Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Staring Down the Surly Opossum

He jumps out in front of me in the new-born night. Illuminated by the street lights and close enough that I can see his wiry hairs and straight, long tail. He hisses and stumbles off into the dark, putting a good amount of distance between us before turning and looking back.

A more surly animal there could never be than this opossum. So of course, I'm sure he's my spirit animal.


I have mentioned before that I'm in a transitional period in my athletic life. I see my athletic life sort of like this:

Childhood: base skills (running, jumping, climbing trees, avoid 'hot lava' floors.)

Teenager-dom  (lazy, stupid, walking everywhere, choosing too late to take running seriously)

20s: ("Hey, let's eat whatever!")

Late-20s to Present: (OK, let's try to live as long as possible.)

So after coming off a good few years of getting in shape, the tough part is figuring out what I want my life to look like so I can keep going into the years ahead. Which is important to me because I want to be here for my kids and family. So I've hit a crossroads that basically boils down to this:

Do you to run farther, or faster?

There are a lot of pros and cons to both approaches. I like the idea of running for long stretches of time regularly, and I like the idea of being able to qualify for and run some really neat races. There is a lot of ego behind being a faster runner, and I'm not absolutely certain that it would be great for me to start bragging that I've "run Boston". To be really honest, I get it, it is 'the' big marathon, but in the grand scheme of things a whole life is much longer and harder to survive than 26.2 miles.

I see this as an inward search, and these two combating parts of my personality are described thusly: the unicorn and the surly opossum.

The opossum (or possum) is a creature that has to be ready to be constantly on the move, because he doesn't know when he's going to get flushed out of someone's shed, or the bushes by a raccoon. I see them a lot at night around where I live, and they aren't super friendly.  Recently, I almost ran head first into one. I actually thought at first that someone's pet pig had gotten out due to the wiry coat. Then I saw the pointed snout, and long tail. Then it hissed and darted off into the street. Then I screamed like a small child and ran away quickly.

So they aren't super friendly, especially when you almost run into them. But, they are runners by necessity, and they 'ramble' similar to the way I do on a long run:
Although they can climb and are good swimmers, opossums prefer to amble about on the ground. With a top speed of about 4 miles per hour, when “running,” opossums appear to be walking quickly, with the tail rotating in circles for balance.
--Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (link here)
Four miles is slow (won't get you into the Boston Marathon, big guy), but it means that you can be on the move whenever you need to be, keeping an even steady pace. I'm a bit quicker than that, but I could dial it down to run further and for longer duration. And honestly, like he wouldn't just chew up the BAA's bib-medal-shirt-goodie-bag.

(North American Opossum with Winter Coat, by Cody Pope)

So anyway the Surly Opossum is a tough little thing with some impressive endurance. I can see an animal like that working if I wanted to train some ultra long distances.

I have concerns, obviously. Because I want to be a big part of my child's life. I want her to actually remember me, so I am not sure it is really wise to go out on three or four hour rambles multiple times a week. I'm not sure that I have the Karnazes-like strength to just muscle along on four hours of sleep, either. I could probably learn to make some of it work, but honestly that type of endurance and knowledge of my own limits could be some years off for me, anyway, as I'm a recently-minted athlete.

Eventually, I'll have to start trying some stuff, to see what works. I'm thinking I'll mix some things up, because as I learned from reading the great Arnold Jacobs: the best way to work through a block, or to learn something new, is to add an element of 'strangeness.' This also gets called 'altered stimulus' and it is a way of becoming familiar with something unfamiliar.

I will follow up more on this concept later, as I address my thoughts on the other half of this dilemma of athletic self-identity: Staring Down the Unicorn.

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