Saturday, January 22, 2011

Merit Badges and Hit List Kills

I was a cub scout.  I was a boy scout.  I am a cub scout leader.  I play Mafia Wars on Facebook.  I say the first three with pride, and feel shame about the last. The first three activities are productive, while the last seems like a waste of time.  However, these activities all have something in common, and I think that something has to do with running, too.
When we learn to do anything in life--cook, drive a car, run, complete 3rd grade math (as a student and as a parent), or defeat fictional adversaries disputing our turf—we usually progress slowly and are rewarded with the ability to do the task at hand better each time.  However, the scouts and Mafia Wars both have the benefit of acknowledging the completion of the training and task with awards:  patches, beads, pins, ribbons, rank, special bonuses, weapons of destruction, and other doohickeys to mark the occasion. 
I saw, this morning, that someone earned a “badge” for checking in to Foursquare—a program that uploads your GPS location onto FB/Twitter and the like.  I guess there are awards for broadcasting your location.   Apparently, people like knowing their standing and progress in a lot of venues.  I like the bling, myself.  Of course, when achieving a rank, much of the work goes unheralded.
And this lack of fanfare for the daily toil of earning small achievements and enduring the task of accumulating work is where running fits in.  I run because I like the little achievements of setting goals and then surpassing those goals, only to strive for the next benchmark.  Occasionally those running goals are rewarded with a prize of some sort—a medal, ribbon, or gift certificate, but more often, the rewards are intangible and personal.
Running provides many opportunities for these small victories.  Sometimes getting out the door is a victory well savored after the workout is done.  There are mileage goals, pace goals, and goals against competitors.  There are “streakers” who keep running every day, just to keep the streak of consecutive days of running alive!  Like compiling good deeds and learning skills in scouting or accumulating mouse clicks in Mafia Wars, running provides me with daily tasks that accumulate, and hopefully, yield rewards.
The biggest rewards are those that keep us in the game: learning that knot, improving a scouting unit, completing a mission, and just persevering.  The small achievements fuel our pursuits.   I love to complete a workout, log it, and watch the charts, graphs and numbers of the training log swell.  I monitor daily, weekly, monthly, and annual mileage totals.  I compare workout times from this training cycle to the last cycle that I did (and occasionally from very old workouts) just to see how far I have come.  There is no pin, badge, patch, ribbon, or medal for completing 7 marathons, meeting mileage goals, of gutting out that tenth 800 meter interval on the track, but I wear them proudly.  I wear them in my in my running log, in my posture, and in those dark moments during a race or hard workout, knowing that I have earned the ability to conquer the task at hand.
I don’t run just to get a medal or to proudly wear a Boston Marathon jacket.  I run because I like the work, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t savor the tangible trappings of running almost as much as the intangible ones.  The things that I have accomplished--having qualified for Boston, breaking three hours in the marathon, (earning a scout master or thug award),and that age group win in the local race--do as much do as much to keep me in the game as the prospect of achieving another goal.
So, I train.  Today is the last day of the sixth week of Pete Pfitzinger’s 18-week training plan.  It was a “recovery” week that featured little speed work and reduced mileage.  I needed it.  Last week (65miles), I struggled through a couple of the workouts, feeling dejected and depleted.  I questioned why I train so hard. From that struggle came a good week of recovery runs, and a topic for a blog post. 
Now, would you like to join my mafia?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One-two punch

I felt great running 20 miles on Sunday; today I am exhausted after 14.  Pete Pfitzinger’s one-two punch put a hurting on me today.
Yesterday, the schedule called for 9 miles with 5 miles at my half-marathon race pace (6:20 per mile).  It had snowed about six inches the night before and the temps were in the single digits.  While sucking in that cold air, well, sucks, the snowy footing is not conducive to trying to run fast.  The last time one of these workouts was prescribed (referred to as a lactate threshold (LT) run), I did it in some loose snow. The times were slow that workout, but I figured that I worked hard making it a good workout.  I really wanted to try to hit the splits this time, so I got on the road to nowhere—the treadmill.  Ugh.
I don’t own a treadmill and have only run on one about five times.  The last two times, it was under similar circumstances where the snowy weather precluded running fast, but both of those workouts were intervals: running fast for a prescribed distance and then jogging a prescribed distance.  The variation of speeds made those workouts bearable.  Yesterday was a different story.  The treadmill is good in that I punch in the pace that I want (9.5 mph, which works out to 6:18 per mile) and try not to fall off.  However, grinding along at that pace with no variation at all for over half an hour is torture.  I was really struck by how much I must vary my pace in the course of a mile; the treadmill was relentless.  I did a two mile warm up, stretched, and then ran another mile at a comfortable pace prior to the LT portion of the workout.  I had to take 60 seconds rest after 1.5 miles of fast running, and then another 60 seconds after 3 miles total.  I lowered the speed to 9.4 mph (6:22/mile) and banged out the last two miles.  Besides the constant pace, the heat in the recreation center was brutal; I was sweating buckets and was nauseated by the end of the speedwork.  I finished with a mile cool down.
Today was the second hit of the combination: a 14 mile medium long run.  My legs felt heavy, it was 20 degrees outside (up from the single digits in the morning), and the roads varied from dry to soft, deep snow.  I trudged through it, but it was more difficult than it should have been.  Of course, I am happy to have it done and in the training log.  Tomorrow is an easy five miles; you can be sure that I will run it very  s l o w l y.
The dogs didn’t run on the treadmill, obviously, but they got some miles today.  Fletcher loves the colder temps and the cold snow on his paws:  3.19 miles @ 8:39 per mile.  Finn acted rested today as I had to keep him in check:  11.11 miles @ 7:51 per mile.
Of course, the importance of the last two days’ struggles is not lost on me.  Marathoning is not an easy hobby.  While there are challenging workouts, it is the accumulation of training that hardens me to bring my best on race day ( I repeated the mantra: Bos-ton, Bos-ton during yesterday's dreadmill session).  That hardening is not just physical; the last two days tested my concentration and resolve.  John L. Parker Jr. writes of the “trial of miles” in his novel Once a Runner,  commenting on the accumulation of training to get to the goal.  Pete Pfitzinger is trying me, and I like to think that I passed…with a B+.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Glimpsing the Sublime

How divine,
The liberty, for frail, for mortal, man
To roam at large among unpeopled glens
And mountainous retirements . . .regions consecrate
To oldest time! 
[Wordsworth, Works 5.125]

The 20˚ air held my German Shorthaired Pointer’s exhaled breath in billowy white plumes as we were a couple miles into a 17 mile long run.  As we turned to the southeast, the sun was peeking over the crest of a hill and its rays were caught by the frost on the golden brown grass, which had not yet been trampled under heavy winter snows.  It was as if frost had collected on my lens as each strand of straw stood illuminated in the morning sun, all silver and gold, etching crystals into my vision.  Time stood still in the morning chill as I experienced a moment of sublimity that would make Wordsworth proud.  Of course, the dog was just happy to be running.
I had an excellent long run yesterday.  Fletcher ran 2.6 miles and Finn ran 17.3 to bring me a tenth of a mile or so short of 20 for the day.  The weekly totals are: Teamcam—65.5; Finn—49.6; Fletcher—15.9.  Week 4 (14 weeks to go) of the Pete Pfitzinger 18/70 plan contains no speedwork, just a lot of medium long runs and long runs, so the dogs were in for every mile.  We all seem to be holding up quite nicely.
It was a glorious run yesterday as the only people out on the paths were dog walkers, and there were not a lot of them on a cold Saturday morning.  After the sublime scene depicted above, Finn and I made our way to a greenbelt that parallels Clear Creek.  The sun was shining, illuminating the snow and frost as the creek steamed.  It was one of those runs that make me happy to shun the treadmill and get out there.
I understand that some people live in places where the weather is just too bad to run in all of the time and that the treadmill offers convenience for those short on time, but I would not trade the feeling of covering ground and seeing my surroundings for anything.  I am blessed to live in Colorado, but that is not to say that I only run in beautiful surroundings.  Yesterday’s course went through some bleak industrial areas, but even those were picturesque in the blues, grays, and whites of a January morning.  We saw both a fox and a coyote on different parts of the run.  There were several views that were just breathtaking.  And we finished several hours of running feeling wonderfully tired and with the feeling that we had gotten somewhere.  Where to?  Well through the fourth week of training for my second Boston Marathon and into an ice bath—brrrrrr!
I hope that your running gets you to where you want to be, and that, for even just a moment, you feel at one with the world in which you run. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Running alone, with my friends

I ran 14 miles last night in the dark, not getting started until 7:30pm and an easy 5 today.  The dogs were with me for all of those miles.  While I ran, I listened to podcasts.  Runrunlive, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, and Phedippidations were all on the iPod.  I like listening to podcasts while I run long, general aerobic, and recovery runs because they occupy my mind.  I enjoyed them all, but something Steve Runner focused on in his Phedippidations podcast really struck me.

He recently participated in the Mojo Loco run where 13 podcasters from around the world got together in Florida to run an unofficial relay from Fort Meyers to Daytona Beach.  Steve focused upon the significance of meeting and running with a group of people he had befriended via “new media.”  I could not help but feel a bit smug.

I have been participating in the Runner’s World Online discussion forums, particularly the Boston Marathon forum for more than two years.  I post every day, with few exceptions, and have made a lot of friends.  I have also met many of those runners.  The largest forumite encounter (FE) occurs the Saturday before the Boston Marathon (held on Monday, Patriot’s day).  Of course the weekend is full of mini FE’s as we group up to dine, hit the expo, run shake out runs, and wait in the athlete’s village for the start of the big event.  In addition to the festivities the weekend of the Boston Marathon, this group seeks each other out all year long.  People meet up at other races (including running Reach the Beach last year and a huge contingent at Chicago), and try to run together when forumites travel for work and pleasure.

Steve Runner is right, meeting the people that have become friends online, through Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, and discussion boards is great, but I think that he missed something important.  I run with those people every day.  Sure, I listen to podcasters and feel like they are with me on the run, but I think of my online friends every day as I prepare for, recover from, and, of course, when I execute my workouts.  I think about their successes and setbacks both running and otherwise.  They educate and motivate me.  I feel accountable to them and know that they support this crazy running habit of mine.  The meet ups are great, but the running is great because of the people that I have met through these social networking tools.
My dogs keep me company on my runs, but I am often accompanied by thoughts of my many friends and cannot wait until the next time we get to meet face to face.  Many people think that running is boring, but I have plenty of friends who help me while away the miles.  I hope that this blog continues that trend.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A day of rest and a day of soft snow on the track

Yesterday was a rest day on the schedule, and I was happy for it.  I had run 12 consecutive days, with the last six comprising a 60 mile week.  I was ready for some down time.  I embrace the rest when it comes on the schedule and like to position the rest day at the end of my training week for two reasons.  The first reason is flexibility; if I have the rest day at the end of the week, I can take it during the week if necessary and still complete all of the work for the week.  The second reason I like the scheduled rest day on Sunday is that it feel like a reward for all of the hard work done during the week.
I think that a lot of runners (especially those new to the sport) have a tendency to not rest enough.  It is appealing to work hard on every workout and to view rest days as missed opportunities.  However, a single day of training has little impact on our performance come race day; it is the accumulation of weeks/months/ years of training that pay off.  I rest on rest days and run the recovery runs easy.  I monitor my pace closely in an attempt to stay in the pace ranges that Pete Pfitzinger suggests.  I know that there will be hard workouts and there is no need to make any single workout harder than prescribed.  I take it easy when allowed and empty the tank when necessary.
Of course, workouts sometimes become harder due to circumstance.  Today’s run was 9 miles with 10X100 meter strides.  I kept thinking of Running with the Buffaloes, which I read a few days ago, where they do a lot of strides (most of theirs were 300 meters) and constantly said how it was muscle stimulus.  The idea is to train the legs to turn over quickly without putting too much strain on the cardiovascular system.  Well, I got to the track, where I intended to run on the field or run the 100 meter straights and jog the curves.  There was 3-4 inches of snow on the track and field, despite most of the roads having melted off by this time.  To add to that, there was a nasty wind.  So, I did the strides on a very soft surface, half with a tailwind and half with a headwind.  I was working hard.  Usually they feel fast; today they were just difficult.  But they are in the training log.
So, the moral of the story is, rest when I can because I never know when a seemingly innocuous workout is going to be harder than expected.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A fresh [re]start

My resolve lies in the same place that it did yesterday, to train and race well.  However, after today's 15 miler, I was struck by the zeros in the training log.  The MTD and YTD were reset to zero.  I felt as if the zeros were taunting me.  It was a "what have you done lately?" kind of taunt.

Plenty of people start out the new year trying to accomplish something that they have not accomplished in the recent past.  I think that any motivation to improve ourselves is a good one; however, we all know what often happens to new year's resolutions.  The attendance at health clubs soars, diet plans and quitting smoking aides have record sales, and marathon registrations soar. OK--I made the last one up.  Nevertheless, using the calendar as an impetus for change is rarely successful. 

Marathoners know the secret.  One day is inconsequential.  It is the culmination of days, months, and years that affect change.  When we strive to change our lifestyles, it starts with a single day, but that change is not realized until it becomes habit.  John "The Penguin" Bingham speaks of the courage to start, and I commend everyone with that courage.  But change is glacial.  One day, one week, one month at a time, we carve out a new lifestyle.

As I ran today, I thought about the new year and change.  I posted my first blog post yesterday, but does that post make me a blogger?  I am not so sure.  I think I need to stick with it a while.  Resolutions are good, but resolve is better.  My exciting new year's eve consisted of re-reading Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear.  The book follows the University of Colorado's cross country team in their pursuit of the NCAA title in 1998.  There is a scene, near the end of the book, when the harriers are about to start the NCAA championship race.  One of the runners starts to freak out an his teammate says that everything they are experiencing at that moment is bullshit.  The preparation, the training, is what is real.  While the pressure of the race and the expectations for that event surely have weight, it is what we have done, not what we intend to do, that is real.

Go out there and do.  You can look back on those accomplishments with pride.