Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Two Miles in New England

"Mile 20 is nicknamed 'the Wall' because that is where normal people's bodies start to break down. But you aren't normal people -- you're marathoners."
-3:45 Pacer, Baystate Marathon, 2015


My head is in a fog. I would expect this kind of thing at 3am, but this is 3pm and all I can think about is going to sleep. This is a far cry from the days when I'd get up early, the beneficiary of some unexpected wellspring of energy to set out for six, seven, or eight miles. It was uncomfortable, sure, but my mental toughness was uncompromising. 

Like that run where I fell down? I was half way through a seven mile tempo run, pushing a seven minute-per-mile pace and lost my footing. Gushing blood from my kneecap, it just made sense to finish the run. I mean it was going to be seven miles either way. The look on the face of the guy up early getting his newspaper when I ran past his house. The quiet hush of the city streets as the sun started to stain the sky a dusty blue.

Why can't I find that? Where the hell did it go? That was an incredible feeling, and I loved it. I was fearless. I mean, running has never been comfortable. Learning to run is all *about* being uncomfortable, and learning to love that feeling. Right now I'm refusing to go lay down. I'm refusing to go take a shower, or eat a snack, because I know those things are distractions from getting myself out the door and moving. It is a tough thing to hold myself to, but in the long run I'm not going to be happier from taking a nap right now. In the long run I'll be much better off from summoning the will to get out the door.

I used to be that guy who fell down at least eighty-percent of the time. Now I feel like I'm him ten-percent of the time. I get little fluttery glimpses, after mile one, where it feels playful. A few strides after mile four, or an unexpected tingling in my legs when I see a big hill. I need to get that back.

So I'm pushing through an even tougher wall, and putting on my shoes to head out for a two mile run. If I can cover two miles each day, maybe add an extra mile on a day where the weather is nice, maybe I can help build this back into my life. This is going to be a balancing act, for sure. Too many days on, I'll burn out. Too many easy, lazy days, I'll spiral into depression. I need to watch what I eat more carefully, too. Food can have a profound effect on my habits.

I feel excited, and also a little scared, that I got into the New York City Marathon for this year. It is always around my birthday in early November, and this year I'll be running it when I am thirty-two years of age.  I'm hoping the motivation I'm feeling for it keeps me moving. I'm reading (and listening) to Meb Keflezighi's book Meb for Mortals to try and keep that going. I'm also planning to re-read Amby Burfoot's Big Book of Running. That book helped stoke my original enthusiasm for endurance running, so I'm hopeful about using nostalgia to rekindle that fire.

Heading out the door, I start out easy, because I know there are miles to cover, and this is about base building. There's some hills to climb, some slight variations in the terrain that make things interesting, but otherwise this run will be mostly unremarkable. For a time, a couple of years ago, I viewed my feet as a completely acceptable method of transport. I'd drop the car off in the shop, run home, run back to the shop. It was a neat experience -- a novelty to me, more than anything else. I kind of wish I could do that now, but with other people to transport it seems less realistic.

Looping back around, and now I'm running on the shoulder of a highway. I mean it's basically a highway. It is a two lane thoroughfare with a shoulder, where the speed limit is forty-five but everyone does sixty. I'm not particularly scared of these cars, everyone stays in their space, and the area off the shoulder is heavily wooded so it allots me plenty of extra room. This is the kind of place where I could turn down a side street, and happen across all manner of wildlife in the early morning hours. Deer, rabbits, my favorite opossums.

I have a spectrum in my head for how proficient one is at running. Somewhere in the middle, if you're like me, you're chugging through the miles at an easy pace, and you're doing it to better yourself, or because you like being outside, or because it fills some time. That's how I see the opossum. On the other end you have unicorns. Unicorns are graceful, they're efficient, they're quick. They're the mascot of the Boston Athletic Association and therefore the Boston Marathon. I'm not a Unicorn, not at this stage of my life, anyway. I'm an opossum, and I'm fine with that. You never know what the future will hold, though. Maybe someday I'll feel differently about doing all the really hard work to run a faster marathon.

For today, I'm happy to cover my two miles and be home. Slowly building myself back up to where I was.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Personal Failings: Seeds for Redemption

“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.” 
-William James
I didn't run the Eastern States 20 mile today. I've run that race for the past three years, and I truly love it. I love it even when I'm not using it to train for a spring marathon. It is a lovely course, and a point-to-point, which is pretty rare to find in the racing world. I'm not happy about not running it. I'm not really all that happy at all, anymore.

I came to the realization that I wasn't ready for the race yesterday. I've been failing pretty dramatically at carving out time for myself lately, so my weekly long runs have been my only runs, and that's just not enough of a base to do a run like that with confidence. I'd be able to cover the distance, but I'd probably hurt myself, and it certainly wouldn't be enjoyable. It was the call I had to make but it also led to a long discussion with my wife. We are both suspecting that my depression is creeping back in.

I've had depressive bouts through the years, usually during the winter, and it is really challenging to overcome them. I've also continued to grow as a person, though, so this time, they don't look the same. I'm not staying in bed all the time, and I'm not eating tons and tons of junk food to cope. I'm not as bubbly, and I'm not running as much. I'm up about ten pounds from where I want to be, but certainly it's not the most weight I've gained in a period of depression.

"You're functioning. But you aren't yourself," my wife told me yesterday.

"This is why everyone thinks you're a pessimist. This isn't how you were when you were running all the time,"

That's true, no doubt. I'm in a crappy mood. It's like I'm exhausted all the time. I'm not happy with the way I look, the way I feel, the lack of activity. I'm not really sure how to jumpstart things again. I feel constantly overwhelmed by the amount of things to do at home, and at work. I used to be able to let things go, and now I feel like they stay with me. My long runs have barely been able to keep me sane because they're the only running I'm doing, and it isn't nearly enough to give me perspective.

But I'm going to keep trying, for sure. I can't give up on this, I've got too much left to do. I want to go run the ES20 again, I want to be able to redeem myself in my own eyes. I want to not feel like garbage.

The other thing that's so odd about all of this is that I really am happy with many things in my life. I actually feel worse when I don't mention this, because I don't take these things for granted. Our little family is very happy, the dog is great, the baby is healthy and so full of life, and we own our home (which my parents never could have dreamed of doing.) I don't take that for granted and I recognize that I'm lucky to have what I have. But, I still don't feel joy in many areas of my life, and they are the areas that made me a much more vibrant person. I need to find my way back to that.

I feel bad sometimes in calling this blog the "New Dad Endurance Blog." For one thing, at some point I won't be a new dad anymore, and for another thing, there are certainly athletes who are more qualified to speak to endurance than I am. I'm just hacking my way through things, really, doing the best that I can.

I believe firmly that endurance is also a mental thing. There's a lot written on that topic, and I think a lot of it holds true. I have the added thing of this depression problem creeping around, so in addition to the multitude of other stressors that one is really insidious when it's present.  It feels like a very heavy weight to lift all at once, to get back to who I was, and where I was. The only way I can think to approach it is to 'eat the elephant one bite at a time' as marathoners say.

It has been a very long winter. I need to come out of this on the other side, and try to turn myself around for the rest of 2017.

I'm signed up for a Night Run 5k this coming Saturday. I've run it before, but it wasn't in April the year I did it. One of my friends is also running, and I'm looking forward to getting decked out in glow bracelets and going for a run by the ocean. Maybe it will help revive my enthusiasm for the sport and my joi de vivre.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

An Update from the Frigid North, plus a race review (Black Cat 10 Miler)

It has been very cold up here in New England lately. We're expecting another blizzard this coming week -- as usual with the winter here I expect it to be done at the end of February, and I'm habitually surprised when it continues on through March.

I have found my fire for winter running, it seems, managing to cover more miles each week. It helps going out in the sun, and it also helps having the right equipment. My heavy winter jacket does a good job of cutting the wind and keeping me warm enough.

I headed up to Salem, MA yesterday for the Black Cat 10 mile road race. Woke up at around 4am to get ready, but the drive was short and uneventful up through Boston. I've never been to Salem before. It is a cute little New England town, of course notorious for the witch trials. My wife and I had planned to go together, and bring the baby. But without being able to find a dog sitter, we decided it would work better this year as a solo trip for me. We are planning to go up and visit Salem at some point soon, though, especially now that I know how easy the drive is.

It was COLD. I don't know really how cold, but my weather app said it was easily below zero with the wind chill. I didn't have gloves, or a balaclava, so I was happy to only be running the ten miler.

The race volunteers and organizers were all really nice, and the packet pickup process was great. Parking wasn't a big issue, either. I found a meter near the Hawthorne Hotel and fed it until it maxed out. The benefit being that I was also parked about a block from the finish because of this.

We started at about 8 am, more or less on time. The roads were fairly salt stained, and it was pretty windy, which made it hard to keep track of the mile signs. For the most part it wasn't too bad, excepting the parts of the course that went by the water. The coastline in New England is certainly one of it's charms, but it's a brutal mistress in the middle of the winter that will rip at your face with a biting cold wind.

By about mile four I was feeling warmed up and found my groove. I didn't expect to do much better than an hour and a half for the ten miles. That's all I really wanted, anyway, given my recent gaps in training. Some of the climbs were impressive -- the one leading into Marblehead especially caught my attention, and then again close to the end while running through the park, the hills rolled noticeably. One of my strengths, though, is that I do pretty well on a climb because I can dial in an even effort where others get discouraged. Certainly I don't sprint uphill, but I can work all the way up and coast back down.

I came through the finish in about an hour and twenty eight minutes on the clock. I was really happy with that, and went inside to avail myself of the free soup at the hotel. Nice vegan soup, some tea from a free promotion, and I had a really happy drive home. The medal is really neat, as well, and my daughter loved wearing it around the house when I got back, and I followed her around singing the "Chariots of Fire" theme.

Overall the Black Cat was a great event, but it remains to be seen if it will find its way into my regular rotation of races. I may find that I was happy to have the ten mile race a couple of weeks before the ES20. Hopefully the temperatures are a little bit warmer then, too, because oh man, ice in my beard.

The baby is doing so much impressive stuff lately. Walking more and more on her own, she loves being read to, and she's using some of the sign language from school now to communicate. It is a really neat thing to watch these more tangible milestones evolve. Sitting at dinner and joking around with her, communicating with her, it's a totally different thing from even a couple of weeks ago.

With all the good there's also the rough parts -- tantrums when she doesn't get her way, learning the unpleasantness of stubbed toes, and the hard parts of soothing her as she gets in new teeth (she's got five coming in simultaneously right now!) We're working through the rough spots as a family, and it is really exciting watching her grow into this cool little person.