Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stop Being Such a Wuss

I think the biggest challenge, apart from recovering from serious injuries, is powering through more vaguely defined but occasionally nagging issues that hold me back. So here are some of those issues and how I try to deal with them.

Sleep: We all get that insomniac monkey on our backs at times. It can become exponential; the more we stress and try to sleep, the less able we are to do so. Often, as in the night before I had my appendix out, we can't sleep due to physical discomfort or pain, so I guess the trick is to weed out those potential causes first. Once I have it down to nothing obvious, or peripheral stress (which can be the worst), I try to blank out my mind entirely. No thoughts, no images, no counted sheep... and that works better than anything else I've devised to this point.

General Fatigue: Tied to (lack of) sleep in many instances, this one simply needs to be ignored first; if it persists, I take a breather. I make fatigue my friend (boy, that sounds odd) in the sense that my body is sending me a message that I have to interpret. Is it sleep, or nutrition, or overwork? All of the above or something else entirely? There's an answer out there somewhere.

Fatigued or hurting Muscles: A lot more detailed analysis needs to go into these issues to ensure that injuries don't become aggravated, obviously. However, I believe very strongly from personal experience and from watching and listening to others that people can mollycoddle their aches and pains entirely unnecessarily. People need to fight through these pains with a lot more fortitude than they often do. Just look at the ordeals that ultra distance runners go through to appreciate what can be endured. I think that once a person internalizes this approach to pain and hurt, they are well on their way to successfully completing long distances and other endurance activities. Sounds pretty self-evident, but we've all seen and heard the whiny little excuses and we've all been sorely tempted to succumb to them ourselves. Toughen up, and as you know the reward is that little bit of a swagger that you can allow yourself for having done so...

So that's your diatribe for the day.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Victoria Day Weekend

A very satisfactory weekend. The garden is planted; everything is cut, trimmed, washed, weeded... and a summer of yard work stretches out ahead. I enjoy this stuff: power-washing, staining, painting. A cup of peppermint tea straight from the garden. The promise of rhubarb next spring; the hope of squash, beans, peas, strawberries, all fresh from the back yard.

This is what we bust our asses for all week. This is why we get intensely involved in the commercial world and build up our store of ducats. Yes, we have long and short term plans beyond the mundane routines, but we want the mundane routines to be enhanced. We want to have room on the grocery budget, we want to know that the planned long trips won't take a lifetime of saving to realize.

We also know that it could all disappear in the blink of an eye. Natural disasters, medical events... so we have to always balance appreciation of the present with plans for the future. And that balance is absolutely not contradictory, as we discover over time. Good things happen with preparedness; the medal comes after a long, arduous, glorious run to the finish.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

One Week Post-Pittsburgh; One Hour Pre-Apocalypse

I've run three ten kilometre runs since last Sunday's marathon in Pittsburgh, and all three runs have been at my maximum pace. Tomorrow will be a twenty kilometre run, and apart from my badly burnt legs (fell asleep in the sun on the beach today), I have little reason to believe this will be anything but a very satisfactory outing.

So I wonder if perhaps I should have (or still should) schedule more marathons for this year. After my surgery in late February, I was quite certain that two marathons would be more than sufficient for this year. Now, I know that I could easily fit one or more long distance races in and probably not be the worse for it.

The question is this: how many marathons is too many? At what point does the constant imminence of races become too dominant in occupying one's time? I enjoy the races themselves immensely in every way, so that's not an issue. The problem is this: am I a one trick pony? I do a lot of other things, but none with the consistency day-in day-out as running...

Our kids are both adults now. They have no children. My mother is so busy with volunteer work that she doesn't need or want any more time from us. My wife likes the travelling that we do in conjunction with this marathoning obsession. My work isn't compromised by the time I spend training and travelling.

But... should I be spending more time doing something else? Should I be broadening my horizons, finding some other hobbies or occupations? Maybe I should carpenter or scrapbook?

It's not a facetious question. I really do spend more time than usual lately wondering if I should be devoting more time to some other pursuit or pursuits. I don't mean expanding to triathlons or some such thing, since I don't swim very well or enjoy it enough to try.

I guess it's just that when one sees the constant improvement that happens over time if one commits to running  regularly, one begins to wonder what else could be achieved with that kind of regular, consistent approach.

What do you runners out there think? Do you have the same question about your own running life sometimes?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Post Pittsburgh Marathon Post...

So after a day of mini heart attacks watching my wife and kid spend money like drunken sailors at the Premium Outlet stores in Grove City, we headed out in the blindly optimistic search for a hotel room on Friday night. Friday the 13th no less. Miracle of miracles, we found a room in Cranberry, just a few minutes north of Pittsburgh. And that's when I took another leap of faith, or another blind departure from established reason, similar to striking out on a Friday without booking a hotel room. Yes... on the night before the night before the marathon, I had a beer. Well, how could I help it when it was Happy Hour in Cranberry, PA?

So the next morning we struck out for Pittsburgh and got settled into our (pre-booked) hotel (at 9 am... pretty cool that they let us in that early) and headed out for the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Expo.

And what an Expo... there are good expos and crap expos in my extensive experience with these things, and I have to say that this was a very top notch expo. There was a great mix of cheap running clothes, out-of-town run booths, freebie power bar samples, shoe sponsor display area... and lots of well-initiated volunteers. Details, all taken care of, something that impresses the hell out of me.

We wandered the town for the rest of the day, spending a few hours in the Andy Warhol Museum (extremely cool, one of those places everyone should visit), and checking out various other stuff. Mostly we wandered slowly while our kid, who is an obsessed photographer, took tons of pictures, none of which are in this post. Yet.

We had dinner at the Bar Louie in a very neat little shopping area across the river from downtown. The view of the skyline was excellent, and the trains that passed were actually kinda neat. And that's where I did it once more; I had a 20 ounce Dos Equis. After all, it was Happy Hour again. The marathon was going to be interesting...

The start line was a few steps from our hotel. Better than I had even calculated. And the corals were very well designed to make the start orderly. A light mist of rain fell most of the four and a half hours that I was on the course, never too heavy and just noticeable enough to help mitigate the humidity. And as I settled in to find my stride and break out of the crush a bit, I was impressed by the fact that there was a pretty decent band performing close to the start. Very shortly thereafter, another band appeared. Then another. I counted 20 bands in the first 10 kilometres, apparently out of a total of about 60. There were choirs, bagpipes, stand up basses, steel drums (not all together of course)... even a couple of guys on idling Harleys who lit them up like thunder on demand.

I've never seen so many orange slices. There were easily a dozen groups - large groups - of people handing out orange slices. Orange peels covered the pavement in places. There were Skittles dispensing citizens, banana hand outs, countless water stations that were not official water stations...

I've seen kids high-fiving runners before, of course, but not like this. There were kids shaking out their hands from over-high-fiving, but they weren't gonna quit. Hundreds of high fives going on. Countless people shouting themselves hoarse from crowded bars (not a typo, and yes it was early morning)...

This is not to say that this was the first enthusiastic marathon host city I've encountered. This is to say that this was an enthusiasm that said "You want orange slices? We'll bring Florida up here. You want gels? Every couple hundred feet you'll get gels. We're gonna blast this baby out of the park."

So how could I possibly have declined the beer shots at mile 23? Not after the guy who was handing them out with the enthusiasm of a salesman earnestly assured me that it would be good for me. So what other explanation could there be for the noticeable dulling of pain that followed, or the crazy half mile sprint to the end?

And speaking of the finish area... half a mile straight in an open area, lined with wildly cheering mobs. Design geniuses, these course planners are. It was brilliant, right down to the size and space of the finish area and the meeting area outside of it.

So obviously I highly recommend not only the Pittsburgh Marathon but Pittsburgh itself. After all, who could expect a marathon of anything less than excellence when you look at how these folks approach their sports. They go for the win, and they sure as hell pulled this one off with flying colours.