February 28, 2014

Mice and Men

Work related thought of the day:

It seems to me, at times, that entire fields of science exist primarily to torture mice. I really don't enjoy the articles that deal in such things. I could especially do without the images.

February 27, 2014


If it would save you time, consider skipping anything I post on Thursday evening. I ran hard, it will say, and then proceed to espouse the psychological and philosophical benefits of doing so in a group setting. If I'm being honest, there is nothing new to say on the subject. If there is, I haven't discovered it.

And yet.

There is the sensation, soon after such things, that one must share, not because the sensation is unique, but to confirm membership in a community of sorts. I get it, you say. Guys, guys. No, really. Seriously. This is actually cool. The magazine aren't totally full of shit.

Ten miles at a pace that sits between blistering and bliss, sweating profusely in a t-shirt and shorts, despite the 20 degree temperature. Veins throbbing through my neck and forehead at the end, sitting, exhaling, inhaling.

Three before, three after. Per usual. Warm up and cool down, in the most literal sense.

I feel marginally obliterated, at the moment, and very pleased. There is quite a lot to be said for training intelligently, and I think that I do, for the most part. At least, I have some idea of what intelligent training might be, and when I deviate from that, it's knowingly. But there is - if not more - as much to be said for going hard, at times. The kind of hard you wouldn't touch, by yourself.

And again, this is not news. Runners train together, through high school and college. Those that are quite fast continue to do so, if they catch on with an elite club. And, because we can't very well say something "works" otherwise, the Kenyans and Ethiopians famously do it as well.


What I am saying is, it feels very good to be dragged along by a 1:07 half marathoner, because I am not that, will never be that, but will be more fully what I can be with such efforts. And that is satisfying in a way that many of you will know, and what I am saying is that I do too. I hope you're nodding.

February 20, 2014


If fitness were a thing to be bottled, saved for certain occasions on which one's best was needed, then tonight's would be deservedly corked.

Not to say that this was itself a race effort. Just that effort came easily, happily, always with the promise of more, should it be requested.

Finish pleasantly fatigued, exhilarated. Inhaling the effort that was, while knowing that the well's bottom was deeper still.

Like this, you think. Wake up with these legs, these lungs, this sense of enthusiasm. Why not every race? Shit, why not every important workout? And, for that matter, why not every run?

Why not?

Because it doesn't work like that.

Good enough.

February 19, 2014

Repeats are neither novel nor sprints

Another note, regarding my visit to the track last night, which itself requires a preface, of sorts. This, already, is too much setup for a rather nothing post.


I returned to my gym, post-track, because I ran from there in the first place. Nominally, this was so I could do some general strength work. Really, though, it has as much to do with the fact that I live in a basement, thus it's cold when I get out of the shower, which is also in said basement. If, however, I shower at my gym, this can be avoided.

This is basically true. I will do an absurd amount of plank variation, weighted lunges, deadlifts, etc., in return for a warm shower exit. A great deal of my fitness is owed to picky showering habits.


Upon returning, and lifting, in rather deliberate fashion (I prefer to move rather slowly through my range of motion) I was asked where I had disappeared to for an hour and a half. I mentioned that I had run to a nearish track, did 400m repeats, then ran back.

Then, I was asked why I was doing crossfit, which prompted a response that I was not doing anything close, that crossfit didn't invent running hard, and anyway, that 400m repeats were not "sprints" in any true sense of the word.

He was... confused, a little, and I was confused as well, owing to our rather obvious disconnect.

He had apparently come by the notion that runners were a plodding mess of skinnyfat joggers, and that crossfit (crossfit endurance, specifically) offered a brave new approach, boldly asserting that, sometimes, you might want to go fast. Also, lift things.

This is a world which never knew Cerutty, apparently. A world in which Lawrence, KS (the very town in which I live, and this gym is situated) did not, through the decades, play host to Glen Cunningham, Wes Santee, and Jim Ryun (to keep it middle distance, and thus exclude Billy Mills, 10,000m Olympic gold medalist) - each of whom were forged by a diet that, by today's standards, would be considered far too focused on anaerobic work.

None of this is to say that Gym Guy ought to have thought differently. You know what you know, and basically nobody (even among some pretty serious runners I know) chooses to fill their head with knowledge about distance training methodologies, and the history thereof. I knew none of this myself, until I was tasked with writing a story about the Kansas Relays for the University newspaper, six or so years ago. Even then, it wasn't until I began hobyjogging myself - and subsequently reading every damn thing I could find - that I began to understand what "training" looked like, how it had progressed, varied by coach, era, etc.

In other words, very few people would (or should) understand the irony in asserting that crossfit invented "speedwork" for runners in a town where Bob Timmons coached.

That I do know that is not a value judgement, and neither is ignorance on the subject. It merely asserts that I'm a running nerd, who pays particular attention to local sporting history, because I find it interesting.

However, Brian Mackenzie - the crossfit endurance inventor/guru - either does know better, or should. Either way, his method, and the accompanying dogma, has become too-pervasive "common knowledge" among fitness hobbyists. And it's the worst kind of knowledge - the kind that's actually quite incorrect.

February 18, 2014

On Track

In the end, fuck, I spoke, to no one, spitting the word and then actual spit on the track.

Which, yes. The track. I'm going now, once a week, alternating 400s one week, and mile repeats the next. That is Tuesday. Thursday is "tempo" day, or marathon pace day, or threshold day, depending on how I want to justify what I've done, ex post facto.

This is because the pace that day is a product of groupthink, of testosterone and endorphin soup, drank sometimes to stomach churning fullness. It is, in other words, a group run. Six to eight miles, starting hard enough, then tightening the screws, often finishing at a traffic evading sprint. As the groups ultra mascot (though others have done one), I, of course, run three miles there, and three miles home, because jogging makes me happy.


There is a cap on how much improvement one can expect from pleasantly jaunting about town, and so, despite the fact that I do very much enjoy said jaunts, I do other things. Like the track? Like the track.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy the track. I do.

Nor is it to say that I don't enjoy the group run. It is, in all likelihood, the most fun I'm likely to have in an average week. (Please don't think less of me because of that.)

What I am saying is that, when you're doing a thing, you're not doing another. That is, an evening spent at the track, as tonight was, is not spent exploring town at a leisurely pace, or slipping along the mucky dirt of post-winter woods (wishful thinking).

And so, while there is pleasure in what you are doing, there is some feeling of absence, of loss for the thing you aren't.

Although, perhaps I should be specific: You may not feel this way. A normal, wholly sane person may not. But I do.

This food is good. But optimal? Maybe not.

This book is good. But there is so much left to read. Even at three to four hours a day, I can't begin to dent my ever increasing list of pages that demand attention.

And, of course: This run was good. But was it perfect? Was it right? Did I do enough? Too fast? Too slow? And yes, it was fun. But as much fun as something else I could have done, which may have been a "better" choice on top of that?

You can guess, then, the anxiety I invite by reading running books. And yet I do. Everything I can find, basically. Steve Magness just released his opus, which I'm eager to devour. Unfortunately, it will almost certainly be excellent, filled with the kind of technical information and suggestions for application that send my neurons into a frenzy. There will be moments where I wonder if I actually like running at all, or if I just enjoy being a recreational exercise physiology geek (and oh god I do enjoy that), and then experimenting on myself (that too).

But then those moments when I am spitting on the track and everything aches and is bliss occur, and I am thinking nothing and feeling everything, looking at my feet, then the stars, feeling the breeze and a dagger in my side. In those moments I don't wonder anything, because I feel, if only then, that I'm sure, that I get it.

February 17, 2014

February 17, On Which it Does Not Feel Like Winter

There are, perhaps, greater pleasures than a midday walk, with a pause to enjoy well done espresso. But when the temperature - for the first time in what must surely be decades, by my sense - creeps above 50, the brick sidewalks clear of snow, grass sprouts in the cracks, and you can read the faded "Lawrence, KS" etched on them, I am unable to think of any.

Save, perhaps, opening up the legs a little further, lengthening the stride from a walking gait to that bipedal churning characteristic of running, adding to the kiss of hinted spring the bliss of 150 heartbeats per minute, and the accompanying ambrosia drip of blissful endorphins.

February 9, 2014

A Little More, Post Drop

And, a day having passed, I feel basically perfect. A bit odd. A bit irritating. But, whatever. I'd have accelerated things, if I knew how, if I could have. But such things are beyond me, of course, and so I was sick when I was sick, and shit at running on one day I really didn't want to be.

Went out today, even pushed things a little, and found 1.5 hours passed easily. I laughed, because you might as well.

Trying not to find a reason. It's tempting, of course, to think it's something I did, or didn't do. Something I ate, drank, whatever. Overtrained. Underslept. Deficient in this, that. Paranoia comes easily, when things go wrong. But it's not useful, not really. Evaluating is one things; doing it to the point of neurosis is another.

Funny, also, that I thought I might have been competitive anyway. A little hubris, that. Sure, I'd have tried. Maybe hung around a bit. But I hadn't read the roster of attendees. Even if I had, there were a couple fast guys who weren't known to me, but are now. Several would have been, however.

  • Three other local fastish sorts, one who probably deserves a higher classification than that. One did okay. The other two, like me, had disastrous days, and dropped. A bit disappointing, as I'd have liked to have seen what they could have done, particularly the fastest of us.
  • One, the course record holder at the Heartland 50 (at one hour, eleven minutes faster than my winning time).
  • And one, Matt Flaherty, owner of a 5:28 50-mile PR, Salomon sponsored pro. 

Point being, on my best day, third would have taken a lot of things going right. Still, a little sorry not to have that best day - instead, have by far the worst I've had in several years, in terms of health/fitness - and see what it produced.

Small matter, though, and I'm over it. Running today felt good, and I had good coffee. Thus, it's all good.

February 8, 2014

DNF Report

(WARNING. Bathroom discussion to follow. Be advised.)


And it feels pretty good, actually, which I did not expect. I had always imagined some sort of existential crisis, a search for meaning in this new, dark world. 

Well, that's not the case. I quit because I had no choice, really, and I feel quite confident in that fact.

I could bitch about the snow, which was, to quote a fellow runner, approximately the texture of foot-deep school lunch mashed potatoes. That was hard, but that wasn't why I dropped.

No, my issue was with my health, broadly speaking, and my stomach, somewhat specifically. And I shouldn't be shocked. Although I am, just a little. This whole week was spent in a malaise, which I denied was the beginnings of "sick", because I don't get sick. Haven't for years, that I recall. And anyway, I'm the token healthy guy, right? Bulletproof immune system. I would will my way through it, because I had a race. Illness was too inconvenient to entertain.

And yet, as Thursday deepened, and then became Friday, my temperature drifted over 100, and I lost the ability to keep any substantial amount of food down. That which I did keep down, I didn't keep for long. By Friday night, I was reasonably sure I wouldn't start the race. I left work a little early, and spent the rest of the day in bed, or in the bathroom. 

But, I decided to see what sleep did for me, and wait until morning before making a decision. When morning did come, and I still felt like shit, I decided to give it a go anyway, thinking, perhaps, that I could shock my system out of this funk. 

That did not work. In fact, it had quite the opposite effect, and my stomach, which was basically empty already (By race time, I hadn't eaten for 21 hours), somehow found enough material to expel. So, after a single loop, I'd managed two emergency porta potty stops, and two vomiting sessions. Simply, I felt like shit, wasn't having fun, and couldn't perform at all well. So I dropped.

And I'm sitting here now, spending another afternoon going back and forth from bed to bathroom, in pretty good spirits, despite that. These things happen. Bad timing, sure. But life rarely does us the dignity of asking our approval first.  

February 5, 2014

Pre Race Idle Thoughts

The race is this Saturday. It's a 10.35 mile trail loop, hilly as shit, run three times. Kind of a bitch, in the best of circumstances. These are not the best of circumstances. About a foot of snow fell yesterday. Facebook pics and posts informed me that certain portions of the trail have drifts in excess of two feet. And more is probably on the way, including during the race itself.

So, to recap: The course will be a frozen hellscape, like running through a black metal song.

And thats... cool, sort of?

I'm asking because I'm not really sure. I know I'm excited, actually. I also know that it's going to be severely uncomfortable. But I know that there is a shared paradox among endurance junkies, that those two things coexist in ways most would find absurd.

So, yeah. That's where I'm at. Excited to go run a really long way in scenery that, if you're inclined towards the bleak, is really quite beautiful. There is an undeniable romance to dead woods in winter, I think.

Excited to race, both myself (because that's what I'm supposed to say, and it's not wholly false) and others. Mostly others, though, if I'm honest.

And, while I'm on this honesty kick, yes, excited to hurt, to earn the post-race neurochemical bath with sincere effort and strain, striving as near as possible to the point before the point of total muscular failure.

All of that is bliss, in ways that are endlessly cliche, voiced by anyone who's ever done some arbitrary physical challenge. And yet we keep giving voice to these things, because there is honesty in cliches, truth, inasmuch as there can be anything so absolute. We do these things, because we want the totality of sensation offered by such challenges; we voice our experiences, hoping to make tangible those sensations, and to hear confirmation from others that yes, yes that was real.

But then, it is just running, yeah?


But we need the things we need, for the reasons we need them, whether those reasons are understood by us or not.

So... cool, sort of?

I've answered that for myself, it seems.