Every Day is a Holiday
Friday, March 07 2008 @ 12:36 PM PST
Contributed by: mday
I've definitely got the ultra-runner's heightened brain chemistry going on. When you spend several years on a constant runner's high, and then stop running suddenly and completely for several months, things are not good. The injury and layoff altered my brain chemistry. The biggest negative was certainly the lack of an outlet to deal with stress. My blood pressure went up. I gained a few pounds. I didn't feel depressed, but I was. I know that now because I'm running again and I can tell the difference. It was not a good journey.
All of which is why I impulsively registered for the Holiday Lake 50k without being prepared. When I showed up at the 4H Center David Horton (who knew of my injury) asked me if I was healthy. I said I was, but that my conditioning was horrible. His response was that I was "where I should be," and the conditioning will come to me. He was right. I needed to run. (I wonder how many people have been similarly encouraged by Dr. Horton to challenge themselves?) To prepare for Holiday Lake, I had done a total of two runs the previous two weekends - 12.5 and 13 miles. I had been averaging around 20 SLOW miles per week during January and February, and around 0-10 miles per week prior to that. My left achilles is just fine and has been since the beginning of January. Everything else was the problem, mostly the muscles in my left lower leg.
My goals for the race were simple: Have a fun outing with Melinda and Thomas, get a nice 17 mile training run in, and enjoy the scene. Finishing the race was a stretch goal. I figured it would be more fun to run 17 miles with a bunch of ultrarunners and see some friends than go run alone at Umstead.
Early in the race I was struck by how fun this was, and how much I had missed ultramarathons. It helped that the weather was beautiful for running, and the early morning quiet and the sun played on the meadows and woods to create a nice scene. (If you really want to enjoy the Holiday Lake course, take six months off from running and make it your comeback race).
I settled into a nice slow, low heartrate, consistent pace. Having low expectations allowed me to enjoy every moment of the race. Being away from the scene for months caused me to be more sociable than I usually am during a race. Both of these postures enhanced my enjoyment. I didn't mind that Neal Bryant's walk/run method was getting him over the course faster than my straight, but very slow running. Why would I mind? As more people continued to breeze past me, I didn't mind one bit. I was glad to be associating with all these fit people on a beautiful morning. I was glad to be running!
As the miles added up and I reached the turnaround in three hours, I realized that I could finish the race. This was heretofore a huge question mark in my mind. I had no idea whether or not I had any endurance remaining in my body. I shouldn't have worried, I had plenty of endurance. No speed, but endurance to spare! I finished the 2nd half of the race in 3:18, which is a pretty good split and shows that endurance is a virtue I still claim.
During the second half of the race, I started to feel the runner's high. It felt great being around all these fit people. I had forgotten how cool it is that ultrarunners are so fit. After my injury and recovery difficulties, I was awed by the sixty-something runners with whom I was sharing the trail. I had never appreciated how incredible it is that these men and women are so extremely fit. Injuries, medical doctors, and health problems be damned! It takes force of will to keep fit as the years roll by!
I embraced the aching fatigue that sets in after twenty miles or so. It felt good to concentrate and run through the ache. That's another thing I've missed: the satisfaction of keeping good form and using inertia to propel your body forward. It felt good to be working on that aspect of endurance again. I knew from experience that the training effect I was forcing upon my body would pay off.
I released my self from fears: that my achilles would break down, that my muscles would sieze, that my body would let me down in any number of ways. Most importantly, I embraced the ultrarunner's high. In the aftermath I'm training seriously again, logging more miles, and preparing for races. I'm dealing with stress, losing a few pounds, and getting faster. I've started aerobic threshold intervals once more.
Most of all, I'm grateful that my body is allowing me to participate in ultrarunning. One day I will have to give up the sport, but I don't look forward to that day. In the mean time I give thanks that I can run. Live by faith, not by fear.