Tag Archives: perspective

Do What? I Can’t Imagine. . .

If there’s one thing being a runner is good for (*) it’s getting a sense of perspective.

This morning I was meeting with our company president, an aficionado of the latest and greatest in technology (you can read my “Gadget Man” post here). A message from one of his daughters had appeared on his Apple Watch, and he demonstrated how to finger-scrawl a reply and have it turn into a text message.

Then he looked at me.

“She’s recovering from a slight concussion,” he said. “Her coach told her to go jog an easy mile to see how she feels. That just doesn’t make sense to me. How is a mile an easy jog?”

Before I became a runner I’d have shared his viewpoint. But to me now, I told him, it made perfect sense. An easy mile seemed just right for her purpose. I do exactly that myself as part of my pre-race warmup. But to the non-runner, “one mile” just doesn’t fit with “easy” at any speed.

Fast forward to this afternoon’s workout at Body Specs. Another runner trains at the same time I do, and he said he’d heard that 200-mile races were growing in popularity. He told me someone had interviewed a veteran 100-mile runner about this, whose comment was, “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to run that distance.”

This is where I am on the spectrum. A 100-mile race is the most I’ve ever seen myself doing. Double that distance? What for? (**)

crazy-aunty-acid

And yet for some runners, even 200 miles is just a stepping stone to greater distances. Ultrarunner Dean Karnazes once ran 50 marathons, one in each U.S. state, in 50 consecutive days. And Pete Kostelnick just completed a 42-day, 3,000-mile run across the U.S. from San Francisco to New York, an average of over 72 miles (nearly three marathons) per day. To them, a mile must be like stepping outside to get the mail.

Just going out for a run! Back in a couple months!

Just going out for a run, honey! Back in a couple months!

This kind of perspective comes in handy when I race. I see faster runners pull away, and look at the results of the top finishers, and wish I were more like them. And yet as I’m usually at or near the top of my age group, there must be many other runners wishing they were more like me. And I know people who wish they were able just to run at all. Being aware of this makes it hard to feel sorry for myself when I don’t perform as well as I wanted to.

slow-runners-make-fast-runners-look-good

I know there will always be people faster than I am, stronger, more naturally talented, mentally tougher, more of every quality that makes for a successful runner. No matter how hard I train, or how far I run, I will never match their performance. Well, so what? There are always things to learn and ways to improve, and one can enjoy the experience regardless of the result.

Last Saturday’s Run Vasa 25K was a great example. A cold but beautiful morning on a wide, well-groomed, leaf-strewn trail, with a small group of fellow dirt-loving runners. I was pushing my pace and had blisters on both heels, but there was nowhere else I wanted to be.

About ten miles in, I saw two runners approaching me from ahead. Oh, crap. Was I going the wrong way? “Oh, no,” they said. “We cut the course by accident.” They were basically DQ’d, but both were smiling. Several other people took a wrong turn and ran an extra four miles. No one complained. Stuff happened. They still had fun.

Days like this on trails like this. What it's all about, baby.

Days like this on trails like this. What it’s all about, baby.

Final thought: apart from Pete and Dean, I’m sure every runner has an “I can’t imagine” limit. In 2014 I was part of a webcast featuring Meb Keflezighi, the Olympic marathoner and Boston Marathon winner. When he found out that some in the audience were ultrarunners, he expressed amazement. “I can’t imagine running that kind of distance,” he said, and told us he’d stick to running marathons. Just as well. I don’t need his kind of competition.

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(*) [One thing running is good for] – in addition to health, fitness, being outdoors, a great social activity, and others.

(**) [What would it prove?] On the other hand, I used to think a 50K would be the most I would ever run. Until I ran one, and the little voice in my head said, “You could do more…”

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Perspective Regained: Hills are Hard, But . . .

“I want you to push yourself on the hills,” my Saturday running assignment read. “Dig deep and crest the hill before you let off the gas.”

Saturday’s route would be a 14-miler that included several of the more punishing hills in the Ann Arbor area. In particular, the climb up to the Barton Hills Country Club is a soul-sucking slog even on good days. And after a week of stepped-up training I was feeling less than 100 percent from the start.

Coach Rob Morgan

This man (Coach Rob) was responsible for today’s route. He’s also married to Coach Marie. I sense a conspiracy here.

It was my own fault, of course. I was dumb enough to tell Skip, my Body Specs trainer, and Coach Marie that I wanted to work on getting stronger and faster over the winter. They have taken on the task with alacrity; on Thursday I actually heard an evil cackle from Skip as I groaned my way through one particular torture involving hand dumbbells.

And the Saturday long run? Normally I look forward to it. But this one was more like a trip to the dentist; you know it’s in your best interest, but it ain’t gonna be no fun. I was fretting too much about it, so I went to bed early and read a chapter about the Battle of The Bulge from Killing Patton, which my father-in-law loaned me over the holidays.

And those few pages were enough to restore my sense of perspective.

In December 1944 the men of the 99th Infantry Division faced a surprise onslaught from the German army, digging foxholes and defending themselves in freezing weather without winter clothing, waterproof boots, or sufficient weaponry.

American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment near Amonines, Belgium. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment near Amonines, Belgium. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

They suffered intensely and took heavy casualties. But they blunted the attack and played a key role in preventing the Germans from reaching the key port of Antwerp. And they did it because it was their job, and it had to be done.

And me? I was going to have a challenging run the next morning, but it would be done with warm clothes, good shoes, and plenty of sleep beforehand. And I could stop early, or even not run at all, if I chose.

So long, worry and self-pity. Which was a good thing. (*)

The run went about as I expected. Per instructions I ran the level parts at a steady 8:15 to 8:30 pace. Then when a hill came up, I took off hard and tried to sustain the effort until after I crested the top.  I didn’t always make it, and many were the times I was bent over gasping for a bit. But a funny thing happened. Despite very tired legs I kept up a solid pace the entire way, and I even repeated a hill on the way back to see how my time differed from early in the route.

Coach Marie was at the studio when I returned. “You look good,” she said. So much for any attempt to complain that it was too much for me. This spells trouble for next week. I can’t wait.

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(*) I have more thoughts about the contrast between that generation and ours that I will save for a future post.

Cure for a DNF: Water, Shade, and Perspective

One week after the Glacier Ridge 50-miler DNF and feeling much better. Ran Saturday morning with PR Fitness, holding it to 8 miles per Coach’s direction (OK, 8.3 miles, but she wasn’t looking). About halfway out it began to rain. Some people grumbled, but I loved every minute of it. Man, could I have used some of that last week!

This would have been good, too! (From last year's Kona race.)

This would have been good, too! (From last year’s Kona race.)

Not finishing was a bummer, but it’s okay. I’d signed up to find out how ready I was to retry the 100K. By mile 40 I’d learned that I wasn’t, and the main reasons why. Going on would have been a miserable slog with nothing else to learn. And as a bonus, the whole thing was put into perspective very quickly. See below.

My biggest lesson was how much I’d underrated hydration. I’d gotten into the (bad) habit of not drinking anything before a race, because I hate standing in line at the porta-potties right before the gun. I can get away with this for short races, and up to 50K on the trail. Beyond that and the lack of water catches up with me.

I now drink at least 8 ounces of water when I wake up, and will on race days, regardless of the consequences. I also need to drink a lot more during the race, and start drinking earlier, especially on hot days.

My backpack has pockets for two bottles. I just need to use them both. The camera can go elsewhere.

My backpack has pockets for two bottles. I need to use both for that purpose. The camera can go elsewhere.

And I need to protect my head from direct sunlight. I hadn’t counted on such a long stretch of open road and trail late in the race. I should have put a baseball cap in my backpack just in case. I will from now on.

On the plus side, I recovered quickly. Just three days later I ran with the Tuesday night group, stretching a planned two miles to three. Yesterday I felt good enough for my usual 12 miles but didn’t push it. The Dexter-Ann Arbor half is in two weeks, so there’s no sense in doing too much too fast. After that, I’m looking at another 50-miler in late June or early July.

And from the Count Your Blessings news desk: Last week after I accepted the strong hints at the aid station and turned in my chip, I got a ride back to the start from a race staffer named Dan. We got to chatting and I asked if he also ran ultramarathons. “I used to,” he said. “But I can’t anymore.”

A few years ago Dan’s heart became enlarged due to a leaky valve. Surgery corrected the problem but his heart didn’t return to normal size as hoped. Now, he says, running even a short distance leaves him out of breath.

“I was devastated,” he said. “Running was my stress relief. My meditation. I had to come up with an entirely new way of coping with things.” He has, but it was clear how much he missed being able to run.

All that evening I did my best to feel sorry for myself, but the magic just wasn’t there.

For a wicked take on why self-pity is “dangerously comfortable” see this article on Cracked.com.

Note to self: he carried two water bottles. He finished.

Note to self: he carried two water bottles. He finished.

And I want to thank J.R., who ran with me for many miles, and who helped me out when I was sitting on that log at mile 36. He gave up a chance at a faster finish to walk with me to the aid station. His encouragement was a big reason why I was able to get there, and I made sure the race staff knew it. See you next year, my friend.

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Next up: Chatting up the ladies at the Hightail to Ale 5K. (Key to success: be one of the people handing out free beer.) Details to follow!