Sunday, February 12, 2012

Inertia and the natural runner

My body at rest tends to stay at rest, my body in motion tends to stay in motion.

It looked like a perfect day to do some couch surfing, it was sorta rainy and sorta snowy, grey but not too cold. I was feeling lazy and tired from a long work week with too little sleep and too little movement. I hadn't run since Wednesday and hadn't lifted since Monday and frankly I had to slack off the last 10 minutes of my Thursday spin class. I could feel myself start to slide back to lower levels of activity that marked the second half of last year and this is not good, or is it?

Part of the beauty of this blog is that I can write down the thoughts that come in to my head, relevant or odd or obscure, and see if I can make some sense of them. You see there was a time in my life, and it wasn't that long ago, that if I was going to do a workout I was going to go big. I was always prepared to go deep. Deep in to the pain cave. I would lie in bed at night and get myself psyched up to run my standard 8 mile loop in under 56 minutes. I would feel a sense of pride or accomplishment when I would ride Millie (my race bike) over to the Morman Temple hill for 8 vicious hill repeats. When I was completely wrapped up in my Ironman days I would regularly get up at 5:30 in order to get to work but I would wake up at 4:30 on Sundays, my only day off, to ride 100+ miles. I would ride Millie from my little apartment in Bethesda to Fredrick or West Virginia. The fitness I would gain from these rides was awesome. But more then that I loved the reaction I would get from people. This one time (not in Band Camp) I finished one of these epic training rides around 12:30 on a hot late summers day. I parked Millie on the front porch and sat down only long enough to put on my running shoes and take off my shirt and head back out for a quick little 3 mile transition run. The run felt good, the body was dealing with the heat adequately, I was hydrated enough and had a few calories left in reserve to call upon. As I finished the run and walked thru Bethesda's restaurant row to get back to my place and begin the recovery process, I came across a couple of trainer buddies of mine. They had taken their girlfriends out to lunch and were enjoying a Sunday afternoon Margarita at a sidewalk cafe. Will and Joey were impressed but understood what I had done and why. Dominique gave me the standard, "you are CRAZY!!" response. Ellen's reaction was more shocked then impressed. She couldn't even speak, it was so far out of context for her that all she could do was look at me like I actually was insane, like I had some sort of OCD, but instead of washing my hands 7 times after peeing I had to be constantly moving forward under my own power for 8 hours and it was because of a sickness not free choice. Come to think of it I might have been a little nuts during that time. But, for reasons I still don't fully understand to this day, it was important to me to do that sort of thing.

Are mega-endurance events still important to me today? I'm not so sure. I've run 12 marathons in the last 8 years (not including the 2 at the end of the Ironmans also completed in that time). In that span there have been many cold, blustery, gray, windy, snowy (or worse 35 and rainy) days. Nasty days like that never even gave me a moments pause. I can't remember a time when I looked outside and said, "fuck it, let's find a good movie instead." I do remember many many days in which I would just bundle up, go outside and do the work. A 17 mile run in 17 degrees, riding home in a driving downpour, the day I completely bonked on a 80 mile ride in 95 degree heat...all of these stories were born on days when normal people would have said, "let's do something else today" But I had to keep going, I had momentum and I simply had to keep it going.

So that's what I did yesterday, I kept the momentum going. But the difference between "Iron Jeff" and the current version was that this time I just did the minimum to keep the momentum going. I have been pretty consistent with running 3 miles or so 2 or 3 times per week since Christmas day and I was happy with that. I don't need to get up early for a 20 mile run in the snow anymore. I am changing as an athlete, I have new goals and new outlooks. Don't get me wrong, I am still going to do the JFK 50 (or another 50 mile trail run), but I also have been able to wrap my head around the real long term goals. Goals like taking my grandson to his first baseball game and dancing with my granddaughter at her wedding, goals like hiking the length of the App trail or riding a bike across the country, both of which won't take place until after I'm well into my 70's. So I went for an easy 3 miler and I let faster runners pass and I never bothered to try and catch and pass people I would have easily passed before. At first had trouble being comfortable with what my 43 year old body could do vs. what my 33 year old body could do. Then I remembered what my 23 year old body could (and couldn't) do I was cool again. I just relaxed and ran at a comfortable pace.

That is also the best way to describe this natural running form, super relaxed. My legs weren't pushing me forward as much as keeping my momentum moving forward. I sort of feel like I am gently falling forward on a slight downhill and my legs are just keeping up with me. My face is relaxed, my arms swing gently and easy, even my legs are relaxed as they pendulum forward. The only hint of tension in my entire body is in the Glutes as they swing the legs back and forth and in the lower legs as they act as the primary and initial shock absorption system. I also was interested to note that being more relaxed allowed my feet to start working a little differently while running. I actually felt as if each foot had 6 points of contact. Each toe and the ball of each foot had it's own purchase on the slick and muddy trail. I had much better traction and control then I did when I let each heel strike the ground first, giving me only one point of contact. It was pretty cool actually.

So I kept my fitness momentum going yesterday, I went out for an easy 3 miler in the cold and it felt great. Physically at first and emotionally later on but just great none the less.

Peace y'all

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