Monday, December 26, 2011

The joy of treks

Oh, how I looked forward to the week off.
Every year I take a week off from running. It's my bye week. It's a week to heal chronic aches, like that barking hamstring you've been reading about,  and that's how I justify it to myself. But really, it's as much as a break from my mind as it is my body. Probably more so.
I don't do anything halfway. Rather than just climb some of the more interesting 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, I had to climb them all. Rather than just play Angry Birds, I have to get three stars on every level. I have never not finished a book, even when I hated it halfway through. I don't just play cards. I play poker.
I know. It sounds like bragging, doesn't it? But I'm also obsessed about goals. That's a blessing and also a curse. Because many times I forget to do something just for fun. I'm almost incapable of it.
I think it's pretty obvious now that I love running. I think anyone who reads this blog has seen it. I'll miss it terribly when I can't do it any longer. But again, it's not something I can do just for fun.
There's a whole industry built on people like me. Hell, Garmin makes a living off us. The company manufactures GPS devices that tell us, down to the second, what pace we're running and just how far we're running, too, down to the foot.

Races market themselves on courses where you have a good chance to achieve a "PR." A PR, which, by the way, is what I did in Vegas, is the serious runner's ultimate goal. It means you've improved. It means all that work is paying off. It means you've justified it!
There's also a reason races give out medals.*
*On a side note, there are certain things you just don't do, unless you want to be known as a goob, knob or, honestly, complete dork. You don't wear the race shirt to the race, and you DEFINITELY don't wear the finisher's medal the next day. I saw a couple wearing their medals around the Aria the day after the Vegas race, and they looked like complete douchebags, even the female, and it's rare when females achieve that status. It's like calling trips a "set" in poker.
Magazines like Runner's World and gurus like Hal Higdon teach us that every run should have a PURPOSE. A serious intent. A reason. You do tempo runs and speed workouts and long runs.

You don't just go out for a run when you're a serious runner. Well, that's not exactly true. But when you do, we call those "easy" runs.
That's right. Marathon plans, or plans for any race, really, have "easy" runs built into them. Fun runs, in other words, scheduled out with your 20-milers. Does anyone else see the irony in that?
Races are fun, really fun. But I always have one bought and paid for, staring me down on the calendar, to keep me motivated. I've got a half marathon signed up for late SEPTEMBER.
You're getting the idea, right? Rather than just run, I follow a plan and stick to it with the regimen of a general.
Well, usually.
The thing is, I learned something about myself when I took that week off.
Those first four days, I felt great. I slept in before work. My hamstring didn't ache when I sat at my desk. I got a lot of things done around the house. I read a book in just a few days. I took long, hot showers. I pussyfooted. I read the whole newspaper. When you stop working out, you discover your body doesn't hurt and all this extra free time. It's tempting to quit for good.
It was tempting until day five. That's when the blahs came along.
I don't have another word for it. I felt sluggish. Crappy. I didn't sleep well. I felt wound up and tired at the same time. My back started to hurt. I was edgy, even cranky. I wanted to eat a lot of bad food. I craved sugar and salt and chips. It was almost as if...yeah, almost as if I was feeling my 40 years. I felt old, dammit.
I was almost downright thrilled to be lacing up my shoes that Monday, even if it was 6:30 a.m. and I didn't get to bed until 11:15 p.m. When I went out, it was 15 degrees, and my fingers hurt from the cold, and I felt as if I had a tractor tire roped to me. I couldn't run anywhere near my normal pace, and when I did, I was panting like a unshaved sheepdog in summer.
That sucked, I thought that morning, as I tore off my clothes, in a hurry once again, to get a quick shower before work. Why do I do it? Why did I feel so badly that I needed to do it?
A couple hours later, I had my answer. The blahs were gone.
Yes, my hamstring ached a bit, and I was yawning a bit, but I also suddenly had a lot more energy. I wanted to sing at my body electric. I felt myself again.
Now before you think running comes naturally to me, like I'm some sort of gazelle or something who just needs to move, trust me, it doesn't. It took three weeks, thanks to the half marathon and that week break, before a run felt good again. Most of the time during a run I felt like shit (sorry but there's no other word for it), and sometimes I whined my sorry ass, waaa waaa waaa all the way home.
Running can be a struggle, but it gives me something that nothing else can. It gives me life in my old bones. I really DO need it.
I still wear my Garmin most of the time, and even when I don't, during those "easy" runs, I could probably tell you how fast I'm going. I'm still following a schedule in my head. I'm planning on going for a tempo run tomorrow. Most runs still have a purpose.
But not always. I'm trying to change that, and after that week off, I'm more determined than ever.
Christmas Day, I got up with the kids, early of course, which was fine, and opened presents and played with them and assembled their toys, which was great. Then I had an hour. I don't normally run Sundays. It's my scheduled day off. But I gave Kate that look, and she asked how far I was going to go.
It turned out to be five through my favorite park in Greeley. The sun was out, the air was cold and warm at the same time, and the snow crunching beneath my feet accompanied the music through my ears.
It was nice to be outside. Even more than that, it was fun.

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