Friday, March 19, 2010

Correr en Monterrey Mexico

The better part of this week was spent in Monterrey, Mexico on a business trip. It was my first visit there and I was taken by the majesty of the scenic vistas. The views from the work site made it almost enjoyable having to be there. Despite the upside of enjoying the Sierra Madre range and being in a new and different place, the downside to the work I had to do there was the inability to do much running. As a matter-of-fact I didn't do any until my last day there. I brought my gear in case I had the opportunity and my training schedule definitely called for mileage this week so I needed to get some time in where I could. It is tough to train for a race and miss several days so I was bent on doing some kind of aerobic exercise. The work I had to do at the truck plant required me to be on my feet all day long so it wasn't as if I was sitting at a desk but I still needed cardio work to keep me in shape.

Being in a strange place where the language is different is a little intimidating but I was staying in a well-known hotel chain so there was some similarity. My wife stressed to me over and over the need to be prudent and watchful wherever I went so with the cautious tone etched in my consciousness, I decided to save running on the streets for another time and settled instead for the hotel treadmill; or "dreadmill" as it is so affectionately known. If you have ever run any appreciable distance on a treadmill you know it is tough. My training schedule for thew day called for a 7 mile run so I knew it was going to be a challenge.

During the trip to Monterrey one of the most difficult aspects was the language barrier. My frustration with not being able to comprehend the spoken or written word was continually tempered by the realization I was, after all, a visitor in another country. The source of my frustration was none other than my inability to understand Spanish. So, it should not have been a surprise to me that when I got to the exercise room, or gimnasio, at the hotel, that everything would be written in that native language. Like most hotel exercise rooms, posted prominently on the wall was a list of do's and don'ts for accepted behavior. I couldn't help but laugh at one of the rules that stated that the participant should discontinue exercising at the first signs of stress. Ha! If that was the case, I doubt I would ever get very far in my daily regimen. It seems I can never get into a good run without feeling some measure of stress.

I realize the difficulty I have with running on a treadmill is purely psychological. The body really has no knowledge of the environment it is inhabitating. The legs move in response to the moving belt in an effort to keep from falling off the end. The heart and lungs react to the increased need for oxygen to the leg muscles and the heat generated by the whole system causes one to sweat. Hopefully one is exercising in an environment where the sweat can sufficiently evaporate and draw heat away from the body. All of this is happening whether one is on the street, on a track, or on a hotel treadmill.

So, why is it always such a difficult run? I believe it is the feeling of a lack of accomplishment. One of the reasons I run is to get the feeling of having gone somewhere and having covered a distance; as if to say "I ran to so-and-so today" or "I ran up that mountain or down that trail last week", or "I ran in the fiercest rain storm last week and splashed through a thousand puddles and did it all in record time." No, the reality that you have spent an hour fighting against the relentless motion of a rubber belt stretched between two pulleys is hardly my idea of a thrilling time. After the exercise experience, the body knows no difference. Calories have been burned and muscles have expanded and contracted in measured accord. The mind's reaction to the experience is quite different, though.

My time of running in Monterrey was certainly esoteric. I am glad I was able to get some "sweat time" in but I vow to do it differently next time. My runner's thirst for adventure was not quenched on this trip. I promise the next time I make this trip that correr en monterrey will be more than using the hotel treadmill but actually pounding the pavement in a new and exciting place.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tough it Out

The weekend quickly disintegrated as plans to travel to a customer's plant in Garland, TX materialized. The urgent need to address a problem necessitated the change in weekend plans and had me on a flight to Dallas Friday evening. Thankfully the visit on Saturday went well and travel back to Georgia was complete. I can claim the visit went well for my objective was met; inspect and certify my company's product in the customer's facilities. But with every success there comes a price. The price for my success Saturday was a sore and aching body on Sunday. The work I did took its toll on me and muscles were protesting as a result.

I make that diatribe to reinforce how tough it was to get my long run in this morning. I typically make my long weekly run on Saturday but since I was inspecting iron castings yesterday I was not able to run. Sunday would have to be the day or I would miss my training schedule for this week. I arrived at my pity party this morning ready to justify just sitting on the heating pad and basking in my rebellion. Then I thought of the euphoria I would experience after completing the run and the discussion with my wimpy side was over; the run was on.

I have benefited immensely from my association with the circle of running fanatics with which I have befriended. I read daily of the accomplishments and victories experienced by these running warriors and it inspires me in times of ambivalence. I ended up having a great run. Sure my back was sore for most of the run and my arms dangled at my sides with much less of the strength and form I usually call on them to have. The run was a good one. I covered 10.36 miles in just under 1-1/2 hours for a respectable 8:35 average. A little slower than the 8:30 I wanted to run but much better than the result of playing hooky. Thank you, my faithful running community. You continue to instill in me a desire to tough it out and reach for a new and reachable challenge. Until the next opportunity...tomorrow in the pool.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Equalizer

For the past few weeks I have resumed my participation in a local Masters' swim class. The class meets twice a week from 5:00 AM to 6:00 AM and to say it takes a great deal of will power to get there on time is putting it mildly. Since I made the decision to try out the FIRST training program which incorporates a good bit of cross training each week, the need to take part in a non-running activity like this is important. I love to swim but as I have said on at least one occasion recently, it is tough getting back in shape. This morning's workout heightened my awareness of this fact and gave me a chance to consider what it is takes to be a well-conditioned swimmer,

I now just suck it up and dive in the still, uninviting waters of the new local YMCA pool. No more 90 degree water in this pool; the temperature is kept at a constant 82. Sounds warm if you are talking air temperature, but not water. The shock of the cold lasts all of 5 seconds and then all is evened out. The warm up period is no problem; just getting the heart pumping and muscles loosened. "Oh, heart, you are in for it today." The kick board exercises are always tough for me. I bob down the lane like a listing, slowly sinking boat. I look to my left and right and curse my fellow class members as they swiftly pass me. Well, I guess "curse" is a strong term. i do like my class mates. The wake from one young man almost capsizes me as I grope for the wall. OK, just two laps to go. The instructor agrees to let me put on fins to finish the kicking exercise. I still am baffled why I can't seem to get in the groove.

Swimming is a blast. I love it; but today was TOUGH. I have always considered myself a good athlete but as I struggled to finish the exercises I was fully aware I was not the only one out there completing those laps. And I am definitely not the fastest. So, what is they have that I don't? In order for one body to move through the water at a greater speed than another, it takes technique and strength; neither of which I have now, both of which I hope to have someday.

That pool has become in my eyes a great equalizer. A place that sorts out the unfit and leaves only those who determine to REALLY get in shape. There are many moments like today when I HATED it and vowed never to return again. But, as I sit here now, I long for it again. I know the next time will be a little better and the time after that even better. There is no substitute for swimming those laps; no way to build stamina in the dry. A few days reprieve are at hand, but time to hit it again will be here soon.