Wednesday, January 29, 2014

New Zealand Mountain Marathon Training "Niggles"

(My wife was kind enough to bring the camera along
to snap some shots of me while we did a long run. She
rode the bike and brought encouragement as we ticked
off the miles.  She took a short cut around the
hospital so that she could snag this picture.  I did
not even know she was there yet.)
Running always brings with it the joy of little pains randomly appearing out of nowhere.  Any moment of any run is subject to the curious shot(s) of tantalizing pain, usually in the legs though not in any way limited to that area of the body.  Sometimes these little gifts last for a few moments or linger on for miles.  The one overwhelming fact about these nagging nuisances is they usually disappear if they are simply ignored.  When talking to other runners experiencing strange pains during their running I've heard my brother ask on multiple occasions, "Have you tried just ignoring it?"

One of my newest running buddies is from the UK and he has bestowed upon me a new phrase to use for such minor aches: "niggles."  He is an ultra-runner and it is apparently quite the norm to have the constant companion of niggles while training for a 100 mile race (still having trouble wrapping my mind around such a distance).  I suppose there is almost no way to run that far without minor or major discomfort of some kind and one just needs to get used to it.  

What a bother though, when the niggles arise out of nowhere on a run!  A perfect run ruined by an eruption of weird pangs.  If a niggle has persisted for more than a few minutes I always ask myself, "How serious is this?"  But usually by that point I have to run home anyway and will surely find out over the course of the next few miles if it is indeed a true bother.  If it has persisted for a few days I usually try to get more aggressive in my response with some ibuprofen, more intentional stretching, and maybe, just maybe, some icing of some kind (all of the ice baths during the collegiate years have helped me to learn to dislike the feel of ice - I need to get back in the habit).
(I have never run a race that has mandatory equipment
so that a runner will be allowed to start the competition
but this one does.  So I'm borrowing a pack from my
ultra-buddy and trying to get used to it.  The extra
weight and warmth was not cool but it was nice having
water and other resources available if need be. This
shot was taken around mile nine after the turn around.)

Usually what ends up happening is I find myself amazed at the bodies ability to heal itself, even while continuing to stress it through continued running (or worst case scenario alternate training such as the pool).  Usually total rest only tightens up my entire body and causes more damage than help.  There are, however, those ever persistent niggles like the one I am currently working through that begin to turn the darker side of my heart into the equation.  What if it's like THE injury?  You know, THE one that caused all the ruckus back in 98.

Running has become a cherished part of my life. There is some indescribable part of running that just feels...right.  But I do not want to hurt myself so badly I cannot enjoy other activities.

Bryan always joked that if something started bothering him he would find out if it was anything serious by going out the next day and doing a hard long run.  If it was something to worry about he would most likely break something and if not his body would "learn its lesson."  My current niggle is quite the pain in my rear end.  I put my little brother's theory to the test and ran twenty-two mile trail run on my temperamental knee.  Ten miles of troublesome running and then pain free for another twelve.  Sore the next day. Sometimes more pronounced when running and other times not.  At this stage as I train for the mountain marathon I have too much in the bank to simply just take tons of time off for this sort of niggle.

Oh running, why can you not be a little more gentle and love me more appropriately?

(I am still amazed at how beautiful the New Zealand
trails are and how much they have to offer.  I am still
kicking myself for not taking a camera on the last long
run before this one which was simply amazing!)
As I always do, looking to see how I can learn from running and apply it to my own life, I once again find myself with a nice little lesson.  Just like running life is amazing, full of surprises, a gift to be enjoyed and not a privilege.  And naturally it is also full of niggles.  Will I keep running when those niggles arise or will I simply pull to the side of my life in the hope that I do not cause damage to a metaphorical knee?  How much do I love what I am pursuing?  What is it worth to me?

I went out for a sixteen mile run yesterday to see how my current niggle is behaving.  It was with me the whole time but oh how I enjoyed the run!  My wife road her bike with me as I skirted the flood banks of the Waihopai River as they connect to the estuary, then following the trek as it morphs into a set of trails that traverse the woods behind the hospital, only to cross a major road where they continue on for a few miles.  Perhaps my niggle will become something more and it will all be a running tragedy... I'll never know unless I push on through and see what comes down the trail.  It always seems when I push through some adversity my trail takes me to a splendid place indeed.  I usually look back and think, "Wow, that was rough but it afforded some interesting views.  And I would never be where I am now if it had not been for moving through and past those belligerent niggles."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lost, Tired, and Electrocuted - Saved by Cows

I've been lost on a run before, but never electrocuted.

When thinking back on runs, I've been lost, chased (by humans, cars, and animals), cursed at, heckled at, whistled at, and have had things thrown out of moving cars at me.  I've been dehydrated, disoriented, disinterested, and mentally detached from the run.  I have had so many different experiences happen to me over the countless runs I've been on since I first laced up a pair of running shoes, but this is the first time I have experienced what I did this past Saturday.

I went for a twenty-two mile run with a friend on some unbelievably amazing trails.  The trail was challenging, uniquely rustic, offered log bridges across streams, was fashioned by a person who truly could understand the land, and was probably overall one of my favorite trails I have yet run at this point. Eleven miles of running out and then a turn around to come back.  We did not quite reach the steep climb we wanted to hit, but I just do not have what it takes at present to run much further than we did that day.

As it turns out the eleven miles out took longer than I expected and so when I started seriously taking on snacks and fluids I was already way behind.... way behind.  But don't worry because this literally bit me in the ass pretty hard close to our finish.

In the last mile of our run my running partner got ahead of me.  I got caught on a branch and took the opportunity to drink most of the rest of the water I had - less than a mile to go!  Then something strange happened, which has never happened to me on trails before... I lost the trail.

On the clearest marked part of the trail, and around twenty-one miles into the run, I apparently just missed the turn and ran off into the woods on a would-be trail.  But it gets better.  When I realized my error I could not correct it.  What?!  How does this happen?!  I could not find the trail or any trail at all for that matter.

No water.  Tired. Very tired. Confused. I walked towards a clearing and hit a fence. But I heard cows. We had passed our trail head in the car and I had seen cows.  Maybe they were the same cows?! They had to be.

So I jumped the fence and started moving through a field. No cows, only sheep.  Where were the dang cows. Another fence.  I went to jump it when....whammy.  I got a low burst of electricity in my hands.  Ow!  Not too bad but when tired and confused it was not pleasant.  Ok, don't do that again.  But just in the course of jumping the same fence somehow I managed to do it again.

Another field with no cows and terrified sheep that ran from me as though I was wearing a hockey mask with a knife in my hand.  Great.  Hills, trees, scared sheep, and endless fields... where was I going and where were the darn cows?

I finally made it to a road/drive and I was pretty sure it was the one we had driven on when we saw the cows.  One last climb.  Looking to the side I saw a way to avoid this larger fence by simply passing over a few strings.  Sweet.  I took both hands to push down the string.  Damn!!  Apparently these "strings" is where all of the electricity for these fences begins or flows through.  The double fisted jolt was stronger and one whole leg seized up.  Seriously, enough is enough.

I turned back to the large fence, scaled it quickly and jogged tentatively to my left where I hoped the car park and my friend would be waiting, and where I could find an electricity-free zone.  Cows!!  Thank
God!  I've never been happier to see the same cows I had seen earlier that day.  Another few hundred meters and no angry farmer and I'd be done (I was pretty certain that the farmer would come out upset I had pillaged his lands with my off trail running and might even shoot at me-oh wait I'm not in America anymore).

I still do not know quite what happened or how I lost the trail. I know I was thoroughly disoriented and it was scary, certainly much scarier than it should have been in consideration of how close I truly was to the car.  I was not quite right for a few days but am finally able to share this story as my body seems somewhat back to normal.

I have no idea if it will ever help you, but when you're lost and confused maybe just listen for the cows (oh and avoid the electrified fences - they don't look like much but they will get you).

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stopping to Smell the Roses

I remember Coach McWaters, our college coach, telling us one day as we went for a long run, "This is the kind of run where you can stop and smell the roses. Don't be afraid to linger and enjoy a view for a few moments."

I believe we stopped for about five seconds and that was hard enough. There is something about getting a good hard run in and even finding a rhythm that can be disrupted by stopping, and because of this it has taken me a long time to find the ability to truly stop and smell the roses.

I also remember sitting at a marathon expo and hearing from a guy who was encouraging runners to take as much time as possible to complete the marathon experience. He said, "Why rush through and barely see the city when you have paid so much to enjoy it?" The thought was so contrary to why we were lining up to run the marathon that it almost felt sacrilegious to hear him say these words.

But at thirty-three and with no scholarship or bitter rivalry, all of my old ways of thinking about running seem quite narrow and maybe even silly. Recently I have been doing much more running on trails, up mountains, and have even become an avid hiker. This has been changing my perspective on running completely. For instance, while running at any amazing pace downhill a few weeks ago some women flagged me down. They wanted a picture taken and were sorry to disrupt the run as they thought we were racing. It was fun to stop and help them enjoy their hike with a great shot - and why not? There was a time when I would have thought they were messing up my fabulous run.

Surely there are around 100 reasons I run, including living a healthy lifestyle, but recently I've finally learned the benefit in enjoying my runs by the scenery they provide. It's truly amazing what you see when you slow down or even stop momentarily. Perhaps there is more than just a finish line out there somewhere. Maybe there is also a run and it is full of beauty, people, smells, and joy... if we can only slow down enough to see it.

I wonder how much I have missed because I was too concerned with my pace or finishing a run. I have a notion that I might find myself running farther and longer thanks to this new outlook on running.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Marriage is Like Running, Like Running is like Marriage

When running with someone it seems that just about any conversation, whether silly or serious, can find its way into a mid-run conversation.  Often the relaxed nature of the run allows for a comment that might not be made just sitting around.

So when my running buddy (just love the sound of running buddy) and I started talking about marriage this morning it was no surprise.  We bounced back and forth between the vast topics of marriage and finally settled on discussing the work that is necessary for any relationship to continue, despite how much you love someone.  There are just times when we need to put in some effort in loving someone if the relationship is going to work.

It's amazing how virtually everything in my life can be compared to running.  Marriage is no exception and perhaps works better than most.  When I look back at all the moments of serious training in my life, there was always a "lady" so to speak waiting at the end.  A state meet, conference championships, regionals, a marathon, or any of the endless races that running has brought my way.  It is safe to say that in all of that training it was quite rare to reach the goal without some distinct trial(s) or obstacle(s).

At times those hinderances may have even seemed insurmountable, but, as we runners do, putting one foot forward and working towards the goal eventually gets us there (even if we limp over the line).  I posted this photo of my wife and me from a recent hike we did together.  I love it because in many ways it symbolizes the compromises and hard work loving someone can be.  In this case my wife is looking past my mustache (which is gone now) and my foolish (but fun) swim in a waterfall which has left me looking like that to dry off.  Look at that smile.  She has not only fallen in love with me, but actively chooses to continue loving me, often looking past much to do so.

Marriage is like running and running is like marriage.  For me, marriage is a run that ends when I die.  Hopefully this will be a long and enjoyable run.  It's one I will finish with this lovely lady.  It will take a little work along the way but mostly it will just take waking up every day and looking towards my goal.  And as I step out the door to do my training, I will love every step of this marriage!