"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Friday, January 28, 2011

20 miles is worse than 26.2

Occasionally someone will mention that they've seen me out running and ask if I'm training for something. When I tell them I run and train for marathons the conversation generally moves toward how awful or difficult or boring or impossible running 26.2 miles seems to them. What I can't explain to them is that the marathon is, in the words of Travis at Finally Airborne, a victory lap. A victory lap for all of the hard work, dedication, time management, commitment to nutrition and regular sleep and perseverance through dark, raining, cold mornings for months and months. A victory lap for completing something that is awful and difficult and boring and sometimes seems impossible: the 20-mile long runs.
In my experience, the 20-mile long run is far more difficult than a 26.2-mile race. For while the marathon requires an extra 45 minutes to an hour (at my pace) or more of running, here's what the 20-miler doesn't have: 
  • Family & friends cheering you on along the way or waiting for you at the finish line
  • Spectators cheering for those around you (but pretending they are cheering for you)
  • Good Samaritans holding signs that read "We don't know each other, but I'm proud of you" at the point when you want nothing more than to quit but know you can't. And won't.
  • Bands/cheerleaders, even bad bands and girls half my age wearing WAY too much makeup -- you know they'll be there and you're glad they are
  • Little kids giving high-fives to everyone they can
  • Moments that remind you how lucky you are
  • Regularly spaced aid stations
  • And if you train alone like I do, the camaraderie of others, spoken or unspoken, who are pushing themselves towards a similar goal
  • A medal, T-shirt, medical staff and general overall pampering at the finish line
  • The pride that goes along with walking (or limping if your prefer) around the rest of the day with your medal hanging around your neck for all to see
The 20-miler early on a Saturday morning is a lonely, grueling experience but it must be done. Multiple times. It's not fun. It's not glamorous. No one that sees you knows if you're in mile 2 or mile 18. But it's necessary. It's the run when your mental toughness is put to the test. 26.2 miles will be more physically demanding due to the number of miles, but if you can mentally will yourself through your 20-milers you'll be more than prepared for the physical challenge that awaits on race day.
I have my 2nd of three 20-milers coming tomorrow, and while I'm not looking forward to it, I will do it. Five more weeks and two 20-milers and I'll be ready to take my victory lap around Red Rock Canyon on March 5th. Can't wait.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Gained Weight (Finally)...and why that's a good thing

So I've stepped away for a few months. Certainly not from running, but from writing and posting here for sure. There just hasn't been enough time in the day or week to justify sitting down and writing anything of any significance. The demands on my time became much lighter last week, however, when my assignment to teach an early morning religious studies class to a group of 21 high school juniors and seniors came to an end. For the last two and a half school years, I estimate that I spent approximately 20 hours per week (unpaid) in class teaching, or in lesson and class preparation or other activities.
I'm 5 1/2 weeks out from the Red Rock Canyon marathon outside of Las Vegas. Every review I've read of this race has had the same advice: be prepared for hills. So since November I've been running mile after mile and hour after hour of 3-7% grade hills. It's not hard to find them around my house. I've mentioned before that I live in a bowl. Any direction I want to go is up, so there's no escaping it. A few things have happened during these few months of training that I think are worth noting:
1. The average pace of my runs has dropped significantly. Rare is the day when I average less than 8 minutes/mile for a run. Just as rare is a mile run on a route even close to flat. This discouraged me for a few weeks until I started measuring progress in more applicable ways. For instance, there is a hill approximately four miles from my house. From the stop sign at the bottom to the stop sign at the top is .76 miles and it averages a 7% grade. I ran this hill once in preparation for the Seattle Rock n Roll marathon last year. It was awful. In November I ran it again and it took me approximately 9 minutes to get to the top. "9 minutes of Hell," I named it. Since November, "9 minutes of Hell"  has steadily become 8 minutes, and then 7:30, and then 7:12. And then last Saturday, an hour into my run, I scaled the beast in 6:58 (just got back from my 10-miler today...6:46 on the Hill from Hell! It's working...). Take that! So though my average pace is still consistently over 8 minutes/mile, but progress is being made.

2. Perhaps as a consequence of running so many hills, my weight has also increased over the last three months. Fairly significantly actually, but in a good way. I've experienced a 6% increase from what I've weighed since I was 15 years old. In a related story, my body fat percentage has dropped since I last checked it (late spring 2010) and is now below 6%. It's completely muscle growth in my legs. I can feel it as I run up hills that were once a struggle but now are just in my way. The amount of time I spend in front of a mirror each day is the time it takes me to brush my hair in the morning and brush my teeth a few times, but I did have one vain thought the other day when I walked by and caught a glimpse of myself in my Under Armour base layer pants. It was something along the lines of "Dang, who stole your skinny chicken legs that you've been walking around on for the last 28 years?"
While the increase in muscle has been nice for running hills and will no doubt serve me well in Las Vegas, I must admit that when I do occasionally run a flat mile or two, I feel the extra weight. And I don't like it. I feel heavy. Maybe I just need some time to let my lower joints adjust, but I wouldn't mind dropping back down to my previous weight prior to my relatively flat races in June and July.
3. I'm currently using Hal Higdon's 3-day/week program (minus the cross-training) and I really like it. I run Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The extra day off on Monday really makes a big difference in how I feel the rest of the week. My wife also recently signed our family up for a YMCA membership, so I don't have any more excuses for not doing some cross training a few days a week. I'm eying the cycling class from 5:15-6:00am as a possible option as well as the morning lap swim (assuming of course, I learn how to swim properly. My current level of if-I-get-tossed-in-the-water-I-can-make-it-back-to-the-boat isn't conducive to lap swimming. So I'm told.)
Garmin Forerunner 205
Things are good though. I swapped out my Nike+ sportband for a Garmin Forerunner 205 (much, much improved). I've dealt off and on with a strained abdominal muscle but generally I feel pretty good. I'm ready to start peaking as I enter the final 5 weeks of training for 2011 Marathon #1. I have been thinking about a couple of things that I will comment on over the next few weeks. I do miss writing my thoughts and ideas and hope that now that I have some more time that I'll be able to update more regularly. It's a great time of year -- Spring Marathon training season is in full swing. Have a good run today!