Running is a Metaphor for Life Itself

The real purpose of running is to give insight into what it means to be human.  Put away those medals!  File away those certificates which authenticate the completion of yet another marathon! Read the rest of this entry »


Is life without endorphins bearable?

Last week, after several consecutive weeks of good running, I had to stop.  I missed a week’s running.  I had back pain, which became hip pain which …. well, I don’t know where the hell the pain was originating from.  The point is, it stopped me running.  I tend to have a personal pain scale which peaks at “as painful as surviving a tackle from Schalk Burger”. (That was until Saturday, now I think the pinnacle of my pain scale might need to change to “as painful as surviving a tackle from Richie McCaw”).  Whatever the case my back/pelvis/hip was damn sore.

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A Day at the Races

Without the twin focuses of starter’s gun and finisher’s chute, running loses its immediacy

Repost of a 1996 column published at that time in Runner’s World

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How much is enough?

After last week’s post I had some interesting e-mail and off-line discussions about distances run, and what constitutes a lot of running, and how much running is enough.  This is an eternal question for runners.  Does it hint at another, unspoken question – how little can I get away with?  I don’t know – all the runners that I know confess to enjoyment of the sport!  There is, often, some suggestion that someone is “doing too much” as soon as that someone starts cranking up the distance.  Also, summed distances covered always look impressive when stated blandly as weekly or monthly totals.

I’ve always (well, at least for as long as I can remember) believed that my weekly total distance covered, divided by 7, should be at least a third of the race distance I want to do.  Put another way, daily average distance, multiplied by 3 should equal race distance.  Lets take an example: if you want to run a half marathon comfortably you need to average 7 kilometers per day to be comfortable on the 21 km run.  That’s 49 kilometers of running per week (lets round it off to 50).  That sounds like a lot, but lets have a look a little closer.  Assume 6 days a week running and one rest day.  Assume 1 long run per week – for a half marathon lets make that 15 kilometers on one of the 6 running days.  That leaves 7 kilometers per day for the remaining 5 days – giving the total of 50 kilometers per week.

That looks pretty easily achievable to me, although 50 kilometers per week sounds like a lot of running.  Sure you can do a half marathon on less running, but  this distance makes for a comfortable run.  I’ve aimed at achieving these kind of distances for 3 to 5 weeks as my “peak weeks” before a half marathon.

Does this method of calculating training distance break down for longer races?  It certainly works up to a marathon, which should see (in my opinion) 3 to 5 weeks of 100 kilometers per week as peak training.  This can be hard to do – for me it requires 2 days of the 6 running days to have 2 runs per day.  I haven’t achieved this level of running in many years!  I do know that my marathons would have been a lot more comfortable had I been able to achieve this.  Beyond the marathon it does seem to break down – I can’t, for example, imagine 210 kilometers a week that this method would require for the Comrades marathon.

What do you think?  Am I advocating too much running, or too little?

Another good week’s running: roughly 35 kilometers covered and another kilogram shed (1 and a half in total now)

Thinking thoughts I didn’t know I had

Running time is thinking time. George Sheehan put it exceptionally well in his essay Self Discovery. As I warm up and the initial breathlessness at the start of the run gives way to a period of easy running my mind starts ticking over. I have no real control over where it goes and what it dwells on. I can’t take some intractable problem with me out on a run and hope that I will magically think up the solution whilst running. My mind just starts thinking about things. If I’m lucky the problem will surface and for the hour of my run it can be the focus of uncluttered attention.

Sometimes, as my headlamp makes a pool of introspective light in the velvet darkness and everything around me is rhythmical – foot strike on the road, foggy breath flooding up through the headlamp beam – my mind starts solving mathematical problems. It starts calculating approximate probabilities of the most unlikely things. At other times it replays conversations that I’ve had and works out what I could have, should have said. Things that I must get back to and explain to or discuss with friends and family. It comes up with better ways of explaining my products and services. Sometimes it dreams up new ideas, inventions if you like – some of those have become commercial products in my business.

More often than not the things I think about are related in some way to recent experiences or interactions. However, every now and then I find myself surprised by what I’m thinking about as I run. Things bubble into my thoughts that I didn’t even know existed in my brain. Often they highlight a problem that I didn’t register as being a problem until the semi-meditative state brought on by running brought the thoughts to the fore. All of this contributes to my mental health and, I believe, allows me to be more productive than when I’m not running.

As Sheehan puts it in his essay:

“…I am searching for the meaning within my experiences. In that hour devoid of distraction, when the world is on hold, I can focus on the troubles and joys of becoming myself and arrive at a sort of peace.

It has been a good week’s running – roughly 32 kilometers run and half a kilogram shed.

Its a storm out there, why go for a run?

The fact that this blog has seen so little action for the last several months is pretty much an accurate reflection of where my running has been for that time.  In November last year I ran the New York Marathon.  In December I declared, boldly, that the New York would not be my last marathon.  Then … nothing, silence.  And here we are approaching the end of May.

I’ve been doing some “running”, but have been running less and less and getting more and more rotund at an alarming rate.  The running has been infrequent, harder to do and taken an ambling pace with lots of walking.  This, combined with the Cape Town winter creeping up on us (cold rainy mornings make bed seem like the most sensible place to be at 05:30 – more on that later) has led me to the question: “Why do I run at all?”.

Stripping out the great social side of it (I love my running group) and the nagging knowledge that if I can somehow manage to improve my waist to hip ratio I improve my chances of living longer, I love running!  Yes, even when it doesn’t come easily, and every little incline knocks the breath out of me, I really enjoy this activity.  Of course it is a lot more fun when the kilometers just click by as I run easily chatting to friends, but (and I’m amazed by this), even at the low points, running is fun.

So it is with new resolve that I have decided to claw myself back to some kind of running shape (literally and figuratively).  It has only been a week or so of the new found dedication – consider this an early declaration of intent.  How wise is this plan in the face of a few months ahead of cold, dark, windy mornings?  The hardest part of facing the elements in a morning run is getting out there in the first place.  Some of my most exhilarating training runs have been in icy rain bucketing down and the wind swirling about.  There is something exciting, uplifting even, about being outdoors (usually on ones own) in those conditions.  And the good feeling is actually on the run, not simply the self-righteous sense of achievement felt after the run.

It was with this in the back of my mind that I looked at the weather forecast last night and began reciting to myself all the reasons that I would get up this morning, no matter what the Cape of Storms served up.  Then, the 2am storm hit. Heavy rain, branches breaking off trees in the garden, heavy garden furniture being shifted across the stoep with apparent ease.  The nagging doubts about the wisdom of going out in these conditions started to set in.

At 05:30 the storm had lifted.  I had a glorious hour long run-walk (roughly 7 and a half kilometers) in still, cool dry conditions.

Seems there are more marathons in my future

I found it very hard training for my recent New York Marathon. Harder than any preparation for any other race (including 4 ultra-marathons) that I have run. I’m not completely certain how many marathons I have run. Prior to the New York it was certainly a minimum of 34 – I may have missed one or two in the counting.  It became a personal mantra whilst I was training that this would be my 35th and last marathon.

Then I ran and finished the New York.  I was flooded with positive feelings, some of them clear to me, some hard to pin down.  There was definitely relief – I had been extremely anxious prior to the run.  I was attempting something risky and that I was not entirely certain that I could achieve.  I felt a sense of achievement that was, in the moment, quite probably disproportionate to the actual achievement.  I felt a sense of connectedness with my fellow human beings.  In short, there were some pretty pleasing chemicals wafting around my brain, all naturally achieved.  One of the most surprising things (to me) that I felt was: “I want to do this again”.

It is more than a month now since the run and my running has gone to pot.  An unusually windy summer (so far) in Cape Town has made early morning rising more difficult than in non-windy summers.  I also don’t have any goal at hand that pushes me out of bed and onto the road.  However, still lingering in the back of my mind is the thought that my recent marathon was not, in fact, my last.

I finally got round to reading Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”.  In his concluding pages he has this to say:

“For a runner like me, what’s really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power.  I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied.  From out of the failures and the joys I always try to come to have grasped a concrete lesson.  … And I hope that, over time, as one race follows another, in the end I’ll reach a place I’m content with. Or maybe just catch a glimpse of it.”

So, here I go.  I’m going to start at the beginning again, lay down a base from which I can build towards a marathon again.  With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, maybe I will catch a glimpse of a place I’m content with.