Monday, May 20, 2013

Laying It Out There


It's been a huge part of my life since I started on July 4, 2006.  It's been my friend.  It's helped me make friends.  It's been my nemesis.  It's been an addiction.  A lifeline. Therapy. Burden. Opportunity. Buttresser of self-confidence.  Inducer of self-doubt.

Running played a supporting role in the breakup of my marriage.  It is also how I met my current love.

Running has remained by my side all this time, but it has been a complicated relationship.  At some point, after running a marathon PR in April 2011, I lost my zest for training.  I didn't want to get up early to run.  I didn't want to run every day.  I didn't want to run hard.  I sure as hell didn't want to race, at least not without pre-fabricated excuses ("my first 50-miler", or "I'm doing 4 long races in 4 weeks") and solid reasons for why my fitness and performance had fallen so far so quickly ("These damned hip flexors!").

But, I didn't want to shed my identity as "a runner".  As "the running lawyer".  As that crazy guy who runs all those miles, eats & drinks to his heart's content, and always stays trim and toned.

Except that I was living a lie, or at least an illusion.

I've not gone more than a few days without running in the past few years, but I've run less often.  And shorter.  And more slowly.  And, most sadly, I've lost much of the joy and satisfaction which comes from being competitive with oneself, with pushing one's perceived limits and finding new ways of improving, achieving, excelling.

Well, the time has come to reconnect with running, or move on to something else.  So, I tried a running streak (and hit 70 days).  That helped a little.  I guided at Boston.  That was an extremely memorable experience.  I scheduled another Boston qualifying attempt, at Keybank Vermont City on May 26th, and was following Pete Pfitzinger's 16-week, 70-mile-per-week plan. That went okay, until I fell off the bouldering wall and sprained my ankle.

But a key unknown in all of this has been the question that's tougher to ask than to answer: "Just exactly how much fitness have I lost?"  There's only one reliable source to answer that, and it displays its responses in hours, minutes, and seconds.  So, I've been on a racing tear, with four races in 14 days.  Here's the verdict:
  • Flat 5K on May 4 - 20:25 (PR is 18:46); couldn't make my legs move faster than that
  • Half-marathon on May 11 - 1:38:55 (PR - 1:26:xx); chewed up and spit out by hills, humidity and wind
  • Slightly tougher 5K on May 16 - 20:3x, a personal worst on that course since I became 'a runner"
  • 12K (~7.5-mile) on May 18th - 52:44 (a HUGE PR, as I've never raced that distance before), and by far the best race in terms of
    making a realistic fitness assessment and executing intelligently . . . suddenly, racing seemed fun again
So, what's the takeaway from this?  I'm done with marathons.  At least for now.  I've withdrawn from Vermont City, and will instead head to Maine for my second annual Pineland Farms 50K.  I will probably not qualify for Boston 2014, so I won't get to go back as a racer and somehow seek to find some personal measure of validation for the fact that so much was taken away from so many on April 15, 2013.

What does this mean exactly?  Well . . . I'm not on a specific training plan.  I'm running every single day, though, even if only a few miles.  I'm joining friends at the track if I feel like it.  I'm racing when it's convenient and close to home.  I'm rock-climbing.  Lifting weights.  Playing soccer, and riding bikes, and playing tag and slacklining with my kids.  I call it loosening my grip.  Some might call it living.

Where will this lead?  I have no idea, but I do know that allowing one's hobby to become a major source of life stress is basically one big failure.

So, what's after Pineland Farms next weekend?  Other than probably a couple of easy miles the next day, I have no idea.  And I feel much happier about that than I could have imagined.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I Couldn't Have Said It Better . . .

than so many other articulate, thoughtful, wonderfully eloquent observers . . . .

Before the start at Athlete's Village . . . bubbling with joy and optimismMust we now redefine "it"?
So . . . I am not going to post my usual longish Boston 2013 "Race Report".  Suffice it to say that my amputee runner, co-guide and I were a safe distance away from the finish area at the time of the blasts, are all physically unharmed, and managed the chaos and confusion of the situation as well as anyone.

We got word out to our friends and family; we retrieved our material possessions.  Our inspiring amputee runner will receive a finisher's medal, despite having to stop at the 25.5-mile mark, because the course just turned into a fretful sea of humanity, with the police telling us what NOT to do, but not otherwise giving any clear instructions.

The whole experience has been on the edge of overwhelming.  There are some obvious reasons for that (I was there; I live an hour from Boston; runners/marathoners are my "community"; etc.), and some less obvious ones.

Innocence has become a precious commodity in our modern world.  Loss of any of that precious innocence compounds the very tragedy which takes our innocence.  A vicious cycle.

Every day I think about the Boston Marathon.  About how things could have been different for me.  How they SHOULD have been different for the three people who were killed.  How April 15, 2013 has permanently and indelibly scarred the 200 victims, and so many more of us.  How the attack and subsequent police investigation brought out some of the very best qualities in all of us.  How sad it is that the inspiration towards selflessness, caring, charity and love abates all-too-quickly.  And about much, much more.

Yet, I'm going to stay away from much of that: theodicy; existential angst; political grandstanding; the seemingly insatiable need for contextualizing the inexplicable.  Oh, and the media.

Thank you, Boston Marathon, for everything you have given me, fellow participants, the "local" community, the running world, and the countless people who normally don't give a whit about running yet find themselves moved by an event that brings together 25,000+ people seeking to challenge themselves, motivate others, help charities and otherwise simply choose to live in a way that honors the gift which is our limited time on this planet.

One more thing: Boston has also led me to rethink my relationship with running, including (especially?) the marathon distance.  More on that to follow in the days ahead.