Saturday, January 14, 2012

The beginning of a streak

In twenty eight years of running, I have never felt any need to maintain a streak of daily runs. At my most competitive, those days when I was trying to break 16 minutes for 5K, 33 minutes for 10K, 2:50 for a marathon (I never did, though I came close), I probably ran every day. I went to six days a week at least ten years ago, including the six years I coached. I ran my first two 50ks on two runs a week, and sometimes only one, but that hurt a lot; lately I’ve settled into four or five days a week, usually depending on when I do a long run. Both of you readers know that I “never run on Mondays. 

I promise not to run if I break my leg.
I have always approached those every day streaks with a laugh, in fact. The idea of hobbling for a mile to say you "ran" that day seems absurd. A former running partner of mine, a much more accomplished runner than I, trained for a marathon in only long runs, leaving recovery runs off his schedule, avoiding junk miles. He didn't oppose streaks, though, and maintained one of his own--20 years of running a sub-five minute mile. But he said the recovery could just as well come in the regular activity of his day. 
I caught on early in my running to the intellectual side of training theories. I’m not scientific, but the variety of approaches to training has always interested me, and I’ve come to believe that I know how my training fits into my physiology, lifestyle, and desire . I started training to race on roads right away, loving the long fast runs that really drove my aerobic capacity. I was pretty fast from the start, another reason I have kept at it. But it felt good to step to the line knowing I was fit and fast, and that every race was another PR. 
Running for me has lately been an manifestation of my mid-life crisis. And I've hinted that this fifty to fifty at fifty project is another one. But I've never been one to let these kinds of alleged stages in life define me. I've sought hard to avoid those cliches, like the Senior Slump, the bitter and lonely divorced man, and of course the mid-life crisis. (I will admit that I have not always been successful, and in hindsight I see why those particular stereotypes form.)
This streak I’m on, all six days of it so far, is not about increasing mileage, or getting faster, but rather a way of expressing a particular discipline that I've often maintained is the impetus for my running. To get out every day, whether it's raining or cold or hot or I'm tired, or hungry, or whatever. These won't be junk miles, they'll be getting out miles, feeling my legs, getting blood moving through my muscles, sore or tired or not. The fitness will be mental.
This past Monday, the day I never run, was also a day when I continued to hobble around a little sore-legged in the morning from Saturday's 50k. I felt pretty good, though, except for walking up or down stairs. I didn’t ride to work because of the rain. 
It would be the first day of my streak. I over-dressed on the chilly, rainy day, and drove the less-than-a-mile to Cottonwood so I wouldn't have any hills but could just trot out and back on the flat creek-side trail. I thought 15 or 20 minutes--two miles that includes the wetlands boardwalk crossing I love so much--would be plenty. I felt surprisingly loose though, and ran the easy three-mile round trip. Bristol the Enduro-Dog was a little put out. He runs leashed on Cottonwood because there are so many other people, and he tugged more than usual at my poky pace.
I feel really motivated to run right now, and want to take advantage of that. My next scheduled race is Terrapin Mountain in March, a course with a pile of long climbs over 2000 feet. They come with their attendant downhills, though, and I want to feel fit enough to run those without fear. Forty to fifty miles a week from now until then will really give me confidence to run faster than last year, so far my fastest 50K. 

Terrapin Mountain

But I’ve been thinking that  running every day will mean I end up doing more drills that I should do. Thursday, for example, I ran the mile to the high school to run barefoot on the grass. I’ve been doing some barefoot striders, but I decided to just run easy around the field today. It took a lap or two of the parallel football fields for me to get into a groove. I figured I’d run one mile, but it felt so easy I just kept going another mile. I ran home easy and loose for a four mile total run.
All that said, I keep going back to one third of the equation that is this blog’s title. Facing fifty for me has not been like facing 40, or 30, nor even of turning 16 or 21, all of which I saw as mere chronology, just another social stereotype more than a real milestone--it doesn’t take any talent to have a birthday. 
So all of this focus on plans and runs in celebration of turning fifty surprises me a little. I’ll resort to an analogy: When I discovered I need reading glass, my children made fun of me. I said I wouldn’t feel self-conscious about glasses because they work. I’m not going to resist this feeling just because it seems like a cliche.

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