Monthly Archives: December 2012

Think Kit – December 3rd

Think Kit prompt – “If you could meet someone new in 2013, who would it be? Or would you rather spend more time with someone you already know?”

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While on a casual 8 mile run this past Friday, a friend of mine, to whom I attribute a great deal of my running knowledge, expressed his concern with never being able to run as fast as he did a few years ago. He was verbalizing the inevitable decline in running fitness that comes with older age, that wall of performance that gets slowly constructed as the years pile up like bricks. Mind you, he’s like 33 or something.

Yeah, I’m with you, that’s just ridiculous. 33 (or whatever) years old and he’s acting like he’ll never run a sub 2:22:00 marathon ever again, despite the novel of superior performances written by a slew of runners far past his age. Myself, being 36, scolded him relentlessly, because he was inadvertently implying that I too was on a downward trajectory of performance, which I REFUSE TO BELIEVE.

I refuse to believe it, because I simply DON’T believe it, but maybe with a vehemence that lays bare my own concerns with “aging” – though I should clarify that “aging” for runners is akin to counting age in dog years. We may not be “old”, but our ability to run fast “ages” quicker than other life functions. So 40 years old in “runner years” is like 90.

Anyways, it’s still absurd and I intend to be another example proving the converse. I’ve recently mentioned various injuries or issues after hard workouts only to be met with, “you just can’t recover like you used to as you get older” types of comments, of which I viciously lash back in response. I am entirely unconvinced that recent “injuries” are due to parts wearing out and breaking down, of which I explained further in other posts.

Again, I refuse to believe all this, because there is someone I need to meet, someone I want to meet THIS YEAR. That someone is me. That someone is that other runner elusively hiding out within me, being consistently and quietly fed workouts and long runs, just waiting to come out and transform that other runner that currently inhabits this body.

I want to meet the runner that can run a sub 2:25 marathon, that can go a whole season of training on a path of continued progression, that can knock out sub 5:00 mile repeats and have more left over, that can kick out 10 mile marathon goal pace runs whenever asked, that can race smart and do what is necessary to be in the best running fitness of their life. I want to meet that person because I’ve been looking for them since October of 2009 when they ran their best marathon so far.

And that is always the dilemma of running, believing that the person who ran faster than ever before is not the deeper runner within you, that there is another runner still locked away, just waiting their turn.

I want to meet that person this year. I know they are there. I know they aren’t ravaged by the stresses and deterioration of aging, but instead just quietly being fed, waiting to come forward and show themselves. I hope you get to meet them to.

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Unplugging While Plugging Away

december 2:
getting “unplugged”
Unplug for an hour, a half day, or a whole day. Choose a time that feels a little uncomfortable. How did you feel? What did you do? Reflect on your experience. How much did you unplug this year? How does this experience make you feel about unplugging in the coming year?

I distinctly remember the first time I went for a run with a musical soundtrack. I was in middle school and fully obsessed with music at this point, waking up to it, sleeping to it, driving my sisters nuts with my eccentric tastes, etc., so taking some for a run only seemed logical. I already knew I could run well, but wondered if music might make me run faster. I grabbed my cassette walkman, plopped some over the head earphones on – the now vintage kind with the terrible foam speaker covers -, wrapped the cord repeatedly around the player and went running down the street as the faux tribal pounding of Therapy? started blasting into my ears.

And it was awesome. I was plugged in.

I ran to the music, responding to the buildups, driven faster and faster with the tempos and onward by the anger. I was so hooked. The adrenaline the music already gave me on its own was now placed in a context, enabling me to run further and faster with the excitement.

I continued using music on my runs, lamenting the rules that disallowed music players during races. I always wondered how much faster I could have run in a race if I was allowed to bring my trusty walkman along. In hindsight, I understand why that might be a bad idea.

Fast forward to 2007 when I started running again. After a couple preliminary training runs and increased mileage I started dreading longer and longer runs, no matter how necessary, in the fear of collapsing from boredom. So I reverted to a modern day version of that middle school kid going out with his walkman. I grabbed a portable CD player, threw some headphones over my head – hilariously the same kind as I had in middle school -, pressed play on my Verse CD and started blasting down the road, increasing running tempo with musical tempo and laying into it on breakdowns. It was again, awesome.

After some time though, the sweat-soaked headphones bouncing around my ears,  the dying batteries, the awkward grasp on the cd player, started to wear on me. I went out for a seven mile run, a precursor to a longer run later in the week, and finished wondering how I was ever going to run another step without music. I couldn’t possibly imagine running past seven miles without music. It sounded like torture. Somehow I got it in my head that I HAD to have an iPod, just like everyone else seemed to have at the time, and with christmas coming up the timing seemed perfect. Of course, I DIDN’T get that iPod.

And somehow I managed to run past seven miles without music. I had no choice really. I was forced by the necessity of progression to keep going in silence, the memorized music in my head as the only replacement. 9 miles. 11 miles. 13 miles, with nothing but memories and daydreams.

Now I remain unplugged, intentionally. I’ve deliberately chosen to keep from distracting myself, from making a time-consuming activity seem less time-consuming, from making the mental struggle of distance running, well, less of a struggle. I could very easily put some earphones in, use the music to push me through long runs and days lacking from motivation, but in the end I think I would be doing myself a disservice.

I’ve chosen to unplug because in a race scenario you are always unplugged. It is a pure test of both your physical and mental strength, and the distraction of music is not allowed, forcing you to rely only on what you’ve developed to that point. So if I’ve trained myself to run relatively slowly through a 22 mile run with nothing but the narratives I’ve created in my head, then doing the same in a race scenario will be routine. It will remain the purest of efforts, a test of strength with no external aids. Just legs and lungs.

Admittedly, when others talk about “unplugging”, they are often referring to a more extensive disconnect from digital technology, separating from email, social networking, etc., but then again, any measure to reduce our reliance on technology is in a form, “unplugging.”

I choose to unplug every time I step outside for a run, and the connections I create for myself in the process tend to pay off when I really need them.

St. Niklaus 5 mile Lauf run – Race Report

Running for years without a break, mostly, tends to start repeating itself if you don’t make deliberate changes. The workouts repeat, the training routes repeat, the races repeat, and so on. So when I got it in my head to do this 5 mile race I thought I’d switch things up a bit and not lose any training time in the process. I take races very seriously, because they are HARD and demand a great deal of mental preparation and focus, so I tend not to throw any other components into the mix except proper rest and readiness. This time, however, I decided to throw all that out the window and see what it was like to drop a hard race in the middle of my scheduled Saturday long run of 16 miles. This is how things played out…

I left my house and began a long, slow 8 mile run as equal parts pre-race taxation and warmup, running slow enough to avoid any unnecessary damage that I might inflict upon myself deeper into the race. I arrived at the start line and just shy of 8 miles about 20 minutes before the gun went off, allowing for more warmup, striders and mental prep, which I was going to need. I felt surprisingly strong during my striders and hoped that muscular strength would hold out as deep into the race as possible.

After a bit of extended ceremony the race director sent a “skinny santa” off down the course as a prize incentive for the first runner to catch him. That sort of incentive may appeal to some, but that wasn’t my focus today. A group of us anxiously stepped to the first timing strip as a German St. Nik counted the race down….and at “One” (in German) we leapt from the line in unison, a pack of us stretching out down the straight.

I found myself out in front immediately, but was consciously not pushing the pace as I prepared for a more rapid fatigue due to my previous miles. I wanted to play it safe, but no one was trying to press me. There was, however, an audible pack just behind me consisting of typically fast dressed runners, some hanger’s on and a couple Five-Finger wearers slapping the pavement with a seemingly painful resonance. We moved through the first mile and I noticed my breathing wasn’t skyrocketing as it sometimes does, leading me to believe I was strong in the lungs at this point or taking out the race too slow. I couldn’t tell how quickly we were rolling, but I still remained calm as another runner came up to keep me company with the pack still beating out behind us.

Then with just about 150 meters to the first mile marker a Saucony sponsored runner pushed right past us to the front at a pace which indicated we were running far too slow for his abilities. Or maybe he saw the Skinny Santa up ahead and wanted to make sure he was in position to get him. Either way, after he rolled by, FOUR more runners passed me and I suddenly found myself in sixth place, feeling quite absurd for getting dropped before I could even blink. A sort of disappointment and inadequacy washed over me as the group stayed just a couple paces ahead and I hung off the back hoping the fatigue later in the race might switch up the situation.

We ran through the first mile at 5:17, a touch slow for a 5 mile race, but a distinctly smart pace for me after my warm up. That bouyed my positivity for a bit. Then without realizing what was going on up ahead I looked up just in time to see the leader tap the santa on the shoulder as he ran by, with no one else giving chase. And that was that. Everything was rolling pretty casually at this point, evidenced by the ONLY 5k runner in our group of 6 peeling away from us onto the 5k course with a two finger peace sign thrown up, as if to say, “Enjoy the race, I’m out of here.” That guy must have won by minutes considering no one else went with him. And admittedly, considering my situation, I would have been pretty psyched if nearly the whole pack in front of me split off on the 5k course as well…but that certainly didn’t happen. I still sat in 5th place, well off the podium.

But then we started up a short and almost imperceptible incline, but an incline no less. To my advantage, I ride this street (and many streets on this course) on my bike every day so I’m acutely aware of where they go up slightly and where they go down, and I made a mental note to use these to my advantage. And sure enough, as we started up this incline I was immediately back with the pack of four, while the leader sat just a few paces in front of us.

We turned into an historic neighborhood where the streets leveled out and continued eating up distance, when suddenly I found the pace noticeably slowed, so without hesitation I pushed forward, weaved through a couple runners and almost immediately shot out the front of the pack, bringing the leader back ever so slowly.

I remember feeling comfortable ahead of the pack, thinking to myself, “Yeah! You’re in this! That’s how you do it!”

Filled with a sudden burst of adrenaline I pushed out a little further in hopes of dropping some of the pack as we passed the second mile. The leader was just a couple paces ahead as we turned the opposite direction in the neighborhood and started back up another short, quick rise. The muscular fatigue was still holding off and although my lungs were mildly taxed with the rise and fall of the course, I was able to reel them back in on the flats, which I know is a good sign for fighting later on when I need them.

Our pack ate up the ground we had just covered as another runner pulled up just next to me, the same runner who sat with me through the start, and the sound of footfalls behind us quieted. We had dropped another runner, leaving the leader just up ahead and three of us working simultaneously with and against each other.

Popping out of the neighborhood we turned towards the 3rd mile split and back down the road we first ran up. I consciously worked the decline, letting my legs take the pull of gravity while my lungs worked a little extra hard to keep pace. The other runner held right at my side, at times getting half a step ahead as we continued down the street at a pace that turned out to be too fast for the 4th runner, whose footfalls faded into the background until they went silent.

Then in a moment of traffic pattern confusion a truck came up beside us just before we made another turn on the course. The runner next to me waved him back, but he didn’t heed the warning and as we started to make the turn he had to yell at the driver and dart in front of him, just as the driver hit the brakes, managing to avoid clipping either one of us. All part of an urban race I guess.

I missed the 3rd mile split as it was hidden behind the errant driver, but no matter, my concern was just up ahead at the next turn. We had now reconvened with the 5k runners and found ourselves doing a little dodging and weaving to avoid the long line of slow running groups in front of us.

“Runners back!”, I had to yell as kids and adults alike swerved carelessly around the course, trying to avoid a race ending collision.

Internally though, I was recognizing that a fight was about to begin between both myself and the other runner. I pulled up next to him and went into full assessment mode to see how this was about to play out. What was his breathing like? We were both starting to breath audibly, but I heard his rhythm break and double skip, a sure sign he was maxing his systems. What was MY breathing like? It was quickened for sure, but also rhythmic and I could stabilize it with deep breaths if necessary. Admittedly, his form looked good and so he could still keep pace on strength alone, but I also felt good. Surprisingly good. I assumed at this point I might be fighting my legs and having to resort to my arms, my quads threatening to buckle on any uneven pavement, but instead they held strong and were able to counter any small ground the other runner was making.

It was obvious. This was going to be a fight. One of us was going to have to make a move and the other would have to counter or drop. Those are the rules.

Now, prior to the race I had assessed the course using my first hand knowledge of it’s topography, and it was at the 3.5 mile turning point that I told myself, “If you need to fight, to make a move in the race, THIS is where you do it. It’s a mile and a half to the finish and full 800 meters of downward trajectory. This is the best place to use the course to your advantage.” Laughably, I never thought I’d actually be in the position to use the course or fight for placing, not because I was confident that I wouldn’t have competitors or anything arrogant like that, but because those considerations were more just exaggerated stories in my head. Narratives of exciting race scenarios where two runners are battling it out, yet narratives that pretty much NEVER happen. Still, it’s fun to think about.

And yet here I was, taking the turn with another runner at 3.5 miles, 800 meters of downward road in front of us and an endless line of slower 5k runners to blow by. And with a noticeable surge I started pushing, getting a stride in front of the other runner, and when he came back into my periphery, pushing yet again to lose sight of him. And when I lost sight of him the second time, I really laid into it. My legs were turning over rapidly and my lungs were starting to get out of control. I thought to the intervals I did on Tuesday and how those felt and then to the mile repeats I did on Thursday and how those felt, and I forced myself to mimic the speed and exhaustion I felt knocking those out, knowing that If I could get to that effort, I was doing everything I could.

Continuing to pass the 5k runners I neared the end of the decline at exactly 4 miles, took the turn where the road mercilessly flattened out, and realized the other runner was no longer with me. Not next to me, not right behind me. I couldn’t hear his footfalls nor anyone cheering him on. I broke him….maybe.

I HOPED I had broke him, but with a full mile to go and my body now fully taxed by that fight, it was very possible he could move back up on me if I couldn’t keep the effort to the finish.

I looked ahead and saw the bright orange jersey of the leader about 5 or 10 seconds up the road and used him to keep the fight. We ate up the course and every so often I noticed the leader coming back a hair, but I also noticed the leader running smooth enough and looking around to say, “Hey, this is pretty fun.” I was convinced I wasn’t going to catch him, or if I did, he could drop the hammer without thinking about it. Still, I used him to press on and hopefully keep 3rd place out of spitting distance.

At this point the only fight taking place was against myself, and that fight was growing. I was pushing all out at this point, letting my heartrate beat wildly, my breathing go erratic and pushing through that distinct sensation in my legs of a sponge dripping with saturation, the lactic acid consuming my body and trying to lock up my lower half. The end was close though and I fought through, getting to that point I could just let it all out.

The leader took the last turn and I saw him look back, making eye contact with me  and putting in a surge to prevent any last second sneak attack. I took the turn soon thereafter and did the same, looking over my shoulder for 3rd place, but seeing no one, fortunately.

I threw all reservation to the curb and kicked down the last 2 blocks, suddenly finding a sprinting gear amidst all the lactic acid in the last block. I caught sight of the timing clock above the finish, “25:50” it read.

“Oh hell no, you’re not going over 26!”, my inner coach yelled to me and I kicked as hard as I could, hitting my watch just as I crossed the finish and abruptly slowed to avoid crashing into a barrier. I caught my breath and looked at my watch for the final mile split, “4:59”. Shit yeah!

After my systems shut down and slowed to a manageable degree I picked up my long sleeve shirt and gloves I had discarded before the race and started my cooldown back home, finishing the 16 miles my coach has scheduled for me. I was stoked!

There was a lot of apprehension and “what if’s” going into this race, coupled with a dose of, “just how fit am I right now?”, so to incorporate that into my long run and race both quick and smart has injected me with a powerful dose of confidence leading on. Things are finally falling back into place. Next up is a 1/2 marathon in two weeks, in both a new race and on a new course. To new experiences!

St. Niklaus 5 miler
25:55 (5:11 average)
2nd Place

The Year in Photo

Bear with me if you read this blog often. I’ve taken on the challenge by a local business in Indy to put up a blog post every day this month, called Think Kit, based upon prompts they supply through email. There are a significant number of us taking on this writing challenge and the ways we all interpret the prompts or apply them to the themes of our blogs should be pretty interesting. Without further ado..

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Ride to run to eat to ride to run to eat

Ride to run to eat to ride to run to eat

“The Year In Photos”

Your year in photos. Did one photo encapsulate your year? Maybe it takes a gallery. Go out and take a new one that represents your year if you need to. Let’s see those photos.

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This year has been personified by an incredible downward trajectory. I wasn’t running when the year began, I was struggling through the process of suddenly needing to find/buy a house, the consistent time spent with my biological was soon to dwindle due to school scheduling, my job became increasingly unpleasant and stressful and then my marriage dwindled. I would say I hit bottom, but that’s laughable. Bottom has a way of showing you what’s REALLY bottom, so I dare not even think it. I just keep my head down, look ahead and try and work my way out of this mess. How’s that for starting off on a downer?

Sometimes, however, these low points serve to highlight those aspects of our lives that really matter to us on a personal level, or at least magnify the small pleasures. For me, it’s running. But it’s also riding. And just moving in general. And if anything defines my year at this point, it’s that photo of me riding and eating, because sometimes it seems like all I did in a day was move, eat, move, eat, move…stuck in a feed back loop of caloric intake and expense, both actions serving the purpose of the other. And I love every second of it.

It was all this moving that helped me develop an emotional upward trajectory simultaneously next to the downward one. After moving into my new house I made the commitment to run commute to work and I did that, through freezing temperatures, in the dark, rubbing my back raw from a poorly stuffed backpack. On the days I didn’t run to work, I rode my bike, mashing the pedals as hard as I could to suck every bit of fitness available from my short 4.5 mile ride into work. Then slowly I began running again, just hear and there, on the treadmill whenever the opportunity presented itself. Not for competition, not for training, just to remember what it felt like and how it made me feel.

That running, any other runner will tell you, is a slippery slope though, and after a number of 5am running wake up calls, a week of consistent running and a few other nudges, the floodwalls could no longer hold back the pent up force to run, train and race. I broke…and started running again.

The alarm would go off and I would impossibly stumble through the house in a mental, sleep induced fog and somehow get on my bike and out the door. I’d run on the treadmill, shower, hop on my bike again and ride to work where I could devour my breakfast and get  a couple hours of relaxation before having to stumble through the halls on tired legs. Then I’d get back on my bike and ride home for family activities, which sometimes involved skateboarding or other physical games. It was awesome.

And just like that I was back to 80 & 90 mile weeks, hitting workouts I wasn’t sure were still in reach and on top of my own world of confidence and fitness. Then injury struck…and I was not running for a few months. Let’s not dwell on that though.

Slowly I worked my way out of that injury, still cycling all the time to make up for that lack of daily physical release, and still stuffing my face every time I could to keep in the necessary caloric energy. And finally…my marriage dissolved. Nice, right?

Oddly enough, as low as this took me, I count myself very fortunate that I had the foundation of running to fall back on, to give me a sense of self-worth and keep my spirits high. She took the car for months and I resorted to riding my bike for all my errands, back to living a car-free life like I used to…and again…it was awesome. There is something about that sense of self-reliance that offers far more benefits than the convenience of driving, no matter if you’re forced to ride through rain, biting cold, etc. It’s always worth it.

And so we come to that photo. Riding my bike in a running hat and a banana in my mouth, out on a beautiful day running an errand up north, that at some point had me famished from the effort and cycling to the Whole Foods for more caloric energy. And this now comprises my days. Eating to ride to eat to run to eat to ride to eat to ride some more to eat and prepare all again for the coming day of activity.

And I’m still much closer to bottom than I am to, well, not, but I know that every day I can count on moments of excitement, of accomplishment, of self-satisfaction through training, the joy of riding, the value of self-reliance and the awesome privilege of eating almost anything without concern.

This certainly isn’t how I pictured my year would unfold, and although I wish I could change a lot, there is a part of me I had forgotten that was slowly rebuilt starting in the Spring, and I’m grateful the conditions of my life have developed to this point.

That photo, devoid of all the internal struggles I’m experiencing at any time, sums up my year. Always moving, always eating, a bit weary but always focused on progressing to a better place.

At the risk of taunting the cosmos, I’m really looking forward to riding and running further from “the bottom” in the coming year, probably jamming bananas in my face the whole time.