Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Toughness and context

Running means pushing and experiencing a degree of unrelenting physical and mental discomfort that few other athletes face. Even sports we acknowledge to be punishing, such as rugby, football, and hockey, allow for periods of respite during games to gather and re-focus critical resources.  In a race, you’re never resting; how hard you’re working is a mater of degree.

As a result of the need to force ourselves through discomfort, a lot of us wonder about our own mental toughness. Because bearing down and tolerating pain in both training and racing is critical to our success as distance runners, we wonder if what we’re experiencing when we’re at our perceived limit is much different from what other runners experience. How could we possibly know if we’re any more or less “tough” than the typical competitor when we don’t have a frame of reference outside our own to use as a reference point?

Read the rest at Lowell Running.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

4 on the 4th and other powers of two

I watched a Four (kilometers) on the Fourth this morning up the road in Gunbarrel. I was there not to run but to take pictures, cheer on friends, and provide a social opportunity for my newly adopted Doberman mix, Rosie. All three of my teammates who ran did well -- 2nd, 4th and 4th overall.

I ran an Independence Day race with an identical name thirty years ago -- the Four (miles) on the Fourth in York, Maine. This race is now in its 39th year. I had recently graduated from high school and was three weeks out from a 9:43 3200 for 12th place at the New Englands (times were slow because it was hot, but back then New England was still in Great Britain and thus not as track-oriented). I had spent the first two of those three weeks resting and the third one in my first week of training for what would prove to be a remarkably shitty and ultimately abbreviated college "career." I was in York because my then-girlfriend's then-parents had rented a then-cottage for the week and I was asked along.

I woke up the morning of the race reeking of Sun Country wine coolers, along with everyone else around. Then again, everyone stunk of that stuff then. I headed to the start with my then-girlfriend's then-dad. My then-girlfriend decided to sleep in (no surprise given how things then were).

I can recall my splits without looking at my Strava data or anything else: 5:08, 10:19, 15:45 and 21:40. That's right -- 5:08, 5:11, 5:26, 5:55. I nice quadratic function instead of a linear equation to describe the pattern. (Actually, this would have been great: 5:03, 5:11, 5:27, 5:59 for the same 21:40. See the subtle but mathematically powerful difference?)

I was pushing the whole time, too. It was hotter than Satan's anus with no shade in the second half along the then-Atlantic Ocean, but I also went through 2 miles almost on pace for a 5K PR when I was reeking of fruit and not at all sharp. I felt like a vault full of diamonds for about 4K and dumpster full of zirconium the rest if the way.

I think I was 10th overall and despite almost walking the last kilometer I think only one person passed me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Inside the intrinsic rewards

As I've probably mentioned here, in my peak competitive years -- when I was never "good" but was probably decent enough to justify running 100-plus miles a week, at least when addressing a biased audience -- I often wondered how much running I would do in some hypothetical world in which racing was impossible (e.g., it was outlawed or I was being paid lots of money to abstain from it) but I still had full command of my physical capabilities. The idea in pondering such a question was to try to tease out how much of my willingness to train that much was rooted in trying to achieve competitive ends and how much was founded on a simple love for, or addiction to, the activity of running itself.

There is actually another layer to this question. If you knew that after, say, a date one month from  now, you wouldn't be able to run at all for an extended period -- maybe ever -- would you keep running anyway? If so, how much? And why bother?