Monday, April 26, 2010

Struggling Through It

Like rain falling from the edge of a gutter-less roof, the drops of sweat fell from the bill of the runner's cap. The regularity and constancy of the drips suggested the cap was completely saturated and could absorb no more. The stride of the runner caused the arms to cross in front of his body and under the bill of the cap. Each drip of sweat falling on the arms conjured up thoughts of Chinese water torture, as the level of annoyance rose. As long as the run continued and the level of activity remained high, the generation of body heat and the perspiration and the saturation of the cap and the dripping of the sweat continued.

Summertime running is made of experiences like these. But when the summertime experiences come in late spring it really doesn't seem fair. Of course, to suggest that fairness has any relevance when dealing with the weather is to beg lunacy. There will most certainly be days like these in every runner's life; days when it feels as if the legs are filled with lead and breathing is labored and uncomfortable. Runners' commentaries are filled with references to the dog days when one "just doesn't feel right." Thankfully, days like these are few and the memory of the "good run" lingers more prominently in the mind. If this were not the case, running would not have the reputation it has.

Struggling through the bad run is the only way to deal with it. The tough days will come and they will present one with some temporary challenges but by struggling through it, the next one will be better and before it is realized, there will be so many good days that the bad ones will quickly fade into the distant past.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Will I Ever Learn?

Running journals are replete with references to proper nutrition. The science of nutrition has taken its place among popular topics of discussion for athletes desiring to achieve higher levels of conditioning. The human body reacts favorably to physical exercises if it is fed properly. So, it should not come as a surprise to anyone participating in a physical activity such as a ten mile run that doing so without the proper nourishment will yield unpleasant results. In addition to needing fuel for the process of creating energy, the body must be hydrated sufficiently. The body demands
a tremendous amount of caloric input in order to perform well under physical exertion.

Why is it, then, that a runner would go for a run on a beautiful spring weekend day without properly feeding his body? I consider myself of reasonable intelligence but that was not demonstrated on Saturday. The day started out differently than most of my long run days. I like to get my runs out of the way early in the morning before the heat of the day sets in and in some strange way the relative quiet of the morning solace helps me perform. A late night before kept me in the bed longer and by the time I got up, the morning window of opportunity had passed.

Busily starting my day, I failed to eat breakfast, which is never a good thing. For some reason, though, there have been times when I have rushed off to work without performing this important day starting activity. It is never good to get into a day without kick-starting the body's metabolism with a good breakfast. If one is going to skip a meal, don't let it be this one. OK, mistake number one. My next folly that morning was a failure to hydrate. This is not unusual for me. For some reason, I have always had a problem drinking enough water. This is a habit I certainly have not established and on this day, the effects were telling. Mistake number two.

I had to go into work to take care of a few things and before I knew it, the day was approaching its midpoint and I still had a ten mile run to complete. Not only was I getting stressed by the minute but my fuel gauge was nearing "E". Whenever I go to work, I tend to get absorbed in completing tasks and forget certain needs. With a period of bodily exertion looming on the horizon, I was setting myself up for a rough time by neglecting to eat and drink. When noon arrived, I had enough. Grabbing my gear I changed clothes, cranked up the Garmin and hit the uptown streets of Columbus. The plan was to run down to the river and along the riverwalk for five miles and then traverse that path to make my ten. I had thought this was a good plan, but ultimately it would prove to be ill-conceived considering I was now going on about 14 hours since I had eaten and having had not nearly enough water to drink.

The day was beautiful with skies so dark blue, they almost looked black, and I felt pretty good. The plan was to average an 8:30 pace and the first few miles rolled by obediently. The riverwalk was fairly crowded that day and I alarmed more than one pedestrian with my extremely heavy breathing. There is a reason a body needs proper nutrition before an activity like this. For me, this was a fast pace I was maintaining and that level of exertion comes at a price. By the time I made the midway turn my fuel tank was empty and hydration was at a low. My legs starting protesting the demands I was placing on them. Their requests for energy were refuted because of my failure to prepare for this run.

The run was completed in approximately the time I had planned; 10 miles in an hour and 24 minutes for an 8:24 average pace but what was telling was how I felt at the end. As I train for races later in the year, the goal is to get stronger for greater demands that marathons distances will place on me. The way I felt Saturday at the end of that run suggested I couldn't run 26.2 miles if my life depended on it. I console myself in the fact that I haven't really starting my training program, therefore I shouldn't be so hard on myself. But, I had committed a cardinal sin this day. No training activity should ever be attempted until the body is ready for it. I was not ready for this one. This is not the first time I have made a mistake like this. This is not the first time I have gone out and abused my body because I wouldn't take the time to get properly nourished. I certainly hope its the last. As I contemplate the races I have scheduled this year and as I ramp up the demands I will place on my body the need is only going to be greater.

Maybe there is a reason so much emphasis is placed on proper nutrition in the running ranks. It should not be such a revelation to me. If one is to reach a certain level of fitness, one must listen to what the body is trying to say. "Feed me, water me, give me nourishment for those demands you are placing on me." I need to learn a lesson from this. We all need to learn from my mistake. Good running preparation starts with what we put into the body. If we do it right, we will be able to get out of the body the performance we desire.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Paradoxical Wonder

We live our lives in a shell that has been described in a multitude of ways. The human body is a wonder that defies imagination and tests the ability of one to properly put into words how intricate and delicate yet durable it is. We see examples of these extremes every day. A freak accident takes someone's life and we are left shaking our heads at the senseless nature of it. A simple slip in the shower or misguided step in traffic and we experience an event that has catastrophic results. On the other had, a twisting fall from 10,000 feet that leaves one broken yet still alive and the question arises as to how one could survive. The paradox of the human body never ceases to amaze.

The deep and unanswerable were brought to the forefront of this writer's mind last week when the observation was made by my son of the indomitable nature of the human heart. From the time one is born until they die, the heart never skips a beat. In a variety of situations and under conditions that are often far from ideal, the beat goes on. As the hardy, highly developed, muscle responds to electrical impulses from the brain, its pulsing forces life-giving oxygenated blood throughout the body.

After only a few weeks of development, a fetal heart, though just a simple tube, occupies a large portion of the fetal body. Despite its simplicity, its beating serves a vital purpose in the development of the new life. As active growth takes place in the womb, the heart supplies much-needed nutrients to the still small, yet amazingly complex human life. From its earliest inception a human heart begins its relentless life of beating in a myriad of situations. It is amazing to think that such a delicate mass of muscle could be so capable of surviving so many adverse situations.

The tireless, sojourning heart insures our tired and worn bodies are supplied with the life-giving blood we need. But what about the opposite end of the paradoxical scale? If the heart is such a tough survivor, why does it also seem so delicate and vulnerable? In our society today a sea of maladies lap at the shores of good human health. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in this country. Such a durable organ can be taken down in a relatively short period of time by the unfortunate consequences of life choices; high stress, poor diet, lack of exercise. All of these poor habits play a part in the onslaught the human heart has to withstand. Yes, it is a tough organ, but it can be delicate as well.

Regimented aerobic exercise taxes the cardiovascular system. But in the life of a healthy heart this taxation only makes it stronger. The heart pumps a volume of blood each day that staggers the mind. An average heart can pump somewhere around 2000 gallons per day, while it has been shown that the heart of a world class runner can pump five times that amount. A good workout of hard running or swimming can work the heart like no other exercise. The heart is a wonder. Let's make sure it is healthy and able to do its job. In most lives, if proper care is given it, the heart will pump continuously for 80 or more years. So tough and yet so fragile. The heart amazes. The heart is unwavering. Let's make sure it can do its job. Let's keep it healthy. It is a paradoxical wonder so let's make sure we give it the best chance at working nonstop for the rest of our lives.