Sunday, October 28, 2012

Much needed wisdom

I woke up today feeling unusually stressed.  Unable to shake the feeling and needing a distraction, I pulled out "Lore of Running" by Tim Noakes.  But instead of merely a distraction I found wisdom that spoke to exactly what was eating away at me.

The chapter on overtraining ends with a description of Alberto Salazar.  He notoriously flamed out early in his career, and when he announced his retirement Salazar said:

"The biggest thing I've leared isn't simply that I trained too hard all those years.  Everyone says, 'Alberto trained way too hard and burned out."  To be a world-class runner, you have to train hard.  But what I did learn is that you can't do those hard workouts increasingly.  In order to be good, you have to train at a high level, but you must allow your body time to recover.  You need to take time off.  You need to run easy on some days, and you need to take at least a month off at the end of the season.  I never did either."

This quotation along with the overall message of the chapter is that the body and mind are intricately connected, and there is a limit to the stresses they can handle.  If you exceed that limit, you can do irreparable damage, and miss out on some of the things in life that really matter.  Running wasn't what was causing me stress, but as Joe Friel as pointed out all stresses are the same.  As I feel myself approaching burnout I need to take a break, step back, and relax.  As long as I do that my body and mind will auto-correct and everything will be alright.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

New Shirt

This wouldn't be a real blog without a self-shot photo of me standing in front of the bathroom mirror:

I just bought a new shirt and I wanted to show off.  Ordinarily I don't like running shirts that have words on them because usually they say something stupid like "Running Doesn't Build Character It Reveals It" But this one had the simple imperative, "Run".  That's a message I can get behind.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Are runners masochists or hedonists?

Runners love to brag about how hard it is.  "My legs were killing me!"  "Can you believe how hot it was?"  "I totally hit the wall."  We glory in the pain, and the more pain, the more glory.  For many of us an easy three mile run would be boring.  But if that three miles were on a track, doing repeat 400's at near-sprint pace without full recovery in between, then we are interested.  It isn't just that we see the pain as a necessary requirement to reaching our potential; we enjoy the pain for it's own sake.  Some might even see it as the ultimate goal.  There is a word for this; masochism.

But running also has many pleasures.  You get the endorphin rush that comes from going fast, and the mellow bliss that follows a hard workout.  You feel the wind as it brushes over your bare skin, and the thrill of moving fast on your own power.  You bask in the majestic scenery of a rugged trail run deep in the mountains, and, let's face it, the equally beautiful view of being in the company of other runners who are thin, fit, and spandex clad.  Running is very sensual.  This love of pleasure also has a name; hedonism.

So which are we?  Do we love the pain or do we love the pleasure?  I used to be firmly in the former category.  The idea of pushing beyond my limits and enduring extreme suffering for some worthy goal seemed romantic to my adolescent sensibilities.  But as I've grown up and mellowed out a little, I think I've moved more to the latter category.  I genuinely enjoy the sensation of running, and I see it more as a relaxing, meditative pursuit than as an avenue to prove myself through self-flagellation.

Maybe masochism and hedonism aren't truly separate desires.  Maybe they stem from a more fundamental desire to just want to feel something, anything, good or bad.  What do you think?  Feel free to comment, I'd love to hear some other perspectives.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


I had some kind of breakthrough tonight.  I went out for a light 20 minute run, and after just a few minutes I felt completely warmed up.  Naturally my stride started lengthening, and I could feel myself speeding up.  It was as if someone was pulling me forward.  The feeling was too powerful to brush off, so I went with it.

I couldn't have gone more than three miles, but the speed, the speed!  Rather than pushing off the pavement I felt like I was gliding over it, sailing.  And my lungs felt completely unencumbered, as opposed to the usual asthmatic tightness that always used to creep up during speed work.

The last time I felt like this was in high school, when I would be in the middle of a 5k and I had separated from the other runners; the feeling of being warmed up enough to be loose, but not tired enough that fatigue had set in.  And going fast.

I can't imagine what could have causes such a spectacular jump in my performance.  My running has been good lately, consistent, some hill work for strength.  The only conclusion I can come to is that my body finally absorbed some adaptation that had long been in the works.  I started running in very thin shoes about six months back, and it required a complete retooling of my running form to land on the forefoot.  Until now it always felt like I was slightly straining the tissue in my lower legs to do so, but not tonight.  My legs finally figured out how to run this way.

Normally running is relaxing, tranquil.  But tonight I'm so excited I can barely sit still.  Good things are coming.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Taking risks and failing

I'm a very cautious person, especially when it comes to running.  I think it comes from years of injuries and physical therapy and the fear of not being able to live my life.  So to avoid injury I always make a safe plan for steady improvement and loathe to go off book.

But this post isn't about that.  It's about taking risks.  Specifically, that sometimes you need to take them.  My roommate (who happens to have the same New Balance Minimus shoes) invited me to go running with him and a friend in American Fork Canyon.  He didn't know exactly how far we would be running and didn't describe the terrain, but I decided to throw caution to wind and just go with it.

We started by heading into the canyon which takes you deep in the Uinta National Forest, and immediately steep cliffs and deep green pines swallow you up.  Once we got to a reservoir we took a treacherous single-lane dirt road further into the mountains, which dropped us off here:

Killer view, huh?  We took off running and immediately I could tell the pace was too fast.  It was all up-hill and we were really moving and I could feel my heart rate spike to dangerous levels.  My inner obsessive-compulsive was saying "this is TOO fast, you're going to flame out!" But I was running in a group and frankly I had no idea where we were and I didn't want to get left behind for the mountain lions.

And guess what, after about ten minutes my asthma started to kick in and it looks like my inner voice was right: I did flame out.  I was forced to hike the rest of the way to the top and catch them again on the way down.  But you know what, even though I made the "wrong" decision, I don't regret it.  Sometimes you need to take risks and fail.  I maybe shouldn't have gone on that run, and I definitely shouldn't have tried to stay with the pack after I found out the pace.  But if I had played it safe I wouldn't have been in this jaw-dropping canyon, I wouldn't have been able to test myself, and I wouldn't have run the more than three miles of insanely steep, rocky, winding and absolutely thrilling downhill that ended the trek.  All things considered it was definitely worth it.