Some are made to fight. Some are made to run away. And some are made to run head first at the challenge screaming and waving their arms and hoping that the challenger flinches first.
I'm beginning to think I'm in this last group.
When I was out running the trail the other day, I saw a group of people that were presumably military jogging across the road. I made this assumption based on their short hair, strong physique, tight formation and penchant for the color green. They were all pretty well built, but I noticed that many of them appeared to be breathing rather heavily despite the relatively slow pace. Granted, they'd probably run many miles by this time, but it still got me thinking back to my days as a high school runner.
I remembered a day when I was hanging out with a wrestler friend of mine who was making fun of me for swimming in the winter season instead of wrestling. The general tenor of his argument was that any kind of real man would rather fight than race when given the opportunity. Being the headstrong young man that I was, I accepted his subsequent challenge to have a wrestling match, and surprised everyone there when I flipped him within the first few seconds. This would be my only bright spot in the match.
The fact is, I'm simply not built as a fighter. In the last few months, I've been doing some strength training to try and build some upper body muscle, but there's no question what my body was designed to do. I was designed to be a runner. So much so that it makes me wonder what I could have done if I had been disciplined with it in high school. Maybe I could have been great. Maybe I could have been really okay. Maybe I would have run myself out midway through college and given it up forever. There's no benefit to living in the "what if" world, so I don't spend too much time there. The point of all this is that my general makeup lends itself to running, which is why I think I can do the 50 marathon challenge at all.
So when something goes wrong, it bugs me. When that something heals and something else goes wrong, it just makes me angry. After mile nine yesterday, I got stopped at my 1,000th red light of the run and took a bit of a stretch. Since the very start of the run, my right shin muscle, just below the knee, had been bugging me. This was the one I mentioned the other day that I needed to stretch a lot before the next run, and so I did. I had to stop twice during the run and stretch it more. And I stretched it at every red light.
The trouble is, there are only so many times in an 11-mile run that you can stop and start before your legs start getting really angry. I kept to my old running areas for today's run, but mixed it up a little in an effort to see some of the SXSW craziness. It was early, so there was only a small flurry of activity, but you could tell that there was a party there. And smell it. Anyone who has ever walked down Clark Street in Chicago on a Sunday morning knows the smell I'm talking about. Stale beer, trampled cigarettes, and various other smells that you know but don't want to admit recognizing abound. It smelled like home.
Yet amidst all of this interesting scenery, there were tons of red lights, and I didn't quite get out early enough to just run through them. On the way back, I was getting stopped every 3 minutes or so, and compounding this with the irritation in my shin, I was starting to get really frustrated. Thus, when I hit my nemesis stoplight right as it turned, I wasn't pleased. I stretched some and tried to keep moving around. When it changed, I started to run and immediately pulled up. There was a stabbing pain all through my leg and I actually hopped across the street and sat down. I briefly considered calling my wife, because I was worried that I wouldn't be able to walk home.
Then I felt it. The cramp in the muscle. It was a bad one, but that's all it was. I could tell that the pain wasn't in the ligaments or in the bones, which meant that it was a pain that had to be run out. I gave myself a minute or two to really stretch and massage it, and then I started again, slowly. As I gradually increased speed, the pain remained, but it did not flare up like it had. I made it another mile, but the hill I was facing coupled with my repeated stopping had taken the wind out of me, and I stopped again for another stretch.
Again, I considered calling my wife, or simply going with a 10-mile run and a 1-mile walk. I even started to move on this second option, but I stopped myself, actually yelling out "No!" Last season, it was the long run I didn't finish that began several weeks of bad training. That pain was a little different, but the idea is the same. If I let myself off the hook now, I run the risk of being ill-prepared later. I picked my head up, dropped my shoulders down, and started jogging (at a much slower pace) up the hill. The challenge arose, and I ran at it. I didn't wave my arms, and I only yelled a little, but I met the challenge and I completed my run.
Thankfully, today is a rest day. I put some ice on the muscle yesterday and stretched it out a great deal. By the end of the night, it was barely an issue at all. There's definitely some stiffness this morning, but overall, I think I'll be ready for my short dash tomorrow.
My real victory here is that my little color-coded spreadsheet remains intact. I'm still mad at myself for missing that nine-miler a couple weeks ago, which no doubt contributed to my lack of readiness for yesterday's run, so I am thrilled that I didn't do it again. I must maintain a strong mind throughout the training process if I'm going to have any shot at qualifying for Boston in less than 100 days.
After all, running is just mind over muscle.
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