Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dare to Go Bare

As a runner, I have always trained to the specific task. When I am running marathons, I train by running longer distances. When I am running Peachtree, a July 4th race in Atlanta, I train in the heat. If my goal is to lower my 5K time, I run intervals on the track to increase speed. The bottom line is, my training is specific to my goals.

I'm not alone in my philosophies. Elite runners train at altitude to prepare for high attitude races. Most runners do hill workouts to help prepare for rolling courses. So, what is my dilemma, you may ask?

I recently registered for a race called "Dare to Bare 5K." It is run, how shall we say? Well, let's put it this way. I would be very surprised to see any running apparel companies sponsoring this one, but suntan lotion companies may have a vested interest in it, and I may have a mutual interest in loading up on the stuff. I have some sensitive parts I would like not to see burned.

So, I figured, train how you plan to race, right? Well, I tried, and immediately received a stern warning from my neighborhood's homeowner's association. Strange, I thought. They never minded me doing speedwork or long distance. Even my fartlek barely raised an eyebrow. But THIS race specific training, somehow, offended enough people that I had to take my training indoors, to a treadmill.

So I did, and you'll never guess what happened. They revoked my membership at the club whose treadmill I used. They said my exposure was indecent, which was in direct conflict with my assumption that I was getting in pretty good shape. I don't understand. They promote these places as a safe haven to sculpt your body, and then, when you show it off, they get all huffy about it.

While I was doing my wash that evening, I was still so upset about the eviction I had experienced earlier in the day, that I accidentally threw a pair of my running shorts in the wash with the sturdy cottons, and then threw them in the dryer under high heat. Usually, I wash them on a delicate setting, and then hang them up to dry, to save their elasticity. These shorts were ruined. There was no stretch in them at all, and they could no longer give me any support at all. And I thought I could trust all my athletic supporters. Now I had none. First the neighborhood, then my health club, and finally, even my own shorts stopped supporting me.

Then it hit me! Wasn't this the goal of this event specific training from the start? To train with as little support as possible, while still staying within the guidelines of good taste and applicable law? Now, I had my answer.
I quickly pinned the waistband of my shorts together with a couple of safety pins, so I wouldn't be wearing them around my ankles. The parts of my shorts that used to carry me through my long runs where down to about my knees now, and certainly no longer functional for that purpose, but that was exactly what I wanted.

So now, with my newly designed shorts, with everything hanging a little lower than before, I can once again train around the neighborhood without stares of horror coming my way. They have welcomed me back at my health club with open arms. And I am preparing well for my special race too, with a freedom the likes of which I have never known before. And I take special satisfaction in knowing something that nobody else realizes. Under my running shorts, I am actually naked. Don't tell anybody.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thoughts of a Roads Scholar: I am at None with Nature

Thoughts of a Roads Scholar: I am at None with Nature: "Once, I read a Woody Allen quote that said, 'I am at two with nature.' I'm not sure where I read that, but my hunch is it was in ..."

I am at None with Nature

Once, I read a Woody Allen quote that said, "I am at two with nature." I'm not sure where I read that, but my hunch is it was in one of my many John Jerome runner's logs, because I don't do a whole lot of other reading. 
But that quote, much like almost everything else about Woody Allen, I never really understood.

For the last month or so, my own take on it has been that "I am at none with nature," But I think I can explain what I mean when I say it. I came to that realization early this morning, when I stepped out the door for my run and was met with thick damp heavy air.

For nine months of the Atlanta year, I look forward to virtually every run with eager anticipation, and I'm ready to meet nature's challenges. In reality, spring and autumn practically beg you to run in them, and pose virtually no opposition at all. They are mostly perfect for running, at just about any time of day or night. And the scenery is gorgeous. Whether it is the lightly scented and heavily colorful new blooms of spring, or the outstanding fiery foliage of autumn, I find myself at one with nature.

Winter can pose a slightly more objectionable obstacle for some, but I personally enjoy charging into the teeth of a biting wind, and I always make a point of jumping into the midst of a rare falling snow. I'd rather be out running when it's 20 degrees than 50 degrees, so even on weekends, I'm most often out running before the first hints of daylight. It's me against the elements, and I'm always ready for the battle, and the victory. In the back of my winter mind, I am always reminding myself that there are many parts of the country where they would scoff at our thin skin anyway.

But then there are those three saddest of all possible words for runners like me. Those words are June, July and August. The temperature rises in tandem with inflated race times, and just the thought of running much more than four miles at a stretch exhausts me. Even at 5 in the morning, there is often nary a hint of coolness in the soggy morning air, and the humidity is often close to 100%. There is nothing desirable under the sun, or the moon during the dog days of summer. The same stars that shone so brightly in the crisp winter skies are hardly noticeable now and spring's bright colors have given way to a monochrome and mundane green. And sadly, I have not been at one with nature. I have been at none with it.

This morning was another in a series of motivational struggles. The official temperature was 80 degrees and the humidity was even higher than that.  The moon had a very strange halo-like haze surrounding it, indicating that this weather is going to be around for a while.  The only consolation is that the run was done in darkness rather than under a glaring sun, but I refuse to give in to a treadmill, so I get up early. Very early.  Even being at none with nature is better than not being with nature at all.

We're probably at least a month away from that morning when I open the door to go out in the darkness, and am greeted with surprisingly dry cool breeze, which hints more of September than July, but it will be worth the wait.   There is a smug satisfaction these days when the weather flirts with triple-figures later in the day in knowing that your run is far behind you, and your daily mission is complete.  For right now, it's about the only positive glimmer I can come up with in the grip of the dog days of summer.

Maybe I am closer to being at one with nature than I give myself credit for.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Beer Has Sustained Me

Some things in life are truly paradoxical. For example, why in nature, would the hardest part of the human body be in direct contact with the softest part of the human body, fully capable of doing severe damage? Anyone who has ever bitten their tongue knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Most of the runners that I know represent a similar oxymoron. ( No, an oxymoron is not a dumb person with zits.) To casual observers, we are a picture of good health and good living. We run, therefore we probably eat fresh fruits and vegetables all day long, drink nothing but sparkling water, and wouldn’t go near red meat with a ten foot pole. I don’t know about you, but rabbit food just doesn’t cut it for me.

It is true that we do share some common health beliefs. Rarely do I see a runner smoking before a race, but it’s not unheard of. One of the nicest things about post race parties is that they are smoke free, a fact appreciated by all. But to see what food disappears first at those post race gatherings is the window to the soul of the runner.

I was at a race recently where post race refreshments included pizza, sub sandwiches, assorted cookies, and bananas. I saw people walk off with three pieces of pizza, and then return for more when their stash was gone. I saw people hoarding down handfuls of cookies without caloric guilt or remorse. People were crowded around the sub table to the point where you couldn’t nudge through to see what was left. Thanks to the sponsors who provided the feast. There was plenty of everything for everyone.

One table was practically ignored. The bananas. I didn’t see anyone look both ways and then grab a bunch of bananas when nobody was looking. There was no need for a sign that said “Please limit yourself to one banana only.” Most people were limiting themselves to no bananas. Curious, I thought that these health conscious people would bypass the obvious choice in favor of fat and empty calories.
As I thought about this, I realized that the five pieces of pizza I had just eaten had made me extremely thirsty. Boy, I could go for a beer right now. Beer. The one universal drink of the runner. Is there a runner alive who is not also a beer lover? Just give me my Samuel Adams after a training run and it truly doesn’t get any better than this.

I am an analytical thinker and try to make sense out of everything. So, of course, I started wondering why good running seemed to go hand in hand with bad eating and beer drinking. Well, I think I have figured out the answer in a way that at least I can understand. It’s really quite simple if you do the math. Let’s start with the facts.

3500 calories will always equal one pound. This is a simple mathematical equation.
Each mile you run burns approximately 100 calories.
Each beer you drink adds about 150 calories.
Personally, I maintain a steady weight of about 150 pounds, which remains steady from year to year. I average about 120 miles of running per month. At 100 calories per mile, that means that each month, I burn about 12,000 calories running.
120 miles X 100 calories = 12,000.
12,000 calories = 3.42 pounds. That’s how much weight I lose each month by running.

In order to stay even, I need to intake an equivalent number of calories from beer.

12,000 divided by 150 (calories per beer) = 80 beers per month, or 2.66 beers per day. I willingly do this to maintain the balance of nature. The first 2 beers are easy, but the last .66 is a bit harder. I haven’t yet figured out how to keep the carbonation going from one day to the next once the bottle is opened.
Simple math again tells me that I cannot stop drinking beer even if I wanted to (which, thank goodness, I don’t.) Here’s why.

Suppose I stopped drinking beer today and changed nothing else about my lifestyle. I’d still run my 120 miles a month, and I’d lose 3.42 pounds in the process. In only one year, I would lose 41.1 pounds. My weight would drop to under 110 pounds and I’d have to listen for high wind advisories before going outside. In only three short years, I will have lost 123.3 pounds, bringing my weight down to 26.7 pounds. I could get a job as a wind sock at the airport. In less than four years, I wouldn’t even be here any more. I would be totally gone.

Quit drinking beer? How can I? I am forced to drink in self defense. I take comfort in the fact that health experts now say that a beer a day may be better for you than total abstinence. So I figure you can never get too much of a good thing. I’m probably guaranteed good health through the year 2072 by now. Besides, we all have to do our part to contribute to the balance of nature (and the bathroom scale.) So bring on the pizza, sub sandwiches, cookies, and, most importantly, keep drinking beer.

And save the bananas for the monkeys.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Sometimes Wonder

I sometimes wonder whatever happened to Charles, Chip, Joe, Tom, and George. My guess is that you wouldn't know any of these people, but at one time, they were simultaneously my peers and my heroes. These were the people who were in my grade school classes back in New Jersey in the mid 1960's. Or they were on the same little league team I played on. And to me, they were in some ways bigger than life, because they were all amazing athletes. I wanted to be just like them.

They all had the kind of abilities that made them the envy of many.  In gym class, for example, when we all got in that dreaded line where we counted off by 4's to pick the teams, everyone would check out where these people were standing. Then, they would scramble for position in the line like a human Three Card Monte, hoping to be on the same team. A guy named Ira was the only person who ever told me that he would focus on me when he got in the line. I was flattered, but Ira wasn't the best volleyball player I ever saw.

Somehow, Charles, Chip, Joe, and the rest of them seemed to excel at every sport they engaged in. They could shoot a basketball with uncanny accuracy, and throw a football farther than anyone else, with a perfect spiral every time. When it came to baseball, they could hit, throw, and field better than anyone else. I never saw any of them play ice hockey, but my hunch is that hockey just may have been the sport to humble them. In the back of my mind, I just knew that they were all headed for the professional sport of their choosing some day, and I could say I used to know them way back when. They were all athletically gifted, and it all seemed to come easy, and naturally.

And one more thing that they could do better than anyone else. They could all run like the wind. It didn't matter whether it was a 100 yard dash, or the mile we had to run for the President's Physical Fitness Test each year. We didn't know about fast twitch/slow twitch muscle fibers back then, so it didn't matter. If you could run, you could run any distance. We were yet to be blinded by the science that dictated what our physical limits should be.

When I was in the 7th grade, I moved to Pennsylvania, and I have never heard another thing about any of them since. In the mid 1970's, when these athletes would have been breaking into the big times, I'd study the team rosters for every professional team in every professional sport. No Chip. No Charles. No Tom. No Ira, either, but that didn't surprise me much. What could have possibly gone wrong?  What kept these fine competitors from achieving what I had decided early on they would accomplish? Were they stuck in the minor leagues somewhere, buried in the obscurity of small towns and few fans?

The 70's ended, and a new decade was ushered in. Still, every new season, I studied team rosters, but I never saw a familiar name. Has anybody ever gone to grade school with a future professional athlete?  I don't know of anyone who has. By now, all these people who were going to make their mark with their athleticism were in their mid 20's, almost middle age by these highest of standards. If they didn't make it soon, they would not have a chance. In the meantime, I decided to start running. I figured if I couldn't save the world, I might as well at least save myself.

By the mid 80's, I kind of knew that I would never see Charles, George and the rest of them in a box score. 30 is old by elite sports standards. I found myself thinking about them less and less often.  Occasionally, however, they would cross my mind, and again, I would wonder exactly what ever happened to them. Whenever I did think about them, it would invariably be during a run. I would think about them, and usually I would smile at the athlete I had become.

On this morning's run, they were all there in my mind again. I wondered again what went wrong, why did none of them ever succeeded with their overwhelming athletic talents. Then, in an instant, it hit me. Here I was, doing what I love doing most, and something I plan to continue doing for many years, wondering what would have happened to them if they had reached the pinnacle of athletic fame.

For one thing, they would be long retired from their passion by now.  Their age alone would have disqualified them from professional sports well before their mid 40's. I'm lucky in my chosen sport in that I've already been running for close to 30 years, far longer than all but the most successful professional sports careers. I know people who have been running for twice as long, and don't plan to ever stop.

So who knows what happened to Charles, Chip, Joe, Tom and George? Perhaps some of them might have been dragged down by the hard knocks of life, and their main goal had to become simply one of survival. Or maybe among them, there was a career ending injury before they ever got out of the blocks. It's possible that they never intended to be professional athletes in the first place. That was only my idea for them, and might not have ever been their plan for themselves. They might be doctors, or attorneys, or teachers today. They might have decided at some point to stop playing and grow up.

I just hope that they never stopped running like the wind.

Especially Ira.