Input the Output

Stress is a killer.  Tensions do cause neurosis.  Uneasiness of the heart can lead to despair.  But without them, we remain inferior to our true selves.  Live if you will a life without risk .  Avoid the forge, the fire, the flame.  But know that joy and happiness and the good life come only as unexpected interludes in the endless, stressful, tense and restless journey to become who you are.  There is no easy way.
       – George Sheehan, Dr. Sheehan On Running

August marked ten years since my running career began.  On that first muggy summer day, I got out of my dad’s Toyota pickup in jeans and Vans, unsure whether showing up in shorts to captain’s practice was, well, cool.  Once past that barrier of freshman terror, I left the jeans in a bush and went running for the first time.  Before, I’d known running in more playful terms: short sprints on the beach, races against my uncle for quarters, and the mile in gym class.  But this was the first time I’d run: crossed street after street, deliberately continuing miles after I wanted to stop.  Going on runs would end up sculpting the next decade of my life.  It’s been a distraction, a social outlet, a high, an ego booster, and a way of living.  Once it stood squire to engineering school, often beaten by it, and my life still followed an (oval made of rubber with lines painted on it) typical of many American student.  Now that Zap Fitness and Reebok have given me the ability to train full time I’m unusual, pursuing my dreams in a way many people, runners or otherwise, cannot.  So what happens in a one dimensional environment in which focus is paramount and results are key?  What does running become when you remove the distractions?

August 2008, on another hot and humid afternoon.  In the first workout of the season, the Princeton men’s cross country team was setting out on a ten mile progression run.  Coach Steve Dolan instructed us to run together for the first four or so miles before the older, more experienced runners were allowed to accelerate .  We ambled down the hill from campus to the cross country course, and I started to feel feisty, like I could run with anyone.  We looped the course and hit the tow path, u-turning around wood bridge to the other side of the canal.  And then we started rolling.  Back west along Lake Carnegie, gathering speed and testing each other’s summer fitness.  I saw my first year class boldly rallying near the front of the pack next to All American senior Michael Maag.  Six miles in we turned off the tow path towards legendary bean fields and I began to notice the cicadas buzzing.  The heat.  The acid started filling my legs and as we re-entered the forest, I was a dropped fly.  Eight miles into the run Dolan was waiting in the Institute Woods, giving me and a few others the option to stop early, which I shamefully but thankfully did.

My version of the classic freshman wakeup call, the workout humbled me.  In high school, running had been easier.  Winning came often.  I was driven by outer confirmations of greatness: state rankings, news articles, medals, records, our team’s success.  Feedback was immediate and running followed a more clear input equals outputpattern.  But now I had to find a way to run from the bottom of the totem pole.  For all the work I put in, the most glory I felt came in moving up a workout group or making a travel squad.  Motivation needed to shift its source from outer sources to internal ones.  In the first couple years of college I didn’t make an impact, but inside I was learning more than I could have when things were easy in high school.  I learned how to manage time, how to lose, how to be a team mate, and how to keep coming back no matter what.  During that drought of outer verification I came to think of running in more simple terms.  I began to put less pressure on myself.  I thought less and less about pace on training runs, and I started truly taking easy days easy.  I spent less energy preparing mentally for races and allowed instinct to guide me.  I was running because I actually loved running itself.  When during senior year the wins and records returned, it was that much easier to run.

Now treading the atypical path of full time American runner, I know I won’t last if I frame running as a trophy hunt.  There are no distractions like school or work to fall back on during times lacking positive feedback.  Instead I invest confidently in long term training, enjoy the process, and celebrate even the smallest victories.  This mentality might come more naturally for some people, but I’d wager that for most, “running wisdom” comes with time.  For the average runner, and even for the pros, it boils down to you.  And running.  You and running, exactly like it was on the first day, when you were afraid to show your skinny legs to the world.- – – – – – – –
Back to ground level and a little update on what I’m up to:After my last track race in August I took two weeks totally off from running, gained ten pounds, and regrouped a bit.  I’m now a couple weeks into a volume ramp consisting of only once a day running.  Last week was 87 miles in singles, and this week I’ll see my first real workout back in the form of a 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 minute piece Fartlek before heading to Providence, RI for the CVS 5k / USARC 5k Championships on Sunday.  I’m training through this race and relying on residual track fitness, but the minimum goal is top 10 so I can qualify for the .US 12k Championships in November.  After CVS the next race will be the Izumo Ekiden in Japan in October.

Many of my goals for this fall are process-oriented.  I will race several times, but the overarching design is to build strength for track season.  Most of them are simple, back-to-basics reminders of things I got away from during track: consistently longer long runs, fewer double days (more singles), weekly medium long runs, and more frequent tempo runs.  I’ve done a solid job with drills, strides, core/stability and hill running and I’ll continue those routines.  I’m engaged in an all-out assault on my iron levels (which have caused me problems before) involving daily ferrous sulfate doses in both liquid and solid forms along with eating red meat every other day.  There is hard training in the months ahead and I’m excited to be better than I ever have been.

Fall Racing Schedule:

Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
September 21 CVS Downtown 5k / USARC 5k Champs Providence, RI Road 5k
October 13 Izumo Ekiden Relay Izumo, Japan Road 8k Relay
November 16 .US 12k Championships Alexandria, VA Road 12k
November 27 Manchester Road Race Manchester, CT Road 4.748 miler
December 13 USATF Club Cross Country Bethlehem, PA Cross Country 10k