Wednesday, January 7, 2015

How to get what you want, and how to let it go

So let’s get the weather commentary out of the way right off the bat. It’s January, and the weather sucks. Pretty much says it all.

You might think this would make running far more difficult and far less appealing, but then again if you are reading this blog you probably already know that sucky weather, far from being a deterrent, is for many runners an enticement to go out and brave the elements. Such runners don all the fancy gear and garb they own before they go out the door and return with that gear crusted in frozen sweat. And they laugh! And then they search for people they can tell all this to, because when you run more miles than there are degrees Fahrenheit, you won’t feel satisfied until at least one person calls you crazy for it.

Right now it’s about a fraction of a degree, the windchill factor is minus ohfuckthis, and snow is blowing sideways down the street in great pelty sheets. Actually I’ve run in worse weather than this; most of the hard-corers I know have done likewise. It can be just as awful as you imagine—and it can be more invigorating than you’d ever believe. No matter how ghastly you feel while you’re running, when you finish you always, always feel victorious. So am I planning to run today? Hell yeah. However—are you sitting down?—my run will be indoors, on the treadmill in the basement, watching the macaws and pretending I’m in some tropical jungle.

Why am I wussing out? That’s a good question. Maybe an even better question is why that first question must be asked in the first place.

First off, I hate the treadmill. Most runners do. It’s as boring and painful as a trip to the dentist, only instead of a free toothbrush you get…well, a big bucket of sweat, basically. As much as the treadmill is despised, it is also, for many runners, a necessity at times. I used to have my own treadmill but then sold it because I realized I would rather run outside in just about any kind of weather than get on that blasted hamster wheel. Now the BF has one, and I’m making use of it as I rehab myself from my latest injury and try to get back to BQ-pursuing status.

Once again, my running obsession has put me in a humbled state. It has been difficult for me to get through four miles at a jogging pace lately, much less pushing it to BQ pace (and keep in mind that my BQ pace is still fairly slow for shorter distances). And while my target marathon is over three months away, I’ve got a daunting amount of work to do between now and then. Yes, I said “work,” even though I realize some runners I know would shake their heads and question why running should have to be work. If you love it and no one’s forcing you to do it, shouldn’t it be fun?

Thing is, I don’t think those two concepts, work and fun, necessarily have to be binaries. I guess the main difference is that “work” is enjoyable, when it is enjoyable and not soul-deadening, not just for what it is but also what it accomplishes, while “fun” is something you do for the sheer experience of it. If you run to get faster, it becomes work—with all the potential aggravation and satisfaction that concept entails. The problem arises when the aggravation exceeds the potential satisfaction. That’s where I am right now: at the point where I’m thinking maybe I no longer want running to be work. I always knew it would come to this someday; it does most runners, whether we want to admit it or not.

Maybe this is what gets me accused of being a pessimist: I cannot help but consider the challenges ahead. And that’s really all “pessimism” is, in some ways: it isn’t simply always talking about bad stuff; it’s looking ahead to what the next obstacle might be, and acknowledging obstacles is an indirect admission of goals—of hopes and dreams, even. Is that so very bad? In the case of running, as with so many things, the next obstacle may very well be accepting the fact that I can’t run the way I used to and need to find a new way.

No one keeps getting PRs forever. A lot of runners discover ultras simply because they can’t run any faster so they seek to run farther. I’m at the point where I may not necessarily want to run much farther either, so I’ll content myself with simply seeking new running experiences. I know runners who like to run the same races every year so they can try to run ever faster and better. Me, I’m at the point where I never want to run the same race twice (other than certain just-for-fun races like the 8-hour picnic-on-your-feet known as Howl). I want to be surprised by a new trail, stunned by new vistas, trip over new rocks and roots, curse them, and be satisfied in knowing that after this I’ll never have to deal with those particular trip-hazards again. Most of all I don’t want to worry about who’s ahead of me, or how much slower I’m running now than before, or whether this particular run isn’t the best use of my running time because I ought to be doing intervals or hill repeats or something other than traipsing through the woods all carefree and giddy like this.

Are you disappointed? Maybe you aren’t, but I am. Yes, I admit: it’s disappointing to release your ambitions. It’s also liberating. See, that’s the thing about running, about everything, really. You can go for it, or you can let it go, or—best of all—you can do both, first one then the other. This pessimist thinks that’s a win-win.

Oh, but fear not, reader; I haven’t let go just yet. There’s still the BQ, there’s still the 50, there are still many, many things I want to achieve, and you can damn well bet just about every post on this blog will still mention running in some form or another. That said, I’m off to put on shorts and hit the treadmill. Maybe this means I’m not “hard core” or a “real runner” because I’m not putting on spikes and a balaclava and braving the elements, but hey, you wouldn’t believe the conditions I endure in the imaginary tropical jungle of our basement. Now that’s crazy.


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