"We choose to go to the moon, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
- John F. Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1962
I wish I had a quarter (used to be a nickel, but inflation you know) for every time a non-runner said to me "I can't run because it's so boring". Oh c'mon, it's not boring...you're boring! I swear, I have solved every problem in the world several times over during long solo runs, especially on the trail when I don't have to worry about fools in cars enforcing their macho inadequacies by proving to me the roads belong to cars, or whatever that piece of crap is they're driving...can you tell who had an "encounter" lately? I swear, I didn't provoke the insane horn-honking at 6AM on a four-lane.
Anyway, back to the world's problems solved by Al. The real difficulty in coming up with these brilliant solutions is remembering them long enough to write them down. This would be one world singing Kumbaya if I had any reasonable memory. I read a book recently called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. It's mostly concerned with his thoughts on the long-distance running he has engaged in for much of his adult life and how running intertwines what shapes him. Can't say it was page turner, as Larry King used to call a good book, but much of it marginally held my moderate interest (how's that for a sterling review?). However, it got me to paying attention to things that I think about when I feel my legs protesting. How often can you do a "body check", or repeat some mantra? Speaking from experience, we ultra-endurance athletes are quite accomplished at not thinking much at all. We block. We zone out. We focus on the future and numb ourselves to the present. We cope. We endure. But, sometimes we have to occupy our minds with SOMETHING, so, here are a couple of things that have tended to spread out my attention and divert the devil of long-distance fatigue.
I used to move around a lot as a child. I don't mean physically move around. I was actually pretty chunky as a kid. I think the pants salesmen would called it "husky". But, we probably moved residences 6-7 times before 9th grade. If I knew what it was back then, I would have thought my family was in Witness Protection. Anyway, during one Ultramarathon, I found myself trying to see how far back I could go to recall the floor plans of the houses I lived in. Sounds pretty dumb, but try it. Picture walking in the front door. What room was on the right, the left, where did the hall go, where was the bathroom, closets. Take a slow walk through your old house. Believe me, during a 50 mile run, you have all the time you need for this. It actually starts to become more detailed. You "see" the furniture, the drapes, out the windows, all the kitchen appliances. Take your time. That's the whole purpose - to take up the time. I think it was where I lived when I was about 9 that the memory became pretty vivid.
Math problems are always good for long runs. I was doing a hot, sunny marathon, I think in Arizona, and as my invincibility began to become more vincible in the heat, I noticed that the telephone poles cast about a 6 inch shadow across the road every 50 feet or so. I wonder how much shade I can actually run under during 26 miles. Let's see 6 inches every 50 feet. 5280 feet to a mile. 26.2 miles in this so-called "race". Now, that will eat up a ton of mental gasoline, especially when the needle is nearing empty already. I think, at the time, I probably calculated it was about 4 miles, but the actual answer was 115 feet! They need to make wider telephone poles.
When I run a marathon, I'm pretty much running a pace that I initially think I can maintain to either, 1) reach my time goal, or 2) finish the daggum thing. So, while Jeff Gallaway is getting mega-rich touting his run/walk program, I'm trying to figure out that if I walk for a minute EVERY ten minutes, how fast do I REALLY have to do the running segments. I mean, if I'm red-lining it with straight running, doesn't it occur to anyone that you have to run faster than your red-line pace if you throw in a walking minute? So, let's say you want to run a 4 hour marathon (a 9:09 pace/mile for 240 minutes) and you were going to run 10 minutes and walk one. That would come out to about 22 run/walk segments, so the walk total time would be 22 minutes. I figure I can walk about 1.6 miles in 22 minutes, so that leaves 3:38 to run 24.6 miles. That comes out to 8:51/mile pace. Now, try to do all those calculations at 20 miles of a marathon, and voila!, you've killed 20 minutes! Now, try to pick up the pace 20 seconds per mile. I'm too bushed from all that thinking!
Basically, during a run, I have no idea what will pop into my defenseless mind. An idea is more like a ping-pong ball bouncing around in a shoebox. But, if I can lasso onto something that will help carry me home, help divert the feeling of my legs feeling like bread dough, and help keep me semi-alert, then bring it on. I'll be glad to hear some your unique diversions - not mantras, not body-checks, not singing an old 60's hit, but some honest-to-goodness-this-is-where-my-mind-went- at-mile-18 diversions. I'm sure you all have some real doosies.
That's it for this week. I hope to see you soon on the ever interesting (but sometimes I need mental help) roads - AL
"One child lost is too many...one child saved can change the world"
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