Monday, 11 June 2012

Transitioning to a distance runner

I have been ruminating of late on the whole running thing that I do. Another race is round the corner. Not exactly round the corner, but close. After I registered for the race, they asked me to write something about what running means to me. The Why Do You Run question that is popped often. I'll link up what I wrote once they put it up on their web-site.

But as usual it started me thinking in many different directions. Stuff that cannot be captured in 300 words. Thank heavens there are no word limits in this space of mine! So brace yourselves. I will try hard to keep to one thread at a time and not wander too much.

Lets get the setting right though. I was on my long run yesterday, early morning. We started off as an as-usual-insanely enthusiastic group (for that time of morning). I was running with a friend of mine. Ahead of us was The Quizzer. Behind us were a few others, including dear KP, the Run:Walk specialist.

At some point, I found myself alone. So I of course got lost in thought. The weather was good and considering how bad it was the past few weeks, this was awesome. With inputs from The Quizzer, I am attempting, as I said in an earlier post, to keep my splits even. To not succumb to my natural tendency of burning myself out at the beginning. Thus I found myself at a comfortable uniform steady pace.

There is this whole sub-culture of social animals on Dailymile ("facebook for runners", my dear friend The Painter, recently relocated to Texas, and very sorely missed in Chennai, called it). On Dailymile, I feel like a hero. Okay I am going to get back to this point later, as it feels like a digression.

And the point really, is this. I love training for the races. For years now, I have been getting myself out there, usually in the early mornings, with thoughts of upcoming races, and some vague goal for the day that fits into a vague goal for race day. I started putting my training in a spreadsheet fairly recently. Till then I just remembered what I did the week before and did something related to it, in the current week.

Training for the various Mumbai Half Marathons, the broad goal was just pure unadulterated fitness. Defined as get aerobic exercise. I did few days of Kick Boxing a week. I went through a patch where I did a few days of an Aerobics Class at the gym. I played basketball, at least, I took the pumpkin and shot a few hundred baskets till I sweated a lot.

Once in a while, I ran. I only started running, as training for the HM, after the rains cleared out. So, in October. For three months, I ran on Saturdays or Sundays, starting with a 7 km run and ramping up to 20 kms, adding on 2 kms every week. I had no idea of speed, pace, or even the distance really. If my friends called me for it, I ran up a little hill at the back of the campus, once in a while.

When race day rolled around, I was excited. Also worried. About waking up in time. Hydration. Food. Potty. Sleep. Cramps. Loo lines. Weather. I wore cotton three-quarter pants one time. Tied a full handed tee round my waist another time. Wore too small shoes the first time. A black hat one time. Drank too much Gatorade one time, too little another time. Non-sports bras for the longest time.

Considering that I did okay anyhow - my timing improved with every race, I felt strong even after the race, no sustained injuries were acquired, I always placed within the top-30 recreational women runners, etc. - there was no motivation to figure this stuff out, really.

When my fitness started plateau-ing though, I started thinking about this stuff more scientifically. In particular, I have been working through my training more obstinately than before now. Starting with the distance. I think this is flak that ultra-marathoners get all the time. People say that they are too slow to do well in the marathons, so they go for these crazy ultra marathon distances. I feel like it might be true of me.

For years, I ran Half Marathons, falling just short of my stated goal of 2 hours. I have run 2:02; 2:03; 2:05; 2:07; 2:08... Frankly, its not as easy as it seems to shave off those last few minutes. I  had to shave 30 - 40 seconds off each mile. Which is not as less as it sounds, at least for me.

At some point, I stopped worrying about my times. Looking honestly at my training, I realised that I was not doing a good job of it. As with everything else in my life, I was spreading myself too thin! I was doing too many things, most of them irrelevant as far as improving my running was concerned - if that was indeed my goal. I thought it wasn't, but I found myself disappointed when I did one more HM at 2:05 or something.

Upon analysis, I had to say, a sort of yes, to that question. Yes, I wanted to improve my running, in some way. Most important at that mini-turning point of my life, was to avoid all the stupid injuries I was getting. These are the mysterious things that happen to me. Since I don't go to doctors unless its unavoidable, they remain mysteries for the most part. And I really wanted out from all that. Blisters. Bruises. Knots. I strongly believe that these minor things, which nevertheless set your training back by weeks, happened 'cause I was idiotic, & not focussed...

Thats when I truly transitioned to a distance runner, I think. A slow one if you look at world stats on this matter. An old one, if you put into the bucket my historical injuries (the real ones, like my ankle ligament), my current mysterious ones (yes, I still have them, but I just manage them better now), and my years of haphazard exercising. But always, a distance runner that loves the sport. Even if it is "the most boring thing in the world" as the child said yesterday....

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