idea of something so simple is almost always daunting. What disc? Which shoes, Keens or Brooks? Which course? Was there any etiquette I should be aware of? I put some feelers out in the disc golfing community, and I received lot of useful feedback. Essentially, summing up all the useful tips that were offered, it occurred to me that ‘speed golf’ implemented as a training exercise should leave you empowered to do whatever works for you. (That’s the beauty of disc golf and running, really. There’s really not a lot of rules that you have to adhere to unless you’re specifically competing. And there’s so many variations of competition, you can usually find one to suite your fancy. Trail running, track running, steet racing, traditional disc golf competition, ace race, long putt and CTP… You name it, you can find it somewhere in the field. And if you can’t, then you invent it. They’re both very grass roots movements once you get out of the commercial accessories.)
I was determined that I was going to spend the 2 hours I had on that Thursday afternoon disc golfing, but I was going to do it in a way that would cross train for the scheduled half marathon training miles I was about to miss. I was going to speed golf. I picked a local course that boasts only 9 short holes, with fewer trees and people than most of our local courses. My thoughts were to keep this experiment really simple. The fewer elements I had to contend with, the better. I decided to use my running shoes as the conditions had been very dry and the course would not be slick or muddy. I picked my favorite Roc out of my bag. (I chose the Roc because I watch a lot of people drive with Rocs, and often they can use the rock for nearly any variety of shot just so long as it’s beat in properly for their throw. I use my Roc only for upshots that hit that awkward distance that a driver would blast past but putter can’t seem to reach. I almost never think to pick it out as a precision driver.) I decided to put on my running arm band which holds my phone, (because I’d rather run barefoot than without music most days), knowing I would benefit in my run training to be able to track my mileage via GPS. I also decided to don most of my running gear rather than my disc golf gear, because I like dry fit clothing when I’m running. My disc golf gear, if I bother to change at all, (for a tournament for instance) is often slightly more formal in appearance, loose fitting, and more geared towards having pockets to accommodate my mini disc markers, pencils and scorecards, which I figured would be unnecessary in speed golf.
For whatever reason, despite having nothing really riding on the success of this endeavor, I felt extremely nervous as I stepped up to the first pad. It felt awkward to be driving with my Roc. The soles of my Brooks were thinner than I was used to feeling on a course, and I could really feel the bumps of the dirt tee pad under my feet. My arm band felt awkward on my throwing arm, so I quickly switched it. When I could think of no more reasons not to chuck, I did my best X Step and went running after my disc. It flew really well, a little off the mark but much further than I’d have ever expected. I missed my putt, but then, I don’t typically putt with a Roc either. I got an easy 3 par on my first hole, which wasn’t too far off my normal game anyhow. At the very least, it was a relief running on the forgiving dirt of the Earth instead of the harder surfaced concrete of the sidewalk that I normally settle for.
The second hole was a grueling uphill hole that requires you to suck air even when you are not in a rush. I was really winded after my first throw didn’t make it as far as I had liked. Not surprisingly, this uphill shot corresponded with the terrible feeling that I encounter in every one of my street runs. It was the moment where my body really fought the beast of breathing, before my muscles kicked in and relaxed into a rhythm. On a street run, I usually feel this beast around 8 minutes into my run and then again the two mile mark. Sometimes the second mile of a distance run is far worse than miles 4,5 and 6 combined because of that transition. I found myself thinking some really unhealthy thoughts about not being good at either sport as I attempted my next upshot. Despite the burning lack of air in my lungs, I did take a typical 3 par on the hole as I would’ve in any other round.
Hole 3 was on the flat portion of the hill, but protected by trees with only a small gap to approach. This was where I experienced my first real success. I found out something amazing about my Roc. Turns out that sprinting out of my run up was forcing me to follow through, which yielded much more accuracy than my typical run up did. Who knew that when you take the time to follow through, your Roc could suddenly turn into a precision piece of plastic? I bombed my drive right to the gap that I typically miss in either direction with my normal distance drivers. I also did this in front of a group of very slow moving guys on the hole in front of me, which made it taste extra sweet. Filled with confidence, I nailed a longer putt for the first deuce I’d had in way too long.
Hole 4 is where the magic happened. The gawking boys who had watched me can a deuce on the hole before knew I was moving fast, and they graciously allowed me to take the pad in front of them. Winded but experiencing that blissful running high, which usually takes me a lot more miles to achieve, I did an X step and released another beautiful drive straight at the pin. This pin was located at the bottom of the monster (okay, tiny, but steep..) hill I had just climbed. Though my calves were screaming at me, I took off after the disc. This throw was very surreal. As my eyes fixated on the disc gliding through the spring sky, my body began to feel lighter while I floated down the hill. My feet were flying fast and furious under me and all at once, the principles that runners write about hit me in a powerful way. When I was mentally focused on the flight of my disc, I couldn’t feel the beast of breathing that over comes me when I run. I began to feel the elements of good running that authors like Christopher McDougall write about. Good running form should allow you to feel easy, light, smooth and fast. In that moment as my disc neared the pin, I was all those things, and it was completely exhilarating. I instinctively reached out and almost CAUGHT MY OWN DISC!!! When I realized how close I was to the basket, I withdrew my hand and altered my course to the left to avoid collision. My Roc just barely missed the chains to the right of the basket. That was when my next big ephiphany dawned on me. Other than on a children’s course locally, that throw was was the closest to throwing an ace I had ever been. (Glad it ended the way that it did, though. Imagine how devastating it would’ve been to have prevented my own first ace by catching it in my own hand.)
After the first two rounds, another favorite DOLL joined me on the course, and we did more of a speed walk approach for two more rounds. I switched to my putter for these rounds, and was pleased to see that these concepts seemed to carry over to my putter as well.
From that point on, my mental game changed and I knew I was going to be hooked on speed golfing. When I’m speed golfing, I throw better shots. And even when I don’t, it’s easier to handle. It’s not “grip lock”, it’s “a commitment to my physical endurance via running a bit further in the wrong direction”. It’s not “bush whacking”, it’s “trail running”. It’s not “breaking on a hill”, it’s “focusing on my upshot”.
My goal was to run the 9 hole course in under 30 minutes, which I knew would be easy. The reality was that I ran it twice in under 25 minutes. This amounted to only a little under 2 miles, but those miles were more hilly and challenging than any street run around my house could provide. The principals of running during speed golf are very similar to combing fartlek interval speed and hill training runs in one. Running improved the principles of golfing by reinforcing the importance of follow through to achieve accuracy, and I did find that when I took my mind out of the equation, my body did a better job of adjusting to specific shots more naturally. Also, speed golfing allowed me to throw my Roc in several situations where I would not have ordinarily, and I learned a lot more about how to use that specific disc. I can’t wait to apply that learning to other courses. The overall biggest benefit that I found with speed golfing though, was specific to my mental game. Whether you’re fighting the beast running at mile eleven, or focusing on an obstructive tree rather than the chains of hole 6 on the course, you will benefit from being in the right frame of mind while you’re working. You can be your own worst enemy on the course or on the street, but you can also be your best asset if you can find your confidence. Speed golfing has helped me find my confidence. I have some ideas to keep improving on my experience next time, (like finding a hybrid trail running shoe so I can take on other local courses with more ease…)but ultimately, I can’t wait to lace up and head out again. I will try to update you on progress I see in the long run, both running and discing!