Thursday, January 05, 2006

Deep Thoughts...

Someone recently asked me what I think about when I'm running. It's a question I hadn't been posed before and it occurred to me that much of the time it is thinking that I specifically try to avoid when I'm out on the road. I've often described running as my form of meditation and in the same way that meditation seeks to clear and quiet the mind, I frequently seek the same thing when I run.

I often try to focus on my breathing, my turnover , etc. Most of the energy I'm not spending on moving is spent on tuning into the messages my body is sending me. It's rare that I'm ever mulling over personal problems, working through issues, or solving quandaries while out on the road.

While it's frequently the case that I'm not pondering or contemplating much when I'm out on the road (other than how my body is feeling), there certainly are cases when I deviate from this. Perhaps the best example of this occurs when I'm particularly fatigued and fighting to keep it together. Having a vivid imagination often proves to be quite an asset. I will sometimes imagine that I'm in the midst of a particularly competitive race and close to winning or running a PR.

This technique has helped me on numerous occasions push through runs that I otherwise would have cut short. I even go so far as to imagine commentators commenting on the progression of the race, the strength of the field, etc. It sounds a bit crazy even as I write this, but it has worked and I would encourage anyone to try it the next time their energy is waning. It's not too different from what we did as children imagining ourselves pitching in the 7th game of the World Series in the bottom of the ninth inning with everything on the line.

The other technique I've used before is to remind myself that I've endured worse. If I'm feeling like I'm ready to pack it in, I remind myself of the time I ran a 20 miler and my legs were chafed so badly they were bleeding. I remind myself of the time I ran 15 miles through frigid wind and hail. Certainly there have been experiences in our lives independent of running that have been more painful than ANY long run. I point to these experiences and remind myself of what I AM capable of overcoming. This technique often provides me with that second wind I need to keep things going.

But, the most gratifying moments out on the road occur when my mind is devoid of any real substantive thought and it truly feels like I am just existing in the moment. There is something profoundly peaceful about these moments. As I've said to some of my clients, it's unfortunate that humans were not born with the gift of flight, but we can run and sometimess when you do it right, it feels like you're flying.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Hazy Shade of Winter...

I am fortunate enough to live in San Francisco where even the worst weather would still be considered more than tolerable by most. The weather can rarely be considered an excuse for not running in the Bay Area.

Most recently San Francisco has been besieged by a wave of pretty unpleasant storms making it nigh on impossible to run outside...or at the very least markedly unpleasant to attempt it. Despite this, I have felt a bit guilty in not braving the elements.

This somewhat irrational guilt stems from a childhood spent in Kansas. I think it speaks volumes that when Kansas was first being settled the land was being given away for nothing. The summers are miserably hot and humid and the winters are typically cold, windy, gray, and depressing.

Truly, anyone suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder should steer clear of Kansas during the winter. Fortunately, there were about two wonderful weeks out of the year during the fall that were actually conducive to being outside.

At any rate, I endured more than my fair share of miserable runs due to the challenging conditions. I vividly recall foolishly attempting to tackle an 'easy' five miler in the middle of the day in July. The folly of youth. The sun was blazing hot and the humidity was akin to a steam cooker. I got about two miles into the run before I began to forget my own name.

A mile or so later, I started to get dizzy and light headed. Fortunately, I had just barely enough sense to realize that perhaps it would be in my best interests to pull the plug on this run. I walked the rest of the way home in an overheated stupor.

As if this experience wasn't bad enough, a few months later (during the bleakest period of winter), I met a friend for a 15 mile long run. We were both sporting runnning tights, long sleeve shirts, a jacket, gloves, etc. We both bore a striking resemblance to Nanook of the North.

The weather wasn't too bad initially. Some light snow flurries were punctuated by the occasional blast of frigid wind to lively things up. Fortunately, the wind was at our backs when we started.

Admittedly, we were pretty goddamned cold the first five miles, but as we approached the halfway point (7.5 miles), we managed to work up a bit of a sweat. This would prove to be the beginning of the end.

Upon turning around, the wind seemed to evolve from occasional blasts to an unrelenting howl. The flurries matriculated to sheets of ice pellets. What little sweat was on our bodies instantaneously froze. I began to wonder if this was similar to what Robert Shackleton experienced while trying to traverse the South Pole.

We were miserable and had another 7.5 miles to go. As we attempted to get through the first mile, little pieces of ice began to stick to my eyelashes reducing visibility significantly. Every time I blinked, my eyelashes would stick together further exacerbating an already difficult situation.

Despite my desire to emulate Robert Shackleton and persevere despite all obstacles, we ultimately decided to bag out on the run at a nearby fire station and call my friend's mom for a ride home. While we waited, the two of us feverishly tried to get some feeling back in our hands. Eventually, I used the restroom and tried to take my ski headband off. This would prove to be quite an ordeal as the headband had been saturated with sweat and subsequently frozen.

The headband was as stiff as a piece of cardboard. After melting some of the frozen sweat, I was eventually able to get the headband off. Likewise, the pieces of ice stuck in my eyelashes had melted giving the appearance that I had been sobbing uncontrollably. Who knows...maybe there were some tears of joy for having survived such a miserable ordeal.

OK, so I'm dramatizing here just a bit. We weren't stranded in the South Pole for 18 months and were never in any real danger per se. But, whenever I find myself cursing the fates for unleashing a hellacious rainstorm or a particularly strong gust of wind, I recall a few of my runs from Kansas and remember how much worse it could be.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Hecklers be damned!

Few would argue that training for a marathon is non-trivial. Mental toughness is required to roll your sorry ass out of bed at 6AM to run in the dark when it's windy, cold, and rainy. This is to say nothing of the fortitude required to run through the almost inevitable fatigue and discomfort that is part and parcel of the sport.

Compounding the inherent challenges in training for 26.2 miles of self flagellation is the recent rise of heckling. While professional athletes deal with hecklers on a routine basis, heckling has largely been a non-issue for the amateur athlete.

Most recently it's been some knucklehead driving by yelling, 'Run, Forrest, Run!' It's never been clear to me exactly what the purpose is of this brand of heckling. Is it supposed to be funny? Is the idea to distract the runner in the hopes that he/she will stumble and fall?

It's truly a mystery to me. But, I have had more than my fair share of dark, retaliatory fantasies. These fantasies run the gamut from simply giving the verbal assailants the finger to spitting on their car while running by.

Recently, one of my friends told me a story of a fellow runner who exacted a brilliant revenge on some obnoxious hecklers. Said hecklers were actually following this runner hurling various drunken insults. The runner came to a crosswalk and the car full of hecklers of course pulled into the crosswalk intentionally blocking his path. Undeterrred, the runner merely jumped on the hood of their car and simply continued running and in the process dented the hood of their car.

Fortunately, this runner was fast and entered a narrow fire road after running through the crosswalk. The drunken troglodytes certainly couldn't follow him in their car and none of them were fast (or sober) enough to catch him.

Granted, indulging one's retaliatory impulses is not something I would necessarily condone as it's hard to know for sure if you're dealing with drunk losers or some other more disturbed brand of heckler who may conveniently unholster his piece and decide runner hunting season has commenced.

That being said, there should be some kind of recourse. It's time for the heckled to rise up against the hecklers! Such indignities will no longer be tolerated! I am currently in the midst of assembling the contents of the 'anti-heckler' pack. Proposed contents for Marathon Matt's Anti-Heckler Pack include: Mace (for the mildly threatening heckler), Tink's No.10 Stink Skunk Scent (for the merely obnoxious heckler) (, and Advanced Taser Gun (for the truly threatening heckler) ( I'm certainly open to any suggestions.