Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Boston Training Week Nine, Letting It Go

I rarely watch sports on television these days.  I will spare the diatribe on the state of college basketball and the NFL (cough… cough… concussions…)

One sporting event I have yet to give up on is the Olympics.  Every two years for a two week stretch after the torch is lit, I am fixated on the coverage each night watching random events I know little about.  Although I have no connection to any of the sports at the Winter Games (I barely know how to ski), as a fellow competitors in a broad sense, the chance to watch people at the peak of their athletic capability literally play out their dreams is inspiring.  Maybe it is just all the human interest press, but for the most part these athletes seem like “every day” type of people – ones you could run into at a grocery store in a small town in the middle of the country.  They are not celebrities with multi-million dollar contracts.  For most of the four years between the games, we forget about them, oblivious to the arduous ongoing preparation and series of competitions building up to the Olympics themselves.  We watch the culminating moments of these individual’s day-to-day lives play out.  Sometimes they unravel in epic heartbreaking failure and we watch the dream slip away in an instant.  Other times we celebrate their spectacular triumphs.

I must admit - this time around watching feels like the ending of some chapter.  I watch athletes around my age proclaim “this is the last time – these are my last Games.”  I watched Noelle Picus-Pace slide down an ice luge head first at 80 mph in an event called the Skeleton faster than all but one other competitor.  I watched her jump into the stands to greet her two kids and husband in celebration of her Silver medal with tears in her eyes.  She makes it clear this is it – she has her medal, this is time to move on.  She is 31.

Another 30+ year old, Russian skater Evgeny Pluschenko, is unable to even take the ice in the figure skating competition.  I can tell he is in awful pain – too many years of triple axles, sacrificing his body both for the glory of victory and the entertainment of others.  I am impressed he lasted that long in that physically demanding of a sport, the thought of trying to ice skate right now confounds me.  Snowboarding icon Shaun White at 27 is five years younger than me but somehow seems too old to be trying 1440 degree rotations on a half pipe.  He inevitably hands his reign over to the younger guys.  Downhill skier Bode Miller at 36 is ancient for Olympian standards.

Sure, these are extreme sports, far riskier than distance running, but I still find some symmetry within these Games to my life.

The reason:  Boston will be my last “competitive” road marathon.

Boston will be the last time I attempt to run the fastest I can possibly run for that particular distance. 

Maybe I am a pessimist, but at 32 with 18 years of off and on running under my belt, I realize this may easily be the fastest I ever will be.  If anything, mentally I am ready to move on.  Will I run another marathon at some point in my life – likely yes – but will I try to run sub-3?  If that is not in the cards over this training cycle, no, I will not try again after this spring.  I am putting this is writing so someone can remind me of this if I ever entertain the thought again.

I had these thoughts on my long plane trips across the country and back from Las Vegas.  I was there over the weekend in advance of a work conference early this week.  Calvin Harris was playing at one of the mega-night clubs one night, but I knew there was no way I would be able to stay up past even 10, not with the time change, but most notably not with a 12+ mile run on the docket the next morning.  Training for a 5K-10K, I could have found the energy somehow someway to enjoy the prototypical Vegas experience.  In my mid-twenties, it would have been a no-brainer.  These are not the types of things I have the opportunity to do in the Triangle, nor are they the types of things I expect to be doing at all down the line, as family responsibilities pick up, as work responsibilities pick up, and my general energy wanes.  These are the tradeoffs – I am caught in the middle of wanting to experience it all right now, but this type of training is all consuming.  It may not be as extreme as the Olympians, but it is a lighter shade of the same color.

Perhaps the simple but incurable problem is I just care too much.  Yes, I ran through the ice and snow and awful weather last week – albeit on a treadmill.  It was just going through the motions of training and something about that feels wrong to me.  I should run only when I feel like running, right?  No one is making me do this.  My livelihood does not depend on it.  And none of this is surprising to me – I knew as soon as I qualified with a 3:01 that I could not be complacent just running Boston.  I had to try to shatter a barrier that ultimately is arbitrary, knowing full well that I could just have a bad day on 4/21.

I am thankful for running in many ways, but also curse my predilection for what borders on an addiction (and yes, there are far worse things to be addicted to – but a compulsion is still a compulsion...) Running given me a competitive outlet outside of work and career, pursuits and goals I can claim as my own.  I have made new friends through running.  I have been able to travel to and see parts of cities I otherwise never would have seen through running.  I look forward to Boston, but I also look forward to reclaiming the Zen approach to the sport I had last summer and fall when I was putting in 30-40 miles per week and still running fast in races – where I don’t have a mileage goal to hit each week, a 20 mile long run to cram in on the weekends through deluges and cold weather snaps.  I look forward to my own “retirement” of sorts.  It may not be the grand scale of the Olympics, like some of my fellow early-30-somethings, but my own simple version of it.  I look forward to letting it go.

Monday:  6 at Brixx at 6

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald, nothing better after a run in the cold and rain than a pizza and a porter

Tuesday:  6 miles on the treadmill easy

Wednesday:  8.6 miles; the weather forecast looked abysmal, best call of the week was getting out early for the BCTC workout in the AM at Duke.   Hill intervals and a 2 mile tempo run at the WaDuke.

Thursday:   7.4 long tedious miles on the treadmill

Friday:  rest

Saturday:  9 miles on treadmill (again…), 3 easy, 5 at target race pace, 1 cooldown

Sunday:  13 miles down the Vegas strip to Sunset all the way over to a small park with a disc golf course and a trail around a lake.  This is the Vegas where people live, and I wonder what a strange place that must be to call home.  Going off the strip, there is nothing but long stretches of sidewalk and brown earth.  I propel myself toward the horizon with the Strip in full view, striding to Youth Lagoon’s Mute – the most fitting soundtrack to an early morning run in a city where people are more likely to see the sunrise from being out the night before.  This is my Vegas experience.  The sun I have largely forgotten about this February illuminates the sky.  The morning is cool, but the dry, light air begins to warm.  I think back to Carolina, with the snow and slush on the ground and I am glad to get a respite from an unusual winter.  March will be here soon.

Total:  50 miles

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