Sunday, October 4, 2009

Born to Run

 As a preface, this post is three weeks early. This is what my race day, or day before race day post, should be. Nevertheless, I'm tempted to write it now.

I'm glad I'm hurt.

As I walk around DC the last five days, I've seen plenty of runners. Each time they catch my attention. I'll be in the middle of a conversation and ignore the person, while I zero in on the man or woman with the earbuds in, athletic wear on, and watch their feet hit the ground rhythmically, and much faster than my walking or sedentary place (unless, I'm on a bus). I feel a sense of wistfulness and jealousy. Then there are the people I follow on twitter, the Runner's World "Loopsters," and the MCM message board posters, who all go on about long-runs and weekly mileages and I sit at my computer upset, frustrated, and close to tears.

The last week of training, I was beat. I was looking forward to the taper. I missed my friends.  Still, there was a reason I was piling on the miles; a reason as to why I ran about 5 miles more last week than I was supposed to.

Thursday I turned 22. I met with my friends at Chinatown's Jaleo for tapas and sangria and I apologized for not being around much. I did the same thing at my Sigma Kappa family brunch this morning. The only friend I've seen much of is Jaclyn, when I ran the 5k with her, and Charlie, who will eat at home with me. And the boys in my life, because I love flirting almost as much as I love running.

Doing nothing but sleep, run, work and eat for weeks should have had me miserable. I should be celebrating my new free time with happy hours, movie-dates and dinners. Instead, I'm at a loss. I just sit at home and make dinner, and read, and wish I could be 10-miles out, mid-run, feeling like I could run forever. I'm not feeling depressed (yet) but I feel anxious. I feel lost. And now, I get to be sentimental.

I can't put down Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run.  This morning I almost missed my metro stop, and this afternoon I actually did miss my bus stop, I was so engrossed. I'm quoting him in every way on my social networks, laughing to myself in public, and with my strained ankle, I almost started crying. I want to run. And I want to run so bad that I think about it all the time, and I've rediscovered my absolute love for something that humans are born to love--according to McDougall.

To be honest, the reason I run marathons isn't for the race, or the time on my chip. As I've said before, its simply the finish line to over 500 miles of training. I run marathons so I have an excuse to run 20-mile long runs over the weekend. I have an excuse to dedicate myself to searching for that runner's high. I'm no writer, I'm not all that great at articulating my thoughts or emotions. I won't do this any justice. Fellow runners understand what I'm talking about, but if you run anything less than 8 miles, you won't get it. There's always that peak. It's named the runner's high; I often think of it as my second wind.  Its what makes the long run my favorite weekend activity, and often, I got home only to want to go out and do it again.

It starts with a sort of numbness. It no longer feels like you are working your legs forward, they just go. It doesn't matter what the surface, you hardly feel the ground. At this point, no effort is put forth. Its as if you're at rest, or walking, even when you speed up--which I always do. Your heart rate is slow and melodic, as if you're trying to fall asleep. Breathing is easy. Not only is your body singing with an endorphin-induced high, you feel completely in-tune with every step and its as if you can go on forever. This is why on long runs, I drink as much as a 4-mile speed-workout. I forget about the waterbelt and food on me, and just get lost in my music versus the rhythm of my feet hitting the ground.  My last long run was 3 miles longer than it was supposed to be--you can blame this so called runner's high. I didn't really want to stop. I didn't want to turn around to the memorial bridge. Speed workouts feel great when you push yourself, and let the speed roll off you and your arms pump with your legs. No one has ever passed me during my laps around Lincoln park. It takes a sort of wonderful effort. Its painful. I love it, but its nothing compared to that long run ease.

McDougall describes the runner's high according to ultramarathoner Ann Trason, who described trail running as romantic. I love this description:
Gotcha. Grueling, grimy, muddy, bloody, lonely trail-running equals moonlight and champagne.... Relax enough, and your body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that you almost forget you're moving. And once you break through to that soft, half-levitating flow, that's when the moonlight and champagne show up: "You have to be in tune with your body, and know when you can push it and when to back off,".... You have to listen closely to the sound of your own breathing; be aware of how much sweat is beading on your back; make sure to treat yourself to cool water and a salty snack and ask yourself, honestly and often, exactly how you feel. What could be more sensual than paying exquisite attention to your own body? Sensual counted as romantic, right?
I don't run to lose weight anymore. I don't run for anybody else but myself. In fact, this will be the first time I have a friend at one of my marathons. The first time, I walked into the Sigma Kappa house with a medal around my neck. When people questioned me I answered nonchalantly that I ran the Baltimore Marathon that morning, and went to go use the elevator. When I was told the elevator broke that morning, I started to cry. It was a rough couple days.

I don't have a coach. I don't run with a running group. Before I got my Garmin, I just concentrated on getting around Lincoln park within 3 minutes when the song on my iPod was over. When I left it at home, I did my speed work until I felt nauseous, then I knew I was at a good pace.  Now that I'm nursing a strained ankle and have barely ran since Tuesday, I'm looking back on the last few months of training and I, without a doubt, had the time of my life.

I barely went out, I didn't see much of my friends, I'll restate that my life was sleep, run, work, eat... and it was fabulous. I was just so happy that now, I'm able to look back and think about how much every run meant to me. My Saucony's are my new best friend. And Princesse Tam Tam, obviously is the best running partner ever. I'm so proud of my training. I can't believe I'm at a point where 8:20 is comfortable, and when I check my garmin on those running highs--I'm at 7:15 easy. 3:10 goal at Boston, anyone?

This post also serves as the song of the week. Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run is probably one of the best songs ever. When that "tramps like us, baby we were born to run" is blasting into my ears, it starts a crazy surge of adrenaline.

Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else. And like everything else we love--everything we sentimentally call our "passions" and "desires"--it's really just an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We're all Running People...
- Christopher McDougall

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