Training Break #155

26 06 2009

Somerset Maughm once wrote that in each shave lies a philosophy. I couldn’t agree more. No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act.

– Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Badwater is heating up

25 06 2009

It’s supposed to be 118 degrees at Furnace Creek in Death Valley this coming Monday. That’s hot. And I recently received the E-Mail Of Alarming Mindfulness from a fellow race crew member, reminding us that Badwater is less than three weeks away. Man, this air conditioning really feels good right now.

At least the runner we’re helping to crew sounds ready. Running in 115 degree heat, Nattu recently completed a training run from Furnace Creek to Panamont Springs — a 56-mile jaunt — in 12 hours 39 minutes. He was looking to finish in 14 hours. Not too many weeks ago, he also finished a 100-mile race in Florida in a little over 21 hours.

So, our runner is definitely ready. I just hope I’m ready for him. I’ve never been in temps above 106 or so, and I’ve never served anyone as a crew member before in any circumstance. But I’m an experienced ultra runner in race distances up to 100 miles, so at least I know the basics of staying properly hydrated, fed, and adjusting to the mental/emotional/physical peaks and valleys over 24 hours or longer. And my fellow crew members are a mix of Badwater and ultra veterans, so I know I’m going to learn a lot more. The most exciting part is there is always more to learn.

And I’m going to be inspired. In addition to Nattu’s amazing example (and his third Badwater appearance), Badwater 2009 will feature some of the world’s most famous long-distance athletes. Dean Karnazes, Jorge Pacheo, Pam Reed, Monica Scholz, Marshall Ulrich, and Jamie Donaldson will be among the big names toeing the Badwater start line this year.

One hundred and thirty-five miles through Death Valley and up Mt. Whitney, in the middle of July. I’m pumped and proud to be playing a bit part behind the scenes … and giving back to the person who inspired me to start ultra running a few years ago.

The week in training, 6/8-6/14

17 06 2009

Someone flicked a switch and turned on summer. It’s hot again here in Texas. Some violent thunderstorms and flooding forced a change in the weekend running from trails to roads.

Still small increments of progress, steadily accumulating. 3 hours 15 minutes on Saturday, 1 hour and 40 minutes on Sunday. Both runs were routine, but I was tired afterwards and sluggish much of the weekend. Getting acclimated to the heat is always part of the June routine. It’s a slow, perspiration-laden build to my races this fall.

As part of my Badwater crew planning, I asked a fellow veteran crew member what works best in terms of clothing for Death Valley. Here’s what he had to say:

“When I’m pacing, I wear the white pants, long sleeved white shirt and the Legionnaire’s hat. After I run, and when I am in the van or doing non-running duties, I take off the pants and have running shorts underneath. I found I sweat more (less evaporation) when I was not covered up and in the van. I was cooler when I was in motion, and covered … being covered is paradoxically cooler than not being covered. When your body temp is 98.6, and the outside temp is Hell-5 degrees, you actually need protection from the outside … The nights are gorgeous. Stars brighter than you’ll ever see. Temperatures at night are very comfortable.”

I took his advice and splurged on the full “Badwater Nerd” costume from this website, including some SPF 65 sunblock. It’s going to be an interesting adventure for me, a great way to at least partially pay back Nattu for his advice and assistance over the past few years. And I’m definitely looking forward to seeing a night sky largely free of artificial light pollution.

I took a salad to the zendo on Sunday for all of the sesshin participants to share – there’s a 7-day sesshin this week that I can’t participate in, but I felt I should provide a little food anyway. Sitting and staring at a wall for a few hours makes you as hungry as a 3-4 hour run, and I know how much I appreciate the good food served during silent meals at the sesshins I’ve attended. I figured it was karma payback time.

One of these days, I also want to volunteer for aid station duty at an ultra rather than race it. Those who prepare and serve food during sesshins and ultras make all of our sitting and running possible. Let’s try to remember them in some helpful way this year, and every year, if we can.

6/8 Yoga 35 minutes
6/9 LHHS track, p.m. 4 x 800, 45 minutes total
6/10 Neighborhood, a.m. 1 hour 15 minutes. Yoga 25 minutes p.m.
6/11 Fitness Center, noon. 26-minute tempo run @ 7:50 pace, 46 minutes total.
6/12 Yoga 40 minutes
6/13 Neighborhood-Lake loop, a.m. 3 hours 15 minutes.
6/14 Neighborhood-North Creek Trail, a.m. 1 hour 20 minutes. Yoga 30 minutes.

Yoga For Athletes: new spiral-bound companion book

15 06 2009

A very practice-friendly companion to Sage Rountreee’s Yoga for Athletes , titled The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga, is coming out in just a few weeks, and you can view some samples from the book now. The new book is spiral bound, so it’ll lie flat beside you on your yoga mat as you learn the poses through following what appears to be excellent color photography.

Sage’s original YFA gave me the direction and inspiration I needed to switch from strength training to yoga as part of training. She is a highly respected yoga coach and a triathlete as well, so she certainly understands where us “weekend warriors,” as well as more serious runners and athletes, are coming from and where we need the most help.

I pre-ordered a copy of the new book months ago, and can’t wait. A shorter routine I cobbled together from several poses in YFA really aided my recovery from a couple of longer, much warmer runs this past weekend. It’s getting harder to imagine my day without at least a few minues of yoga via YFA.

Highly recommended.

Training break #154

12 06 2009

Honour necessity; honour sufficiency.

Nothing is compulsory, but some things are necessary.

No judgements are made: we accept you as you arrive.

There is no mistake save one, the failure to learn from a mistake.

Freedom from like & dislike is our first major freedom.
Some people here you will like, others not.
Some people will irritate you.
No blame! You will also be irritating them.
Please act towards others with goodwill and with courtesy;
Otherwise, be polite.
Honour the role, respect the person.

You are not asked to accept any direction that violates conscience. Although we are asked to act from conscience, this assumes the virtue: to act from conscience is a considerable freedom.

You are not asked to passively accept any idea presented to you. Rather, you are encouraged to test ideas you find surprising, to establish the veracity of those ideas, or not, for yourself; and to adopt a position of healthy scepticism, while participating in a spirit of critical goodwill.

– from “Guitar Craft Seminar: House Rules,” by Robert Fripp

The week in stepping back and deciding, 6/1-6/7

10 06 2009

Last week was a step-back week in terms of training, so nothing much to report there. I am running some of my runs during late afternoon, in the pitiful delusion that I can be more prepared for this when I help crew Nattu at Badwater next month.

Perhaps the biggest part of the week was deciding on races for the Fall. I opted for the tried, the true, and the new. The tried and true are the Palo Duro Canyon 50 Mile in October (I decided I couldn’t stay away; it will be my fourth consecutive October in the canyon) and the Rockledge Rumble 50K in November (a well-organized, friendly but nasty little local ultra run on a gnarly trail system). Then, there’s this new (for me) 24-hour thing in Austin in December. Any race Joe Prusaitis is involved with has the Ultrarunner Seal of Approval, as far as I’m concerned.

Better get busy, I suppose.

Training break #153

5 06 2009

Sometimes when I would complain unreasonably, my father would say, “You’re lucky to be alive.” I thought the old man was just rehashing his aphorisms. Now after studying a bit of biology, I see his point. You are indeed lucky to be alive. Moreover, you’re incredibly fortunate to find yourself in a made-to-order dojo with a splendid teacher. Now the ball is in your court.

– Robert Aitken, Miniatures of a Zen Master

Why do people run ultras?

4 06 2009

Find out.

Sometimes the cartoon characters win

4 06 2009

As I run in a marathon,
A man dressed as Mighty Mouse passes me.
I vow to remember
There is no situation too serious,
There is always someone faster.

It was seventeen years after my first marathon before I wanted to run another.

My first marathon experience had not been the exhilarating, life-changing experience that it seems to be for many people. Instead, it had been an exercise in exhaustion and frustration – not understanding how to train properly, combined with my own anxiety as race day approached, led to an experience I had not been eager to repeat.
Seventeen years later, I finally decided to run another marathon, and treat it with seriousness and careful planning. I would train for this one correctly and meticulously, closely following a workout schedule developed and certified by recognized experts. I wanted to be certain of what I was doing with every step, understand why I was doing it, and know exactly what was going to happen next.

In each and every way I felt I had failed in running my first marathon, I was grimly determined to even the score. I am a hopelessly obstinate person: a nagging settler of scores hell-bent on always getting in the last word, the scion of a quietly stubborn line of woodworking Arkansans and Tennesseans, no-nonsense casket makers and buriers of the dead – one of my undertaker ancestors patented the mechanical contraption used to lower coffins into the ground. “Your daddy’s family have the hardest heads,” my mother would sigh, usually with a smile.

As I started planning, I realized this had always been something I was going to do, sooner or later — part act of contrition, part wreaking of vengeance. It was deeply, furiously personal. I went about my business with deadly earnestness. I learned all I could about the latest workouts, nutrition supplements, and high-tech charms claimed to boost endurance levels and increase speed. After careful research, I found a training plan that seemed to fit, marked the exact date on the calendar to start training, and my quest for a second marathon began.

That second marathon began exactly as planned. My pace was precisely measured with the aid of a digital watch, on which I kept a wary eye. The proper levels of fluids and energy gels were being ingested at the recommended times. I even started passing a few people, smugly thinking they hadn’t practiced as hard as me, weren’t as good as me. This is going well, I thought, my eyes narrowing and smile tightening in stern triumph.

I glanced to the right of me, startled. What appeared to be a more fluorescent, edgier version of the vintage cartoon character Mighty Mouse — complete with a homemade paper-mache´ mouse head — was gliding by me effortlessly, cape flapping behind him as his friend followed close by.

I was mortified. Passed by someone dressed up like a cartoon character! How could someone treat a marathon as their personal stage to act like a fool? And how could they run so fast? I struggled to catch him; he had to be caught.

No giant mouse was going to beat me.

My breath came faster, my stride quicker, but I was surprised to hear the runners around me laughing. They thought this was funny? “Mighty Mouse!” people cried, and the man in the mouse suit, along with his friend, shook their heads. “No, no! Super Raton! Super Raton!” they shouted in sharply accented Spanglish as they pulled away, leaving the crowd’s laughter and me in their wake.

As I desperately tried to catch Super Raton, other people merely laughing as he passed them by, I realized I wasn’t going to catch him and that he wasn’t going to slow down. He was running a marathon dressed in a homemade Halloween costume. He was faster than me, than many of us. And he was having fun, and everyone but me seemed to think it was funny.

Watching that lumpy mouse head bob away into the distance, I finally slowed down, admitted to someone running next to me that it was funny, and found it in me to laugh. It was a good thing I slowed down, because trying to catch Super Raton could have ruined my pacing and my carefully planned race.

I finished that marathon with a smile on my face.

We should feel free to honor the competitor within us, that spirit that makes us want to be better. Fed modestly and watched closely, that fiery spirit can be helpful and even bring us joy. But it’s also one of the toughest spirits to control. Not watched carefully, it can easily control us instead – leading to endless cycles of anger, frustration, and an inability to see the humor in our inevitable personal pratfalls.

There are literally billions of people on this planet, and there is always someone faster than you, more attractive than you or quicker with a comeback, someone who sits more quietly on the last day of that week-long meditation retreat, someone who always seems to get that promotion you’ve been waiting for or aces that marathon finish time you’ve killed yourself in training to reach, but can’t. And there’s someone faster than them, too. And the fastest person of all gets injured, or is having problems in a relationship, or can’t ever remember where he or she left the car keys. As the Buddha realized when he first ventured beyond the ivory walls of his family palace, even the fastest or most handsome of us are facing the fundamental challenges of age and disease, life and death, and none of us are getting out of here alive. Could we perhaps all get along a little better if we kept those things in mind?

Often – especially when we allow our competitive fires to blaze out of control – our challenges aren’t nearly as serious as our egos would like us to think they are. In fact, our most serious challenge by far is probably that lifelong marathon we’re running against our egos. And here’s a surefire way to take at least a brief lead in that ongoing contest: when you’re being beaten in a race of any sort by a cartoon character, throw your head back and laugh out loud.

The week in training, 5/25-5/31

3 06 2009

More incremental progress: Three hours for Saturday’s long run, one and a half for Sunday, and up to one hour six minutes for Wednesday’s run. This is a step-back week, so the only incremental changes will be in Wednesday’s run, which goes to one hour twelve minutes.

I’m also starting to run after work rather than in the morning. This is helpful on several levels: one, the warmer temps and full-on sun give me the delusion I’m getting ready to help crew my friend Nattu in his third Badwater 135 in a few weeks; secondly, it frees up the morning for a full half-hour sit and 30-40 minutes of yoga before work; thirdly, it’s contributing to some of the highest-quality sleep I’ve had in awhile. Yes, the running feels a little warmer, but I’m liking this routine so far.

Regarding crewing Nattu at Badwater, I’ve “met” the four crew members (actually I know one of them already) via email and it’s been very congenial and productive … a crew with a little previous Badwater experience and a lot of running and ultra marathon experience. Flight reservations are being coordinated, a cargo van is being rented, and preparations are underway. This will be my first visit to Death Valley, and I’m grateful to have the experience and definitely looking forward to an interesting week.

The Zen teacher I see for dokusan on Monday nights is going to Germany next week and will be gone until the middle of August. Koan study has been helpful as of late, and I may have to switch to a Wednesday night sitting schedule just to ensure I keep up my momentum and see another teacher through the summer. As with running, small increments of progress toward … what, exactly? I suppose it’s all in the doing, with start and finish lines forever blurred.

5/25 Yoga 35 minutes
5/26 LHHS track, a.m. 4 x 800; about 50 minutes total
5/27 35 minutes Yoga. Neighborhood-North White Rock Creek trail, a.m. 66 minutes
5/28 LHHS track, a.m. 24-minute tempo run @ 8:00-7:45 pace. 44 minutes
5/29 40 minutes Yoga.
5/30 Neighborhood-North White Rock Creek trail, a.m. 3 hours
5/31 Norbuck Park, a.m. cross-country/trails, 1.5 hours. 40 minutes Yoga p.m.


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