Friday, January 22, 2010

Certainty of death, small chance of success...

Like last year at this time I'm training for Boston. Though I hope to run the marathon in April, I'm actually focused on a indoor mile race next month at the Boston Indoor Games.

After neglecting my "real" speed over the last few years its been a challenge trying to turn the muscles from plastic back to rubber. At my age I've found that the muscles fuse together much faster than they stretch back - that is if they ever do.

Pushing back against the ravages of time is a constant battle. Whether it's a runner trying to fight
against a reduced VO2 and hardening muscles or an old man trying to drive down the road without backing up the traffic behind him. Although I sometimes find the turn signal flashing while I'm driving a straight line, hopefully I can keep producing good running results as well as hang onto my drivers license until I reach 100.

The pressure of racing a mile at a big meet has been good for forcing me into going back to basics. Left to my own devices I'd much rather do tempo and long runs while prepping for the next marathon. Running fast at my age hurts! Risk is high, payoff low for runners nearing 50 who try to run the races young runners are better attuned to. Right now its been a tight rope of stressing my system enough to progress, while at the same time not getting injured. Gimli, in Lord of the Rings, probably put it best in describing an aging runners dilemma of training fast.

"Certainty of death, small chance of success... What are we waiting for?"

So far so good although copious amounts of massage therapy has been crucial in keeping my muscles from imploding. Little by little the drills have become smoother, my knees are rising higher and I can actually tell that I'm running smoother instead of looking like I'm flailing against a 50 mph headwind.

Two weeks to go and a few more speed sessions left. According to Schopenhauer I should be really be moving by then.

"Just remember, once you're over the hill you begin to pick up speed."
Arthur Schopenhauer

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Memories contained in a shoe

Its been almost one year since I last posted here. With the passing of Laird and the emotion of writing and trying to squeeze into words the feelings and memories I had of him I had lost the energy and enthusiasm for writing.

Today is the first anniversary of Laird's passing. I have wanted to return to writing again and have had encouragement from many but I haven't felt ready. I figure that today would be a good day to return and to pay honor again to a great friend who has shown himself to me several times in the past year in memories and dreams.

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are,
the things you never want to lose.

Three days ago I was at the Dome doing a speed workout for a upcoming mile race in Boston. While my days of speed are long gone (something I'm reminded of each time I step on the track lately) I have been trying to reclaim some semblance of quickness to avoid completely embarassing myself. I decided to bring a pair of spikes I had just located in a box as I am considering wearing spikes for the race and figure I better get my calves prepared.

As I prepared to put the spikes on I looked at a bit of dirt still clinging to them from their last race. As I tried to figure where they had last performed I realized that it was in 2000 at a Open/Coaches race after the high school invite our team had run. It was two days after I had turned 40 and my first competition as a Masters runner. This was no small event as the university squad had come and several of us post collegians had put together a squad to compete against them.

I have run this race many times and it was always tough to coach all day and then perform in front of your team knowing they were going to yell all the things you had been saying to them each day in practice and each race. I had run well on this course, but had never come close to breaking 16 minutes for the 5K and this day I would be lucky to make the top-ten with all the excellent runners.

Laird had been coaching with me that day and we quickly began our warm up as soon as our last team had finished. I remember how nice it was to have someone to warm up with and that we were preparing as "teammates". I usually end up warming up by myself, but today was different.

The race started off very fast and it was all I could do to stay close while Laird sped off near the lead. Little by little I worked my way past the college runners and eventually got up to 5th place nearing the finish. As I went through the gate to the finish with 250 meters left I could see Laird on his way to victory with two more teammates a few seconds behind. That gave me a little more energy and as I saw the stadium clock ticking I realized I could break 16 if I pushed it a bit more. Closing my eyes for a few strides I managed to hit a 15:58 and beat all but one of the college lads.

I remember ripping off those spikes immediately after the race as my feet were on fire. The warm down with Laird was such a joy as we felt so good about our efforts and we shared our reflections of the race. It was a special day - the kids ran well, the coaches ran well and I got a birthday cake and song from the team after Laird and I finished the warm down.

Its funny how 4-5 ounces of spikes can hold so many memories but those spikes will be special not because I ran fast in them but rather because of who I was with while I was wearing them.

Laird, you are missed and remembered daily. Thanks for making those shoes and that day special.

We do not remember days; we remember moments. - Cesare Pavese

Laird cruising to victory in that race. I'm about 20 seconds behind well out of view