Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Marathons, Goals, and Health

This is day two of marathon recovery and I am still walking around the house like an unsteady new-born calf. The pain is slightly less sharp today, however.

So, first things first…race report. Sunday’s marathon and the week leading up to it was exciting, nerve-wracking, exhilarating, and exhausting on both a physical and mental level.

Thoughts during the “taper week,” (when you severely cut down your mileage in order to rest and gather strength):

“How much is enough running?” “Will I forget how to run?” “Will my legs and body be angry if I rest?” “What if my tendon gets worse or snaps on Sunday?” “Is it possible that it could get better with enough rest this week?” “What if I have to stop at some point on Sunday? Will my friends understand? Will I be all right if I let myself fail to finish?”

Earlier in the week I can honestly say I was DREADING Sunday. You know that feeling of having some chore coming up that you’re not looking forward to, but that is beyond your control? Days move on into the future whether you want them to or not…That’s how I was feeling through Wednesday. Not very confident. Each short, slow 3- mile run was accompanied by some tendon pain, nothing unbearable, but I was worried. “How long can I or will I put up with this on Sunday? Three miles? 26.2?”

John Lennon pretty much screams “Why on earth are we here? Surely not to live in pain and fear!” in his song Instant Karma. I try to remember that moment in the song like a mantra whenever I approach the future with dread. You see I chose to give up dread several years ago. By the end of the work week I was able to look forward to Sunday, ready to rely on months of expecting brutal things from myself and ready for it all to be over and get some rest.

The weather at the start was pretty much perfect. I ran the first half to the best of my abilities with strength and free of pain.

And I paid for it from about mile 15 on. As the heat started in, I wound up walking much more than I wanted to and much more than in any of my training runs. I knew two things about walking. 1) Once I allowed myself to walk the first time, the second time becomes easier, leading to a downward spiral of motivation and 2) Starting running again after walking a while KILLED my Achilles tendon. I also became kind of nervous about two columns of salt running down both of my legs at about mile 17 and started taking in pretzels as much as I could stand. Salt deficiency is nothing to play around with in an event like a marathon.

My final time was 4:43:21, simultaneously a disappointment and a great accomplishment. It was a great achievement because I beat last year’s time by an hour and twenty-one minutes. It was a disappointment because I knew I was capable of better. I had a goal somewhere between 4:06 and 4:30. And that’s the real complication, isn’t it? Goals. Actually I had three goals in mind: dream, realistic, and acceptable. “Acceptable” for me was 4:30.

But what is the point of goals? Are they just arbitrary things we keep in our heads to ruin our chances of being content? Am I too hard on myself? Who knows? I really can’t complain though. It’s not like those time goals came from anywhere other than my own head. It’s self-imposed.

The playlist.
I always run with my ipod and for races I shuffle through a playlist of songs I haven’t heard hundreds of times in training so as to give me something to think about. Here’s what played on Sunday if you’re interested:

Lines In the Suit 3:47 Spoon Girls Can Tell
Mistake of My Life 3:51 Caedmon's Call Long Line of Leavers
Everlong 4:11 Foo Fighters The Colour And The Shape
Wendy Clear 2:50 Blink-182 Enema of the State
How Indscreet 4:35 Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire Swimming Hour, The
When I Grow Up 3:25 Garbage Version 2.0
Only In Dreams 7:59 Weezer Weezer
Heroes 3:38 David Bowie Changesbowie
Mutt 3:24 Blink-182 Enema of the State
Jump Man 4:22 Buckethead Monsters & Robots
Mayonaise 5:49 Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream
Devil's Haircut 3:14 Beck Odelay
Trying to Pull Myself Away 3:36 Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova Once (Music from the Motion Picture)
Hot for Teacher 4:45 Van Halen 1984
Yard Of Blonde Girls 4:07 Jeff Buckley Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk Your House 4:46 Jimmy Eat World Jimmy Eat World
When The War Came 5:06 The Decemberists The Crane Wife
Why Bother 2:08 Weezer Pinkerton
What You Want 4:02 Caedmon's Call Long Line of Leavers
Limelight 4:24 Rush Moving Pictures
I've Got A Flair 2:52 Fountains Of Wayne Fountains Of Wayne
Flight Of The Passing Fancy 3:52 Squirrel Nut Zippers Hot
Mr. Brightside 3:43 The Killers Hot Fuss
The Boxer 2:49 Me First & the Gimme Gimmes Have Another Ball
The Bends 4:06 Radiohead The Bends
Relative Ways (EP) 4:03 ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead Source Tags & Codes
Then 5:50 Yes Time And A Word
Pounding 4:45 Doves The Last Broadcast
Inner Revolution 3:14 Adrian Belew Inner Revolution
Like A Criminal 3:49 The Sheila Divine New Parade
The Crystal Lake 5:00 Grandaddy The Sophtware Slump
That Was Just Your Life 7:08 Metallica Death Magnetic
Suicide & Redemption 9:58 Metallica Death Magnetic
The Judas Kiss 8:01 Metallica Death Magnetic
Don't Leave Me 2:24 Blink-182 Enema of the State
Have You Ever Seen the Rain? 2:42 Creedence Clearwater Revival Chronicle: 20 Greatest Hits
Don't Make Me A Target 3:56 Spoon Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
The Gymnast, High Above The Ground 7:13 The Decemberists Her Majesty The Decemberists
Nun Chuka Kata 4:30 Buckethead Monsters & Robots
Cherub Rock 4:58 Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces 3:53 Ben Folds Five Whatever & Ever Amen
Mr. Bonaparte 3:55 The Bears Car Caught Fire
Drop Dead Legs 4:14 Van Halen 1984
The Camera Eye 10:59 Rush Moving Pictures
It Was There That I Saw You 4:02 ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead Source Tags & Codes
You Look So Fine 5:24 Garbage Version 2.0
Smoking Makes You Look Younger (A True Tale of Underage Smoking) 2:31 Smarty Pants Annoyager
Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? 3:49 Prince The Hits/The B-Sides
Spacemilk 3:49 The Sheila Divine New Parade
Bargain 5:34 The Who Who's Next (Remastered)
Snarling Wrath Of Angry Gods (From Dry Humping The American Dream) 4:09 Gutbucket Hear This Now: Cantaloupe Music Sampler
Never Enough 3:43 Adrian Belew Here
Keep Fishin' 2:52 Weezer Maladroit
Killer Queen 3:01 Queen Greatest Hits
War 5:48 Joe Satriani The Extremist
YYZ 4:25 Rush Moving Pictures
Adam's Song 4:10 Blink-182 Enema of the State
The Party Song 2:19 Blink-182 Enema of the State
Quiet 3:42 Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream
Army 3:24 Ben Folds Five The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner
The National Anthem 5:52 Radiohead Kid A
Sister Jack 3:35 Spoon Gimme Fiction

Finally, I come to the big picture stuff--lessons learned and how do I move forward…

After week 13 of training I got Achilles tendonitis, a common overuse injury for runners and as I went to the doctor and multiple physical therapy treatments I obviously had to do some thinking. The big question was “What am I doing here? Why do I run, again?” I easily have two basic answers: “I run and exercise in general to keep my body healthy and functioning well and to keep my soul and mind healthy and functioning well.” I do not run to break my body down.

Marathon training is tough. I said last year that it was the toughest thing I ever tried to do. Training “by the book” is even tougher. Since January I put 452 miles on my feet, sometimes more than 35 miles in a week. For a guy my size, that’s a lot of stress and pounding on my feet and ankles. And week after week after week starts to take its toll.

There are some things I know. I don’t have to run marathons to keep my body in check. I had forgotten that there are distances between 5k and 26.2 miles that people train for. Right now I’m thinking that I’m done with the full marathon distance. My absolute favorite part of Sunday was the opening 10k, jockeying for position in the crowd, feeling awesome and strong and fresh and clipping the miles by. I like that kind of running. I’m not a fan of the walk-run, see-what-I-can-make-myself-endure type of “running.” In training, before I developed the tendonitis, I liked the middle distance tempo runs best. My favorite race of the year is still the Tulsa Run 15k.

So, after I primarily ride my bike for the whole summer,and my tendonitis hopefully disappears, I’m thinking: “no running distances further than a half marathon.” I think my body will thank me in the long run, (no pun intended.)

Thanks for reading all this and thanks to everyone who showed up to cheer me on.

It’s an amazing life.


At 8:24 PM, Blogger Cara said...

Woo hoo! Proud of you and ALL you've accomplished.

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Steven Stark said...

I am thoroughly impressed. Sometime you have to push yourself to find your niche. perhaps you are a middle distance runner. i am born not to run. Sorry, Bruce Springsteen.

I'll ride bikes with ya sometime though!

And don't get me wrong, a 5k sounds...possible for me.

Thanks for sharing your thought processes through it all. Very, very interesting. I am also ready for another month of Sundays!

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Charlie said...

Mike, I enjoyed training with you on parts of your second marathon journey. Altough I am sad to read you are considering being done with the marathon I think I can understand where your coming from. Running long distances takes alot of perserverance and devotion. It can be very frustrating and demoralizing when your body breaks down in an attempt to build it up. You experienced your first running injury this year but luckily it didn't sideline you. Some guys tear calf muscles or ACLs and can be out for months. Middle distance running still takes training, but it can be much more enjoyable at times. Good luck in all of your fitness endeavors sir. I'll be looking forward to running with you again in the fall.

At 2:42 PM, Blogger Mike said...

There is another component to running marathons that is seductive...how other people react, (especially people who don't run), when you tell them the crazy distances you go. It's usually a combination of respect, bafflement, and backing away as if they are talking to a crazy person.

It is certainly nice to have something to talk to people about, I won't lie. But is that ego-stroking enough?

Absolute confession time:
about a hundred yards from the finish, fighting back tears, I saw my miserable time (in comparison to aforementioned goals) up there over the timing mat and was visited by awful thoughts..."THIS is what all of that work was for? The last few weeks of achilles pain and worry, the obsession...Is this worth it?"

With a couple days to ponder it now, I think if I felt STRONGER, physically, at the end of all of this it would DEFINITELY feel worth it.

But since I did that 19 mile run a few weeks ago, I have felt progressively WEAKER. I don't like that feeling. It seems like this year I finally reached a point of diminishing returns. Running and exercise are supposed to be GOOD for you.

I know without a doubt that, had I been training for something shorter or just maintaining a base, I would have never developed this overuse injury.

Perhaps I should look into cross-training my way to the marathon distance, just to keep some of the heavy-duty wear and tear off my feet.

Regardless, I still like running and there are plenty of other available goals to work towards, speed being one of them.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Kelly said...

You are an inspiration to me to keep trying.


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