The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Monday, July 16, 2012

Not So Much Like Running As Like

I haven't complained about running as much as I thought I would during my "training" for the HelMarathon (my pet name for the Helsinki Marathon). One of the reasons is that you actually have to consistently blog to be able to complain often. But the bigger part is that I really am like a broken record--I interact with running the same way over and over and over again: this sucks, this sucks, this sucks, this sucks.

Which doesn't really make interesting or varied reading. I've learned--but have yet to put into practice--that when you are thinking the same thing again and again, it is best to just say nothing (except when complaining about how freaking cold it is in Monterey: that never gets old).

As the HelMarathon looms ever closer, I have noticed a new-ish frustration with my training in the past few weeks: I feel like a constant running failure. And leave almost every run with a sense that I accomplished nothing except wussing out of what I really was supposed to do. Which was run. Which I did. But somehow no run is good enough to make me feel as if I actually succeeded.

Case in point: the other day, I was doing "speed" work (very laughable considering my "speed" pace is most people's jog pace). The goal was four miles, alternating a mile at a moderate pace with a mile at my speed pace.

The first mile went fine; the right music, my feet pounding the treadmill at an awkward and heavy thunk thunk thunk. The second mile (the first "speed" mile) was okay; again, perfect music, treadmill satisfyingly shimmying at my increased pace of thunkthunk thunkthunk thunkthunk. The third mile was fine; back to moderate, music tempo slowed, quick suck of water and wipe of towel.

Then that final mile. The final mile that was supposed to be my last speed mile. The thing was, after only three miles, I was tired. My feet dangerously shuffling on the treadmill. Towel shifting precariously close to falling off and being whooshed under my feet.
I just couldn't do it. I managed 0.7 miles at my "speed" pace before having to slow down to moderate and finish that final 0.3 miles. Was I stoked that I pushed myself until I was legitimately tired (the whole point of speed training)? No, instead all I felt was how lame I was that I couldn't do that final 0.3 miles at a fast pace.

I have a few people in my life who are legitimate runners. And they point out that it is important for a runner to set realistic goals--that failing to hit a goal on a run can be super damaging to the runner's training psyche. And I get that. But when you are me, what is a realistic goal? Frankly, it should be to not run at all and then everyday that I do is like a Christmas miracle.

However, that realistic goal of not running is not practical when you want to run a marathon. As I am told over and over again, I have to put feet to pavement and do it often.

Further, while my body agrees that not running is a realistic goal, my mind cannot accept that fact. I know that I am slow. I know that I experience a level of pain from "high" mileage that many runners don't. I know that I do not enjoy this activity. But my mind keeps insisting that since I've been doing it more or less consistently since 2009, all of the things I know should have changed.

My body should have caught up to my perception: it's ONLY four miles. It seems so short to my mind, yet to my body, those four miles can seem like a marathon in themselves.

The first marathon I trained for was rough but I gave my mind various excuses that it seemed to accept. Excuses like, "you haven't run before. Ever." Or "you've just had major surgery where they removed massive amounts of metal from your foot." Or "you regularly experience intense pain from said foot and don't sleep." All valid reasons for sucking at running.

All reasons my mind reminds me that I no longer have.

Well, yes, there is still the pain but it is so much less that I don't even think it is worth mentioning (except that I just did). But I am no longer new to running. My body is relatively used to it. I can knock out four miles (at snail pace) without too much fanfare. My foot is strong. I know my body's limits and likes. But I still suck at running.

So I feel like a failure.

I can't run fast enough or far enough or with enough enjoyment to feel as if I were a true runner. In every run, my body reaches a point where it says to my mind, "Enough you sadist. We are going home to drink beer." And my little sadomasochist mind can't make my body change. If it isn't fudging on distance (such as in the speed training mentioned above), it is fudging on pace where my body gets slower and sloower and sloooower while my mind rails at it.

Really, my mind has it easy. It isn't the one who has to actual put feet to pavement. It gets to listen to NPR podcasts while it rests, nestled in its cerebral fluid. So it really shouldn't get much of a say in how my body acts.

But my mind has the biggest mouth, ever. So when it screams at my body and tells it what a failure I am, my body can't hear anything else.

My body isn't asking much. It really doesn't even care all that much about running. It is just as happy being fit some other way that is less fraught with angst. I'm hoping that after the HelMarathon, my body will finally stand up to my mind and tell that ungrateful and lazy bitch where she can take running and stuff it.