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Man in the Mirror

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When I look in the mirror I do not initially see a 41-year-old man looking back at me. The man, er boy, staring back at me is still young.

But as I lean closer to the mirror, the wrinkles become more apparent. The amount of salt on my unshaven face is ever growing. The gray in my hair is spreading, slowly, but steadily spreading nonetheless.

That guy in the mirror is no longer 22 or even 32 (which is the age I always foresaw myself staying at forever). No, that guy is 41.

41.

41 is not old necessarily, but it definitely is not young anymore – and that’s hard for someone who has always had somewhat of a Peter Pan complex. All my life I felt that if you stayed young in your mind and heart, your body would reflect that. When I re-discovered running three years ago I became convinced that I had found the Fountain of Youth.

6 months into my discovery I was 25 pounds lighter, had more energy than I had when I was 20, and felt as mentally sharp as I ever had been. I was convinced that I had turned the clock backward.

The problem of course is that you can only hold back Father Time for so long. Over the last three months it has suddenly taken me longer to recover, I’ve required more energy to motivate and my cracker-jack timing has been, well, a little off. Despite all of that I continued to push myself, hard. Eventually I had to stop and listen.

During a time that I should have been at the peak of my training (70 miles per week) for my upcoming marathon at the end of the month, I was instead asleep and running haphazardly (20 miles per week). Obviously I needed a break. 6 marathons (along with training for them) in 18 months had taken their toll.

I felt old. Suddenly running wasn’t my fountain of youth anymore. It was more like the wrong cup at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

With just two weeks until the Run Around the Lake Marathon, I’m still working my way back to loving running again. My mojo (lower-case “m”) seems to be back – I was able to throw down 20 miles in 95° heat and just this morning I ran some pretty strong intervals – but it hasn’t been/isn’t easy yet.

One nice, and unexpected, thing about missing runs due to lack of motivation however has been fresher legs when I DO run. Maybe as I get older, less is more.

Under normal circumstances I think that I would be losing my mind right about now knowing just how crappy my training has been this cycle, but something Joanne over at Apple Crumbles said to me several weeks ago has kept me steady despite my lack of mileage. She said:

“As for the marathon training, you’re a seasoned marathoner. You know what to do to get from mile 1 to mile 26.2. Don’t worry”

You know what? She’s right.

And so I look at that man in the mirror. He may not be as young or as strong or as fast as he was even just 18 months ago (actually I know I’m faster than I was 18 months ago…I just may not be as fast as I was 9 months ago), but he is wiser and has the accumulated knowledge of 6 marathons under his belt.

For the first time since November 2009, I am nervous about running a marathon, but this time it is tempered with the knowledge, as Joanne said, that I “know what to do to get from mile 1 to mile 26.2”.

I will worry, but dammit if I don’t enjoy myself too. We, most of us anyway, don’t do this to finish first – we do this for fun!!!  And if I squint my eyes just a little bit, it easily takes 10 years off that guy I see in the mirror.

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Symmetry

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A big, fat 0.

That’s the number of miles I have run in the last 7 days.

0.

Zip.

Nada.

I’m definitely starting to get a little grumpy.

But now I am battling myself on two fronts.  The fire, that internal engine is still stuck in neutral; motivation to train is at a low; but even if the desire were back, I am now facing an issue of pain in my right heel, my right knee and right hip.  The latter two, I am convinced, are offshoots of the first.

Not to get too graphic, but a callused part of my heel decided couple of weeks ago to crack. That has led to a sharp pain in my heel, which has led me to alter my gait, which I am convinced has thrown off the fine-tuning on my right leg.  It doesn’t help that my right leg has always been noticeably smaller than my left, that I am weaker on the right side.  My symmetry has always been a little off, but this cracked heel has thrown everything way off balance.

Those aches and pains that have kept my motivation down these past several weeks are waxing, not waning.

It is not the expected result of rest.

I’m going to have a serious problem if things don’t turn around in the next week or two.  I still believe I can be ready for my next marathon on 5 weeks training, maybe even 4, but the last time I tried to fake my way through on anything shorter (my first marathon), the result was frozen quads at mile 20.  At least if it happens at Around the Lake, I’ll be no more than a mile and a half from the finish.

Ugh.

I hate this feeling.

My motivation may be in the crapper right now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to run.

I.

Want.

To.

Run.

I want to sweat, I want to breathe hard, I want to feel spent.

It is my therapy.

Hopefully the heel heals soon and a modicum of symmetry is returned to my body.  I really think that once I stop limping, the knee and hip will right itself.

At least that’s my hope.

I hope I’m right.


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Unintentional

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It’s been almost a week since my last run.  I’ve officially only missed 4 runs on my training schedule and am most likely to miss a fifth tomorrow.  Although I am starting to feel a little antsy, I don’t have that sense of urgency that has driven me in the past.

When I wrote a couple weeks ago about losing my mojo, many of you left me comments saying that maybe my body was just trying to tell me something; maybe after training all winter for Boston and then starting right back up a few weeks later for another marathon, my body just needed a break.  At the time I took it all in intellectually, but in my heart I did not, could not accept that.  Giving lip service to the idea that I may have needed a break, I decided to rest on my scheduled recovery run days.  All I ended up doing was pushing myself harder on my other training days.  It worked – for about a day or two and then my body finally said, “Enough!”

For the last week, the little aches and pains that simply come with training – those badges of hard work I wear so proudly – have intensified a bit.  They are not debilitating by any means, but they are uncomfortable.  For the past week I have been waking up in the mornings and simply letting my aches and pains dictate whether I would run or not.

The answer has been clear:

Rest.

Heal.

Truly recover.

And so each of those mornings I have done just that.  I did not set out to take a week off, but it looks like that is what my subconscious has decided I need.

Despite being only 6 weeks away from my next marathon, I am not panicked, I am not worried, I am not afraid.

This Sunday I hope to go out for a Fathers’ Day long run – no intensity, just some nice, long easy miles.  Maybe I will get back into the training program.  Maybe I won’t.  Either way, I am still signed up for Around the Lake and I will still be shooting for a 3:15.

The next 6 weeks are going to be interesting.


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So this is it. The training aspect of my 2011 Boston Marathon is done.

This morning I ran an easy 4-miler. All that is left is 48 hours of rest and the 26.2 miles on Marathon Monday.

What will happen?

How will I do?

I don’t know.

It’s weird to think that the nearly 800 miles I have put in since mid-December all come down to one little stretch of road, taking me from Hopkinton to downtown Boston.

If you are running on Monday, may you run the race that you want to run.

Whatever the result, I will see you on the other side.

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Bounce

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Do you feel that?

That almost rhythmic bounce? A rapid, nervous hammering?

Do you feel it?

Do you know what it is?

It baffles scientists every year around this time.  It’s in the air, it’s in the ground, it’s in the pit of our stomachs.

I finally figured out what is causing it.

It’s the up-and-down movement of over 27,000 knees as runners preparing for the Boston Marathon enter their taper*.

***

Despite this being my 6th marathon in 18 months, I can already tell this taper is going to be the hardest yet.  I’ve trained harder and run longer than any other training cycle – I just want Boston to get here.

What do you do to deal with the taper?

*For the uninitiated – the taper is the last 2 – 3 weeks of training for a marathon.  During this time, runners reduce their weekly miles somewhat dramatically, leading to what many call Taper Madness – an overflow of nervous energy where runner don’t know what to do with themselves and often get a little grumpy.

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6.5

<1.8%

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The average American sleeps over 106 days per year.

The average American watches almost 78 days of television per year.

The average American surfs the Internet nearly 30 days per year.

The average American eats for nearly 23 day per year.

How much time does the average American spend on exercise?

Less than 20% of the American population participates in regular exercise. Of those 20%, 65% spend less than an hour doing it. For 80% of this Great Nation, the average amount of time spent during the year on truly sweating is less than 1 day.

***

Sleep and food are necessary. Television and the Internet are not.

***

And no, it’s not just lack of exercise; it is also what we are doing with the time we COULD be spending exercising (staring at a screen, mindlessly eating). It’s a double-whammy.  Mindless eating is not about hunger or nutrition. It’s not even about pleasure, as a fine meal can be.  But junk/fast-food is not the enemy. It’s what we are doing with it that is – a topic for another post I suppose.

I digress.

***

So what’s your health worth to you? 20 days? 10 days? Would you believe that you could significantly help yourself with just 6.5 days a year? 6.5 days.

Can you spare 6.5 days?

That averages out to 3 hours per week.

I can already hear some people saying, “I don’t have an extra 3 hours per week.”

I hear you. Loud and clear. Time is precious. Choices have to be made. Issues must be tended to. But I take you back to the statistics above. How many hours per week do you spend in front of the television or the computer?

Be honest.

I have friends who are constantly traveling, constantly working and literally don’t have the time. They don’t watch TV and time spent on the computer is for work. For them, I’m not sure what the answer is. Some kind of multi-tasking?

But there are others. Other who complain or come up with excuses.

3 hours a week.

Not only are you receiving the benefits of physical exertion during that time, you’re getting the added bonus of not sitting in front of a screen, munching on HFCS (high fructose corn syrup).

So let me re-phrase – can you re-allocate 3 hours per week?

***

Isn’t your spouse/child/parent/friend worth 6.5 days?

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Itchy

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I took the entirety of last week off from running. My body didn’t fight it. In fact, during the first 5 days after New York I never had a strong urge to put the running shoes on. This is quite unusual for me. In the four previous marathons I’ve run, I have been eager to get right back out there on the pavement the next day, whether I am physically able or not.

I don’t know if it was just the beating I took running the five boroughs or the cumulative effect of running 5 marathons and 3 Half-Marathons in 53 weeks, but physically I just didn’t want to run. I think after what I’ve put it through though, I owed it to my body to listen.

A full eight days out now, however, and I’m starting to get itchy. I woke up yesterday morning and seriously thought of jumping in as a bandit in a local half-marathon that goes right by my house.  I chose to be smart, knowing I wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to let the throttle out.  I could have paced a friend of mine as well, but at that distance, at some point I wonder if I might not have felt the need to just go.

Yes, I am getting itchy. My shoes (both my Bikilas and my Kinvaras) are calling to me; or maybe it’s my feet that are calling to them. Either way, before this day is through, there will be miles run.  It is time.

What’s my point in all of this?

Just that after beating your body into the ground, maybe it is best to listen to it when it is asking for a break.  Recovery and rest are no joke.

Like I mentioned earlier, in the past four marathons I have been eager to get back out running as quickly as possible.  I wonder if it that urge has more to do with fear than desire. I wonder if some small part of me was afraid if I didn’t get out there as soon as possible, I simply wouldn’t.  Some runners (and I know I have been guilty of this) also have this irrational fear that if they don’t run as often as possible they will lose fitness*. It can sometimes border on the edge of compulsion.  And seriously, aside from maybe flushing out some built up lactate, I can’t imagine just how productive those post-marathon runs really are.

So this week, I’m taking a new approach. Mentally I know I’m ready to run. My plan for my assault on Heartbreak Hill is coming together. Boston is only (only?) 5 months away.  I may not PR at Boston, but I know I’ll improve on last year’s performance.  My official training cycle doesn’t start until mid-December (or mid-January, depending on whether I follow an 18-week or 12-week program).  Until that training cycle starts, I’m gonna listen to the legs and let them lead the way.

This last week has been luxurious, surprisingly pleasant really.  This coming week I will take it slow and easy.  And if my legs are ready? Next week it’s back to some real mileage…but only if my legs (and the rest of my body) tell me so.

***

How long do you take to recover after a marathon?

***

*I don’t mean the “oh my God I’m gonna gain weight!” fitness.  I mean the “oh my God, I’m gonna lose the ability to run a certain distance at a certain pace” fitness.

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