Thursday, April 5, 2012

Killer Food: Searching for the Roots

"Why would anyone want to run 100 miles? You're crazy".

Of course, I heard the same thing the first time I ran a half marathon, marathon, and most recently-- 50k. There's something to the idea of keeping the legs working continuously for hours that just bugs the hell out of people who would rather drive to the corner store than walk. Of course, I used to walk several miles to the grocery store with my mother when I was a child and we didn't have a car, elected to walk the three miles to and from school as opposed to taking the bus, and often walked or ran to cross country and swim practices because I didn't have transportation and didn't want to burden a friend or teammate. To this day I've never had a driver's license and continue to walk to the store and to work when I can. I really don't mind. Walking is a natural way to get from point A to point B. Running is simply its upgrade.

I must have been born "crazy", because I've been doing this since I was a kid. There's a photo of me in my eighth grade yearbook with the track and field winners when I ran more laps than anyone else around the .25 mile track in 20 minutes, though I was lazy throughout high school cross country, barely breaking the 24-minute mark for 5k, and then spent the entire summer before college working my ass off to make up for the 22:00 exaggerated time on the form I submitted to the college cross country coach when I expressed my interest in joining the team only to discover my 24 minute 5k's would literally pin me amongst the bottom 10%-- even as a division III runner. My coaches in high school weren't interested in producing a champion on a budget that was 2% of what the football team received, and with a ragtag crew of kids using cross country as conditioning for another sport, or simply hanging around for the ride with their best friend who was a little more talented or a little more interested. My friend Jen, who walked onto the team my junior year and earned instant celebrity status with a 9th place finish at our first invitational, became my training buddy, though we never trained more than 5 miles. By the time I started college, I'd made up over a minute of my lie, and found myself finishing in the mid-22 range. I was still mediocre, at best.

I did not take running seriously until the summer after I graduated from college. I'm not sure what clicked-- maybe it was the realization that I was running "alone" for the first time in nearly a decade, but in a matter of a week I'd thrown nearly every habit of my running past out the window and started fresh. The first thing I changed was my attitude about inclement weather-- everything was a "go". I ran a 5-mile PR in blizzard conditions. I'd go out for 10 miles in 90 degree heat. I sloshed through shoe-sucking mud, puddles that looked like small lakes, left my house to enjoy a torrential downpour for an hour. Hard weather was good weather: a 65 and sunny constant felt like a controlled environment, which I chalked up as boring. Running = running, even if the pace is slowed down because a tree fell or there's a sheet of ice to tackle. Over time, the challenges became part of the thrill.

 The second thing I ditched was my watch. I was running to find what felt good, what felt fast, and what still needed to be conquered, not to find out what 9:00, 8:00, or 7:00 felt like. This was a good approach, and helped me reach a PR on a 5k course by more than 2 minutes when I raced it in October of '05. Granted, about a year later I acquired a Garmin as a birthday present, but for ten months I ran "naked"-- no watch, no water bottles (I'd camel-up before going out, and would drink at water fountains), no expensive gear (often I found myself wearing ancient, $20 K-mart walking shoes; and I even went out in rip-off Converse All-Stars a few times), meat or processed foods. Yes. The third habit I shed was my tendency to eat what was easy. And though it was the most difficult habit to change, it was probably the most effective-- on a mostly plant based diet, I lost 21 pounds over the course of the summer, and watched as longer and longer distances became easier, and faster. To this day, processed foods slow me down and make me incredibly sick if consumed immediately prior to or during a run.

I think the climax of my Camelot running era occurred on December 30, 2005-- the day before I boarded a plane for California, when I ran an approximate half marathon course in 1:48 (at least according to the clock on my kitchen wall) without the added bonus of raceday adrenaline, and a good taper. Six and a half years later, I've yet to come within shouting distance of that 1:48-- even if that course was somehow off by a quarter or even a third of a mile (which is possible-- it was measured within a tenth of a mile by and a car). I think my success at running faster than I ever had, and being able to conquer/crush longer and longer distances was the simplicity in my approach: eat healthy, drink a lot of water, accept mother nature's offers at face value, and simply run. I didn't even bother to read about the "technology" in the latest shoes, the gadgets that were out, "performance enhancing" gear; those things may as well have not existed. I couldn't have afforded them anyway, the same reason I didn't register for a marathon until 2010, at which point I had two children and had lost touch with my zen approach at running. My first official marathon, I should add, was a disaster.

California was full of running firsts-- my first 3+ hour "just for the hell of it" run, treks up Mount Torro and through the Redwoods, and a 21:50 5k raced after a night of no sleep whatsoever where I placed 3rd overall out of 187 women. It was also where I was introduced to wearing a Garmin, expensive shoes, and running in the comfort of the home on a treadmill in front of a tv. While I type this at least part in humor, I don't think my running has been the same since. I became fixated on time, pace, heart rate, distance. Running became 6.6 miles at an 8:22 pace with a 1,000 ft elevation gain rather than "about an hour, pretty fast, with a a few big hills". It became science where it had been spirit. Things changed. My attitude changed. I changed. I became lazy and dependent.

I've spent the past few months digging deep, I think, trying a little too much to "figure it out" in terms of what I need to do to "fix" my poor running. In reality, I don't think there's an equation, or a problem that needs to be solved. The truth in the midst of my shitty running chaos is that there is only one essential element, and it's still there: me. I'm the one who's doing the running-- not my compression calf sleeves, not the watch, not the treadmill, or my Power gels, electrolyte drinks, or any other added factor that makes the reality of this more complex than need be. Those things are merely aids, really pretty crutches that I think too many people become convinced they need to be great runners, the same way we've convinced ourselves that having to go two days without satellite television is so unbearable we'd prefer to shout in belligerence at customer support than to wait until it became an affordable reality again (I've been on the customer service end of that call). It's human nature to want for things, and to want to be the best. However, it's also within us to employ logic.

I'm averaging 45-55 miles per week currently, with a lot of time logged on my treadmill, and a lot of time spent convincing myself I'm going to wilt like a flower without my Power gels and Heed. I've hit a pivotal point where I've come to the realization that this type of training isn't working for me. The focus on miles, the obsession with calorie intake per hour, it just feels unnatural and unnecessary, and I'm convinced that my old approach to running, when I did it because I loved it and not because I needed to finish x miles at x pace with x grams of sugar or carbs consumed was the most genuine, most true to who I am as a person and as a runner. Granted, it'll have to be tweaked a bit as I've stepped beyond the realm of the marathon and I'm probably not going to survive 6, 10, or 24+ hours on water fountains and baggies of dried or dehydrated fruit and salted pistachios. But, this is running, not astrophysics. I think I'll figure it out.

My first 100 is in less than 4 months, but I feel good about stripping away the baggage of poor nutrition and the fixation on numbers.  I'm a firm believer in 'different strokes for different folks', and keeping it simple has always been the best approach for me. So, here's to running longer, faster, and healthier. If you're going to be there, running or otherwise, may we meet with a big smile (or in my case, half smiling and half bawling) at the finish line. Running is a passion. There will be more.

Cheers, and ciao.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog! I agree with your bottom line. Keep it simple.