27 August 2008

What Motivates Us?

My calves were screaming at me yesterday, and today they continued to yell at a reduced volume. Not the kind of screaming you usually think of from overexertion, that tight “I can’t move” and “Please God let there be a sturdy handrail on the staircase” scream, no that’s too normal. These were the jiggle screams, when your muscles are flopping around like elastic gone bad, so far gone they feel like they’re no longer under the control of your own nervous system. An alien has intercepted the neurotransmitters and is telling them to sway in the breeze, uncontrolled. Oh yeah, and they hurt.

What did I do to enjoy this unique experience? Just a little workout Sunday morning before church, a 24-miler. That’s nothing to my ultra-marathoning friends (including blog host Chris, and racing companion Ron, both currently planning to abuse themselves in this fall’s Vermont 50), but to me it was in fact my longest training run to date, having not yet “trained the distance” for any of my seven marathons. Even many of my running companions find this sort of escapade utterly ridiculous, and all of my non-running friends attach far more strenuous terms.

Normally a 20-miler doesn’t really bother me. This time, I knew it would hurt plenty, because I hurt going into it. But the calendar wouldn’t let me take the sane path and not do this. Those infamous calves were already rebelling Friday and Saturday, before the long one. I’m not sure if they didn’t like the all-out gravity-fest screaming down the trails at the Lynn Woods Relays last Wednesday, or the tight-radius sprints around the bases at that epitome of American athletic events, the Company Softball Game on Thursday (where, by the way, I have to tell you that I batted something like close to .900 without ever really hitting the ball – a skill I simply don’t possess – just because I could haul butt down to first – see, running does come in handy!). In any event, I went into Sunday’s 5-town odyssey already a strike and a half down, and gutted it out including three nasty climbs in the last 3 miles. It hurt. Yup, there’s agony in them there hills ‘round here, there’s a reason we call our local club the Highland City Striders.

Why, oh why, do we do this to ourselves?

I had a doctor for about 20 years who loved to diagnose problems and apply lots of pharmaceuticals. Now, I’m not opposed to better living through chemistry by any means, in fact, I’m enjoying a good dose of anti-inflammatory meds right now and am a strong proponent of Runners’ Vitamin I (ibuprofen) in industrial doses, but this guy didn’t really notice that I went from zero to marathon and maybe, just maybe, it was time to adjust and /or eliminate some of these fine potions. What he did do, however, was to actually berate me for running too much. Yes, this fine practitioner of the medical arts, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, given the choice between a 40-something couch potato patient gathering scum in his arteries or a slightly obsessed patient willing to trade a few musculoskeletal ailments for actually doing something to live longer, scowled at me that the human body wasn’t designed to run marathons.

Needless to say, I got a new doctor. The old one made it easy by moving away. Thanks. New doc has sliced meds, sliced meds, and sliced meds again, and agrees obsession beats death.

Yes, 3 doses of aerobic exercise of 20-30 minutes duration per week will move you out of the Official American Couch Potato classification and into the Official American Physically Active zone. I don’t berate that. For many, that’s a worthy goal. But for me, I can’t stop there. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this right. I’d simply never stick to it at 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week. Yawn.

So, fall marathon season approaches. Funny how we think, isn’t it? For many, fall is football season, hunting season, soccer season, whatever, but for we the slightly obsessed, the onset of cooler weather means it’s humanly possible to run marathons again. (Yes, I know they did it in Beijing in the heat, but I said humanly possible, and let’s face it, they don’t really qualify, do they?) Ah, fall marathon season. What to do?

I had a dreamlike spring, running my first two sub-3-hour marathons at Boston and Buffalo. One of these days I’ll post my stories from those and other races – by the way, I love Buffalo! With those under my belt, I’m easily qualified for Boston and could cruise through the fall on 5Ks and after-race cheeseburger and beer fests. But we’re not like that, are we? If we can, we will.
But I hemmed, and I hawed, shall I go back to Bay State, my local favorite? Or something interesting like Mount Desert Island? Oh, I’ll decide later…but marathon prep times sneak up on you! You’re not thinking October in August.

Family needs dictate a trip back to Sweet Home Upstate New York this fall, so I figured, why not get some new scenery in the process? At sis’s suggestion, I’ve decided to run her hometown race (no, she doesn’t run, but…), the Wineglass Marathon, from Bath to Corning NY. And then reality kicked in: Holy Cow, it’s the first weekend of October, that’s barely over a month out! And I really hadn’t started putting in the long ones. So a week back I sandwiched in an 18 and a 21, and this Sunday, knowing that next weekend is our local Laborious Labor Day Ten Miler which will preclude absurdly long training runs, I hammered out the 24. And just to press the point home, tonight was speed night for the Striders. Pile in on, deeper and thicker. Ouch, good pain.

Take that, calves.

So, let’s see… 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week. Or respond to that siren call, “It’s fall! It’s fall, run a marathon!” which means counting weekends, fitting in crazy long stuff even when you’re hurting because with racing schedules, limited training time, taper-down time, well, it’s just got to happen this weekend.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Easy. 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week? Boring.

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