Thursday, November 25, 2010

Perspiration and Inspiration

Of the 2600 kilometres I've run so far this year, only 150 kilometres was run in races. That is a pretty small percentage. And considering how much I cheat on long runs (20 km once a week has been my standard, and I've only increased that to 25 km within the past month), most marathon runners likely log far more training distance than I do.

To me, that means you've got to enjoy the training part of your running life. Of course I enjoy the races, I totally revel in them. I simply don't find myself obsessing about upcoming races in terms of how prepared I am, or how fast I'll run. I run four marathons a year now, so there's always another one around the corner. I'm just as concerned about how well I'm going to run tomorrow as I am about the next race. The atmosphere, the geography, the people, all of these things are exciting but the actual run is simply going to be what it's going to be, fast, slow, or somewhere in between. You give it your best, and you try to make your best incrementally better every day. The moments of inspiration, the PRs in run-speak, come with persistent training. Countless times you see runners having eureka moments when they nail a good run, and it would not happen if they didn't slog it out day in and day out.

And that's how most endeavours are to me. You give it what you can every day, so when the events come up you're prepared and rehearsed to the extent that very little can stress you out anymore. That's what preparation is all about to me. You can't be too prepared, you can't know everything there is to know or have exhausted all of your strategies to improve.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Get Moving and Don't Stop

There are tons of reasons to run. You can run to lose weight. You can run to complete a specific distance in a race. You can run because you want to increase your fitness and decrease the odds of health-related illness. Et cetera. All of these reasons are fantastic if they get you moving.

The problem arises for new runners when their goal is so narrowly defined or so difficult to achieve within a specific time frame that they become discouraged. That's when the runner has to confront choices. Soldier on with altered goals? Give up? Or start to see the big picture?

You can step back and take some time off from running without giving it up entirely. You can decide to get coaching or do some more research, devote more time to it, run more, run less. It doesn't have to be all-consuming or completely abandoned.

My running goals have changed constantly. My first goal was to complete a marathon with my daughter. The second goal was a marathon the following season, during which period I determined that I would try to do one spring marathon and one fall marathon per year. Those marathons would be destination marathons. That worked perfectly for a couple of years; we had some excellent vacations, tons of fun, and I became completely hooked on the sport and the distance.

Then I decided to fit an extra marathon into each season. So for the last couple of years I've done four marathons a year, and started fitting an extra 10 km or 30 km run into the mix. The destination part still fits in, but some of those marathons are local to try to keep the bank account healthy.

Throughout the evolution of my changed race goals, I've steadily become leaner and faster. This comes from steady changes in nutrition and fitness regimes beyond the simple act of running. It all fits together, it's all part of a lifestyle change that has me feeling better than I've ever felt in my life.

It all truly started with my determination eight years ago to quit smoking,. lose weight and work out regularly at the gym. Achieving those initial goals, making those changes permanent, was the first step in getting to this point.

Where does it go from here? Can't say for sure. But I certainly see myself continuing to run marathons until my body stops me, and I still see myself doing the training mileage required to do so. And even then I intend to continue with some form of fitness regime. I have a genetic tendency to become diabetic for one thing, and I intend to fight that possibility with all my heart.

Age marches on irrevocably. and motivation ultimately comes down to this: if you see a tiger loping toward you, you don't start crying or whining. You don't demand that somebody do something. You don't swagger and go to meet it. You take practical, immediate action. You only get one chance at this thing called life, so don't just sit there and let your body and your mind bloat and wither away. Get with it, stay active, for the long term. And push the envelope, because you'll never be sorry that you gave it everything you've got.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reach for the Sky (This is not a Holdup)

I stretched a lot when I first started running five and a half years ago. Whether that stretching did or did not contribute to various aches, pains, and injuries is something I'll never know. But at one point, out of desperation, I simply quit stretching altogether. That worked for a while, and then I started getting injuries that were clearly a result of muscle tightness.

The information I gleaned from research was contradictory at times. However, I can summarize what I did wrong and what I'm now doing right. Stretching is a good and necessary part of a runner's regimen. It also has to be done carefully and it has to work for you personally. There is no cookie cutter solution to the issue of stretching, because everyone is different.

Don't forget, none of us is a 100% runner. All of us have physical routines that involve other things. For example, I sit all day at a desk, getting up and walking around occasionally. I also sit in a car for between 2.5 and 4 hours a day on average. So my muscles have a tendency to tighten up. Some people do a lot of standing, walking, bending, etc. during the course of their work day. Swimmers, cyclists, rock climbers, all of these people have significantly different physical fitness requirements than I do to excel at their various activities.

So stretching is part trial-and-error and part research. Most importantly, apart from what your body tells you, is the opinion of trainers or coaches who you work with and who really and truly know what you personally should and should not do. Trial and error without experienced input is quite likely to lead to setbacks.

I stretch when my muscles feel tight. I also stretch as part of my gym workout twice a week. If I stretch before I run, it's very conservative, just enough to loosen the tightness since I almost always run immediately upon waking up at 4 am. As I get older I find my muscles getting tighter as well. But I seem to have found that sweet spot where I'm doing the right amount of stretching to fit the speed and distance that I run, so it's just a matter of tweaking it these days.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Evolution of Your Running Career

If you're just starting out as a runner, brace yourself for lots of soul searching and obstacles of various types and sizes. Like anything worthwhile, it ain't gonna be easy. So what do you have to look forward to? Here's a sample.

1. You will encounter quizzical feedback from friends, family, and colleagues. Some of these people will think you're straight out nuts. Others will be genuinely alarmed that you will keel over and die. You will learn to deal with all of them. Be patient with the people who mean well; they can often be educated. Deal with the others according to your personal preference. I like to employ sarcasm and belittlement where it's deserved. Most of the time, though, I just set an example. You will be amazed - truly - at how you affect the wellbeing of those around you.

2. You will build a support network of other like minded athletes (you are an athlete, go ahead and use the title). They will come from everywhere. Sol get involved, run races, do activities at your local running store, join a gym. These people come from all walks of life, are all shapes and sizes, and are incredibly supportive.

3. You will hurt a lot. Soreness becomes a common feeling. You learn to read your body's signals; some pain requires immediate action, and some pain doesn't. Your body is relatively important considering that it's all you've got, so this running process ultimately makes that body - and the mind housed in it - stronger, more resilient, longer lasting, better. It's a process of learning that will last the rest of your life, so get involved in it.

4. You will take stock occasionally and be surprised to see how much further you can run, how much faster you run. People who are newer to running will ask you questions of all kinds and you will have answers. You will know what kind of shoes are best for you, what running clothes you prefer, so many things.

5. So now you're afraid that there will come a time when you won't be challenged anymore, like you'll know everything and have achieved everything, right? Not even close. You will continue to find out new things. You will be shocked at your progress and development. You will encounter entirely new vistas and challenges that totally inspire you.

6. Nutrition becomes a fascinating new world of possibility. You can get away with a lot, but you are inclined to eat things that help you with your running, that aid you in increased energy and recovery. Runners are obsessed with food issues.

I've run 14 marathons and I learn tons of new things all the time. I learn from reading what other runners write. I learn from experience. I learn from advice of fellow runners. And that's an extremely important thing to remember; do not ever hesitate to ask another runner's opinion or advice. Runners are very generous with giving advice and generous with giving praise. You couldn't possibly be in better company. So have a great run!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Running Out of Time

The verb "to run" is possibly the most common metaphorical verb in the English language. People run for political office. They run businesses. They leave their cars running. Their noses run. They run away from their problems, and they run into each other. They run over things, too, and in none of these examples are they putting one foot ahead of the other foot at a rapid pace.

When I do the laundry and the colours run, tears (not mine) run as well in sorrow (anger?) over the damage I've done. Ships run aground; fish run in schools. I often run into trouble. And when I try to think of excuses to get out of it, the well runs dry. Plays run for years... you get the idea, and I'm running out of examples.

Running is one of the oldest, most elemental of human activities. So the fact that we use the word to describe so many other elements of our lives should come as no surprise. So why fight it? Get the hint, everybody; go ahead and run.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Nifty Tools and Other Life Lessons

I replaced a faucet in the laundry room today. I'm not the handiest handyman in the world (ok, who started that resounding 'amen'?) but I can do this stuff when it's necessary. Anyway, it was a pretty tight fit to get at the rusty parts and crank them off, and that aspect of it took some careful work to avoid stripping threads and that sort of thing. Putting the new parts on was much easier, but tightening everything up in such a tight space is a bit challenging. Rather, it would have been challenging if I didn't suddenly remember this nifty wrench thing that is designed specifically for such scenarios and works like magic. And as I reached for it I remembered my dad showing me this wrench.

My dad was a real handyman. He was always fixing things or making things out of wood. When he showed me that magic wrench, there was a real sense of ceremony as there often was when he showed me tools that he found to be really useful. That ceremonial moment would stick in my memory, and on countless occasions such as today, that memory would save me hours of frustration and useless effort. Like a good parent, he passed on little details about life that would make his son's life that much better.

Besides showing me how tools worked, dad would occasionally make little statements that have had a profound effect on my life. Things like saying "Always maintain good credit. Not much is more important than that." Or this: "Don't touch the brakes if you're on pure ice. Steer out of it as much as possible." Another: "Your good name is something you want to maintain above all else."  And my favourite: "You can't rush a good cup of coffee."

So that's what I try to do; I try to pass on lessons to my kids that might make their lives a little easier and a little better. No, I can't pass on much about tools, but I know I've instilled a respect for physical fitness in them, and lots of little ways to be responsible with their money. In the long run, the little bits and pieces of knowledge and wisdom that you pass on becomes the way that you will touch base with them again after you're gone. That is why I had a great time changing that faucet today and touching base with dad again, mulling over some great memories.

So don't pass up those opportunities. Every last one of you is a coach to someone, whether you have kids or not. You know how much impact the words and actions of others have on you, and if you think about it you know that some of those people don't realize how powerfully they have affected you. Not just little tricks and witty proverbs, and not even technical advice necessarily. Just the steady, unflinching attitude you exhibit in the face of potentially terrifying or chaotic situations can immensely soothe others around you.Your sense of humour can ease tensions and make a world of difference.

You matter a lot. So take exemplary care of yourself and show those around you that they matter, too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Running goals are very plastic, malleable things. Bold, confident goals are wonderful. When I hear them expressed I silently send any extra energy I can to the goal maker. I hope with all my heart that they will handle setbacks with contempt and pent up rage. I also hope that no one will tell them that they will have setbacks. How you handle the confusion of defeat tempers the steel that your long term resolve becomes.

A timid goal needs to be followed by a goal that flirts with disaster. Your body mind and spirit won't evolve if you don't. Other people's goals don't matter, unless you want them to. I started out running one spring and one fall marathon, a mere two races per year. Then my friend Helmut demonstrated that that was fine if I didn't want to develop a full blown addiction. So now I run four marathons a year, and that's tempered only by my self deception whereby I have convinced myself that I need sleep and money. I'm sure I can conquer that limitation with time, though. I simply need to ramp up my money making activity when I'm not running. Yes, and sleep more at work.

Runners know what I'm talking about. Those who have conquered this sickness and have stopped running have truly reached an epiphany; they have achieved the limits of pain or love, or both. Others, like myself, are still feeling the evolution of greater physical and mental control, greater speed and muscularity.

My friend Max told me, with a timid insistence unique to her, that I need to increase the length of my long runs appreciably, even though I run marathons so close together. I now run far more miles than ever, weigh less, eat more, and feel overwhelmed with excess energy.

Keep moving forward. Be unstoppable, irrepressible, unflappable. You can't imagine where it will end.