Saturday, August 7th …..I woke up this morning with a sense of bright-eyed optimism. Please don’t ask me why, because I have no idea whatsoever. When I slid out of bed and my left foot hit the floor, the sharp stabbing pain that has become my internal alarm clock jolted my eyes open. Today was beginning just like any other: with the feeling of stepping on a knife. I lumbered into the bathroom and took a warm shower, in the hopes that the hot beads of water will somehow soothe me. All it did was remind me of just how much I’d really like to climb back into bed and sleep for four more hours. As I climbed out of the shower and reached for my toothbrush, I realized something: today was Saturday. Now ordinarily the thought of being off from work would be enough to plaster a huge smile on my face through lunch – but as the toothbrush glided over my molars it dawned on me that the team is running at least 12 miles this morning. Since I burn approximately 165-180 calories per mile, and I’m running at least 12 miles…..that’s a lot of calories being flushed right down the ol’ gabinetto today. (It was 6am – so don’t ask me for a final count on the exact number of calories scheduled to be burned, because I refuse to do math before midday). At that moment a little light bulb went off directly over my head: I can use my long run days as motivation to maintain my newly-established diet.
I am not quite sure how this idea developed in my brain – maybe I do my best thinking while scrubbing my incisors with AquaFresh (anyone can use Crest or Colgate…I’m an AquaFresh guy because I like that neon blue, possibly radioactive gel they wind into the toothpaste to make it look like the dental equivalent of a candycane) – but I came to the rather shockingly astute conclusion that I was only hours or days away from falling off my current diet’s wagon. (As I have mentioned numerous times before, I lack discipline). So, in order to motivate myself to stay on this health kick during the work week, I have decided to dangle Saturday afternoons over my head like a carrot in front of a rather lazy, slow, ADD-ridden horse.
I made an internal promise to treat myself to a nice lunch after the long run – something utterly sinful, possibly consisting of all sorts of deep-fried and/or chocolate covered ingredients. Yum….a deep fried, chocolate-smothered carrot was now right in front of my eyes. Now all I needed to do was earn it by running hard for 2 hours.
The team began stretching at 7:30am, after which we split up into pace groups that each of us could reasonably stay with for the mileage assigned. In some of the books I’ve read about marathon running the writers mention a “2 minute rule”, meaning that a runner should run their long runs at a pace roughly 2 minutes slower per mile then their planned race pace. I loved the sound of that rule…..but let’s face it: there’s no way I was going to be able to do that and stay with the group of runners that I have been training with, which maintain a pace of 10 minutes per mile regardless of the day of the week of the length of the workout. 10 minutes for mile….for at least 12 miles. Not an easy request to make of my body, because my brain was already preoccupied with preparing the rather empty calorie-laden lunch on the horizon.
I may have mentioned this before but I’ll say it again because it bares repeating, especially for any of you training to run or even thinking about running a distance event: the long run is the key to distance running success. You need to consistently push yourself a little farther each week, in order to get your body used to the various feelings – both physical and mental – that you’ll experience on race day. The long run builds the strength and endurance you’ll require to cross the finish line. It also provides the sense of confidence you’ll lean on as the miles escalate during the race – knowing that you’ve run 16…18…20 miles before the day of the race develops a level of self-assurance that you’ll be able to handle task handed to you when you pin your bib to your racing singlet.
The catch phrase that I always come back to when I think of the long runs during marathon training comes from a book a read by Dr. Bob Rotella called “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect” (yes, I look for wisdom everywhere…and I highly recommend that you don’t look to ME for enlightenment because I’m a couple of vegetables short of a salad). Doctor Bob talks about a “shooter’s attitude”, that being the attitude of an athlete that has enough confidence in him/herself and his/her own abilities to “want the ball when the game is on the line”. In order for these clutch players to actually have this high level of confidence, he/she must hone his/her skills through consistent and effective practice over a period of time. Then, on the date of the competition, the athlete can trust in his/her abilities because of the completed training. What comes out of this long-winded, rather elementary explanation of Dr. Bob’s much more eloquent work is a mantra that I swear by: “Train it and Trust it”. Train hard…and then believe in yourself on race day.
The run began along the bridal path, running north from 62nd street near Columbus Circle and completing 5 long revolutions around the reservoir, before returning to 62nd Street in a heap of sweat. The group I have found myself running with regularly consists of a bunch of runners that simply enjoy being around each other – and it shows in the positive motivation we provide each other as the miles add up. Conversation flows as our feet pound the dirt. There is strength in numbers.
At this point in the training program, regardless of how fast each of the members are pacing, we are coming together as a team. You can see it as we pass each other doing laps on the bridal path. You see it as runners finish long runs and we stretch together. As the training gets more intense, our camaraderie has become more apparent. We enjoy seeing each other succeed. Being a member of TFK becomes increasingly more meaningful to me as the year goes on.
Through 10.5 miles, I felt OK. Then, out of nowhere, The Tool makes his appearance. I hate this little 4” schmuck. He begins his mental assault on my confidence and focus by reminding me of the distance I’ve already covered. Then he mentions that I must be hungry because I didn’t eat breakfast. He mumbles something about how bad it would feel to drop off of my group at this point because I simply cannot stay with them for another 3 miles (our goal was to finish 14 for the day). I became distracted – he was getting to me.
The Tool smelled blood in the water. He had me right where he wanted me. He hooked me – now all he had to do was reel me in.
When we hit 12 miles he hit me with a haymaker, by reminding me of the pain in my foot. It had been bothering me for a bit, but I was really focused on my running form and my breathing, so I was able to ignore it up to this point. However, once The Tool brought the discomfort to my attention that was all I could think about. I stopped swinging my arms. I lost control of my breathing. The wheels were coming off….and just when I thought of shutting it down and walking, Nina, one of the runners in my group, asked me how I was feeling. I told her I felt like crap. She reminded me that we were almost home…..and that was all my mind needed to hear to snap me out of my mental funk. The Tool evaporated like the Great Gazoo in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and I wrapped up the long run by plodding south to Columbus Circle with my teammates. The Tool almost had me today – if I were running solo, he would have claimed victory. But…I had backup.
I limped home sore and hungry….and with a smile on my face. Next stop: FOOD. Food that isn’t good for me. Food that devoid of nutritional value. Food that makes my arteries require a Roto-Rooter guy. Yum!
“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” – William Faulkner