Thursday, October 16, 2008

Marathon Training Is Simple, Right?

(A depiction of Pheidippides, the first marathoner, announcing the Athenians' victory moments before his death. I wonder if I'd run faster in his race day attire. Perhaps we submit Greyhound's Race Day Kit to a vote.)

I once saw a shirt, on, that had the swim, bike and run symbols along with the Ironman distance of 140.6 underneath them. The caption then read:

Oh, you ran a marathon?
That's cute.

So, this marathon training thing shouldn't be that hard for a "multiple Ironman finisher" like me, right? After all, marathon training is simple, right? You don't have to figure out how to fit in all that biking and swimming, right? You just run, right?

Uhm, right. Sure, marathon training is simple, but simple (as in basic) does not mean simple (as in easy).

It's basic. You run.

It's not easy. You run a lot. Some of it quite hard.

Always with the freaking running.

This week, with all the freaking running, has been like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna git. Today, was tight calves and two miles required to get rolling. Yesterday was running in the humid sun, then the cold rain, and then in the humid sun again, all in 30 minutes. But those weren't the "key" sessions.

Saturday was an 18 mile long run right in the zone that felt great, notwithstanding the heat.

Tuesday was a hard track workout--Yasso 800s. This is where the rubber sole meets the road, and it has me wondering what my goal should be.

A reasonable goal for me would be to shave 10 or so minutes off my marathon PR, running somewhere between 3:40:00 and 3:45:00. This would mean running Yasso 800s at 3 minutes and 40 to 45 seconds, six of them this week, building to 10 before race day. So I warm up at the track, bemoaning the stinking heat and humidity, and take off for my first repeat. I ran it strong, but not crazy fast, and hit the lap button at 800 meters. **blip**

The numbers stared me in the face:


**Blink** **Blink**

OK, wait. There's no way I can run a marathon quicker than 3:30, let alone in 3:16. There must be something wrong. That is an abberation. I'll never hold that pace. You are not a sub-8-minute pace marathoner.

Time for repeat number two. Hit the lap button **blip**


OK, stop. You wussed out on that one. WTF? Why not run fast? If not you, who? If not now, when? Why are you such a mental midget? HTFU. Nothing bad is going to happen if you can't finish this track workout. You're only going to hurt. You're not going to die.

Time for repeat number three. Hit the lap button **blip**


That's more like it. Breathe, Kimosabe. Feel that burning in your lungs and sides, that tightness in your hamstrings? Feel that bile in your throat? That's weakness, sloth and slowness leaving the body.

Time for repeat number four. Hit the lap button **blip**


I think I'm going to thow up. I can't do two more like that surely. Shut up, pansy. You just have to do one rep at a time, a few meters at a time. Don't do the whole workout at once. Run one straight and one curve at a time. Hold form. Go hard and quit complaining.

Time for repeat number five. Hit the lap button **blip**


If I stop now, I've done most of the workout.
'I can make up for it later.
This is good enough.

There is no "good enough." There is either complete or incomplete. There is either success or failure. You need to quit succeeding by redifining the goals downward. Don't think. Just run. Turn off your brain. Just go.

Time for repeat number six. I hit the start button and took off, trying to just see the portion of the track just in front of me. As with the previous laps, my breathing became labored sooner and sooner into each succeeding repetition. Eventually, there was no rhythm between my breathing and my strides. Without any rhythm at all, I was just taking in the maximum amount oxygen I could possibly process, with spit and sweat slinging off of me like a horse that had been run too hard. I struggled to hold some assemblance of form and keep my feet flickling lightly off the surface of the track. On the back stretch of the last lap, the pain was everywhere---feet, hamstrings, shoulders--it even felt like something had my groin in a vise. My past neck injury was tight, my shoulder and right hand went numb. The last turn. Last 100 meters of the day.

Hit the lap button **blip**


There is nothing like a session on the track to make you wonder who you are. Am I a middle of the pack runner, or do I just have a middle of the pack runner living in my brain? A man my age can only qualify for Boston by posting a 3:20:00. That's impossible for me, right?

Is it? Really? Maybe impossible for this year, but . . . maybe?

And then, this. Somehow this is all related to me. I'm not sure just how. This . . . a "man my age." I remember very clearly when my father was "a man my age." It was yesterday. I went to sleep, and then I was the same age my dad was.

Then, yesterday, my father received his first prescription for Alzheimer's medication. He's not quite 70 years old, and he's not nearly to the point of suffering disabling dementia, but still. Alzheimer's medication. His father before him had dementia. My dad will probably have it. I see the signs. I have seen them for a decade. Will I wake up figuratively "tomorrow" and have the same problems?

If I lose my mental sharpness, who would I be and who would I become when for so long, I have defined myself by my brainpower. Literally, my childhood nicknames were "Dr. Spock" and more usually, simply "The Brain." And these were my friends who called me "The Brain." God only knows what the jocks called me. I now make my living, and quite a good one, simply by thinking better than my competition.

When that is who you are, who do you become when the brain no longer works right? More imporantly, when that is who you are, what do you really want to be right now? How do you spend the next 27 years if you think you might lose your mind? How do you spend today? What are you running away from? What are you running toward?

Hit the lap button **blip**


Brent Buckner said...

I have big hopes for Alzheimer's treatments forthcoming over the next 20 years. Trying to live somewhat healthily and enjoy the days along the way.

Trihardist said...

Excellently written. Couldn't have said it better myself.

21stCenturyMom said...

I don't know about that Alzheimer's stuff. I know it runs in families but I think everyone over the age of 30 who has ever misplaced his or her keys thinks it's an early sign of Alzheimers. I'm not convinced.

Good job on those yassos but are you jogging for 3:22 minutes inbetween repeats? That's what you have to do to make it a true Yasso. If you can pull off 20 3:22 repeats, 10 of 800 yards with 10 inbetween at x yards in 3:22 you are good to go. And then you will know who you are - multi-time Iron finisher and 3:22 marathon runner. If can push that down to 3:20 you BQ. If you do it in 3:40 you're still a rock star. Nice!

Fe-lady said...

Great workouts and sobering thoughts...
I run for many reasons, but one good one is to wake up my mind AND body.
I have come up with so many great ideas for the kids in my classroom while thinking on the run....
And hopefully I am not running toward any white light soon!

jeanne said...

very provocative post ... and damn nice times. you always get me thinking.

JohnnyTri said...

nice times Gdog.!
Science and medicine have come so far and hope to see things work well for your dad.

train well..train hard.


Robyn said...

I hear ya! I had a mile time trial experience on the track that forced me to seriously redefine myself as NOT a back of the pack runner. Now, I'm just trying to live up to the potential that the clock showed in no uncertain terms.

tri-mama said...

Having spent a lot of quality time with my buddy hounddog, I will be the first to say you are so much more then your brain! If it were based on heart alone, you'd be 2:30 marathoner- and I'm not talking cardio- and that my friend is what I will always remember about you even when we get to the age of forgetting. Keep up the great running and writing