Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Finding Strength in Running

I have not given up cycling for running.  It seems like it.  I’ve not been on the bike since before I became a surfer.  I’ve wanted to ride.  I gaze longingly upon the Dogrunner most evenings as I sit on the couch recovering from some heinous run I’ve just stumbled in from.  I think maybe after the Rugged Red I’ll get back on the bike and ride more.  I keep thinking once my rear wheel is back together I might get on the mountain bike again.  There’s a trail behind my house that desperately needs my attention.
But I’ve chosen to keep running.  And there are some good reasons.
A few months ago I first read The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman on his Oatmeal website.  At first I translated everything he said to long distance cycling.  But as time went on I started thinking more and more about running again.  I used to run more.  I’ve never run long distances, and it’s been an epoch since I ran regularly.  The poetic language Inman used echoed quietly in my head:

Running is not about building strength and wearing it like a fashion statement.

It’s about finding strength and measuring yourself every single day.

Being back in Kentucky has been a bit demoralizing.  It’s been a long year and a half.  There have been a lot of major upheavals in my life that churned just under the skim, not quite breaking the surface tension.  While I attained my mountain biking dream of finishing the Leadville 100 I did so from so far away, and with such finality that it has hurt in my gut for a long time.  I feel like I’ve really lost the chance to ever go back and get a belt buckle.  I know that’s not true, but most days it feels that way.  While I was close to the goal I was able to work toward it.  Now it just seems like something someone else in some other place would do.
I took to trail running because it’s a fantastic substitute for mountain biking.  No, actually it’s not, but it’s a substitute, and it fulfills a need in me.  At first it just hurt.  My legs ached in frightening ways.  I felt my age with each step during and after my initial runs.  I was skeered I was going to roll an ankle like I did last year at Pilot Knob.  I even went back on an early run this year and did Pilot Knob just to put that bugaboo to rest.  And that run nearly wrecked me.
A few months have passed.  In the last month and a half or so I’ve been stretching out the distances.  I’m now fairly comfortable with the idea of 9-10 mile trail runs.  I’m easily up to 12 miles on the road with some good hills.  Finally my body is responding positively to my efforts.

Running through forests and over mountains and under massive cityscapes makes me feel ALIVE.

Eating iceberg lettuce and counting calories makes me feel tired and robotic.

I tried to start out with a healthier diet.  And to give myself full credit I have much better control than I used to when it comes to food. I’m still a long way from perfect, and I don’t come close to emulating true athletes in the dietary realm.  That’s okay.  I feel pretty good these days and I think I’m getting more of the right kind of food, even if I’m still getting too much of the wrong kind of food.  I’m down a couple of maintainable pounds, but that’s with a huge ratcheting up of the weekly running miles.  I’m not confident I’ll ever lose the thirty I want.

I run long distances for the worst possible reason:
I run to eat.
I punish my body outdoors to atone for my atrocities indoors.

I’m still not a fast runner.  That’s okay.  I think as I become more comfortable running the opportunity to increase my pace will come.  Monday night I did some impromptu “intervals.”  I was trying to do a full-throttle effort of the four mile loop in front of my house.  I managed to kill the first 2.4 miles before I nearly blew myself up.  I walked.  Then I ran 0.6 miles somewhat faster.  I walked again.  Then I ran the last 0.4 miles home even faster.
Despite my longer distances and my increase in effort my ankles and knees have stopped singing so loudly to me throughout the day.  I can get up and down from chairs and the floor (when I stretch, not fall!) without groaning so much, and I can walk around less like Frankenstein on a day after a hard run.  I’m getting stronger down there.  I feel like I’m ready to go back to climbing, and maybe even occasionally bouldering.  It’s literally been years since I felt like my body could handle the impacts of coming off boulder problems.
That makes me incredibly happy.  Cycling—with its lower impacts—has been good for me.  But cycling has apparently weakened me more than I had realized.  But I think it’s time I evolve into the creature I’ve been wanting to be for so long.  That doesn’t mean I won’t be mountain or road biking anymore.  It just means that I won’t focus solely on those activities for my therapy fix and for my fitness.
I’m enjoying being a runner.  Going out on long runs in the woods now has the same appeal for me as long mountain bike rides has, or those long solo road bike rides deep into the Cumberland Plateau, far from stores of convenience or even the hint of cell phone service.  The difference with running is that as long as I avoid injuring myself I can go out without worrying about mechanicals, if the trails are open to bikes, or if there are going to be unrideable sections.  My legs can carry my anywhere. 
That thought makes me happy as well.  For many long years I used my legs alone to carry me to amazing places.  I dreamed of using them to attain mountain peaks, overlooks, and dark creases in the earth.  I took up cycling because I became impatient to see those places, and for a time I think I felt my creeping mortality.  My life felt like it was gushing out between my fingers.  The bike was a vehicle of desperation.
Running is less desperation.  It is still a function of my inherent impatience and the perpetual antsy desires of my heart.  I cover a lot more miles by running than by strolling.  I wish I could cast off the yoke of urgency.  In some ways it’s not all bad, but I wish for a less hectic life and keep not getting my wish.
In closing I will leave you with one last verse of the Oatmeal:

I run very fast because I desperately want to stand very still.

I run to seek a void.


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