May 12, 2016

Habits, like records, are made to be broken. I'm not sure anyone has said that--much less anyone wise, or quoteworthy--but I'm trotting it out as a way of explaining my lack of writing over these last few months. (At least, my lack of writing here. I have written about 200,000 words of fiction in the last year, which I really don't plan on or want to do anything with.)

Anyway, let's make up for that a little. A brief recap:

I ran the Topeka to Auburn Half Marathon, the kind of low-key local race that people tend to call a "gem", and with reason. You begin and end in grade school cafeterias, and between them, you churn up and over gravel roads in between Kansas' capital, and a smaller town you haven't heard of.

I won the Pi Day River Rotation Trail Half Marathon for the third consecutive year. I held up three fingers as I crossed the line, which was immediately embarrassing.

I kicked--or rather, walked in to while staring at my phone--a dumbbell, and took a few weeks off from running.

I then ran the Cherry Creak Sneak 10 Miler in Denver. About which I can say, altitude does make a difference when you're running at a decent effort, and not training for a month isn't great race prep.

Which is not to say I sat around, morosely listening to Morrissey, eating ice cream and letting my legs turn to sloth. I certainly exercised. I lifted. I biked. I rowed. I ellipticaled fiercely.

But exercising isn't training, which is a thing you know, and I knew, but which I--and you too, probably, from time to time--sort of pushed away. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing, and so I thought, the cardio is there, I'll hammer and the legs will respond. They did, of course, but mostly with searing insults and cramping.

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Training. What it is, and what it's for. There are of course micro-level debates. Are you MAF or Hadd, when it comes to HR training? Or, do you think that's a relatively useless metric regardless? What exactly constitutes "speed work" during the base, and for that matter, why are we worried about it? Do we train systems, or focus strictly on race pace?

I love these questions, because I'm a strange obsessive, who spends entirely too much time reading this stuff--two more books in the mail!--for someone who doesn't coach, and isn't very fast. But I also love them, I think, because they speak to the fundamental human desire for agency, and control.

It's seductive, isn't it, to think that we know how something works, and moreover, how we can make it work. Believing that a second, midweek long run will be the difference between a marathon blowup and a rapturous PR is lovely, maybe even essential, because it gives form, focus, and faith to those weeks before the fateful date.

Essentially, there's some part of us that wants to believe that, as sportscasters are fond of saying, a team or player "controls their own destiny". It's an endlessly stupid line: If they control it, then it isn't destiny. But we aren't wholly rational beings, and believing irrational things is sometimes brilliant. If a plan promises us a PR, and we get it, then what's the problem?

This comes to mind:
"You will never be a national-class marathoner on 90 miles a week; you may never be a national-class marathoner on 140 miles a week. But the only shot you have is to go the 140 route. When you're 40 years old and beaten up, you'll know something about yourself that [naysayers] won't. You'll know if you could have been a national-class marathoner."
- Mike Platt, 2:18 marathoner
The appeal here is obviously not the accuracy. It's actually very easy to argue against, as plenty of men have run faster, on less mileage. But facts don't really matter when faced with such gritty, sweat-soaked truth(iness). It's totally bought in, believing in agency, in causality; it's a repudiation in itself of absolute doubt, and so satisfying for that. This, to me, is training.

There is still the question, however, of what training isn't. It strikes me as possible that one could run 100 miles a week for no reason but pleasure, while someone else could run 20 in pursuit of a 5K PR. Is the former still "training", while the latter isn't? Is it a question of intent, of function versus form?

In keeping with my lack of thesis, I'll similarly omit a conclusion: I don't really know where the line is. I think a lot about these things, but I think a lot about them because I don't know, and don't suppose that I can, really.

So, to bring it around to my own navel gazing, I suppose I should add that I don't really have a damn clue what I'm going to do the rest of this year. Some part of me feels the need to run a 100, or rather, to have run one. And maybe I could stack some other ultras around that? And my road marathon PR is still embarrassing. Need to fix that.

But another part of me notes that I've really found myself enjoying more moderate mileage, with a renewed focus on hills, track reps, and weights. (Not low mileage though, promise. This isn't a Crossfit kick.) I do believe I'd be best served doing the races such training predisposes me to--and that ain't 100s--rather than picking somewhat arbitrary goal races, then talking myself in to five hour long runs on trails that have way too many goddamn snakes for my liking.

I don't know. But I'm happy enough to indulge this ignorance--I've got plenty--and happy also to let it waft away during what we will call, for now, my daily exercise.

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