Monday, July 07, 2008

Goodbye old friends...

On Saturday I bade farewell to a couple of friends that have seen me through some hard times and an incredible period of growth. I knew the end had been coming about a month ago and had planned for this day.

When the day dawned I looked at them and knew it would be the day, but really hadn't given much thought, they were after all just running shoes, yet another pair of dozens that I have worn out over the year, at the end of the run they would be consigned to the trash.

As I ran my planned 10 miles, as usual my long runs covering the trails near my house I began to think about it. The pair before this took me from being more out of shape that I really thought I was up to 'fit'. I had reached my target goal weight back in March at about the time I got this pair, this pair have taken me from 'fit' to what ?...until I realized I've come to think of myself now as an athlete rather than someone who works out, a slow and insidious process. Though I have made bounds in the weight room and on the bike, it is running that has given me the most pride.

I've not sweated it, the frustrations of last year simply were shed, just focusing in the first three months of this year on simple 40-60 minute runs, forgetting about the pace and just building a base with an interval session per week.

The last three months though have seen my long runs stretch from 5-6 miles to 13-15, with a 10 mile now feeling fairly easy, my tempo runs have slowly increased in speed, and intervals, I have moved beyond my self imposed mental limits and am able to push myself further and faster than before.

As I ran, I thought about this progress, along the narrow trails, meadows, then single track between trees, and fern lined valleys, the almost arid hill top with the wild flowers and the wide stream crossing. I first ran these trails in this pair of shoes, wondering at the time if I would ever break that barrier and be able to go longer. These shoes have been out in the heat, the rain and were invariably covered in mud, living on their newspaper just inside the front door, not fit to come any further into the house.

I thought of the breakthrough runs, the first time I had broken 10 miles in more years than I can remember, that run going for 12 miles in the drizzling rain. I thought of the shorter run after one of our many storms this spring, with the enormous tree which had been brought down, the trunk taller than me as I clambered over it. The runs in the heat where walking through the water to cross the stream the cool chill being welcome.

On this day I didn't avoid the mud bogs or puddles, but simply went through them, a tribute to these friends at my feet, enjoying the feeling of being in the woods, long ago shutting off my iPod to listen to the birds and rustle of leaves and undergrowth, punctuated by the regular rhythm of my footfalls.

About half a mile from the finish, instead of crossing the wooden bridge I stepped into the small stream, letting the water wash away the mud from the shoes in a subconscious burial practice, a ritual cleansing before death.

When I got home I looked at them in my trunk and couldn't bear to throw them out just yet, so for now they are carefully tucked away in the back of my closet, thinking that taking them to Deep Creek in September would be a much more fitting tribute, to a race that would not have been possible without the training that I did the last 4 months.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Le Tour Baby !

Finally my thumb is healing, a torn ulnar ligament, just very special. SO its been a case of train hard in any way I could and just not stress about what I couldn't do – though I am absolutely sure that a week of doing no upper body weights has atrophied every muscle that I've spent the last 6 months wresting from my body.

But its all been good, some good runs, the monster leg only workouts will pay dividends down the line, and the spin classes were actually good fun, though some of the music I could spend the rest of my life not hearing again.

Yesterday was the first day I was able to ride my bike outside, setting the trainer up in the garage/driveway was getting old very quickly. So 3 ½ hours outside on a mainly flat course with a few good climbs halfway round off River Road, I'd missed that feel, the responsiveness of my bike to small inputs from shifts of weight, the acceleration if I put pressure into the pedals, the hum of the tires on the road, all of it. I'm also surprised at my fitness, I had expected to lose a little, particularly closer to the end of the ride, but I was going faster, floating up the hills almost without effort. The last 5-6 rollers I started to attack, flying up them before the lactic acid could make my legs burst – Thursday's horribly hilly ride that I lead could be fun !

It has given me cause for thought though of the progress and the journey since the beginning of the year. From working on simple consistency, to work out 6 days per week but 30-45 minutes each, to today's twice per day sessions. Each step of the way, each plateau and each frustration has taught me more about myself. Equally every breakthrough workout where I have gone further, faster or lifted more than before being its own small triumph.

The process itself has also taught me the value of the mental side of training and how it has its parallels in life, the times when I have had bad workouts have tended not to be about my body failing or not being able to manage, but were simply that my mind gave out before my body and I defeated myself. The quotation about “If you think you cannot do something, then you are probably right” has never been truer. While obviously if you try to double your weights or run twice as far as you have ever done then thats asking for trouble, but those incremental gains each build strength, fitness and a sense of achievement, each step forward is a step that you don't take backwards.

I've also discovered that my limits are mostly preconceived, that we have a tendency to do just enough to get better, but the best workouts are where I have pushed myself absolutely to my limits, and discovered that those limits are beyond what I thought I could achieve; the sprint intervals where I have done more repeats and then pushed the last couple so hard that I end up on my knees, my lungs almost turned inside out, or the hill climbs where I attack the hill so hard I sure think my legs are about to explode and tear off, but that I can hold that effort..then the feeling of the lactic acid flushing out of my muscles as I spin the pedals over, each ride better and stronger than the last.

In life itself we set ourselves limits, a comfort zone of what we are comfortable with, what if we pushed at those limits and find out if they really are limits, or just some pre-conceived notion ?

Finally its Le Tour !!!. Three weeks of wall to wall cycling, a beautiful race, brutal full of heroic unbelievable feats by 180 of the fittest human beings on the planet. A shame that Astana were excluded, but a race that is wide open with maybe 8 or 9 riders potentially with the goods to win La Grand Boucle. Its also nice to see two new American teams represent, Garmin-Chipotle and Team Columbia. With some of the new rules this year it should be a closer, tighter affair with more of an emphasis on attacking riding with no time bonuses for wins, and a time trail and mountain stage both in the opening week just to shake things up. As I watch the last 20 miles of stage 1 the peloton is getting a little stressed and strung out, somewhat nervous as riders are beginning to hit the floor while they chase down 8 riders who got away earlier today.

The modern internet age makes it amazing in the data available to a fan, over on Bicycling David Millar writes a great column, as does Will Frischkorn, fascinating to get into the minds of the folks actually competing, the hopes, desires, failures, pain and broken dreams available in their own words.

OK, stage done, time to go for a run in the rain :-)