Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Running for a While and the Questions You Ask

My month of August ramblings...


With Ironteam life in my rear view mirror, I've had some time to recalibrate my workout life. And rest of my life, too. But this is mostly about my workouts. No longer needing to survive a 2.4-mile swim, I've cut back my swim to once each week. Mostly pool time, though Christine did manage to lure me into the ocean for a sunrise swim once. It was pretty. But popping my head up every two minutes to say, "Don't let me be dragged out to sea!" doesn't make for an efficient workout for either of us. So, for now I will go to the ocean to play in the waves and boogie board. Maybe touch the buoy once in a while. But no extended time there for me. I just don't find the happiness there that other people do.

I've also decreased the time an intensity on the bike to 1-2x each week. Casual riding on the weekend if it fits in. Preferably chased with a breakfast plate of eggs and cheese and coffee. Midweek workouts are for spinning out tired running legs and resting my cranky Achilles. It's still warm enough and light enough to enjoy some morning miles before I head off to be a desk monkey.

The bulk of my training has been running - back to the basics. I really do like the triad of triathlon sports. It just takes extra effort to string them together. When reduced to just running, my schedule is freer and my mind is less cluttered. It fits into my life well.

I have two events on my schedule - Marine Corp Marathon and the Goofy Challenge. Both I am planning to use as training days for a longer race I have my eye on. Right now I'm about five weeks into a plan that puts me at the start line of a century run in February. I have not put the money down to save me a spot at the start. I'm still debating the merits of committing to another enormous feat less than 7 months after a nine-month Ironman season. But the prospect of trying for something new, challenging and almost impossible (in my mind) is tempting. Just over a month into this phantom ultra training schedule, and I've already logged more miles - 138.5 - in August (per month) that I have in about a year and a half. And aside from my Achilles pain, I feel good. My weekend runs have ranged from 16-20 miles on Sundays, backed by occasional single digit (4-8miles) workouts the day before. It's territory that immediately brings me back to 2009 and American River 50 training. Slow, steady mileage and time on your feet. Learn to move for hours on end. Learn to love the sound of your own footsteps. Those miles and hours will soon creep up into the mid-20s to low 30s. All local grocery stores and restaurants - you have been warned.

Meditating on 20 Tough Miles

This weekend I made it through one of the hardest 20-milers I've ever done. Not because the course was all that challenging. In fact, it was fairly flat and very familiar. What got me was the baking sun (90 degrees, no shade) and the lack of music/friends/fellow runners around me. It was just me, two water bottles, a few salted balls of rice and my own feet and brain. It took me 12.5 miles to "warm up" - meaning, I stopped paying attention to the heat and finally felt awake and engaged with my workout. I chowed on rice, dark chocolate espresso beans and one ginger candy. When things got tough and I wanted to quit, I reduced my interval. I downed a cold coke at mile 16.5 for a much needed sugar injection. I randomly ran into Anabel along the beach path just before I was turning around for the final 3 miles. Seeing a friendly face was a saving grace and good mental boost. I finished - soaking wet, exhausted and tired of my own thoughts in my head. One of which was - why the hell are you doing this?

It's a good question. It's one that needs an answer. Why? Why go for a 3hr run? A 5hr run? A 25hr run?

The more I read the wisdom of seasoned ultramarathoners, the more I realize the significance of answering that question. They ask, "Why do you want to do it?" They don't care about the specifics of the answer. Instead, the message is ... have a reason to run. Have a reason to go for 100 miles. Have it in your back pocket. Have it tattoo'd on your skin. Have it ready and available because if you do not have a true, burning reason to test yourself at that distance ... don't do it. You won't make it.

I had a spoonful of this friction on Friday during that run. The voice that asks "Why?" spoke up, loudly at some points. And when it does, you have two choices - find an answer or quit. Have one fiery reason or ten of them. See the goal in your mind and make sure your sharp-sightedness is stronger than the noise trying to distract you. When you pack your water bottles and your nutrition and recovery for your workout, don't forget to pack your reasons, too. In the middle of your own workout, the choice is on you: answer and move forward or quit and get off the road.

Admittedly, I did have a lollipop later that day

It's good to have tough training runs. As a coach, it makes me more understanding of the struggles my athletes face. In good timing, I coached a workout two days following that run, and spent the last four miles of an 18-mile day with one participant who was struggling. Being able to emotionally tap back into Friday's run definitely shaped the way I interacted with her. Hopefully helpfully. Completely tough training runs - regardless of its distance - are good litmus tests of how badly you want something. It's a measure of Grit. And grit is good. It's also a measure of how crazy you are. That's also good because you need to be at least a little looney to be exceed your own limits. In running and in life, as Jerry West points out, "You can't get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good."

I'm still not sure I will sign up for this ultra, though I'm certain at least one or two of some distance are on the horizon for me. I'll continue to train to my schedule, check out the necessary gear and logistics required of the run, and meet with my coach to make a final decision and solid plan for success. It's all one giant, sometimes-expensive, frequently-rewarding, precipice-seeking , adventurous experiment. Sometimes referred to simply as Life.

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