Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fortune Cookies

Turns out Duncan was right about running blog retirement. I do have more to say, and my wife just can't listen to it all so I'm turning to you.

It's summer here in Tucson, Arizona, which means I have more time on my hands as work slows down considerably. I've been taking this time (and the added free time gained from not blogging) to really think about what running means to me. I feel world's different from when I was driving home from that botched 5K in April, when I felt I never needed to write another word about running. Depressed in the only way I can describe myself then, and while I dug myself out in the weeks afterwards, all it took was another 5K this past weekend to put me back in the hole.

The PR's on the blog template tell part of the story. While I've been training hard during the past few years, my best performances are all followed by either "'05" or "'06", with the exception of the single second I squeaked out at 5K last year. In the meantime, many of the runners I know and am friends with have gone from running behind me in races to beating me with regularity. With this in mind, I spent a few weeks chasing these faster guys during a weekly workout, and while I found myself getting closer to them on the track, I also found myself recovering slowly and getting sick with more regularity. I also found myself low enough on energy and with enough fatigue to actually visit a doctor and request some blood-work.

As I sat on the grass after running 16:16 for 5K this weekend, I felt miles removed from everyone around me. My body ached, but inside I just kept re-living the moment where sub-16 slipped away. The legs were already burning mid-way through the first mile, and the damn 1 mile marker was still out of sight. Against my better judgment I glanced at the watch and read 4:42. In that moment I knew I didn't have it in me, that 11 more minutes of suffering at that pace simply wouldn't happen, and the sting of failing to reach my goal started sinking in.

The kids were crawling over me, and people came by occasionally to ask about the race, but it took a focused effort to respond to anyone as my mind continued to spin.

Have I pushed it too hard?
One marathon too many?
Not enough rest?
Too old?
Have I lost my ability to suffer?

These are the words of someone over the edge. Mystery Coach recognized it before I did, and prescribed three weeks of "getting myself right" before heading into a build for the NYC marathon. After just a few days without the watch or any measuring device I started feeling better, and any thoughts of trying to hurry through this recovery to start the next cycle evaporated as I started digging into Tim Noakes' Lore of Running book. In the "Avoiding Over-training" chapter it was interesting to note how many coaches and runners cited mood swings and depression as harbingers of over-training. I should have read this a long time ago. I've always had a tendency to try and push through rough patches, but I might do better to spend more time figuring out why the rough patches arrive in the first place.

As far as "the sting of failing" goes, I have two little scraps of paper clipped to my bathroom mirror. Both have little sayings printed in blue ink and were pulled from fortune cookies some months ago. The words won't challenge any of Mystery Coach's axioms, but they give me perspective nonetheless:

"The greatest effort is not concerned with results"
For anyone with a great race under their belt, this needs no explanation

"Someone with blue eyes admires you"
Our 5-year-old daughter has the bluest eyes I've seen, and when I'm going through a particularly rough patch with my running I sometimes stop and try to imagine her in my place, years in the future. What would I tell her if I found her detached and sullen after a 5K after suffering the vile realization that she just ran 9 seconds slower than last year? "Learn what you can from it and move on" comes to mind, and so that's where I find myself now. I wouldn't want her continuing to beat herself up, so why should I.

More soon. Also, I'm going to have to keep the log here instead of on a different site (which explains the mega-post below), since I'm having trouble with the html code and our ISP. I'll keep an archive in the sidebar for now and hopefully figure out a solution for new entries.

Thanks to all of you for sticking with me, especially Mystery Coach. By the way, feel free to pepper him with questions if you want Ask the Mystery Coach Monday to return.


Mark said...

It's really good to see you return as it's encouraging for the rest of us to also get moving.

Formulaic said...

It's great to see you back!

I was missing hearing about your impossible fast runs.

I 'can't wait' for everyone to start arguing over your workouts and what YOU should do to be better!

Looking forward to more from you and hopefully Mystery coach.

Greg said...

From one of your many silent readers, I can say it was a pleasant sight to see the "(1)" return next to your feed. It's good to have you back.

Phil said...

Did you really think you were going to get rid of us??? Are you nuts?

Listening to a guy complain about a 16:16 5K really puts things in perspective. For your greater un-washed readership, a sub 20 min 5K is only a dream. 16:16 is died-and-gone-to-heaven fast. However, it isn't about how we feel; it's all about how you feel.

We all run because of the way it makes us feel and we commune with each other to share that feeling; to share the exhilaration we feel by pushing ourselves to accomplish that which we once thought impossible. You do that every day. You’ve got a beautiful wife and two wonderful children who love and admire you … even as you find the time to continue training to run mediocre 16:16 5Ks and sub 2:40 marathons. Your life is well balanced and you’re still beating the crap out of 99.9% of the competition.

Welcome back, we missed you.

Mike said...

Mark, I'm happy to see you back at it as well. You were dealt a bad hand with the knee this year, but I've admired the sense of humor you've kept about it.

Formulaic, I forgot about the arguing! Maybe I should re-think this return. Kidding, really.

Thanks Greg, it feels good to be back. I like the look of your log program, especially if it tracked cumulative and weekly totals and averages for HR, mileage and pace. I'll shoot you a comment on it when I have a minute.

Phil, isn't it obvious I'm a bit of nutcase already?? I do miss sharing stories, and after feeling like I was on the outside looking in for a month or so during the hiatus I figured out that writing about my training does force me to analyze it (and myself) more closely, so why not come back?

When it comes to complaining, few do it better than me. And it is good to be back. Now you better email me if you get into the 85750 zip code for a run.

Stephen Lacey said...

Some great reflective/philosophical thoughts in that post Mike. Yes, you have someone with blue eyes that admires you. What else matters?

Welcome back. Even if it were just for one post, it was worth it.

Thomas said...

Mike, you always seemed to be one of the most balanced guys out there running. Few people managed to combine running, work and family as well as you did. But if running a "slow" 5k gave you such a depression then maybe that's a sign that the balance had come unshifted for a while.

Your scraps of paper tell me that you're back on the balance though. Keep it up.

Greg said...

Great to have you back Mike.

Ewen said...

It's good to see you back Mike. You are fortunate indeed to have someone with blue eyes admiring you.

I'm confident there are more PBs in your future - from 5k to the marathon. From someone with PBs mostly followed by '93, I agree that the greatest effort is not concerned with results.

Enjoy the journey to NYC.