Showing posts from 2009

Training "Plan"

"Don't forget that the most important problem to solve is to make easy what is difficult, and for this goal we need to be very simple, natural in our approach, bringing our athletes to train more without too much pressure from hard workouts. That's the reason because too much hard training is a mistake, because athletics become a continuous examination, no more a pleasure. You can train hard preserving the ability of enjoying training, instead too many times athletes think that training is a must, and lose their nervous energies in fighting in training. Many runners leave good result in practice but have little energy for good result in races." --Renato Canova Here are some thoughts on my training over the next four months. I don't write much about training, at least on this blog. I do act the expert on some running forums, but I try to keep my

I Am a Runner

I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient to all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. --Rilke Running, like life, is an uncertain endeavor. It has the basic character of a question. The first reaction that we have to a question is, of course, to look for an answer. There are many instances in which this is a productive way to tackle a question. Google is useful for many things, as is wikipedia. They provide answers. However, there are certain aspects of experience that, perhaps strangely, appear as questions without answers. These aspects are usually denoted with words that are simultane

Walking in Memphis

Saw the ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue... Okay, a brief race report. The facts are straightforward. I went out at a pace just under 6:00 and held that until mile 13 (half split was 1:17:xx), mile 14 I had begun to slow, dropping to 6:15 pace--a difference that seems perhaps slight, but with 11 more miles to go, it was a harbinger of the coming death march. I dropped out of the race at mile 15, taking my 3rd lifetime DNF. The best part of my race. It was a gamble going in, as the cold that I've been fighting over the last three weeks continues to linger. I was hoping that it wouldn't affect my performance too much (I'd already ratcheted my goal back from low 2:30's to "anything better than 2:38:06"), but it did. A sick body will refuse to go to the well, and that's what mine did. Another contributing factor was the lack of company in the race. I ran the first half of the race with two half-marathoners, which was helpful until they started kicking it in, dro

A Week to Go

My dear wife brought home a nasty cold from school. I've been blowing yards of dense snot out of my nose for about a week. It hit me hardest actually over a week ago, like I'd been hit by a train in the middle of the Thursday night before Thanksgiving. It is perhaps not a coincidence that this cold arrived in my last full week of marathon training, which also happened to coincide with the end of the longest stretch of teaching, during which also I had been working on job applications for the next year. I was exhausted, mentally and physically, and the long days of work added to the 10-15 miles a day caught up to me. I took Friday and Saturday off like a good boy, but then rushed back when I felt better on Monday, piling up almost 30 miles in the first two days of the week--to "make up for" the two days I'd missed. Bad idea. Then there was Thanksgiving, which is the Christmas of the road-racing season. All the runners come out to race on Thanksgiving morning, and I

On Wildness and Civilization

Life consists with Wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest trees. Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. --H.D. Thoreau, "Walking" Thoreau was often criticized for not being wild enough. His Walden Pond was not out in the rugged mountains of Alaska. He didn't live purely off the land. He had regular interactions with others, and his experience with wildness came through the mild act of walking--he called it "sauntering"--not through extreme mountain sports like rock climbing or ultra running or what have you. These criticisms, though,

The Human Animal

I saw this video a couple of years ago and forgot to bookmark it. Got it now. You should watch it. It would be neat to hear your comments. So, still been busy with job applications and classes and conferences and writing "real" philosophy instead of philosophizing about running. But, I've been running, and I learned today that I am IN for the Memphis marathon on December 5th. I'm in shape to run a PR--I don't need to do too much from here on out. As Mike the Hobbyjogger (internet friend and coach/spiritual guide--how strange is that?) told me: You're piloting a Boeing 777 on a trans-Atlantic flight right now. You just want to bring it in on target. You don't want to overshoot the runway and put in in a cornfield in Pennsylvania and you obviously don't want to plop it in Long Island Sound. This means for me: no hero workouts. Just run a bunch for the next couple of weeks. Run some marathon pace if I feel good. It's nice not to be in a position whe

It's Quicksilver

Ahhh... Been busy and with little time to update the blog. My running is still going well. I had a nice run this evening, just a plain old easy run, but the night was crisp like early November ought to be and the moon was full and the maple leaves bright orange beneath the black of the sky. I ran 6:10's on the way home, and they were some of the easiest miles I've run in a while. I'm light and fast, having transformed my body quite a bit over the last year or so. Anyhow, I thought I'd post a link to this article from the New Yorker in celebration of Meb's win in the New York Marathon. The last paragraph of the article rings true. I asked him if he had any advice for Hall in Beijing. When Keflezighi responded, I thought I heard the wistful tone of an athlete in decline. It wasn’t until much later that I realized he was saying something different—he had learned to accept the quicksilver nature of the sport, the way it feels to catch lightning in a bottle, and he was

The Body and Our Obsessions

Life today pays too much attention to the body and therefore, too little. We are acutely aware of how our bodies are perceived by others. We know and obsess over whether our bodies are fat or skinny. We compare them to images in popular media. How we occupy our bodies determines our social position. We hold ourselves upright, or we slouch. We feel intensely whether bodies are beautiful or ugly, young or old. Our bodies mark our social class, our sexuality, our race, our gender. We worry about how they smell, what size clothes they wear, how wrinkled they are, and what they say about us. Our bodies tell others whether we are disciplined or lazy, conventional or rebellious, athletes or couch potatoes. For all of these reasons, we obsess over our bodies and the bodies of others. Our bodies, perhaps more than our voices, our thoughts, or even our families and friends are the great communicators of our selves. Lulu and I went to see Giselle at the Nashville Ballet this weekend and witness

The Tempo Run as Art

A tempo run is a balancing act. The challenge that a tempo run demands is simple: find the fastest pace you can run with the least effort. The best description of the effort is an oxymoron. You go "comfortably hard." Some more tough-minded folk try to take the art out of tempo running by linking it to heart rate (160 or so) or certain physiological thresholds in the body (the favorite here is lactic threshold, but sometimes aerobic threshold is mentioned), or even a pace: 10 mile race pace is a favorite. But the tempo run does not denote a concrete object or measurable event that takes place in the body. The tempo run is a discipline. Tempo is an art of balancing pace with effort. It is precisely for this reason that the tempo run is the most important workout that a runner can do. The tempo teaches you to pay attention. A runner can do one of two things when approaching the paradoxical state of comfortably hard. There are two ways to keep the effort from spinning out of cont

Is Running Logical?

Is running logical? Well, it depends on what we mean by logical. Logic has come to connote a kind of hard and cold objectivity. Computers are logical. Arguments are logical. College professors are logical. Political blowhards are illogical. Young children are illogical. And spouses are either too damn logical or totally irrational. This conception of logic takes it to be something that operates independent of passion and emotion. Logic uses universal and objective reasons, which are ordered under the laws of thought and do not allow for absurd conclusions or the possibility of contradiction. On this conception of logic, to write on "the logic of long distance" means spelling out in reasons that are universally available, clear, and well ordered, an account of why it is that long-distance runners do what they do. If you've been following this blog with the hope of finding such an account, it is likely that you have been disappointed. This is because I am alluding to a dif

The Reptilian Brain

"Run with your reptilian brain, run with your reptilian brain." These were the only thoughts I could manage. It was 25 miles into the race, and I was facing 6 more--which happened to be uphill, up a mountain. Not so bad: this is what I'd signed up for. What was bad was that I didn't have any more sugar in my system. Glucose, they call it, is the sweet fuel that is the material condition of all those thoughts running through your brain. And it had all been burned out of my system in the previous three hours of rocks, roots, hills, trail. Before that point, the race had gone exceptionally well. Running with long-time friend Andy, we had maintained a steady effort at around 4:10 pace, letting three runners go off the front. At the first check in, 6 miles into the race, they had a 5 minute lead on us--but we were at 4:00 pace. Either they were running 3:30, or they'd be coming back quick. Rolling into Indian Rockhouse the first time. At the next check in, mile 11 or

A Quick Shift in Focus

What does your 100m time tell you about your ability to run a mile? Not much. What does your 800 meter time tell you about your ability to run 5 miles? A little more, but basically, not much. What does your 5k time tell you about your ability to run a trail 50k? Not too much either. On the other hand, as I opined way back in February , if you train in a balanced way you can be ready for both. At least that's the hope as I put last week's effort behind me and turn towards the task that lies before me on Saturday: the Stumpjump 50k . The Stumpjump is a pretty special race for me. First, it's held on trails that I used to run and mountain bike as a kid. My old stomping grounds. I remember my first 20 mile run was in Prentice Cooper. My long time training partner Andy Anderson and I stashed a couple of quarts of gatorade back on the old four wheel drive roads. We were just done with high school--I think it was the summer before college--and Andy was trying to convince me to run

The Arrow Flew--5k PR!

I ran 15:49 on Saturday morning at the Shelby Bottoms Boogie 5k. It was a breakthrough race in a couple of ways. Those who have been following my blog know that I've had a sub-16 5k on my mind for the last month or so. I'd taken several shots, but the closest I'd come was pretty far off. The progression went like this: 16:50, Howl at the Moon, 8/14 16:39, Run for Recovery, 8/22 16:29, Great Prostate Challenge, 9/5 15:49! Shelby Bottoms, 9/25 In 5 weeks, I dropped 71 seconds off my 5k and ran a lifetime road PR. Pretty snazzy. It's sort of hard to know what to say. Since I've been focused lately on the experience of running, and since the experience of running a PR--what it felt like during the race--is still fairly fresh in my mind, I thought I'd try to get it down in words. Elly Foster got a couple of great shots of me coming through the last 200 meters toward the finish--they are posted down below. I am surprised to see just how intense I am. Or, rather, it i

cruel fitness

"The art of the great rhythm..." --Nietzsche I am resting now. This is the hardest part of training, something I've always struggled to do. You work yourself into a cruel fitness, the sense that you can run forever. You have these new capacities at your fingertips. The eight mile runs, the ten mile runs, the twelve mile runs, even the long runs do not leave your weary. The workouts reveal strength behind strength, and speed where there was only acid before and empty effort. It's at that very moment that the runner has to be careful. Having pulled the bow taught, the feeling of that tension, that power, is so great and pleasureable that the temptation is to fritter it away in small releases, in the joys of the tireless state and the effortless 6 minute miles. We want to luxuriate in this power. To squander that shape in those private moments, on the private joy of training fast, of working out. But this is not the point, no. Having built a heart that is ready to pump

Senses of Running

"Boil the beast" she said, "what else?" "But it's not dead" protested Belacqua "you can't boil it like that." She looked at him in astonishment. Had he taken leave of his senses? "Have sense" she said sharply, "lobsters are always boiled alive. They must be." She caught up the lobster and laid it on its back. It trembled. "They feel nothing" she said. In the depths of the sea it had crept into the cruel pot. For hours, in the midst of its enemies, it had breathed secretly. It had survived the Frenchwoman's cat and his witless clutch. Now it was going alive into scalding water. It had to. Take into the air my quiet breath. Belacqua looked at the old parchment of her face, grey in the dim kitchen. "You make a fuss" she said angrily "and upset me and then lash into it for your dinner." She lifted the lobster clear of the table. It had about thirty seconds to live. Well, thought Belacqua,

We Nomads

"The nomad has a territory; he follows customary paths; he goes from one point to another; he is not ignorant of points (water points, dwelling points, assembly points, etc.). But the question is what in nomad life is a principle and what is only a consequence. To begin with, although the points determine paths, they are strictly subordinated to the paths they determine, the reverse of which happens with the sedentary. The water point is reached only to be left behind; every point is a relay and exists only as a relay. ... The life of the nomad is the intermezzo. Even the elements of his dwelling are conceived in terms of the trajectory that is forever mobilizing them." --Gilles Deleuze I had a good run today, 30k on a hilly course with the last five miles under 6:00 pace. There are two aspects of a good run. One of them is articulated in a language that grounds the run in a type of analytic fact. I ran this distance and it occurred at this pace on this course which happens t


Okay, another post about numbers. Yesterday I passed the 3650 miles for the last 365 days. It was this week last year that I recovered from my achilles tendinitis enough to begin training. (It's almost totally healed now.) Some stats from the 365 days: Lowest mileage week: 25, week of Dec. 1. (I only ran two days that week, as my left quad was bothering me.) This was the only week I didn't hit at least 40 miles. Highest mileage week: 111, week of Feb 2. That's an all-time high for me. I had four weeks over 100 miles this year. Weeks above 80 miles : 19 Weeks above 60 miles: 36 Doubles: 73 Days off: 21 Highest Monthly Mileage: January, 09: 360 miles Lowest Monthly Mileage: June, 09: 231 miles # of races: 15 # of PRs: 2 (HM 1:12:51, 50k trail 3:51:33) Onwards!


I took my shot on Saturday at a local 5k and ran 16:29. After the race I was disappointed, but only for about 5 minutes. I walked backwards on the course and watched as the runners came in. It's impossible to stay blue when you see folks working it that last half mile of a 5k. I stood and watched, offering words of encouragement. But I was the one encouraged. Cheesy, but true. I looked back today on athlinks through some of my old road racing. Though I've done it several times on the track, in my entire life I've broken 16 minutes for 5k on the roads exactly twice. Once the course was short--I ran 14:47, supposedly. Ha! Unfortunately, I think that race would have been my road PR. The other time I squeaked under with a 15:55, a road race I ran in April after track season while home visiting from college, more than 10 years ago. So, that puts this goal into some perspective for me. The fact that I'm considering it is pretty meaningful. On Saturday, I took it out hard with


"The Edge... There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others- the living- are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it's In." --HST We philosophers and runners (pardon the inference if you do not count yourself as one or the other) tread a thin line. We both seek a sort of pure experience. In running--most particularly in racing--the experience is one of the run consuming you. It is an intense and highly private experience, something like what Hunter S. Thompson describes as pursuing the edge: the place of total commitment, say two miles into a 5k or 20 miles into a marathon, in which a choice is forced upon the runner. The choice, broadly, is this. To drive on quite madly, face grimacing into the rag

A Good Workout

I met up with Ted this morning in Centennial Park. He Garmined out a half mile path on the more or less level grass in front of the Parthenon. The plan was to hit 8 intervals, taking 90 seconds rest. We had to improvise the first one as a huge flock of geese decided to camp out in the path, so it got cut a little short, 1:53. The next three I felt great and finished feeling strong at 2:30. The last four I had to work a little in the middle section (there was a little rise at somewhere between 300 and 450 meters), but I was cruising: 2:24, 2:25, 2:26. A good workout. Four miles of running at an average of sub 5 minute pace. It's been ten years since I did something like that. Thanks, Ted. Classes start tomorrow!

Pushing the Envelope

One of my favorite passages from William James speaks to the double nature of habit. He writes, Habit is thus the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor. It alone prevents the hardest and most repulsive walks of life from being deserted by those brought up to tread therein. It keeps the fisherman and the deck-hand at sea through the winter; it holds the miner in his darkness, and nails the countryman to his log-cabin and his lonely farm through all the months of snow; it protects us from invasion by the natives of the desert and the frozen zone. It dooms us all to fight out the battle of life upon the lines of our nurture or our early choice, and to make the best of a pursuit that disagrees, because there is no other for which we are fitted, and it is too late to begin again. ... You see the little lines of cleavage r

Lords of the Sidewalk

I run with a guy that calls himself The Thunder. Yesterday was a typical run. We started out easy. For a guy who calls himself The Thunder, T. T. is actually pretty chilled out about his running. He likes to keep the pace easy and conversational. When you run with T. T., it's never a hammerfest. And that's alright because T. T. knows how to keep things interesting. Our easy run departed from its usual course. Normally we do an easy 12 out Belmont, back into town, and around Vandy. This time we just lapped Vandy. The run started off as it usually does. Runners know that there is a strange side-effect of distance running. Something about the ease of the motion, the increased heart rate, perhaps a surfeit (or maybe it's a lack) of oxygen to the brain breaks down the barrier between brain and mouth. Runners are gabbers. We gab on about just about anything like drunks around a table. So, we headed off at Thunder easy pace, gabbing on about who knows what and just about everythin

The Sickness of Running

A typically morbid being cannot become healthy, much less make itself healthy. For a typically healthy person, conversely, being sick can even become an energetic stimulus for life, for living more. This, in fact, is how that long period of sickness appears to me now: as it were, I discovered life anew, including myself; I tasted all good and even little things, as others cannot easily taste them--I turned my will to health, to life , into a philosophy. --F. Nietzsch e In this short passage from his philosophical autobiography Ecce Homo , the last book he wrote before succumbing to insanity, Nietzsche gives us the story of how his philosophical vision was born. It is the product of a convalescence, the remainder of a battle for survival against the depression and physical pain that Nietzsche battled his entire adult life. He turned his will to health, to life , into a philosophy.  Indeed, Nietzsche is often proclaimed as a great philosopher of life, of power, of overcoming