Friday, November 27, 2015

First steps

The fire, I felt it in those final miles of the Philadelphia Marathon this past weekend. It was burning in my legs, that tinge to signal effort. It was present in my lungs and I could feel it in my veins.

This morning, five days into my off season, I woke up before my 5 a.m. alarm. I balanced a mug on my lap as I warmed to the thought of the outside. In another half hour, I was outside to confront November, running as darkness reluctantly relinquishes control. On a similar morning, four months ago, I'd be on my front stoop, stretching lightly, babying a niggle on my left hamstring, watching the mid-summer dawn take over the sky. Eight months ago, I was watching the late winter give way to spring.

Today felt like spring. Today was like first day, only that it wasn't.

Run, every day.

The first few steps of every run reignites everything. It may draw out your pains, may expose your lack of sleep or express how fit you truly are. For the past 730 days, I've taken those first steps and it's led me here to this moment.

I'm writing this as I "lap" the second year mark of my run streak. Last year, I wrote a post about the things I've learned about running 365 days, and although not much has changed, my perspective is evolving.

The life of a runner begins with enthusiasm, sparked by fitness gains and early PBs. They're bolstered by bucket list goals, by friends we meet on the trails and the goals we dangle in front of us. Over the years, that early love affair with running changes, not as obvious as a fork in the trail, but there is a point in the path where we decide what running is to us. Is it something we did before life and work and responsibility edges out running.

I've lost count of the number of kilometres or runs I've accumulated in the past 11 years as a long distance runner. Two years ago, in starting this run streak, I had rekindled my love of performance running. Simply, I wanted to get fit again, get as fast as I could, and get to Boston. Within those two years, I achieved that and more, but the unintended outcome -- in its 730th day -- was the unexpected surprise.

Heat map of the last two years of running
That fire I felt in Philly was another rekindling. I was reminded that running in the long term is not unlike every stride you take. Your next step follows the first. You bound through trails, on top of concrete on asphalt on a forward motion -- jumping, really -- that would not have been possible if you hadn't taken the step before that.

We bound, one foot in front of the other, on our daily runs. Over the course of the days and miles and trials, we get stronger. That strength is like a shockwave that travels from your heel right up to your heart. A runner's body changes over the course of the years. Our bones solidify, our muscles extend and tighten, our bodies can get lean, our stride efficiency increases.

There are moments during every run when everything feels fluid. Easy even. But that belies the pain -- forcing legs to move faster than they are capable, pushing the heart to pump out enough oxygen to fuel your needs.

In the middle or end of any hard workout there is a point when you say no more. You think you can't go forward. But you push. And at the end, lungs busting, heart leaping, knee leaning, you are crafting a harder version of yourself.

So I enter into a part of my running life not thinking that the road has run out, but rather that I've taken that brief pause, and now I'm ready to see where the next cycle will take me.

Run streaks are really not about peering from the top of the mountain to appreciate the view, as there is no summit. You're in perpetual motion. Every day resets itself. You get on your shoes and, like any other runner tackling that day, you're taking your first steps. Something fuels that. Ritual, repetition, for sure, and maybe even habit, but I think somewhere in there you need the fire.

They say you don't want to run another marathon until you've forgotten the last one you've run. The pain you experience during those challenging miles, the wall, the cramps, the feeling of exhaustion meted out, drawn out. Why do we do it again?

In those final miles of Philly, a race that didn't go according to plan, I told myself to fight through. I shut any impulse to shut down. For once in the past few months, I embraced the suck.

And when I passed that finish line, I felt a different type of fire. It continues to burn.

The past year has been amazing. What's next?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Interlude

There comes that point in a run where you get to the stop light. You linger, waiting for the seconds to count down before you have to start up again. Your heart rate comes down, you can almost reset your systems before continuing.

Sometimes, I run toward the stop light, hoping for a pause. 

This post is about interludes, about training and a little about what I've been up to these last six months.

I found myself at the end of my last marathon with the prospect of yet another summer of training, ramping up, getting the miles in, the quality work building a better me. Yet at the same time, I felt the tiredness that had started to set in with a busy work schedule, other priorities and found my time crunched.

How do we rebalance a life of a runner when priorities change? I've thought a lot about the quality of my training, the amount of time I put into it and even how much I spent time writing in this space.

This year marks the 10th year I've trained for the marathon. After running my 30th at Boston, I felt that I'd come full circle -- I was faster than I've ever been and it was an amazing accomplishment but not without the toll. I had niggles that persist to this day, was losing out on sleep and started to see training as work, not play. 

Signing up for a November marathon pushed out my training well into the summer, yet I was still doing long runs in June and July. And as the early fall race season hit and my friends started their off season, I felt I had prolonged things too much. So I enter November and my prep for Philly wishing I was in the off season. My fitness tells me I can do this marathon, even at a reasonable pace, but not where I was earlier this year. I welcome the off season and am hungry to get back at it next season.

The pause, or interlude, is something that I desperately need. One can not keep the pace season after season, I've learned, and if I'm going to look at having more years of strong running, I'll have to learn how to reassess, rebuild and capture that feeling of performance running. That, and refocus back on strength, diet and training consistency. 

One thing that is consistent is The Streak: I'm now 711 days into the running streak and it has transformed my running life. As I look forward to finishing the second year of the streak, a few things that have come apparent. I'm a morning runner, able to wake up at 5 am with little fuss. I'm an early sleeper as the body has naturally adjusted to the wakeup calls. My easy runs are truly easy and I listen to the body with every run. I feel connected to the process to the point that running every day is not something planned, but just done. 

So what's coming up next is another race in two weeks, another off season and the healing and ramping up that will happen with my 2016 marathon, which will be the Boston Marathon. I'm not sure if I'll do a marathon next fall but there are different races, reasons to train. I look forward to getting my body and mind into that process. I'll find more to write about running in that journey. I'm back, but in essence, never really went away. If you want to follow my runs and pictures I share, I'm on Strava and on Instagram.

Water fountains still running, still running long. #runto

A photo posted by Kenny (@yumkerun) on