Saturday, October 20, 2012

48 Something Something 

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. ”
Talking about running is boring. Reading about running is even more boring. By an obvious transitive relationship, it is clear that reading about someone talking about running is boring squared.

So this isn't about running too much. Okay, it is.

Since returning from my vacation biking in Adirondack Park, which by the way, is huge (the park that is), I feel, how to put this and not sound insane (new-agey kind of insane), I feel different. I feel I have changed. Not just on the surface physically and not so deep as to feel different like I had some kind of epiphany but I feel like I have changed on some fundamental physiological level. My heart, lungs and mind are different and have changed. One metric of this change is a simple one. Time.

“...but then again, this couch isn't going to nap on itself.”
A week before the trip, I did not run at all. During the trip, I rarely walked, never mind ran. A week after the trip I thought to myself, "I suppose I should go for a run, but then again, this couch isn't going to nap on itself."

Eventually I thought, "For God's sake" well, I didn't say that but let's say I did, "just get on with it, put on your shoes and get some fresh air." These sort of internal communiques are more common for me these days. I wouldn't say I was talking to myself per se. I would describe it more as my reflection being self-reflective. At any rate, I put on my putrid synthetic running kit, pushed the start button on my wrist computer and shuffled into a warm night. Surprisingly, it wasn't nearly as awful as I imagined it to be. My time was even respectable. I decided I could go again if time permitted and if the couch didn't require my full attention as it often does.

I ran again. Another good time, achieved without much if any effort. Maybe, next time I should put my back into it. The next several times, I did put my back into it. Now the really boring bit. The times; previously, by which I mean before my Adirondack Adventure, no matter how hard I ran, I could not come close to my best 5 KM time of 25 minutes. I could run like a maniac, I could run until I thought I would soil myself or vomit or cough up an organ or as though a black bear was chasing me or just like the junkies running from trouble in Trainspotting. I wasn't even close. Now though, in seven runs I had gone under 25 minutes, five times, setting personal bests four times in a row. One evening the heat broke and my stride felt good, so I decided to move my legs faster to see what would happen. I felt strained, but at around 8 KM I looked at my pace and figured "oh, I'm not on tonight." Then I recalculated and checked again. I was on pace for pretty good time. I didn't want to waste this good feeling so I kept running. At one point I ran through an intersection and a left turning car pointed its lights at me but my only thought was "Don't run me over, I'm running a PB here!" I checked my wrist computer again and I still needed another kilometre to hit 10 KM. I ran through street construction, around slow moving pedestrians, by taunting teens, past another intersection, mentally mapping how to add 1000 m. Nearing the 10 K mark I switched the wrist computer to "KM" to give me the distance and when it ticked over to 10.01 I pulled up and stopped the clock. I had just beat my previous mark by over four minutes. 48:something:something.

For days I thought there was something wrong with either the shoe transmitter or the wrist computer. Perhaps the antihistamine I was taking for ragweed was acting as a stimulant (it has a long list of side effects, none of which I've experienced but apparently it has not helped anyone improve their running times). I've since bettered my 5 KM time by over a minute and matched that 10 KM run time (even improving it slightly). What happened?

The real answer is I weigh less. If you run with a knapsack with ten pounds of meat in it, you will run slower than if you ran without a meat-filled knapsack. My step was lighter, springier, bouncier. My kick had more kick. I'm still not running anywhere near what competitive runners do but I felt an improvement I'd never felt before.

My point, finally, is that I feel "better". I feel taller. I feel like my posture has improved. My expectations are higher, but I feel like I'm just skimming the asphalt not stamping on it. There's probably some truth to the adage that at some point, you learn how to suffer. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Technically you could probably map a predictable improvement in run times, heart rate and calories and say, yes, right there you got better. But I like to think it was the Adirondack air that planted some seed in me. On Day 1 of that trip I was sure I couldn't do it. There were moments in the first two days when I panicked and said to myself, "Who are you kidding?" Then the destination just became the place beneath my wheels and that sensation of road and miles piling up behind me wasn't Sisyphean, nor was it Herculean, it was just Peter, getting better, with each pedal stroke, each turn of the wheel, getting closer to a faraway thing, a better version of myself.

Update: I did something unusual on Friday. I went home for lunch, but I didn't eat, I went for a run instead. It was a really lovely autumn day and I knew it would rain later so I ran. Beat my previous best 5k by over 30 seconds, 22:51 minutes. Breaking 23 minutes for me is a milestone that I couldn't have imagined a few weeks ago. It's strange that it even matters to me thus I have zero reason to think it matters to anyone else. That's okay.

Update No. 2: Sunday I did something even more unusual than Friday. I ran 10 km (in a pretty good 49 min time, then I ran some more until I'd hit 19 Km. Felt great. Until Monday morning when I was a wee bit sore.

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