Thursday, October 29, 2009

10 Miles of Fun

10 mile run, 10 miles of fun. The ten mile run that moves it's way through Shelby Forrest is challenging and if you find that to be fun, then you will enjoy the MRTC road race series 10 mile run. It is definitely a fun, hard, up and down, mentally difficult, and beautiful (sight seeing, if you happen to notice as you run through) run.

I (Brett) pause to write this post because this particular run was a personal step in the right direction for me due to the mental realm into which it forced me. My brother was nice enough to help pace me and try and keep us right around 6 minute pace, but the hills had another idea for what my pace should be. As I crested these hills I found myself a number of times heaving for more air and struggling to refocus myself on the pace set out before me. I would say that there were probably seven moments in the race when I had to force myself to battle my own mind.

My high school running mentor who really started it all for me - literally, he even pursued me in middle school and somehow convinced me to run cross-country over soccer, a sport I absolutely loved playing - Sam Bell had a way of describing the type of run that this past 10 miler was for me. "Running just out of comfort zone," is what he used to say. He would use that phrase to talk about workouts usually, but that phrase really captures what this 10 mile run was for me.

Why is it so difficult for us to take ourselves out of the comfort zone... to push just beyond the threshold and embrace some pain? The great runners are those who live way beyond this threshold, or perhaps they have created entirely new thresholds altogether. And you know what I remembered during/just after this past 10 mile run? Running just past the pain threshold and embracing that pace hurts a little more, but it feels so good - it's fun. It sounds crazy but it's true. Convincing your mind to believe that and step on through is difficult, but you will find that it's entirely true. Maybe I won't make it back through for a while, but for now I'm so excited and revived to remember what it feels like to peep my head back through a little bit to beyond the threshold of pain to see the joy of what running really can be.

Will you come through with me to the other side to see the truth? Will you punch through and embrace just a little bit of pain to realize that some inner part of you will smile as it happens? Let's join our metaphorical running hands together and embrace the "just outside of the comfort zone" area and lets learn to live there baby!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

When is Running Racing?

One long lasting conversation any good distance runner has centers around the point of the ultimate distance to race. In high school most runners agree that the 800 meter race is pretty much it due to the need for intense speed mixed with duration. In college it seemed most opted for the 3000 meter steeple chase due to it's mixture of speed, distance, and now jumps too. Personally I always thought it was funny that men went from the 5k to the 8k/10k in the college jump - when asking why, the best response I could get was, "The 5k is just a sprint now." What a mind altering comment!

So now that we are in the real world of running where all runners congregate, Olympians and first time runners alike, what constitutes as the ultimate race? Is there a distance that better tests a humans abilities than another? Is there a distance where running ceases to be running and becomes fast hiking? Is there a certain amount of energy/effort that must be exerted for a run to become a race? If we take the later approach I often wonder if I've raced since college...

Let's pause first on this - transitioning from a run to a race. A good example is your average runner out there running. Do they understand what it means to push their body and race? Do I? Do you? Most of us do not. Look to for a great website that understands this principle to the "t" and goes the opposite direction. Why run hard and push yourself and rob yourself of the joy from experiencing the run? Take your time and enjoy yourself. It is true that after some runs my body seems to be telling me I'm insane for pushing myself past a certain limit. Might I have enjoyed the run better if I had simply slowed down...

And then there is the distance question. Just because I line up with other guys next to me and agree to compete over a certain distance, does it count as a race (in the running sense)? Or after a certain point does it become something else - an intense adventure run or perseverance of the mind race rather than a running race? Frank Shorter has said about the marathon (paraphrase) that it is the ultimate distance to perceive a humans ability to push himself/herself - it's the limit to which someone can push themselves to race over a given distance. Of course this does not mean that a further distance is not more difficult than the marathon, or even maybe more prestigious and amazing, but rather is simply seeking to make a distinguishable difference between racing and running hard for a long distance. This website looked like it had some good stuff on ultra running:

It may seem like splitting hairs to ask such questions but this is what runners do when they have nothing else to do. It's sort of like asking the question if there is a difference between a person that finishes any marathon and a person who finishes the Boston marathon. Both have done a great thing that should be respected and congratulations are in order. Saying nothing less about the first person, is there something more that can be said for the second? In the same way, I can marvel at the guy that runs all the way across the nation and holds the record for doing so, but perhaps in my mind he still has not achieved the sort of status that Ryan Hall or Frank Shorter or Alberto Salazar or Bill Rodgers have in their marathons.

In short, I'd like to end this post with one statement: After running a few marathons I understand Frank Shorter to have said - anything shorter than the marathon leaves the body untested to it's ability - anything farther than the marathon, though challenging for certain, fails to hold up the standard of pushing one's own body at a race pace.

Who knows, maybe comparing first time runners to the Olympian is just too difficult - maybe comparing an ultra runner to a guy racing a marathon might be too much like comparing a triathlete to a runner - they're just different animals altogether. Who knows - just throwing questions out there.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hockey Players Who Run

Some people don't know this about Bryan and me, but we are really hockey players who run from time to time. Of course we do not play nearly as much hockey as we used to and in all fairness have probably run now almost as much as we have played hockey... almost.

Looking back on my running I always find it humorous to note that while I received no major injuries from hockey, I have gained or earned a number from running that not only have waylaid my athletic endeavors but actually on the wrong days threaten normal life. I find it to be funny because my cross-country and track coach in high school used to hate that I played hockey in between the two. She'd say, "You're going to get to hurt playing hockey," and then would add all sorts of other comments to further her case. To this day, and even though tomorrow may prove otherwise, hockey has yet to deal me more than a light contusion at worst. Running on the other hand....

My first major injury from running came while running a regional cross country race. While taking a quick right hand turn down a short steep hill my legs slipped quickly out from under me. To avoid falling I reached out to a nearby tree and corrected my course back up and onto my legs where I preferred to be. Two days later I could barely run without my back hurting - bad. A few pills later I was running in the state meet pain free. Over the next few years my lower back would randomly shoot sudden and painful pains (sometimes most inconveniently in races when I'm looking for excuses to stop), but worst of all would throb almost every night when I went to sleep. Years later I found out that I have a stress fracture in my lower back that can only be healed through surgery, maybe.

Then I found out what an IT band is... and for those of you who know, I'm sorry. It started as a slow ache and turned into something that would tighten my left knee into intense pain after 15 minutes of running. Nothing I could do would help - stretching, massage, chiropractic, ice, compression, swimming, biking, and worst of all... total rest. After nine months of searching through these fruitless endeavors for an answer to my running pain I was finally introduced to an IT band specialist. After he almost vomited at the extreme waste of time my other doctors had prescribed to me, he drew a surgery on a dry erase board for me. And so at just under a full year off during my freshman year of college, I began running again in June - 8 short minutes, winded and unable to believe I'd ever run more than a mile or so again.

Then came the wonderful side effects of surgery and the side effects not knowing about proper footwear and diagnosis - injury after injury strewn throughout attempts to get my collegiate career to a near respectable level. Hip flexors, achilles tendons, fatty pads swollen from scar tissue of a scope, the other IT band, more scar tissue, foot pain, more of that lower back stuff, and other things I'm sure I've tried to block out. I spent almost as much time in our cold whirl pool as I did studying for most of my classes, or with ice wrapped around various parts of my body as I hobbled to the cafeteria - "is it halloween?" I'm sure it looked like it.

Ya looking back hockey doesn't seem to have been the dangerous sport for me. I'm sure someone else's story may be different, but at this point I think that there is one conclusion any of us runners have come to at some point: while running can bring great or periodical joys and it is of immense personal benefit to our health, it also brings with it pain that compares to little else in life I've done.

I'm sure that plenty of football players are limping around with injuries that have become lifelong who would argue that their sport too offers such a note, and I'm sure they have a lot to say on the matter. All I know is this - running, the supposed safe sport, has helped me to experience and endure more pain than any other athletic activity I have pursued (baseball, diving, swimming, hockey, soccer). Perhaps the manner in which running has been pursued can be seen as why she has been such a terrible lover, at least at times. But in the same breathe, let me add that when I come to call on my other lover (besides my wife) the less I give of myself the more it hurts every time. If I had enough energy and barring injury, every run would be quick paced because it is there where the most joy is to be had. Slowing too much, even a little bit, and suddenly my whole run turns into a morbidly painful shadow of what it would have been.

Bryan talks about running to keep the demons away... I think for now I'm going to talk about it as "keeping her happy." When she's not happy she seems only content to cause me immense pain (again, running, and not my wife). Look to new posts on - Running, My Lover