Saturday, May 18, 2013

Which One is Different?

"Life is a marathon. But if you smoke, eat wrong foods, or don't buckle up, and so forth, you may turn life into a 10k" - Hal Higdon

The other day, I opened a pack of electrode pads (remember I'm a Physical Therapist) and only 3 of the 4 pads had an electrode wire coming from it. So when Cliff, my good running friend from Atlanta AND the supplier of most of my clinic supplies, came by, I wanted to show him this blatant example of poor quality control. I pulled out the defective pack and I asked him "Cliff, here's a riddle. Which electrode is different?". Without blinking an eye, Cliff says "I see 3 that are different!". Great answer. How does this tie-in to running? I dunno, but it's funny. Actually, it does tie-in. 

Tell a non-running anyone that you’re doing an ultramarathon, or even a marathon,  and watch the expression on their face. They almost can’t believe it. Actually they just can’t understand it. “How far is that marathon?” they ask. "No, I'm not doing one of those 5 mile marathons". Even when you tell them what you're up to, they have no comprehension how far 26.2 miles or 50 kilometers or 50 miles really is. Sometimes I tell them by relating it to a distance they would understand — “It’s from here Alabaster and back, or it's from here to the Georgia border or it's from here to Hobnob by way of Jackson Gap"...remember, I live in Alabama. They still don’t get it. The physical task is, simply put, impossible for them to really understand.

But then you go to your particular race and you’re somehow feeling, well, “average.” When you're around non-runners or runners that don't have a need to see how far they can go, it's hard to not have a certain feel that you have something in this running mentality that they don't. Not better, not superior, not suddenly "all-knowing", but it's just a more of a "I've been somewhere that I can't explain to you" feeling. 

Anyway, you go to your race, and you look around at 100's of folks standing around the starting line and you start to think maybe this ain’t such a big deal afterall. The small fish (me) in a small pond becomes a smaller fish in a bigger pond. It’s not like I'm going to win or even came close. In fact, the winners are going to finish the race before I probably got to the halfway point. You hear others talking at the race...this is my 50th marathon, or this is my 10th ultra this year, or they're setting new PR's left and right. They expound about how many miles they're putting in, or how many "vertical feet" they incorporated into their training lately. I'm pushing 66 years old, and feel that's pretty good to just be out here, but now there's lots of these guys older than me running a lot faster (the fish just got smaller). It’s common place. The "wow" factor I produce at work is certainly missing when I'm surrounded by my running peers. Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad thing. Runners of ALL abilities are consistently the best collection of guys and gals you want to be surrounded by. But when you're around folks doing what you do, well, then what you do is no big deal.

Whenever I go to race, I have this very feeling. Although I'm doing what most consider impossible, or at least extremely difficult, when I line up before the obligatory "Go", I am feeling quite average. How can this be? Because my world shrinks when I'm around other long distance runners.

I think our own comprehension of what we do is shaped by our own experience, while the person hearing about your tale of perceived physical world domination can’t comprehend the task, because they have no experience with which to understand it. Their long distance is parking a little further from the WalMart front door. And our experience leads us to form an opinion based on all that we’ve done. In other words, we have a basis to compare against while others don’t.

Deep inside, or often superficially, we are competitive creatures. That’s a lot of why we participate in these crazy marathons and ultras to begin with. For most of us, including me, that competition is usually with yourself...can I be competitive - NO. Can I be competitive in my age group where there MIGHT be 3 competitors - MAYBE. Can I keep from falling less times than I did in my last race - PROBABLY. I guess my "competitive drive" shapes my impression of how I feel about my endeavors. The self-talk during a race quickly goes from “I am just trying to finish” in the late stages, and then 10 minutes after you cross the finish line - “I could have gone faster if only I had (fill in the blank)”. We never think what we are doing is impossible. We get it. We can do this. We've done it. We just want to do it better, or in my case, at least do it respectively.   This inner self-talk takes us from thinking that what we’re doing is impossible to thinking that we could do it better the next time. Any way you boil it down, it's just running and we need to put the pieces we know in the right order to get it right. Sometimes it works and sometimes it fails miserably. You don't always hit that sweet spot in any sport.

Our bar for comparison is all relative. Away from my running peers, I'm doing something that's pretty far out there. I'm judged anywhere from Superman to crazy as a loon. Around my running buddies, I'm not doing anything out of the ordinary at all. I'm considered strange because my beer choice is an English Brown Ale instead of an IPA, not because I run from here to WAY over there. Maybe that's why runners hang around runners, or any other group hangs around folks that do the same thing they a group, you all get it, no need to explain, no quizzical looks, just "normal", "average", "ordinary". Ain't so bad, is it?

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world" 

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