And It Creeps In

And It Creeps In

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Me and Ginny Dog.

I’ve been clear of it for sometime now. I pushed all the desire out of my brain. There was a inkling, a tickling in the back, but I had discipline. I knew it would do me no good, and so I pushed on. Lately, though, it’s become more difficult to keep the imagination at bay. To be honest, it didn’t take much.

January and February were both near 30 mile months. A pittance of what used to be, but a considerable amount more than the zeros that filled all but a handful of 2016’s days. No doubt, it’s too soon to tell, but I’m slowly starting to ramp up some miles. A push day here, a day off there, a patient waiting for the aches and stiffness to return to the Achilles. Much to my pleasure though, the Achilles hasn’t felt like anything. It’s almost returned to just another body part I’m only aware of when I consciously think about how it feels.

Over the past week, I’ve increased not only my mileage, but frequency. Probably a bad call in retrospect, but it’s one I almost can’t help. Last week I had a plan to push mileage on Friday. Things had felt good, and I had decided it was time to push mileage a little and see how the body reacted. So I laced up my Simply Shod huaraches, got the Ginny Dog and ambled over to the local wildlife management area (WMA) – a 5500 acre parcel essentially human-less outside of hunting season. Surrounding the WMA is more privately owned land and a multitude of old woods roads and atv trails ready to be explored.

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This is what I missed.

I didn’t explore as much as I wanted, and was cautiously slow – although, it was probably still too fast as I am rebuilding from essentially zero base – but I still managed to get in 5 miles. What Joy! I know nature is beautiful. I know the gifts and blessings that lie in the quiet and solitude of woods devoid of humans. Of course with this little adventure, I went to bed Friday night filled with joy despite being resolved that Saturday morning would bring stiffness and aches. But when I rolled out of bed Saturday morning, there was nothing. No stiffness, no ache, no twinge. It was good.

Saturday took some discipline. I wanted to get back out into the woods, but I pushed it off. I waited until Sunday and went for another – shorter and slower – three mile run. Again Monday morning, no pain, no discomfort. And while I didn’t do anything on Monday, Tuesday was an easy, quicker two miles that led to zero pain on Wednesday morning.

It’s not much, maybe I’ll get 12 miles this week over the course of three days. The struggle is between an over-cautious fear of re-injuring my Achilles and being out even longer, and an over-zealous desire to get back into things.

I’ve avoided ultrasignup for the last two years, and I really should continue, but last night I caved. In truth, there’s no telling where I’ll be in November. In fact, I probably shouldn’t even be considering anything of ultra distance this year. I can’t help it. As I sat at the computer, perusing the semi-local races, I couldn’t help but map a 45 mile run utilizing the two bridges that cross the local river. I’m not sure why. I can’t help it; though I suppose, the mind can be over-zealous so long as I don’t let it drive my body. Sitting out all those months was the hardest part of this injury, but the slow wade back into things is proving to be difficult in it’s own way.

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Pipe Dreams.

Running Perspective

Perspective is one of those things that changes. From individual to individual, from subject to subject; our past experiences shift how we view the same things, and running is no different.

One thing people say when they learn I ran 100 miles is: “that’s a long way.” In truth, I suppose it is, but coming into it, I didn’t look at it as a long way, but just another event.

When I first started running, there was no real fixed distance we would strive to attain during practices. Rather we’d head out with our coach and he’d tell us when we were done – usually somewhere in the 50-60 minute range. Race day would come and we’d run our 5k, and then be back to random non-distance measured runs. I knew what a mile was, but I guess I never really grasped the distance of it. It’s just a distance, not long, not short; point ‘a’ to point ‘b’; four times around a track.

As I got older, I entered longer races: a 10k road race, a 15k road race. I did well enough that I convinced myself I enjoyed the ‘longer’ distances. The thing was, now that I had done a couple of these longer races, a 5k seemed like a short little jaunt. It was still demanding, but it seemed shorter.

They say when you’re training for a specific race, you should make at least one of your long runs longer than the actual race. For half marathons and below, this is an easy enough feat, but when you start getting up to marathons and 50ks, it becomes a little trickier – though still doable. One of the things going long does is to warp your perspective. If you’ve run 20 miles before, 13.1 is a heck of a lot less.

I was nervous going into my first 100. I’d run 50 miles before, once, and it was okay, but 100 miles seemed like a big undertaking, albeit, not as big as some of the races I’d read about. I’m not sure if I have some simpleton nature that stops me from being able to comprehend how long an hour is or how far a mile is or if it was hearing about guys running 400+ miles in one outing at a 6-day event, but the enormity of 100 miles is lost on me.

In October I ran a 6 hour timed race. Six hours might seem like a long time – it is a quarter of a day – but in July I had run (read: moved forward) for 19:36, six hours is less than a third of that time. It would be a cakewalk I told myself. In the end, it was rather enjoyable. Coming up in a couple of weeks I have an indoor marathon. My training has been sub par for sure, maxing out at 30 miles per week with no real speed work to speak of. I have no hope of a ‘good’ time, but I’m not scared of the distance. Compared to some of the recent distances I’ve done, a marathon is nothing.

If you want to run long, run longer. Forget what you know about far and short. Ignore what an hour is or isn’t. Go run and run and run some more. Change your perspective. Stretch it out. Let what you once deemed long become average.

The Leg Calendar

I was updating my log yesterday, and I realized that had I not taken the day off after VT100, I would have hit a year streak on the 16th. Instead, I’ve started over and am at day 60 or so. My log also tells me some information regarding mileage.

Prior to VT100, I had run 2541.6 miles over 306 days averaging 8.3 miles per day. After VT100, I’ve been rehabbing my Achilles and taking it easy and my mileage has subsequently plummeted to 3.7 per day. None-the-less, my mileage from 9/17/13-9/16/14 is 2759.2. For me, that’s a huge number. Since I’ve started keeping track, my mileage has been building, but nothing more than 2300. What’s even more interesting, is that since my mileage has declined and I’m going easy, I might finish the calendar year 2014 around 2300/2400 miles again. No where in my log will I have recorded that big – for me – 2700 number.

But really, how much does that matter? Do my legs know the difference between a calendar year and 365 days? I’m going to go ahead and say probably not. While time isn’t man made, the way we keep track of it kind of is. Sure, it’s nice to tweet the crazy miles you ran in a year, or shout it out on facebook that you just ran the highest mileage week ever, but the reality is, is that it doesn’t really matter. These segments of time we have created are really meaningless to our legs. They don’t know a 31 day month to a 28 day month.

What is important, is that our mileage is increasing – to a point – overall. Mileage should be something that builds on itself; there are ebbs and floes, higher mileage periods and lower mileage periods. It shouldn’t be a flat line. Our legs need lower mileage periods to rest and recover. Even steady low mileage should have peaks and dips. During the off-season throw in a higher mileage period just to keep the legs limber and ready to go. Yes mileage is important, yes how we measure it and keep track of it is important, but it’s important not to get wrapped up in mileage on the short term. Over time, it all irons out.

Summer Losses

It happens every few months, without fail. To write about it seems an imprudent waste of time: the changing of the seasons. We’ve entered full fledged fall in Vermont, and it sucks. I’m not sure if living in Georgia negated the work the previous 28 winters of living in Upstate and Northern New York did on my blood, or perhaps it was the vicious cold last year coupled with a not-so-warm summer (according to accuweather.com we had two days that hit 90 on the nose), and more predictions of a nasty winter – this time with more snow. Either way the cooler weather of the fall has already made me ornery so I’ve made a list of the things I’ll be missing about summer.

1. Barefoot Runs. I love running barefoot. I don’t do it all the time, but I do try to incorporate 5% of weekly mileage barefoot. Sometimes it’s on the road, others it’s the field or track. Not in winter. I can push pretty far into the winter unshod, but once the salt goes down, forget it. Foot coffins here we come. Now I know I can hit the treadmill barefoot, but running on the treadmill seems to contradict the whole idea of running barefoot and naturally. Besides which, no one likes the smell of roasting flesh.

2. The Track. I hit the track once, sometimes twice a week. I enjoy an easy warm-up to the track, a nice hard workout that requires no thoughts about oncoming traffic, slushy puddles, black ice, or guessed distances. You find a pace and rock it. Not in winter. I do my best to get out when the early snow flies and keep the first lane cleared – and sometimes I can make it into December – but it’s hard work. And once the snows on the track, it’s there until April.

3. Sweat. A good sweat makes everything more enjoyable. All the toxins in your body purged through your skin and flushed into the air. You feel accomplished. A job well done. You know you just worked your backside off, and you can strip down to your shorts and just bask in the glory of your stank self. When you’re done, a cool hose for a quick rinse and off you go. Not in the winter. There is no sweat in the winter. Sweat just turns to ice, and when it does stay melted it does an awesome job at wicking away your body heat, too.

4. Clothes. As a stay at home dad, I do my share of the laundry. I do lots of laundry. Every day I do laundry. Wash, dry, fold, away. And with kids, if you don’t get to the ‘away’ part quick enough, you end up folding twice. In summer, there’s less clothes. Sometimes, (albeit rarely) it’s warm enough I start a run without a shirt on. One less item in the wash. Not to mention the size of the clothes. A t-shirt and shorts takes up so little space in a load, but when you start adding shorts, running pants, short sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, maybe a third shirt because it’s that damn cold, that’s almost a load of laundry in and of itself. In one run.

5. Rain, streams, ponds, lakes. Water. Who doesn’t love water on a hot summer day? A quick jump in a pond or lake will cool you down instantaneously and you’re off on your way again. Just a stream? Splash some water on your head and let it run down your back. Rain? Awesome. Who doesn’t run faster with less effort in the rain? In winter? Look out. Rain in the winter turns to ice, black ice. Sometimes it comes down as ice. It hurts. It soaks clothes and rubs body parts raw. Crossing a stream? Be careful you don’t punch through, it’s an excellent way to get frostbite.

6. No leaves. When you start doing long long runs, and you’re out for extended periods of time, you’ll quickly learn that it is prudent to bring toilet paper. However, if you forget in the summer time, no sweat; grab some leaves and you’re good. In the winter there are no leaves except for some crinkly, crumbly beech leaves still hanging on. Don’t use those, they won’t work. If you forgot toilet paper in the winter, you’re out of luck. Say hello to Mr. Tom Thumb, or you can use a snow ball. If you did happen to bring toilet paper, you’re stuck bumbling around with exposed fingers in the bitter cold, trying not to drop a glove while you attempt to keep the TP from getting wet in the snow. Meanwhile, your backside is hanging out, and you’re literally freezing your ass off. Mind you, this is all after you’ve trudged through knee deep snow an appropriate distane off the trail so as to not offend others. Try squatting in that. (True story: Doodi called – badum… – while I was on a night run in sub-zero temps this past winter. That was a shitty – ching! – expierence.)

7. Evening Light. Not all complaints are about temperatures. As I do near half of my runs at 8:00PM or later, I love summer when it doesn’t start to get dark until 9:00 or so. I can head out on any loop I choose, and not have to worry about the fading light. As fall and winter approach, my loops start getting more and more limited, until I’m eventually running out-and-backs along the damn highway because a.) it’s the only thing clear of ice and snow, b.) if I fall over and freeze it’s the only place I’ll be found, and c.) I’m scared of the dark and dirt roads with dense tree could be hiding any number of baddies including hungry ass catamounts.

8. Stretching. I’m not an avid stretcher, but as i get older, I find that if I can do a little stretching ten minutes or so into a run, I’ll feel better during and after the run. In the summer – and fall to some extent – I can sit down wherever I want and stretch myself out. It might garner some funny looks when at first glance I’m flashing the world, but it helps. Do that in the winter and you’re hard up. It’s not the flashing part I miss – though who doesn’t like a good flash? – it’s the dry, warm ground to sit on that I miss. Sit down in the winter, and you’ll either freeze up, or get a wet bottom, which will then freeze up. I suppose I could just do laps around my house and go inside to stretch, but then I’d be all sweaty and freeze when I went back out – if my wife let me go back out.

9. Procrastination. In the summer, my wife and I have no problem getting out in the morning on the weekends. I have no problem getting out at night. The weather is warm, there’s probably some daylight; it’s easy. As darkness and coldness progress, getting out the door gets harder and harder. Instead of getting out the door to go for a run, we sit and drink our coffee dreading the venture outside. At first it isn’t so bad, but as the winter wears on, the foot dragging gets worse. No one wants to go outside for a run when it’s single digits, no matter their gear.

10. Vitamin D. We’ve all heard of the stuff. And while you can get Vit D supplements, the main source is the sun. Well the sun doesn’t go away in winter, but as you head further north, the Earth’s angle of insolation becomes steeper and less Vitamin D can get through. Not to mention the fact that in order to absorb Vitamin D you have to have exposed skin. In winter, that usually consists of your face, which for most of us, isn’t that big. So for November-March, I’m absorbing zero Vitamin D on account of the angle of insolation being too steep, and for September and October, there’s so much grayness, little Vit D is being absorbed anyway. That’s near six months without Vitamin D.

So no, I’m not looking forward to winter. I’m not enjoying the cool fall breezes, the turning of the maples, or the harvest of the garden. I want 90+ and sun. I want to sweat faster than I can hydrate. I want summer. I want a real summer.

Where Have All The T-Shirts Gone?

There was a time, when I ran in high school, that the middle drawer of my dresser was burgeoning with t-shirts. It seemed that every weekend that there was a track meet, or a cross country race I’d come home with a new shirt to add to my collection. Some shirts were more important than others – the ones from state meets, or collared sleeves. Most of them were white, but a few came in black, or my favorite, maroon. It even came to a point one time that I made a pile of the most boring non-dated, white shirts and brought them down to the local Good Will.

Some of my favorites: home made tie-dye, my maroon job, and the dearly departed Yale shirt.

Some of my favorites: home made tie-dye, my maroon job, and the dearly departed Yale shirt.

The same held true in college, but less so. I had some sweet shirts from my team, but there weren’t as many ‘t-shirt awards’ or it seemed, shirts being given out. Though signing up for a local road race would certainly add to your collection. Perhaps it was this overwhelming abundance of sleeveless derivations of undershirts that led me to my undeniably awesome fashion sense; why buy a shirt when I have a free one that will get the same job done? And so it is that a decade after college, and I’m still wearing t-shirts gleaned from some sort of running event.

Unfortunately, my middle drawer is no longer the flourishing utopia of t-shirts it once was. This is in part due to the eight years I stayed away from running and all it’s events, but also because I have worn many of my favorites threadbare. Just yesterday night I was taking off my favorite Yale Invitational t-shirt from 2001, and one of the tiny moth-holes turned into a gigantic rip rendering the shirt useless but all a rag.

While the age of my t-shirts may be a problem, the true issue at hand is that the shirts are simply not being replaced, and not for a lack of running. Since I started running again 4/5 years ago, I’ve entered a number of races from 5ks to a 100 miler, and pretty much all of them have given out a shirt. There have been a couple of cotton tee’s ready to be worn, but it would seem that there is a bigger problem: the virulent introduction of the tech-tee.

Best tech-t ever - Manchester City Marathon, and two gigantic screen printed jobs.

Best tech-t ever – Manchester City Marathon, and two gigantic screen printed jobs.

After running through 34 degree rain with a long sleeve cotton tee on top of a regular tee and having my nipples nearly rubbed off, I know the benefits of a tech-tee (I also learned the benefits of taping). However, it would seem that the majority of tech-tees are not designed with the runner in mind and are more a ‘perk’ of signing up for a given race. I have more than enough tech-tee’s with gigantic screen printed logos across the chest. All the sweat wicking technology that went into the tech-tee is rendered useless when three-quarters of the front is covered in some sort of logo. Not to mention a giant screen printed logo just adds to the chaffing these shirts are supposed to limit. That is not to say all tech-tee’s are garbage for running. I have a couple that are top notch – the true problem is, these are unwearable as generic tees to be coupled with shorts and flip flops.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but something about wearing a tech-tee and shorts screams “Look at this race I ran!” which is not something I really care to do. A generic, cotton, t-shirt from a race doesn’t scream the same thing to me; rather it says in a much more subtle way “I wear free clothes because I’m that cheap and I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think,” which is much more in my line of thinking.

So please race directors, nix the tech-tees. We have enough. Go back to the good old cotton t-shirt. I’m running out of clothes.

The Forethought: VT100 Part I

This is Part I. Part II can be found here. Part III is here.

In The Beginning

A few months ago I decided to sign up for the VT100. At the time, I hadn’t yet run my first 50 miler but with some running background, I thought it would be a good idea. April came and I ran my first 50. My legs hurt and recovery took a little longer than anticipated, but part of me was still excited for my first go at 100 miles. Soon enough, July 19th came and my first attempt at a 100 was underway.

Of the many things I remember from racing – be it true or not – is that the sleep you get two nights before a race is more important than the night before. I tried, and I think I did a fairly decent job getting in bed early and racking up a decent eight hours or so of sleep. The night before the race was a totally different story for a number of reasons.

Leading In

On Wednesday my father came out to help me put siding on our house. Over the last year we have connected two shed dormers and raised the roof line on our house; the siding was the final step. Consequently, the three days prior to the race were predominately devoted to finishing the house and not preparing for Saturday. All my final packing, planning, making food, got put on hold until Friday night. Friday itself was spent trying to register and finish the siding.

I showed up to registration, got my packet and weighed in – 156.6 pounds and a blood

The tents on Silver Hill.

The tents on Silver Hill.

pressure of 137/78 (whatever that means) – I moseyed over to register my vehicle on foot and was told that I actually needed the vehicle to register it. Oops. I figured knowing the license plate would be good enough. Wrong. Not a big deal, it just meant that I’d get home, and come back to register the car before the 4:00 PM meeting. Unfortunately, what is normally a 10 minute drive was more like 20 with all the local road closures to VT100 traffic – thank you cranky neighbors… So instead of having a few minutes before the meeting and after the siding was completed to get my stuff together, it meant I was going to do it after the meeting, which meant after dinner, which meant after my wife got home, and more than likely meant after the kids got to bed around 8:00PM.

The Strategy

To say that I had no strategy for this race would be a lie, but to say I had any realistic idea about strategy would also be a lie. The previous 50 miler I ran was on similar roads – though no trails – and I managed to run that just under seven hours. I knew that to try and run an equally fast opening 50 would be stupid and that I should go out conservatively, but as to what conservative was, I had little idea. I knew I could run ten-minute miles for the first 50 fairly easily and probably roll through the 100k at the same pace. It sounded manageable; I was sure I would blow up, so the idea in my head was to push that out as close to the end as I could. The problem was that ten-minute miles means an 8:20 50 mile, or a 16:40 100 mile, or in other words, way too fast. Regardless, anything faster than 10:00 was not on my agenda.

One of the big dilemmas I was having concerning building a strategy was the idea of a DNF. I’ve had a couple of DNS’es thanks to over zealous race choices and a bit of a drinking problem, but I’ve never DNF’ed. Dabbling in the ultra world, I’ve come to grips that a DNF will eventually occur, but I’m not ready yet. Running my first 50 I knew I would finish. I was confident in my conditioning and ability to push through, sure 50 miles is far, but it’s not that far, even if I had to walk it in for a 15 hour finish. A hundred miles was a whole different beast. The idea of not finishing was an actual reality, especially if I went out too fast.

In the end, I ended up writing down a number of aid stations on a piece of paper with different arrival times based on pace. Ideally, I would go through the first 50 no faster than 8:20 and just hang on for as long as I could and hope that could get me back to Silver Hill of my own volition.

The Crew

Yes, I affixed a deer skull to the grill of my Man-Van. Just for the race, mind you.

Yes, I affixed a deer skull to the grill of my Man-Van. Just for the race, mind you.

For me, one of the most stressful things about this whole thing was organizing my one person crew. I managed to rope my brother into driving around all day and helping me out. I first planned to meet him at the Stage Road station about 30 miles in. I could estimate a ball park as to when he should plan on being there, and even estimate times for the next two or three handler stations, but after that, I had no clue. It would be a waiting game on his part. A time to kill some forced boredom. Even when I could tell him where to be and when, I had no idea what to tell him to be ready to do. I gave him a laundry basket stocked with things I might need: extra shirt, shoes, sun hat, band-aids, food, drink, even a camera if he should decide to capture a sliver of what I was attempting on some sort of digital film. In the end, I think a couple of drop bags could have replaced my crew as I didn’t use him much at all. And I’m willing to guess drop bags are probably cheaper and come with less guilt.

So It Begins

All my stuff: SKORA Fit, Orange Mud Vest Pack, Generic white shirt, camo bandana, and of course, the mandatory 'poop' bag just in-case (these were provided by the race due to previous participants unrully poo habits...).

All my stuff: SKORA Fit, Orange Mud Vest Pack, Generic white shirt, camo bandana, and of course, the mandatory ‘poop’ bag just in-case (these were provided by the race due to previous participants unrully poo habits…).

I set the alarm on my phone for 2:45AM, enough time to perk a cup of coffee, grab a quick shower and get to West Windsor by 3:30AM. Between the hourly, startled wake-ups searching for the cell phone to reinsure me I hadn’t slept past the 4:00AM start, and the cranky toddler who kept waking up proclaiming to all that she was apparently dieing of thirst, my potential 6 hours of sleep turned into something less.

The drive to the start was less than memorable and I ended up parking in the far lot and walking down Silver Hill in a strung out crowd of strangers, all moving towards the din emanating from the giant white tent below. There were like minded runners, with tired faces, emotions still asleep, chipper crew members  in their street clothes downing their coffee and laughing at inside jokes, and sleeping babies resting on mother’s shoulders, completely unaware of what their parent was about to embark upon.

Despite the headlamp induced, shadowed faces surrounding me, I recognized a few people I knew, and as we congregated 30 yards behind the starting line, the conversation turned to everything but what we were about to do. Eventually the starter began talking and everyone’s focus began to shift.

Post-Partum: VT100 Part III

A Little Self Doubt

I remember as a kid trying to build up the courage to ask a particular girl on a date. It took some time, and when I finally did gather the courage to ask, the nerves were a mess – the dry mouth, the queasy stomach, the heat. The lead up sucked, but the end result was quite pleasant. It ended quite miserably, but did lend to some decent memories. Back in January, when I signed up for the VT100, the nerves were in much the same place. I was varnishing a floor with my alarm set and the sign-up page pulled up on the lap top – no way I’d miss out on registration. It was January so needless to say, the windows were closed; perhaps some of the dizzy, hot flash, giddiness, that I was feeling had more to do with the varnish than actually signing up, but I attribute them to VT.

I already had a training plan in place and knew pretty well how every week or so should look. There were a couple of races, some long runs, and a good handful of recovery days. June was supposed to be my big month. I was looking forward to hitting my first 300 mile month and my first 100 mile week along the way. Unfortunately, as life goes, a small handful of things have come up that are looking to make June just another sub-par month.
This past Tuesday I went out for a long run just over 17 miles – it shouldn’t really be a long run at this point, but it’s the most mileage I’ve done in sometime… It was an early morning run, and it started out quite slow, as normal, but the pace never really picked up. I trudged along, cursing the hills between me and my home. I’ve run these hills countless times before, but they seemed steeper and longer as I puffed up them slowing to something slightly more than a walk as I neared their crests.  It was miserable. These runs happen. We all have off days. Having never run 100 miles before, I assume that by the last 25 miles I will be feeling worse than I do on an ‘off’ day. And it is this that gives me pause. These hills causing such problems are the same hills I would be attempting to climb nearly 90 miles into the VT100 – if I could hardly get over them 15 miles into a run, how can I possibly get over them with 90 miles on the legs (that’s assuming I actually get there)?

The butterflies and excitement of anticipation that I had in January are still there. I’m still looking forward to seeing what I can muster – how far I can push myself, but a new element of fear has been introduced. I am not taking this distance casually; I know it deserves respect and a bit of caution, but the self doubt that was once non-existent has become a fixture when thinking about July 19th.  I know I’ll toe the line, but beyond that it’s something of a mystery. I haven no idea how far I can make it, how long I can hold out and keep moving forward. There will be an end, I just hope it’s a pleasant one.

Listen To Your Body*

I hesitate to write this post for fear of sounding like a pretentious-know-it-all-elite-runner-coach. I of course am none of those things, but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion. And since this is essentially my soap box, I will proceed.

“Listen to your body.” It is good advice. If we didn’t listen to what our bodies were telling us, we’d end up running ourselves ragged, developing injuries, and eventually come crashing down as lumpy piles of human flesh. Lately, I have been hearing this phrase quite a lot, and it almost seems to be the new mantra in the self-help exercise world. I’ve seen it bandied about on facebook, twitter, blogs, even speaking to some other runners. Personally, I don’t mind the New Age, Hippy Granola, wannabe-Zen, catch-phrase, but I think it needs a little caveat, a but, an asterisk.

The problem is, that if all we did was listen, we wouldn’t get anywhere. Listening is great in that it alerts us to a potential problem; our job is to hash out the problem and react accordingly. Therein lies the real issue. Too often – I think anyway – people will pick up a knock or feel some tension or a sore muscle and take some time off, or ease up on their workouts. Our reactions tend to be way overkill. If every time we felt discomfort of some sort, we would stop. Our bodies don’t really like pain or hurt. Most first time marathoners vow to never run that far again. How many people would run ultra marathons if they just “listened to their bodies?” How about an obese person getting into a fitness program? I can’t imagine their bodies are happy with that feeling when they start.

Just because we feel something that might be out of place or uncomfortable does not mean we should stop – or even slow-up. Rather, I think we should push a little harder and see where it takes us. More often than not, those little nagging uncomfortable spots disappear; the sore muscles fade and we’ll be in the clear. When they don’t we can take it easy – but never stop. Eventually, over time, we learn to interpret what our body tells us, but it takes effort and a fair bit of pushing. A child will never learn to swim if they stay in the wading pool, likewise we will never learn to run to our full potential if we ease up when something ‘hurts.’ It takes time to learn your pain threshold and where that falls on the continuum of healthy pushing vs. overtraining.

There are no universal rules to learning your body and it’s messages. The only way is to push. So next time you listen to your body, and it’s telling you to stop – think seriously why it’s telling you to stop. Then go for a run.

 

Capricious Abuse

The other day, a friend shared this quote on Facebook, and at first it made me chuckle; then it made me think.

The quote, is from the injured Anton Krupicka’s blog:

“An unsolicited bit of advice: don’t construct your coping-with-life mechanisms around something as capricious and physically abusive as running up and down mountains.”

I had to read it a couple of times before it really stuck – you know, hyphenated word phrases and all. The thing is,  if I followed Anton’s advice, I’d probably fall apart. For me, running is a coping-with-life mechanism. And I think it’s probably fair to say it’s a coping mechanism for a lot of runners, if not all.

When you ask people why they run, you get a variety of answers ranging from the annoyed to the long winded. Often, you’ll hear about the health benefits. Dropping pounds is an obvious reason some people get out there. You’ll also hear people espousing the beauty of nature and self-transcendence; and of course, there the least introspective, but fairly common, I-love-running answer. While some of these responses are honest truth, there are undoubtedly a number that are lies, half-truths and a fair prevalence of  omitted truth; easy answers to appease the questioner and move the conversation along. I do it. I’m sure you’ve probably done it in the past, too.

But why?

Because running is a coping mechanism and that means there is something wrong with us. The thing is, everyone has coping devices, some binge on food or drugs, strip clubs and whores, gambling, television, QVC. (Even ascetic monks cope.)

So why do I run?

Because I’m addicted to endorphins. Because if I didn’t run, I’d be a fat lazy slob with a drinking problem. Because I’d be a rather shoddy father. Because I’m an escapist. Because I’m a hobbyist. Because running helps me cope.

Happy Friday. Get out there and cope this weekend.

The Changing of the Horn

I grew up in a small town and went to college at a University in rural Northern New York, minutes south of the border. Upon graduating I was kind of lost as to what I was going to do, so I quickly procured a job teaching English in South Korea. The next 5-6 years of my life were spent in cities, some small, some big, some foreign. It was in these cities that I learned of the car horn.

Yes, my cars growing up had horns, but they were used to let the deer know you were coming. Or to harass the cows. If you can picture four 16/17 year olds loaded into a lime green 2-door Suzuki Samurai (essentially a Geo Metro), barreling down country roads with heads hanging out of windows shouting and honking at cows, you can picture my middle teenage years.

I had always known horns were used to express ire at other drivers, but in Korea I first saw the horn being used by taxi drivers to let cars at intersections know they needed to get the hell out of the way. It worked magnificently. In New York I lived at a pretty busy intersection in Brooklyn: there were five roads intersecting, three of them major, an on ramp to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and an off ramp, and entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Needless to say there was a lot of honking. It was in Brooklyn that I started running again; not being one for waiting, if I could nip across the street mid-run and not have to wait for an idiot lite, I would. Again, more honking. Brooklyn being what it is, more often than not, instead of heeding the honking, it was met with a middle finger and a big old “f*ck you, sh*t bird.”

Moving to Vermont and running at night, I get my fair share of honks, but for some reason, they don’t have the same harsh edge they had in Brooklyn. Instead of flipping cars the bird for breaking my beautiful silence, I just toss them a wave and a smile. Maybe I’m growing up; maybe I’m worried about cursing at my boss; maybe big cities just suck. Either way, I can’t say I miss cussing at strangers.