31 August 2008


It’s August 31st and I just finished something I haven’t done since I was 17. I didn’t miss a day of running this month. 31 days, 31 runs. Along the way a few other personal marks fell by the wayside. For those of you keeping score at home, I topped my previous biggest month by 30 miles. And squirreled inside that number was my new biggest week at 76 trombones in my little parade. I’m not so much proud as amused, absorbed, and most of all, analyzed. Some say I over analyze. But to me, the analysis is a powerful motivation tool.

The specific numbers are bug dust compared to many, and frankly rather meaningless to you, though to me they represent another small chapter – and big fuel – in postponing the inevitable decline to the dirt. I quote numbers not to show off, but to illustrate the analysis mindset.

As for the absolute distance part, who cares, really? These things are quite arbitrary. Wasn’t an inch based on three kernels of corn, or was it barley, or something like that? So what’s the significance of having run past 49,886,496 kernels of barley this month? (If you’re checking my math, that’s 262.45 miles * 5280 feet * 12 inches * 3 barleys. Unless, of course, you have genetically modified mega-barleys, in which case your results may vary. Follow all label directions.) OK, I hear you say, it’s all relative. And you’re right. We’ll get back to that.

Now, the running every day thing does transcend the arbitrary nature of units of measurement. The sun does rise and set every day, and that pretty much absolutely defines a unit of time, barring those days that you have to fly across many time zones or are hanging out in an arctic locale. So to get out there every day does mean something. Perhaps it says commitment. Or perhaps it’s just addiction, obsession, or mild derangement. To me, the fact that I managed to get out there every day is an accomplishment. It’s now been 51 days straight, big for me, though obviously nothing compared to the many Cal Ripkin Jr. types out there.

But, hold on a minute! What about those highly recommended rest days? Perhaps, you are thinking, I’m just stupid? I’d like to think that’s not the case, but you must be the judge. Truth be told, I’ve not taken a day off running in a while, but that’s not the same as not having taken a day off. Scattered in those 7+ weeks are plenty of easy jogs with friends and low mileage days. What defines rest? Not running at all? Does walking fast count? Or must I sit still all day? Even bed rest has its problems. Suffice to say that if the body says stop, I’ll stop. I think.

Back to the amused, absorbed, and analyzed part of all this. The amusement is obvious, as is the absorption, or I wouldn’t be writing this. The analysis part has everything to do with continued motivation and is my real topic today. Last time I wrote about needing to go beyond the base fitness level to stay engaged, interested, and motivated. For me, analysis is a big part of that process. What did I do today and how does that compare to what I did before? Does that give me incentive to push a little harder?

This can’t always be a game of more, more, more. There are physical limits, there are practical limits. I’m lucky to have the freedom to slip a run in between meetings, but I still have to earn a living. And at some point in this ride, I will top the biggest hill on the roller coaster of life and start the downward side. And that’s why God invented age groups. We can analyze on any time period. Today I generally analyze against my second running career. Five years from now, when the big five-oh arrives, if I’m still doing this, I’ll have an excuse to analyze against those years. It never has to end, really.

Now, what’s tickling me at present is that I’m edging up against some of those personal marks I set back in my first lap. There’s a real pleasure in knowing that at age 45 you can, at least in some ways, top your younger 17-year-old self in some physical endeavor. We cheered when Joan Benoit Samuelson ran the Olympic trials, and cheered more when she set an age group record. (Way to go, God, on that invention!) We cheered louder when 41-year-old Dara Torres not only competed in the trials, not only made the US swim team, but came home from Beijing with metal clanging around her neck. But more than cheering, we were motivated. Your second lap needn’t take second place. So when my second lap starts to edge closer to comparison with my first, it’s a big motivation.

I’ve got these golden memories of the first lap. In my mind, I trained 60-70 miles a week consistently. Every training run was below 6:30 pace. And so on, you get it. Certainly there were some gems. Once upon a time I popped in a 15K at 5:33 pace, and turned a mile close to 4:30. But besides the memories, I have something more useful – my old log book. A low-tech affair it was, but it is revealing. Those mileage totals? Fallacious. It happened a few times. All those fast runs? Most weren’t even timed, and those that were, not all that spectacular. My feet hurt a lot. And there’s that page those shows I put 1000 miles on a single pair of Nike Daybreaks. (Probably connected to the feet hurting.) The truth isn’t pretty sometimes.

But mixed into that history is what I actually did, and it’s interesting to compare now to then. This month’s 262 miles turns out to rank 2nd all time, topped only by 279 in January of 1980. The 76 mile week stacks up 3rd all time, and hey, I had time to do double workouts back then. I can’t turn a 5:33-pace 15K anymore (I can barely do that for one mile now!) but I didn’t burn marathons back then, so we’re even on that score. And as for the streak of 51 days? Well, that’s one first lap mark that probably won’t fall. Adult life has too many interruptions to match the 375 day streak of 1979-1980. (Which ended on the day my mentor/coach was getting married. It seemed a good way out of it. And, 28 years later, he’s still happily married. Way to go, Cliff!)

The lesson I’ve learned is that while some things can and must change, there’s no reason to think the best is behind you. Age brings a different motivation that can drive you to new highs, despite having more miles on the odometer. So generate some numbers and pay attention to them! And remember, mine are not here to impress you (nor, I hope, do they bore you). They’re here to inspire you to analyze yourself a little – or a lot. Just don’t become quite as obsessed as me.

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