Monthly Archives: July 2012

Driven Into the Ground

I have a drive to succeed, that is the very foundation of my running, that comes from so deep within me that it almost feels outside of me. I can’t tell you where this drive comes from, whether it is genetic or developed, but it is there none the less. Most of the time it takes the form of repetitive patterns, straight lines and a need for distinct order. Other times, it is an extreme annoyance to those around me, specifically my wife and kids who feel pressured by my Type A dedication to personal projects, cleanliness and running. In the past this drive weighed so heavily on my family that I felt compelled to step away from training to refocus on other aspects of my life that needed attention. This time around, I’ve learned to reign it in and keep attention to all the peripherals as well, whether that is family, work, recreation, etc. This has allowed me to continue running with extreme dedication, but not so much that everything else falls apart. Still, the drive within me is hard to contain and sometimes it takes external forces to knock me back to earth. Let me explain.

Since the beginning of May I’ve been back on an upwards training trajectory where I’ve built miles upon miles upon miles, most often at the call of a 5 am alarm. I’ve been managing the difficulty of rising so early and putting in hard efforts before going to work at 7 am quite well, but lately I’ve had trouble finding necessary pressure releases to counteract the fatigue that comes with such efforts. One can only take so many continuous 5 am wake up calls before a nap is in dire need. I know when this happens, but our lives are so busy that I often don’t get the relief. So I could tell a crash was coming.

Lately, I’ve been building on harder and harder workouts, whether that is Tuesday night intervals, followed by 10 morning miles, followed by 20 mile Saturday runs, and so on. Every day I get up and the inner drive gets me out the door to put in the work that is necessary for my sub 2:25 goals. What I am missing however, is a nap, a day of sleeping in, the time to stretch my legs, etc. etc. Granted, I can manage all this, though I will feel quite fatigued and defeated during the day as I try to do my best at work and manage my kids at home. But once the pressures start adding ON TOP of the fatigue, well, things start to get iffy.

There are only so many stress variables we can handle in our lives before things start to fall apart and we lose a sense of healthy balance. My first stress variable was the building fatigue of running non-stop. Then the temperature rose into the 90’s and 100’s for days on end. If running every day with great effort wasn’t enough, now the added stress of environmental factors rose the level of fatigue to another degree (quite literally). This took another toll on my body, which I was able to manage, but rose the stress variables again. Then I hit an emotional wall in relation to my current state of employment (don’t ask) and essentially became mildly depressed. I was in an emotional funk that I couldn’t dig myself out of, no matter how much coffee I consumed and which lasted for days and days. I had unwillingly added yet another stress factor upon the previous two. I probably could have seen it coming.

The drive that gets me up every morning kicked in Saturday morning before my 20 mile long run in 75 degree weather (relatively chilly!). I felt decent enough, but the post-run fatigue set in afterwards and I lay down on the couch to recover. Something was different though and I couldn’t shake the fatigue hours later. It was then I felt a distinct sensation throughout my body…sickness. Crap. It has been a solid 5 years since the last time I felt this way, but I knew exactly what was going on. The stress variables had compounded upon each other and left my body vulnerable to attack. The physical efforts I can handle, but I’ve always recognized a pattern that when I go into states of mild depression, sickness creeps in. And that’s exactly what happened again this time. The mind killed the body.

So for two days now I’ve been down and out, without energy and recovering from whatever knocked me out. It’s for real too, because I have NO inclination to go outside and run, despite the drive that got me in this predicament in the first place. Where I usually look at my motivation and drive as a positive factor, right now I see how it can throw me into an unhealthy balance if I’m unable to manage the other stress variables that come into play.

Over all, I still view my drive as one of my best assets and foundational to my running success, but it does have its negative consequences if I can’t manage everything else along side it. It’s something we all deal with on a daily basis. The management of physical and mental health are crucial to keep in balance if we are to both achieve our goals and live a life of value and quality. We can try to get by with one and not the other, but most likely, the external laws of nature and energy will let us know who’s really in control…or at least give us a convincing reminder of how to keep control in our own hands.

I’ve got my perspective back for the time being and am ready to get back out there tomorrow now that I’m restored both physically and mentally. Good thing, cause I’ve got a brutal workout tomorrow in 95 degree heat, leading up to my first legitimate race since “unretirement”.

Embrace your drive friends, but don’t let it drive you into the ground.

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Get Better

I started in on my 4th set of 400 hundreds, the previous three at 72 seconds, and finally started to feel the strain of the effort. Just towards the end of the loop my rhythmic breathing increased by an extra beat and I had to let go to keep the oxygen pumping to my legs. I started the 5th 400 and the effortless cadence I held to that point felt rusty and worn out, forcing me to concentrate on my form instead of just letting muscle memory do the work. This, I quickly realized, was the part of the workout where the “work” becomes emphasized.

I continued to circle the track with increasing strain as my muscles absorbed the pounding of all the body weight above them and the rhythm of my breathing fell out of sync earlier than the previous lap. I needed something to make the next 3 loops as consistent as the previous 5. 400’s are too short for a motivating story line and abbreviated running poetry is just pathetic, so I pulled a trick I read about in a running magazine last year that shortened one’s motivation to a simple word. The runners created a “power word” or something that they relied on when things got rough. It’s a condensed version of mind over matter. I remember one being “fight” or something along those lines. Being slightly more literary, I chose a sentence,

“This is where we get better”. (or “get better” if things get REALLY rough)

And I went there. When my legs went from strong to weak to empty, I told myself that THIS is where we get better. When my lungs began to fail earlier and earlier around the track, I told myself THIS is where we get better. When everything starts to fall apart, THIS is where we get better. When it seems like we can’t go anymore, but we find a way to do so, THAT is when we got better.

It instantly became my new running mantra. It’s what I call on when everything gets harder than I want it to, when that feeling of superhuman strength withers into a humbling attempt to stay upright.

I like the reminder that at that point, “this is where we get better”, primarily because it’s absolutely true. You don’t get better when you start running. You don’t get better at conversation pace. You don’t get better 5 miles into a 10 mile run. No. If I could get better at any of those points, I’d probably run about 3 miles a day and spend the rest of the time catching up on yard work. I’d spend less  money on worn out shoes. I’d sleep in MUCH later than I do. But again, you don’t get better at those points. You get better when the run gets worse. You get better when everything gets really hard and both your body and mind tell you to chill out, slow down, back off….but you don’t. You keep pushing. It’s at that precise moment, when you push your lungs past they point they’ve decided to stop helping out that you get better. It’s that precise point where your muscles have been broken and you start pulling deeper and deeper into your fibers that you get better. It’s that point when you are no longer comfortable on your run, but you keep adding on the mileage. THAT is when you get better.

I like to repeat this mantra because it is also a reminder of why I’m out there doing what I do. I’m not running to lose weight. I’m not running “for the love”. I’m not running for an “experience of purity”. I mean, yeah, to some degree I am, but fundamentally I’m running to GET BETTER. I have a goal and that goal does not come easy. You don’t run a sub 2:25 marathon skipping scheduled days. You don’t run it by skipping workouts to do something less strenuous. And you certainly don’t run it by giving in to the siren call of your legs and lungs when the going gets rough. No. You run it by pushing the boundaries just a LITTLE bit further than the last time. You run it by hitting that seemingly towering wall and telling yourself….

“This is where we get better”

Then running right through it.

I do this often now. Every workout I run has a point where everything gets hard, when my legs threaten to fly off beneath me and my lungs revolt with fire in my chest, and I remind myself. This is where we get better, to dig that much deeper, to find more muscles to utilize, to keep my lungs pumping wildly, to move that wall just a few inches further towards my goal.

Until I cross that finish line and take a temporary break from reaching for that line I’ve drawn in the sand, I’ll continue to repeat my mantra. If it all works out as planned, I’ll be able to catch my breath and confidently say, “I got better”. But until then, I’ll keep chanting in the present tense.