I ended up not doing the half yesterday and I’m fine with that. I may not make the marathon I was aiming for the end of April, and I’m fine with that too. I’ll see what this weekend’s long run is like and decide then. Fortunately for me right now these are just goals to keep myself running; the particular event was not my focus. However I’m seeing a lot of disappointment online today for some who did do the race yesterday, a day that dawned warm and got warmer. The average high here for March is 64 and for April is 73. Yesterday’s high was 82.
And so I’ve been thinking about the races and the runs I’ve done that ended up deal breakers, and why that might have been.
It’s November and the only thing Jr. has been talking about since the Christmas ads started in August is PsychoScreaming Elmo. He prays for Elmo. He searched the Dentist’s treat box for Elmo and asked the Tooth Fairy for Elmo. Seconds after Elmo was brightly and gaily revealed on the We ♥ Kids Network last August every Elmo from here to the Adriatic Sea was snatched up, leaving you the one (loser) parent in the entire world without Elmo for Jr.
For the next three months you plan and strive. You constantly watch EBay. You spend evenings stopping by Target, Toys BackwardR Us and WalMart in succession. You FB your plans, your strategies, your successes and failures (2 spotted at Target! But I’m in a meeting with the Boss! Who just asked why I feel a need to text!) Finally the stars align and you find yourself parked at WalMart at 4am one Saturday, the car stocked with coffee and donuts. You’re fueled and you’re ready to go. The doors open…3…2…1 – you sprint to the toy aisle. You’ve practiced this moment for months. You know the course, the tight turn at the sunglasses stand, the straightaway to toys, hard left, second row: SCORE!
Christmas morning, whether it dawns bright and sunny, cold and snowy, damp and drizzly, or 100 degrees: Elmo is still going to scream like a psycho. If you got a stomach virus last night: Elmo still screams. Couldn’t sleep? Been out of town? Overindulged at the Christmas Party? Still screaming.
Jr. may or may not end up loving the entire PsychoScreaming Elmo thing, he may be cowering terror behind the tree or have already thrown Elmo over for the latest and greatest Runaway Train, but Elmo is still Elmo, shrieking in the corner, one way or the other.
Simultaneously to Jr’s discovery of PSE last August, you found the inspiration to train for the Great Half Marathon your fair city is sponsoring in December. Inspired by the pain of the rapidly tightening seat belt and the inability to reach your shoes to tie them you decided to Get Fit. Eat right! Walk! Jog! Have goals!
You’ve scoured the internet for training plans. You’ve joined FB training pages. You’re networking with everyone at the gym. You’ve read Jeff Galloway and Hal Higdon and Once a Runner; you’ve interviewed every running store employee in town about fueling, hydration, power bars, recovery drinks and Gu. You got a new Garmin or Timex and can talk pronate/supinate with the pros. You’ve done LSD and Fartleks and Intervals and your spouse has (in what sounded like a rather cranky voice, actually) requested that if you’re going to get up every Sunday morning at 4 damn AM to play with all your new friends, why don’t you just go sleep in the guest room on Saturday nights and quit waking me up? And – by the way – why, when you agree to do so, does that seem to make them madder?
Race Day Dawns and this is where Christmas ends. Because on race day your race may be Psycho Elmo, or it may be Tool Time Timmy. The box might have said you needed AAA batteries and you actually need AA batteries. Because races don’t come down assembly lines.
To date I’ve been unable to retro-fit my mother to pop me out in the mid-60’s instead of the mid-50’s and while most of the time I don’t feel like it, I’m going to be 56 next month. Mentally, of course, not so much. Physically I’m noticing it. And all you out there older than me saying “just you wait” – save your breath, I know. I know how I felt at 45, and at 50, and at 52…and I know it’s not going to stop. I am going to do my best to slow it as much as possible, not out of vanity but because I see people whom I thought would never slow down slowly let it slip away. Walking two miles makes me out of breath, I’ll drop to 1-1/2. I’ll just walk a mile. I’ll walk it tomorrow. I like ice cream. I don’t want to eat veggies with my lunch. Apparently we all regress to 2-year olds and anything that doesn’t feel good needs to just go away.
Runners don’t do that. Runners embrace it. Runners know that to go further you have to go farther than further. You have to hurt to get better. You get out what you put in…to one degree or another (we can’t all be pros).
The human body is an amazingly complex thing. When I think of atoms inside of cells in side of muscles inside of skin, and how all this works together in connection with breathing and blood and food – awesome. Breathtaking. Incredible.
And there’s the rub. You plot and plan, you hydrate and fuel the same calories and sleep the same number of minutes and this Saturday you’re popping miles like they were candy and next weekend you have an anvil tied to your a$$. If you’re lucky the anvil shows up on a long run with your buds and you can sigh and complain to your heart’s content. If you’re not, and it’s race day – sucks for you. That, to me, is the plain of it.
The variables are incredible. Perhaps the tiny remnants of the cold you had three weeks ago still has you oxygenating 2-3% less than peak. It could be that you were a little light on carbs or protein lately, or you have just a few too many miles on your shoes and don’t realize it, or you need a bit more potassium. Maybe you spent the past 2-1/2 months training in weather which was largely in the 30’s-60’s, partly/mostly cloudy and windy, and race day dawns 75 degrees, sunny and a bit humid.
Our bodies have rules and we haven’t figured them all out. We know a stomach will only empty so many ounces per hour. If you sweat heavily, have been training in cool weather and race day dawns hot, there’s not a lot you can do about that. If your stomach will process 20 ounces of fluid and you’re sweating out 35 per hour, you cannot hydrate enough. Your blood will get thicker, your HR will rise and your pace will slow. If you had a cold and your lungs are still a bit tight, they are not going to open up because you want them to or you breathe harder. The blood oxygen level is going to stay wherever it is.
Butt Falling off Syndrome has been a blessing to me. Of course there’s the obvious: I’m now a Famous Spokesperson and Poster Child which I realize most of you will never achieve (but I’m here for you, little people). It’s been a ball of yarn, unraveling the issues, several smaller things leading up to a bigger one. Too many miles on my shoes. Neglecting electrolytes. And finally looking at my training plan and realizing I had exactly one week that backed down 10% since the first of January. The older we get the more we need to realize that our bodies need more time. They don’t need us to give up, but they need us to sit back and slow down. Enjoy it a bit more. We know the 10% rule (every third week drop mileage 10%, then increase over the next two, repeat) but we don’t do it. We don’t do it in our running and we don’t do it in the rest of our lives. We stop in at the office every Sunday afternoon just for a couple hours and wonder Monday why we dread going to work. We rush through the day and rush home and go to meetings and join organizations and then feel frustrated that we never sit on the deck with a glass of iced tea or a sip of wine. We promise ourselves we’ll read that interesting novel but then we don’t pick it up until 9pm and can only make sense of the first two paragraphs.
Of course there are days and weeks that life kicks us around and wants 25 hours out of our 24. But take a good look at things. Is this that time? Or could you really sit and watch the sunset?
Burned out on your race? Are the runs starting to feel like another check on your list? Put the watch in the dresser for just this week. Tell yourself you are not allowed to run tomorrow even though it’s going to be absolutely beautiful and you do have the time. Tomorrow morning: cheat. Go anyway. Go slow. Walk every 5th minute. Make yourself count how many colors that flower bed has in it. Run, but try only to hear birds singing. Run to the next driveway and then skip to the mailbox. Act like a kid even if your body isn’t, anymore.