Thursday, December 30, 2010

I run because walking is pedestrian.

All apologies to those who are big fans of walking (or walk because they can't do anything else). The truth's not 'walking' that's the issue, it's 'me'. I'm a pretty high strung, impatient guy. That admission alone should tell you why I am not a big fan of walking.

It's been so long since I've done any extensive walking that I couldn't even tell you how long it would take me to walk a mile. I'm confident I can knock out a mile comfortably in about 6 1/2 minutes if I am running. Walking the same distance would likely take me twice as long, if not longer.

Literally, walking feels like an unnatural act to me I do it so infrequently. On those rare occasions when I find myself walking, it takes an inordinate amount of self-control to not segue into my comfortable, conversational pace. When I do actually walk, it's really more like power walking (sans the funky arm movement).

I become frustrated on crowded sidewalks when people in front of me are CLEARLY dawdling and just meandering. When I encounter three or four people astride in front of me exhibiting said behavior and not leaving me any room to pass, I nearly have a seizure.

Look at the term 'pedestrian'. The noun is defined as 'a person who goes or travels on foot; walker.' The adjective is defined a few different ways-1)going or performed on foot; walking., 2)of or pertaining to walking. But, there's one other way the adjective is defined that I find most telling- 3)lacking in vitality, imagination, distinction, etc.; commonplace; prosaic or dull: a pedestrian commencement speech.

Not surprisingly, I think the term 'pedestrian' is a pretty apt way to describe the act of walking. It's lacking in vitality, it's dull, and commonplace. I completely understand that for many, walking is the best they can do and I completely support this.

I commend the countless folks who get out and walk every single day. It's great that you're doing it and there's unquestionably plenty of value in continuing to do so. Truly, my feelings towards the act of walking are just that...'my feelings'.

I know one day running will leave me behind and I may very well be reduced to simply walking. It's likely my perspective and attitude will change at this juncture and I will be thankful that I can do the act that I currently characterize as 'pedestrian'.

But, in the interim, I run because I just can't handle walking.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I run because 2:39 is still out there...

I once compared running to hunting during a preamble before a long run. The thrust of my preamble was that when we were knuckle dragging troglodytes living in caves, we'd track our prey for miles, for days, or for weeks in order to survive. Running was borne of necessity.

I think in many ways runners are hunters. Obviously, the 'prey' we hunt has changed quite a bit as food is way too accessible to most of us these days. Maybe our prey is a 5K personal best or perhaps a Boston qualifying time.

I suppose I run because I believe there is still big game out there for me to tackle. Slaying a mongoose (aka-a 5K) is old hat. But, taking down a lion (a marathon personal best) is a totally different story.

What I'm hunting (and have been for the past 5+ years) is the elusive and enigmatic sub 2:40 marathon. This one is a beast unlike any other. I've found myself tantalizing close to knocking this one off time and again. But, I've never quite managed to do it.

Every time I hit the road these days, I swear I can smell it out there somewhere. Every run I complete, I hope will bring me one step closer to slaying the one beast that has eluded me all this time. It's a hunt that has almost taken on mythical qualities.

I'm reminded of Arthur's quest for the holy grail or Shackleton's journey across the Antarctic continent. What drove these men to such lengths in pursuit of something that likely seemed absurd to many? What is it that keeps me hunting this goal despite failure?

I think when you come close to achieving a goal, but fall short (sometimes numerous times), you almost inevitably become more driven to achieve said goal. Again, the first hunters were 'persistence' hunters. These hunters were not the strongest animals on the planet or the fastest, but they ENDURED. They wore their prey down.

I suppose I continue to hunt the 2:39 marathon because I figure sooner or later, I'm going to wear down my prey and eventually it will succumb to fatigue. If it works for tracking down a gazelle, why not a 2:39 marathon?

Succeed or fail, there will always be the thrill of the hunt and this is something that never gets old.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I run because there is no other option.

I've been thinking a lot lately about why I run. A large part of this self exploration has been catalyzed by an idea about a project I'm contemplating tackling in 2011 which is (shockingly enough) largely about 'why people run'.

There are at least a million different answers and a million different stories and virtually all of them are compelling. For some, it's a matter of changing their lives by losing weight, doing something they never thought they could do, or feeling healthy.

For others, it's a social thing. They do it not necessarily because of the running, but because they're looking to 'commune' in some way, shape, or form. Whatever the reason, they show up and they run and somehow it gives them what they need.

So, I've been giving a lot of thought to why I do it myself. What does it mean? Why is it that a day simply doesn't feel complete without running...even if it's just a mile?

Interestingly, the first thought that came to mind is that there is no other option. Obviously, this isn't 'really' the case in a literal sense as there are a million other things that I could do (and that I never have). Maybe basket weaving would really light my fire.

But, there's nothing else out there that I know of or have experienced thus far that consistently makes me feel more alive and optimistic (or at least less jaded) than logging a few miles on the road.

Running is often about moving forward in the best way we know how despite adversity and despite uncertainty. It's a cliche, but running is like life. At the end of the day, what choice is there in life but to move forward to the best of our ability despite fear and uncertainty?

Fear and uncertainty never really go away, you just get better at dealing with it...or reconciling yourself to it. The only way to really do this is to embrace the opportunities to confront fear and uncertainty again and again and again. So, I hit the road...time and again.

Maybe you can't run faster, but there's only one way to really find out. Perhaps another mile will kill you, but chances are it won't and would you rather live with the regret of never really knowing?

What does life look like when you let fear and uncertainty prevent you from moving forward in some way, shape, or form? Well, it kinda looks like death...or at least it does to me.

So, I guess the first thought that came to mind today when I thought about 'why' I run is that running acts as a reminder to me that when you stop moving forward, you aren't really living. Maybe that's why most people hate treadmills. Treadmills merely provide the illusion of moving forward.

When I'm out on the road, I'm embracing the possibility that I can move forward despite whatever obstacles get in my way. Really, there is no other option....unless death is your bag.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sunday (12/26) Long Run Description

We have a change of scenery on Sunday with a visit to Lake Merced.

Sunday’s Lake Merced Run!

We are meeting on the NORTH SIDE of Lake Merced. Specifically, we are meeting at the HUGE parking lot on the NORTH SIDE of Lake Merced. Again, here's a map link that should help you get oriented- North Side of Lake Merced.

This run is pretty straightforward. EVERYONE will do a full loop around the circumference of Lake Merced in a clockwise direction. There is a path that runs all the way around Lake Merced, so this should be manageable for everybody.

Roughly halfway through the loop around Lake Merced (2-2.5 miles), there is a port-a-potty and a couple water fountains if you need to make a pit stop.

After 2-2.5 miles, there is a decent stretch where you will be running slightly uphill, so pace yourself accordingly.

After completing a full loop of Lake Merced, you will have logged 4.45 MILES (roughly). Once you've finished a full loop around Lake Merced, head NORTH on Sunset Boulevard There is a path that runs parallel to Sunset Boulevard on the LEFT. This is where you want to run.

The cross streets are 'roughly' alphabetical so pay close attention to the cross streets as you are running. Everyone will run along Sunset heading North towards Golden Gate Park.

Eventually, you will arrive at the intersection of Sunset & Quintara. Beginner level runners will turn around here and head back to the Lake Merced parking lot for 7 MILES!

Everyone else will continue running up Sunset to the intersection of Sunset & Moraga. Intermediate level runners will turn around here and head back to the Lake Merced parking lot for 8 MILES!

Advanced and Race level runners will continue running along Sunset to the intersection of Sunset and Irving. Advanced level runners will turn around here and head back to the Lake Merced parking lot for 9 MILES!

Race level runners will continue running on Sunset towards Golden Gate Park. Eventually Sunset runs underneath an overpass (this is Lincoln you are running underneath) and right into Martin Luther King. Take a LEFT on Martin Luther King and run to the intersection of Martin Luther King & Chain of Lakes Drive East

Take a RIGHT on Chain of Lakes Drive and follow Chain of Lakes Drive until it intersects with JFK. Take a RIGHT at JFK and follow the trail on the right of JFK into Golden Gate Park. You will pass the Bison Paddock (on the left) and eventually reach Lake Spreckles (on the left).

There is a water fountain next to Lake Spreckles if you need to make a pitstop. There is also a restroom near Lake Spreckles. Turn around here and head back to Lake Merced for a total of 11 MILES!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Deep, Dark Secret..

There's a part of my past that not many people know about. There's a part of my past I share with few. It's a part of me I'd prefer not to think about and prefer that no one ever know about.

But, I feel compelled to get this deep, dark secret out. Maybe it's about catharsis. Maybe it's about getting older. So, at long last, here it is...I was into professional wrestling when I was in middle school.

I subscribed to the magazines. I went to a live match. It was Hulk Hogan versus Paul Orndorff(Mr. Wonderful was his nickname). I had a trampoline in my backyard growing up and would actually practice some of the moves I saw on television.

Exactly why I was into professional wrestling has always been a bit vexing. But, I recently stumbled onto a video clip of a match I saw when I was about 13 and now I think I understand why I was into it and oddly, it also kind of explains why I am into running.

If you've ever watched a wrestling match, the 'storyline' is effectively the same thing over and over again (or usually is).

The 'hero' is put through a world of hurt at the hands of some heel. The hero gets the hell beat out of him by said heel for most of the match. Despite the incredible pain the heel puts said hero through, the hero emerges victorious.

It's a very simple and contrived message, but a powerful one for many. If you're a good person and you can endure a world of hurt, good stuff happens for you at the end of the day.

I never really learned how to effectively execute a suplex on the trampoline. Nor did I master the devastasting power of a pile driver....or even a power slam. So, my dreams of becoming a professional wrestler were shattered at an early age.

Fortunately, I discovered running and I discovered that I could still be heroic even if I would never be a professional wrestler. I said my prayers (to the running gods), I took my vitamins (pasta, powerbars, water), and I never went wrong (I never finished last).

I have endured incredible pain/discomfort, felt down and out, and still rallied for one more mile inexplicably. I have been hit with a steel-chair of pain in the latter stages of a run and somehow found a way home. I've laid it all on the line and somehow came out on top against all odds.

Perhaps that's why when I feel at my best, I'm not just Matt. I'm 'Marathon Matt'.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sisyphus was likely a runner....

For the past five years or so I’ve been haunted by a goal. Actually, it’s really become more of an obsession at this point. Sisyphus has nothing on me. Seemingly every time I get close to this goal, the rock falls back down the hill on me and I find myself pushing that rock back up the hill. Foolish? Maybe. Crazy? Likely. But, I’m not ready to pack it in yet.

It all started uneventfully one October morning in Chicago five years ago. I found myself lining up for my fifth marathon. It was a fantastic day and I was feeling as sharp as I ever had. The gun went off and I was rolling. I blew through the first mile in 5:45 and felt like I was walking. Fortunately, I had the good sense to rein things in a bit.

I locked in my target pace and flew through the first 13.1 miles in 1:20. I didn’t have any real target time in mind, but given how strong I felt, I figured a 2:40 or possibly a 2:39 was within my grasp. GI issues would derail this idea around mile 21, but I was left with a more than respectable 2:45 which was a 10+ minute personal best.

I figured I would surely be toeing the line again soon and the goal of cracking the 2:30’s would happen. It wasn’t a question of if, it was just a question of when. Surely, I wouldn’t have to wait more than a year to make this happen. Never take anything for granted.

2006 was largely a washout as plantar fasciitis all but hobbled me. The first half of 2007 was no walk in the park as I was recovering from surgery from the foot demon (as I affectionately refer to plantar fasciitis). As 2007 came to a close, I found myself wondering how 2+ years had passed and I not only had not run a marathon, I had come no closer to that 2:39 time.

2008 rolled around and in an act of near desperation threw out my rigid trainers and threw on the Nike Frees. Veritable miracle workers, the Nike Frees seemed to liberate me from the running doldrums I had been in for the past two years. The summer rolled around and for the first time, I was thinking marathons again. Perhaps I could push that rock up the hill at last.

Naturally, that annoying 2:39 time popped into my head again. I trained harder than I had in 3 years, but the sad reality is that it had been 3 YEARS since I had conquered 26.2 miles and while I was in great shape, I didn’t feel that I was in the kind of shape to pull down a 2:39.

So, I decided I’d go for a 2:45 and anything faster would be gravy. Things went swimmingly and I managed a 2:43. I was happy, but like a demon that can’t be exorcised, the 2:39 lingered, taunting me. Surely, 2009 would be the year to make it happen.

2009 started with a bang. I was running at a very high level and once again the idea of running a 2:39 wasn’t a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’. Surely, I’d take care of business this time. Once again, I was thwarted as plantar fasciitis made a guest appearance in my other foot. After pushing the rock uphill, once again it came tumbling back down on me.

In an act largely motivated by pride, I showed up at the California International Marathon at the end of 2009 with the goal of 2:39 still taunting me. Once again, I knew I wasn’t ready given my battle with plantar fasciitis earlier in the year. But, just showing up that day was a victory. Surely, 2010 would be my year to exorcise this demon once and for all! Right.

Bolstered by my performance at CIM at the end of 2009, I ramped up my mileage and built a tremendous base for several months. I layered on some quality speedwork in the late spring and looked to the Seattle Rock N’ Roll Marathon in June for my 2:39 effort. I was mere weeks away from FINALLY posting a 2:39 and there was no doubt in my mind I was ready.

My second to last long run before taper got off to an excellent start. I was comfortably knocking out 6:00 minute miles and I had visions of crossing the finish line liberating myself of this goal that had become an albatross. Then, my leg started to hurt. No, my leg REALLY started to hurt. This was nausea inducing pain. I had felt this once before and it was when I fractured my femur in 1999. Sadly, my instincts were correct.

Mere weeks away from running a 2:39 and I was thwarted yet again. It was only in the summer of this year after coming so close did I begin to wonder if there was some kind of cosmic force out there that simply would not allow me to achieve this goal. I shed a few tears, threw myself into some crosstraining, and waited (impatiently) to run again.

In the fall, I started to casually wonder about a spring marathon. My mileage had been gradually, organically creeping up and I was feeling pretty strong. My winter program was about to launch and I thought I could start putting some speedwork into the mix.

En route to a meeting less than 48 hours from program launch, I was rear ended at a controlled intersection. My car was totaled. I had a few broken ribs and for the second time this year was staring down at least 4-6 weeks without any running. That plan for a marathon in the spring of 2011 sadly fell by the wayside.

On the upside, I’m alive. I will heal. I’ve got a new car. I ran a few miles on the Alter-G treadmill. As crazy as it may sound, I’m not giving up on that 2:39. Until the universe puts me down once and for all, I’m going to keep swinging because that’s what being a runner is all about and ultimately, that’s what life is all about. Sisyphean or not, I will keep pushing forward.

In the words of Andre Agassi, ‘I don’t have the answers. I don’t claim that I do. Just keep fighting and hopefully something good happens.’ Keep fighting the good fight in 2011.