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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Deep and Utter Disappointment

Yesterday and today I ran for the first time since Never Summer 100K. Three weeks without a step run. Three weeks intended to heal some lingering injuries. Three weeks designed to improve my health.

I have been dealing with an injury issue that I can't resolve. It first cropped up in the summer of 2017 and has stuck around since then. First, a pinch in the left hip that then spread to the lower abdomen and groin. I've seen my primary care physician and an orthopedic sports medicine specialist and a physical therapist and a chiropractor. I've had X-rays and MRIs and injections and range of motion tests. The issue has been impossible to nail down. A torn hip labrum. An adductor strain. A psoas strain. Severe inflammation.

It has been extremely frustrating. The issue doesn't prevent me from running. I've raced two marathons, run a third for fun, race two 50Ks and Never Summer all with the injury present. I've run around 7000 training miles. I can run. And usually I can do exactly what I set out to do. But sometimes the injury really fires up and I can't run intervals the way I'd planned to. Or I have to stop several times during a long run because the pain manifests as pressure similar to the urge to poop. Or I can't walk up a set of stairs the next morning due to hip soreness. But mostly I can run, so I just continue running.

These three weeks without running were intended to really give whatever this unidentified injury is a good solid rest. If it truly was just a matter of sever inflammation, three weeks should largely help resolve that. Psoas or groin strains should feel a lot better. Three weeks is quite a bit of rest. I should feel meaningful improvement in the injury, at least for a while until the miles pile up again.

So, yesterday I headed out for my first run with high hopes. Not high hopes that it would be a good run. There was no chance after three weeks of no activity other than some yoga every other day (really tough stuff for me, but not aerobic running fitness) that the run was going to feel good. And it was a ragged mess, struggling to make it through a bit more than five miles. No surprise. But there was a surprise. My groin was tight. My abdomen became aggravated immediately. My hips unhappy. I wrote it off to first-day-back gunk and moved on.

Today I went out to run longer. Still a bit of a mess. My legs screamed at me by five miles in. Evidently, the yoga's really been doing a number on my quads (perhaps an answer to my "how to prepare quads for downhill running question!") But the groin, abdomen and hips were also super unhappy. I was immediately right were I had been a month ago. It's like I'd not taken a single day off. No improvement, none.

I was met with deep and utter disappointment. How could three weeks of total rest not improve this at all? How could I immediately be back in the same place I was before? It doesn't make sense. Just as nothing about this injury has made sense.

So I'll continue to blunder through. Mostly able to run what I want to run. Mostly able to train the way I hope to train. And next time I think about taking time off, I may simple ignore the impulse because, why?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

#runninglifelessons: Practice Over Mastery

I think I'll call these little life lessons learned while running Running Life Lessons. Even better, #runninglifelessons for a bit of cheesy hashtag absurdity. Very creative stuff, I know.

This week's anecdote is something that's struck me over and over in life, and a lesson I fail to really grab on to. It just slips away and getting through takes over. It's particularly evident in running, but just as true everywhere else, I think.

Practice Over Mastery (And Over Surviving)


I recently sat down to start writing out a training plan for the Jacksonville Marathon. Jacksonville is going to be my next (and hopefully last) attempt to run a marathon in under 3 hours. 3 hours will be fast for me, fast for many people, and completely and entirely pedestrian relative to the true fast people...a topic for another time.

Anyway, as I began to write the plan out, it struck me that this plan really wasn't all that different than my last race plan nor the one before or any other. It was made up of the same pieces basically put together in the same order. Run six days a week, maybe some doubles, a total of about nine training bouts per week. One of those runs is hard and fast intervals, often at a track. Another is run at a tempo around my target race pace or a bit faster. One is a long 35KM run. Everything else is just some jogging around with some strides here or there, maybe a few hills sprints. But just running.

It's the same structure I used for my first marathon, for the Boston marathon, for the Georgia Death Race, for Never Summer. Little things were tweaked here or there, maybe some extra hill work or stairs, but really the same thing.

It's practice. Every day, every week, every month; practicing the same things. Practicing pace, practicing being comfortable with discomfort, practicing the discipline of lacing up the shoes and walking out there door each day. There's no mastery involved. There's no "Hey, I've figured this out!" moment. Just more and more practice to hopefully be a bit better than yesterday.

And I think that's true everywhere. I know there's no mastering my profession. I know this, yet have a habit of pursuing and hoping for mastery, or worse, thinking I've kind of attained it. I haven't, not by a long shot. Instead, each work day should be viewed as another day to practice that profession, to get just a bit better than previously. Each day should include a deliberate goal to improve something, not just to show up and do the job, not just to make it through another day, not to determine I've figured it all out and now get to coast along happily meandering toward retirement.

And it's true personally. Instead of surviving everything that life throws my way, but actually trying to get a bit better at life each day.

And it's small, micro-improvements. In running, you don't even notice them. Today's run feels a lot like yesterday's run which feels not all that different than the run three months ago. Then, one day you just try running a bit faster than you did before or a bit farther or something a bit more challenging (12,000 feet high in the mountains, perhaps!), and you can do it and it's not too bad and you have improved and the practice has paid off. Professionally, you don't even have a race or a pace to test yourself. You just notice one day that ideas flow more easily or you communicate a bit more clearly or dots connect that didn't used to. In life, I don't think there's any benchmark at all, just faith that a little improvement is a good thing.

Screw mastery. Just keep practicing, in whatever it is you're doing. The challenge for me is remembering this lesson and then practicing practicing. I'll keep practicing.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

JAX Marathon Training Plan

What the heck. I'm using this space again anyway. Might as well just put all my running and fitness thoughts here, as meaningless as they are to anyone else and as self-absorbed as they may seem. At least it will help me rebuild the habit of regular writing even if trite and low value stuff.

Prior to Never Summer, I had decided to take the month of August off of running entirely. I hadn't taken a serious pause in a couple years at least and have had some lingering mini-injuries. A month off certainly wouldn't hurt things. I've been faithful to that commitment so far and haven't run a mile since Never Summer. But I'm getting the itch to get moving again, and the yoga I've been using to do something just doesn't serve the same need for discipline daily running does.

So yesterday I decided to start working on a training plan for the Jacksonville Marathon, my next (and final) attempt to run a marathon in under 3 hours. I know, both not a truly fast marathon time and also quite fast for the vast majority of runners. Always a funny place to be in.

The training plan begins to develop:

Eek! That's a lot of expensive shoes to try!
This didn't scratch the running itch. I won't make it through August. But it did help me not run today and firm a commitment to stay off the road until next Saturday. 6 additional days is a heck of a lot better than 0.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Running Is Life

What an aggrandizing, over-zealous title. But there's truth to that title in a small way.

For some time, I've realized that in every running race there are these small moments that are microcosms of big life themes. Lessons learned in only minutes that could take years to understand in the broad context of a life. For some time, I've thought about writing about them. But it's always felt like self-puffery, like an excuse to tell you about my latest running exploit, like a way to brag just a bit more. And perhaps there's some truth to that.

Despite that, I'm going to try writing about some of these moments anyway. For one, I've missed writing and really want to begin again. For another, I want to put these moments to words to help my own learning of the lesson taught. And finally, just maybe someone else will get something out of it other than "man, this guy likes to talk about himself."

Some of these will be small, little, almost nothings. Others will hit on really big themes. Some will even appear as trite banalities such is "like life, running is about a journey and not just reaching a goal" although I'll do my best to minimize those.

So I invite you to join along as I share one thing learned while out running and racing that applies broadly to life. I'll try to do this weekly for as long as the ideas strike me. I'd love to hear your feedback, if something really resonates or if you think I'm way off base. And I'll begin with a short vignette from the Never Summer 100k ultramarathon this week.

Lesson: They're Just Regular People

This thought has been swirling in my mind for some time, but it really connected with me as I climbed up the steep incline to the summit of North Diamond Peak at the Never Summer 100k race. The idea is a simple one, but a bit shocking, as well.

Growing up, I'd flip through National Geographic magazine and read other stuff describing explorers of the world, of wilderness, of exotic locations. People trekking to the north pole, climbing Everest, diving to the bottom of the ocean. We would occasionally drive to Switzerland for family vacations, and there would always be a TV channel in the hotel playing video of a mountaineering expedition climbing some alpine ridge to summit a mountain. These were fascinating stories of exploration and adventure to me.

In my mind, the people that did these things became superhumans with born abilities that the rest of us did not have and could not cultivate. They were other and better than the rest of us. They could do things the rest of us could only dream of doing. They were unique and special.

Thunderheads loom above as we climb high up Diamond Peak
As I climbed North Diamond Peak with a line of other racers, it really struck home with me how wrong that thinking had been. Here I was, just a regular guy in a line of regular people, after just over four years of meaningful running training; climbing an incredibly steep mountain summit with a thunderstorm only inches over our heads to then run several miles along an exposed alpine ridge. And this was just a short piece of the entire race for that day!
There's absolutely nothing superhuman about me, no unique born abilities that others don't have, nothing special. As I looked around at the others climbing with me, I suspected many of them would say the same about themselves. Sure, some people may have been born with a bit more natural talent at running and hiking and climbing, some were bigger and others smaller, some stronger and more muscular and others skinnier and more lithe, but everyone was pretty much a "regular" person and certainly not a superhuman.

As my racing adventures have become more adventuresome, from early local races to now full-blown high elevation mountain ultramarathons, this idea that most of these people aren't superhuman has been percolating. Of course, there are some outliers at the very top of any sport who have extraordinary abilities, but I bet even those people are more regular than not. There is nothing special about me, except I did some training and signed up! It's both a liberating thought and a frightening one.

The question out of the lesson then is, what other things have I decided I could not do simply because I had the belief that those things were reserved for superhumans? Maybe something professionally? Perhaps another athletic endeavor? Maybe something in day to day life? What have I passed up that I really should try taking on? I almost think it's exactly those things that I've attributed to "only for superhumans" that are exactly what my heart desires to pursue, but fears to do so.

What about you?