Sunday, May 30, 2010

Training Summary: 5/10-5/30

The last three weeks, I've started to feel my fitness move as I've gotten into the flow of training. The emphasis has been on maintaining volume (91, 93, and 88 are my weekly mileage totals), staying within myself, and being consistent. I probably violated that principle a bit this week with a couple of spontaneous tempo runs that left my legs a little tired. But hey it feels good to feel good.

Aside from those two steady runs, most of my training has been easy running, between 7:15 and 7:45 pace. I've run 4 workouts and a 5k race (16:35) over the three weeks. Nothing too intense, mostly high-end aerobic surges and moderate efforts with plenty of rest. Everything up to this point has been mainly preparatory for more intense training later this summer.

One element that I've added has been more consistency with strides. I've been doing them 2-3 times a week, and I've noticed over these few weeks that they've gotten easier and I've gotten more fluid and a bit faster.

Next Saturday will be a real test of what I'm sensing: that the work is beginning to add up to some improved fitness. I'm running a 5000m track race--my first race on the track since college. My goal is to run under 16:00. It's a bit of a stretch, but if I can do that without any real specific 5k pace work, that bodes well for where I am fitness-wise.

We will see.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Passion and Discipline

"Temperament is the iron wire on which the beads are strung." --R. W. Emerson

There exist two types of runner, broadly speaking.

The first type of runner is essentially passionate. This sort of runner's primary desire to run stems from the immediacy of running. For him or for her, running is a means to maximizing the intensity of lived experience. Impulsive and somewhat wild-eyed, the passionate runner tends to express the meaning of running aesthetically and to theorize his running as the cultivation of perception of bodily states. It is the experience of running, first and foremost that animates the passionate runner. When this runner competes, he thinks very little about the watch but instead measures his feelings, eyes his competitors, looks to strike at the precise moment. He cares more about winning than about times, more about running than training, more about joy than sacrifice.

The second sort of runner is essentially disciplined. Methodical and relentless, this sort of runner sees running as a process of self-improvement over a span of time. Instead of focusing on physical feelings and intensities, this runner pays more attention to paces and mileages. Patient, analytical, and diligent, the disciplined runner finds strength and motivation from relentlessly following a plan, having a routine, and being able to measure improvement over time. The disciplined runner sees his craft as a means not of producing intense experience, but of creating meaning and direction. When racing, this runner is patient and calculating, focused on carrying out a well-organized plan, on doing the best he can to run a perfect race, letting the final results play out as they may. The disciplined runner aims for PRs.

Those who follow this blog will recognize that I fall more towards the passionate side of the coin. To be passionate is neither a positive nor a negative; I am not applying valuations, but analyzing differences. Most of us are a blend of these two types of runner, and this summer I am attempting to cultivate my disciplined side. I'm even following a training plan (horrors). This post is, in part, an attempt to defend that decision.

Knowing myself means knowing that discipline is my weakness--that if I err, it will be most likely because I have placed too much emphasis on the immediacy of the experience of running, too little on the analytical and mediated aspects.

On the other hand, I have to be careful not to overcompensate. One of the most difficult aspects of training (and life is like this, too) is knowing just when to work on our weaknesses and when to rely on our strengths. If we spend too much time with our weaknesses, we can end up stripping our vital energy, cutting off the well at its source. But without the balance that our weaknesses provide, our strengths can become vicious, overwhelming our capacity for intelligence. It is a strange but true thought: we can be dominated by our strengths, just as we can be made weak by our weaknesses.

For those of us more passionate by temperament, our challenge will always be in following a plan, in being cautious, in maintaining energy and direction. We are bored easily, needing regular bouts of intensity to remind us of the value of endeavor. The grind of training, when done right, is just that. It's a grind. The runner is like a plant. It does best when watered lightly and regularly. Proper training is slow and patient. So, the tendency of us passionates will always be to push when we should be waiting, to burn out before the plan has reached its full fruition.

Our relentlessness is largely manufactured. The long term view only satisfies when it comes with the adrenaline rush of new possibilities. The secret to success for us passionate runners, then, must come through subterfuge and imagination. We have to constantly remind ourselves of the intensities to come. We have to bring before the mind's eye the endless strength that we will feel, once we get through the grind, if we can only be patient. For us, the key is sublimation, imagination--our discipline does not come directly.

Finally, and somewhat paradoxically, the passionate runner can become too accustomed to marshaling his energies. Just as much as good training requires submitting to the grind, it also means running hard at the right times. Because the passionate runner is always using his intelligence and effort to hold his nature back, he can become hesitant to let it go at the very moment when it is time to strike. This is the problem of straying too far from your strengths: that all you can remember is how to deny them. It's for this reason that the passionate runner's brilliance comes in rare flashes. Self-denial in training can translate to doubt in racing.

But when the passionate runner finds his energies, when he can make it through the grind without losing his vitality, when he steps to the line shimmering with intensity: flight...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Training Summary 5/3-5/9

Another week in the books.

Key Workouts:
8 x 1:20 hills
14 mile steady run w/surges

88 miles in 10 runs

This week I'm starting to feel strong. I've had a month straight of regular progressive training. I've gotta be careful not to start pushing now that I'm feeling good. Steady as she goes.

Throw away the lights, the definitions
And say of what you see in the dark

That it is this or that it is that,
But do not use the rotted names

How should you walk in that space and know
Nothing of the madness of space,

Nothing of its jocular procreations?

--Wallace Stevens, "The Man with the Blue Guitar"

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Athlete and the Good Life

A passage from the runner-philosopher George Sheehan:

...[we] should be educated in the good life and how to attain it.

In that, the athlete provides a much better model than the scholar. The athlete restores our common sense about the common man. He revitalizes old truths and instructs us in new virtues. However modest his intellectual attainments, he is a whole person, integrated and fully functioning. And in his highly visible pursuit of a highly visible perfection, he illustrates the age-old advice to become the person you are. Simply by being totally himself, the athlete makes a statement that has profound philosophical, psychological, physiological, and spiritual implications.

Philosophically, the athlete gives us back our bodies. No matter what the Cartesians say in the classrooms, the playing fields tell us that we do not have bodies, we are our bodies. "I run, therefore I am," says the distance runner. Man is a totality, says the athlete, and forces us to deal with that truth.

Psychologically, the athlete affirms the necessity of play. I should say reaffirms. We already knew the necessity of play. We knew it from the Scriptures and Plato and the Renaissance educators who gave athletes an equal share of the curriculum. with the classics and ethics.

But somehow we forgot about play and sacrificed it and sport to the demands of our overgrown material civilization. We made play an means, not an end. Athletes show us that sport and play are essential to the the good life. To consider their function as simply the cultivation of bodily vigor with a view to longevity is, as Santayana said, "to be a barbarian."

Physiologically, however, the athlete's vigor and longevity are immediately apparent. The athlete provides us with a new normal man. He shows us that those we previously considered normal were spectators headed for premature old age. Normal man is man at the top of his powers, man reaching his maximal metabolic and cardiopulmonary steady state.

From the athlete we learn that health is not merely the absence of disease, any more than sanctity is the absence of sin. Health, the athlete tells us, is a positive quality, a life force, a vital characteristic clearly recognizable in those who have it.

The athletes then can be a tremendous force for good. We may not be able to teach virtue, but it is no small thing to demonstrate it. Nor is it inconsequential to have excellence in any form in clear view. Education, said William James, is a process by which we are able to distinguish what is first rate from what is not. Sport, more often than not, shows us the elements of what is first rate.

It does this because it is the long sought moral equivalent of war, not as an outlet of aggression and violence,. but as an arena where man finds the best that is in him, a theater that reveals courage and endurance and dedication to a purpose, our love for our fellows and levels of energies we never knew we possessed. And where we see, if only for moments, man as he is supposed to be.

In these moments, the athlete makes a contribution to the community. Because then, in these great spectator events, he provides celebration and adds to the myths that help us survive.

And the greatest of these is that man is born to be a success. We believe that only when we see him at play.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sub 2:30 or Bust

The first few strides down a long road. I'm hoping to take my big swing on October 17 at the Baystate Marathon. I guess I will do weekly updates on my training here.

I'm following a plan from Bill Squires' book Speed with Endurance. Right now I'm in just a general base building phase. The watchwords are cautious and conservative.

Week One Summary
85 miles in 9 runs
Key workouts: 8 x 1:20 hills,
17 miles w. 1-3-1-5-1-3 minute surges,
Lots of easy running with the boys and a few strides.

Legs feel good.

From H. D. Thoreau:
"But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day."
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