"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Time, shmime

It's been awhile since the last report here. November was a month of huge unrealistic goals, which as my massage therapist suggested, are a way to accomplish SOMETHING. Sort of like bargaining with yourself and asking for a lot more than you'll realistically ever get, except that instead of recognizing that, I just said sure okay why not! So have I been sitting an hour a day? Not even close. Did I write 50,000 words of a novel? Nope. Have I trained for a marathon? Yes, actually, pretty consistently, and the day of reckoning is here - allons enfants de la patrie, la jour de gloire est arrivée. I could go on anxiously and criticize my training as having been on the low-mileage end - but I've felt faster and stronger than ever so it's possible that I've done it right - and at any rate, it is what it is and tomorrow's time will tell.

Tomorrow's time will only tell if someone's calling out splits, though - because I decided at the beginning of November that I would run this marathon without a watch. I had a chance conversation with someone back in early October who told me that her best marathon time ever (and her best times were a lot faster than I'm ever likely to run) was when she ran without a watch.

I already run without headphones, but no watch?? Everybody lines up at the start with their fingers poised on the buttons of their fancy watches, some of which now talk to distant satellites and listen to your heartbeat and tell you how many calories you're burning and how fast you're going and where you're going and where you've been and how long it will take to get there. I thought that would all be good stuff to know. But there were/are a couple impediments to my investment in a Dick Tracy mini two-way wrist running coach: 1) I have teeny little wrists, and even most of the newer and smaller versions of the GPS watches won't cinch into a small enough circle to fit. I would need a wrist shim like you use for installing accessories on bicycle handlebars. If I'm going to spend $200-something on a wristwatch it better fit me. 2) Speaking of the $200-something, that's a lot of cash to spend on the delusion that having a watch will make me a better runner if the biggest challenge I face is getting out the door in the morning. If it came with a little shock collar that would go off if I weren't out the door by 6:30 a.m., maybe it would be worth it. 

I had a reasonably priced Nike+ sportsband with a foot sensor last year, but it was hard to keep it properly calibrated, and it fed me lies about how far and fast I'd been going in my training and then dumped me hard when last year's marathon arrived.  When the 'watch' part fell out of the wristband one day and got lost, I didn't replace it.

So I started thinking about the naked wrist idea. I first tried it out in a half marathon on Oct. 31. I ran as fast as I felt like I could. I listened to my legs, and my lungs, and thought about my feet turning over and my form and stride and foot strike on the ground. I had almost no idea what time it was during the hour and forty-five minutes it took me to finish, until I looked at the finish clock and was thrilled to see how well I'd done without having had much opportunity along the way to think about whether I was doing well according to any data from a wrist computer.  Anyway, inevitably I'd hear other runners discussing split times and pace and how well their watches were telling them they were doing, so I had hints that I was moving along just fine even though there are times when it feels like the Holy Grail scene where John Cleese's Lancelot is on the far side of a field on a galloping horse and never ever gets closer to Swamp Castle until suddenly he's THERE. A-ha! Have at you!

(Come to think of it, that's pretty much what distance running feels like all the time.)

I don't wear headphones when I run (though sometimes I think it would be nice to have more control over what songs are playing in my head). This isn't due to any state of enlightenment I've achieved. I just have a very self-entertaining head. But time and pace, as reported by a watch, is something that runners (including me) tend to obsess about. I've noticed that obsessive thoughts have a weight and an energy demand - not to mention the physical exertion of looking at ones wrist probably a hundred times during a marathon - and the effort of sometimes pushing various buttons - so I'm experimenting with doing nothing but running while I run. When I find myself getting anxious about how much farther, how much farther, I try to let go of the distance and I imagine I'm running in one place, not going anywhere, just feeling how running feels, sometimes it's feeling good and sometimes not, but it's just my body doing work and all my brain needs to do is help it work as efficiently as it can, not get in the way.

Funny thing, the brain - right now it's putting butterflies in my stomach, it's dreaming of a PR, maybe even a Boston qualifying time, yet tomorrow I know for a fact it will turn on me and start wringing its little neuron hands and telling me this is too hard, ohmygosh, how can we go on, what if it all falls apart, what if we did all that work and still don't break 4 hours, we're not really bioengineered for efficient running, our feet do that funny sideways flip-thing and we look knock-kneed and dorky just like we did in junior high except now we're approaching middle-age and have compromised cartilage...why do we keep trying to do things that we're not really all that good at? To any or all of that monologue, I will just have to say "So what? Can the legs keep going? Yes. Pain level is not debilitating? No? Okay then. Pick it up and run." One-two one-two one-two one-two one-two.

In the 20-mile "Paul Reese Memorial Clarksburg Country Run" (I've since learned that the great Paul Reese was a 'buttonhole relative' once removed and I'll claim him any way I can) I did three weeks ago -- my last long training run -- somewhere nel mezzo del cammin de nostra vita I decided to try counting my steps for a mile. Can't vouch for accuracy -- I used my fingers to tick off what set of tens I was on -- but I counted about 1500 steps. If that's in the ballpark, it would put the whole marathon at just under 40,000 steps. Hmm, now I'm not sure why I wanted to know that. I think the point was supposed to be that even a big number is a finite number. Whatever I'm doing, there isn't any way to skip steps, they all have to be taken.

My novel didn't make it to 50,000 words in November, but we're still moving along with pen to paper, and all my interior monologue about writing is remarkably similar to that of running. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls this monologue (in the writing context) "Radio Station KFKD." People who run with headphones or who employ other distractions are merely trying to drown it out. If I were to turn the headphones up loud enough to drown it out effectively, I would have permanent hearing damage, so it seems to work better if I can practice listening around it - whether to the voices of the Muse or the call of the wild - the wolf loping easily over miles and miles of wilderness, the polar bear swimming to -- arrrggghhh! can't think of that either. On the other hand, I do know for certain where I'll find my ice floe tomorrow - at 8th and Capitol - and I'll have ample time to see what time it is when I'm sprinting up the finish chute. 

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