Saturday, August 28th …….Saturday morning the team met at 6am to prepare for the second of three total long training runs sponsored by ING for those training for this year’s ING New York City Marathon (or other fall marathons). The New York Road Runners coordinate all three of these annual runs. The first two are run in a rather informal manner, with bib numbers offered but no official times recorded. Runners can cover any distance they choose up to 20 miles. Water and Gatorade are supplied by volunteers all along the outer loop of Central Park. Port-o-Potties (Port-o-Johns, Portable Poopers, or the ever-charming yet far less-used name for these magnificent plastic little abodes: Luxurious Mobile Commodes) are also placed at strategic places along the course…and please don’t ask for any details on these little green houses, because M. Night Shamalan could write a horror trilogy based on the foulness exuded by these contraptions. The training run was scheduled to begin at 7am, so the team had roughly 45 minutes to stretch prior to the gun going off.
As I slowly got out of bed Saturday morning at 5am, I actually began talking to myself prior to resting my feet on the cold floor:
Me: (uttered aloud, a la a Shakespearian soliloquy, minus any form of substance, subtlety or class) “OK, everybody listen up: I am going through with this today whether all of you like it or not. So feet – stop reminding me how much you hurt. Ankles – mum is the word today, got it? Back – well, I have no issue with you for the moment…but don’t try anything funny or else I’ll bring you right to a chiropractor just to get revenge. Abs….abs? Where are you abs? Oh never mind, you guys are too busy hiding still under a layer of pop tarts and oreos. Four of you guys have now begun to show yourselves once in a while, but not nearly often enough for me to even concern myself with. Arms – you guys are going to be swinging for 3 hours today. 16 miles. So both of you do your jobs and no slacking off. (When I began running, I never swung my arms – they just hung at my side. So just try to picture THAT real quick, and then come back to this paragraph after you’ve stopped laughing at the sad site. Don’t worry…I’ll wait….). And last but not least, Brain – think positive today. The Tool will show himself nice and early with the way I’m feeling this morning, so be ready. Focus on the job at hand. Ignore the little 4” schmuck. OK everybody, here….we….go…”
…and with that my feet touched the floor. I stood straight. And then, all of a sudden, the internal bickering between body parts began. The feet immediately told me that they were NOT happy about my decision and weren’t going to shut up about it. My ankles said that they agreed with my feet, and added that I was a jerk. My back made a subtle point that the bed was a lot more comfortable than anything else I had planned for the day. My abs…well….they stayed out of this, as they normally do. My arms were quiet for the moment – they knew I had enough to deal with as it was. And as I took my first steps to the bathroom, a headache was already forming and my Brain uttered four rather negative words, already choosing to go against orders. Those words were “Joe…we…are…screwed.”
As I soaked in the hot shower, the voices began to subside – just like during the first several innings of a baseball game. The fans aren’t really in to the game yet, and the noise level in the stadium tends to be rather lackluster. I could tell that my body was saving its mental onslaught for the running equivalent of the 7th Inning Stretch. I got changed into the running clothes that I plan to wear on Marathon Sunday, tied my shoes, grabbed my Garmin watch and Iphone, and left my apartment without a shred of positive energy. Not a good start to this athletic stress test.
As I walked into the Park and headed for the 102nd Street Transverse (the paved road that runs east – west slightly above the northernmost part of the reservoir), I began a process that many sports psychologists refer to as positive visualization. Basically I pictured myself performing at a high level in as great detail as possible. I pictured myself with solid running form, easily handling the back hills of the park’s outer loop. My arms pumping yet my breathing remained slow and easy. The run felt effortless. This mental preparation was constantly interrupted with thoughts of “I hope this foot holds up”, thereby ruining the entire mental exercise. When I saw my team in the distance (you cannot miss them – our team color is electric lime green…I look like a big, dorky-looking bottle of Absynthe while I waddle), I realized how unfocused I was. I was not mentally – or physically – ready for this test. I was going to have to rely on guts…and guts were usually just enough to see me to the finish line in basically one piece.
Up to this point in my training season I felt like that this would be the year that I would break out of this routine. Since 2005, I have run sloppily. Unprepared. Undertrained. No discipline. No structure to my training. I didn’t eat right. I didn’t wear the proper running clothes. I didn’t change my running shoes often enough, which I believe led to this heel injury a few years ago. I was a complete mess….and yet I have, up to this point, finished every marathon that I started. I had hoped for much better finishing times – but I put in no work to earn them. Ovid once said that “the ending crowns the work”. Well I never really put in the work – so the endings were always lackluster as far as my own feelings of accomplishment were concerned. The Tool was always the primary voice in my head on race day. I toed the starting line each Marathon Sunday lacking confidence – full of self-doubt. Yet I finished, sheerly on guts. One thought was strong enough to see me through: the fact that I wouldn’t allow myself to fail my daughter.
Every time I run, I try to be a hero to one person: my daughter. The ability to show my daughter a medal – to hang it around her neck and tell her that she can do anything she puts her mind to as long as she works hard enough and never gives up – was a strong enough thought in my head to push me through 26.2. Now, however, I needed to do more. By now, my daughter has seen me finish enough times that she has taken that Walt Disney concept of “its pretty fun doing the impossible” to heart – I look at her and I see that she believes it. However, I now have to show her that, if you work hard enough, you will see improvement over time as long as you never quit. That was my running theme for 2010. And that’s why I run when I’m hurting. That’s why I sit in ice baths. That’s why I come home tired and sore yet insanely happy. That’s why I don’t take a training day off. And that’s why I showed up to run 16 miles even when my body and mind were telling me to hoof it out of the Park and sprint home.
For the first time in my running history, I have a real training regimen. For the first time, I am also following that regimen to the letter. Up to this point, I have done the work – although there have been times where I’ve faltered due to pain. I have been challenging myself, and I have enjoyed the way I respond to the tests. I have never prepared for anything as hard in my life. It’s to the point where I can visually see the results of my efforts when I look in the mirror. Since April, I’ve dropped two pant sizes. I simply feel more confident – and confidence breeds success. So the internal power struggle between self-confidence and self-doubt is a hard-fought battle by both sides, with no peace treaty in sight. As I toed the line after stretching with my team this morning, shots were being fired by only one side – and rest assured it wasn’t the good guys doing the shooting.
As I took off with the 10 minute per mile pace group, my self-confidence was holding its ground fairly well. Sure shots were being fired by the enemy – but they were poorly aimed and missing their targets. Up and over Harlem Hill with good form. Down the west side drive. Veering east near Columbus Circle and cutting through the south drive. Then turning north and heading back to our starting point near 102nd street. By the time I logged 6 miles, I felt solid. Under control. The enemy had tested my resolve and our lines held.
As I began the second loop of the park, working on mile 7, The Tool began to rally his troops. Shots rang out and, all of a sudden, my soldiers of self-doubt were rallying around their flag (I picture it as a white flag with a big black fist in the center, with the middle finger raised proudly). Their volleys began hitting their marks. The Tool’s voice carried over the battle, reminding me of the pain in my foot which never seemed to heal.
“These hills are getting rougher.”
…ouch. That shot stung.
“Wow – 8 miles in and your foot feels like THIS? No way you’re clipping off another 8…”
…ouch. Another one.
“You know, if you keep this up, this injury will be worse than ever when the races count.”
…BOOM. I caught some shrapnel on that one.
“Mile 10….hey, aren’t you getting slower?”
…That one hit the target.
As I finished the second loop – 11 miles into this long run, I attempted to rally the soldiers of self-confidence around their flag (A blue flag with the words “Don’t Panic” emblazoned on its center – and yes, that IS a Douglas Adams reference…) and launch a counter-attack.
“11 miles in. I’m hurting…but I’m closing in on my goal.”
…the enemy chuckled at that lame attempt.
“Only five miles to go.”
…You could hear the laughter all the way from my appendix. (I know – my references just keep getting more obscure)
“Ummm….well….I’m OK, I think….”
…and with that lame attempt at a counter-attack, the soldiers of self-confidence turned tail and signaled a full-scale retreat. As I began my third loop of the park, The Tool perched himself on my shoulder, a crap-eating grin plastered all over that sour puss of his.
The Tool: “Well, this one doesn’t look good. I give you credit – you had me fooled for a bit. But you just don’t have what it takes. Oh…by the way….pay attention to the road!”
Thud. That is how I sound when I hit ashphalt, face first.
While in the midst of a mental meltdown, I lost focus on the task at hand. I stopped paying attention to what I was doing and the world clouded over. It was at that moment that my left foot found a sewer grate alongside the curb of the west side drive between miles 12 and 13. I went down in slow motion…or so it felt.
I hobbled over to the grass and performed a damage assessment: the left ankle was already beginning to swell, but I could put some weight on it without falling over again. I found the bridal path and trudged along it to my team’s designated meeting area in utter frustration.
I grabbed my backpack, briefly iced the ankle (with the help of TFK staff), and headed home, absolutely disgusted with myself. I am better than this. The man I am needs to be introduced to the man I should become. I expect great things of myself – we all should, I believe – and this level of performance was not cutting it.
Later that day I sat on my sofa while my left foot drowned in a bowl of ice water, and went over the run in my head. I pulled out a pad and I wrote down the negative thoughts that went through my rather dense cranium. The overall theme was the pain in my foot. That was The Tool’s main weapon. That was the edge that his soldiers of self-doubt had over my self-confidence. I needed to gain the tactical advantage in the future. In other words: it was time to pull a Lombardi.
Vince Lombardi, the greatest football coach of all time in my book (and I think this way because a) he was incredibly motivational, b) he handled his players perfectly, c) he was a master strategist, and d)…..he was Italian), used to believe in the words on Sun Tzu: “every battle is won before it’s ever fought”. He would spend countless hours planning his offensive and defensive strategy for each game. Offensively, he believed in doing a small number of things…but doing each thing PERFECTLY. Defensively…well…he would identify he enemy’s biggest weapon, and then plan to neutralize it. Make the opposition beat you without their biggest threat. Ah, Vince…my paisan….you were brilliant.
If The Tool’s biggest weapon was my heel, I need to neutralize it. It was time to visit my doctor and plan to get a cortisone shot. So I called Doctor Cuzzamanno and scheduled an appointment. Monday. 3pm. Fun.
Sunday’s recovery run was canned. Scrapped. Flushed right down the gabinetto. All bets were off until my sitdown with the doc.
“It hurts up to a point and then it doesn’t get any worse.” – Ann Trason