These Good Cold Days and Keeping Warmed Up

One of the great things that I’ve started to learn as I make my baby steps into coaching is that it is really cool to see such an enthusiastic group of runners.  It has been some of the coldest days/nights that I have ever run.  On a typical January you would find me hitting the gym or just staying indoors bear-style, hibernating.  But with Coach Pat reading my logs and actually taking lead of a few running classes the need to stay accountable is more vital than ever.  I recall basketball tryouts (an embarrassing chapter among many in my high school days…I really don’t think I want to go to my reunion) back in sophomore year.  The coach, he who shall not be named, was one serious (to be blunt) fatass.  I feel that it would be appropriate to call him that because in my mind’s eye I see the Stay Puft Marshmallow man telling us to do suicides across the court and then do passing drills.  First, I sucked at basketball, so that’s a joke.  Second, I’m not going to take orders and do sprints across a basketball court from a man who would feed me to the Pit of Karkoon if I were to fail.

Basketball Coach

There, you can contemplate why people loved high school so much as you are slowly digested for the next thousand years

So if anyone were to tell me, “I’m not going out there in the rain/cold/hurricane!  It’s shitty out, I’m staying in,” I could actually say that I know that’s not true, because not only am I running out there, but I have had almost an entire class out in the twenty degree and teens weather, freezing our asses off in the name of (let’s face it) looking good.

Since starting my training, I have been sure to include comments in my log to Coach Patrick about how I felt during the runs. Even reading it now, I must say fighting the cold has been some of the toughest battles of each run.  I can recall last Tuesday’s miserable battle against the track.  It was a hopeless feeling, thinking at the time that I had to run a 4:15 mile pace (It was actually 4:15 half mile pace, which is actually way easier) and feeling cold and miserable as I looked at my watch and saw that I was nowhere even CLOSE to hitting that mark (again, it is actually physically impossible for me…I’m not being pessimistic here).  I remember that defeatist mentality…the sort that shrouds your mind when you’re trying to focus on keeping your pace.  It is a malicious little thing, burrowing deeper into you with each lap or set and then taking hold when you stop and realize that, man, it really is cold and you’re not even halfway through the workout yet!  You really suck!

My attitude held strong after Tuesday in spite of myself.  I think at one point on Wednesday night, after a painful 1:20:52 of running 10 laps up a hill in my town, I was convinced that I would never feel warm again.

But something happened Wednesday night as I burrowed myself into bed and went looking around for something to read.  I opened up What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  It recounts the musings of famed writer Haruki Murakami, himself a(n ultra)marathon runner, as he trained for the New York Marathon in 2009.  Writing on the occasions when he wasn’t writing, leading a discussion, or training, he expresses thoughts spanning across so many subjects–his past, his writings, his feelings while running.  It gave me a deep sense of empathy–here, then, is a man who is just as batshit crazy as I am.  Here, then, is a man who is fighting against his body to keep strong.  Sure, he’s by now 60 something years old, but as an individual who spent most of his childhood thinking he was not meant to run and be athletic I was so happy when I discovered that I had defeated my asthma as an adult, and could relate then to a man for whom athletic ability, while readily at his disposal, has never been something so easy to come by.

Murakami’s prose came so naturally, in a way that another athlete, Chrissie Wellington, had not.  Perhaps it was because Murakami is, first and foremost now, a writer.  When I read Chrissie’s A Life Without Limits, it felt..well it felt like I knew she had a ghost writer transcribing her notes.  Murakami’s writings felt more honest, more thoughtful and relatable.

Perhaps it was also because I decided, after reading the first chapter of Murakami’s memoir, to stop reading for the day.  I would get back to it, I decided, after my next run.  It was a good decision.  At this point I am about done, maybe three more chapters left.  It made me feel better, reading about someone else who, at the time of his writing his entry, had just finished his workout just as I had, and was expressing thoughts of pure honesty, wanting to stop, feeling muscles that were tight and fatigued, doubting and yet using those negative thoughts into fuel for his race…that is what I wanted to feel.

I think that’s why I’m enjoying coaching.  They’re not fuel for me to feel great.  Yeah, you’re miserable!  Now you know how I felt during training last night!  We’re all keeping each other going.  Running, while it is a solo endeavor, with you being your own opponent, it is still a grueling sport of spirit.  Basketball players, football players, soccer players, even golfers–they all have to put their balls into something (insert sex joke here).  Runners, in the end, it really is about the people you are around.  Your partner running next to you, that challenge behind you, that loser up ahead that you’re going to overtake with each gaining step.  The cheering crowd on either side of the route.  That is all there to keep your spirits up.  I think it’s really what makes a training run that much better than just running alone.

There are No Stupid Questions. Sometimes.

huh

So today I called Coach Pat with questions, and he told me with a chuckle that the 5×800 at 4:15 was meant to be paced at half a mile, meaning that my times were definitely not slower, but certainly a mite bit too fast.  I felt like an idiot, which has taught me thus to never be afraid of asking your coach questions.  He/She’s there for a reason, and you’re paying them to help you get better…how can they do that if you aren’t willing to give them feedback?

So, today I will be doing 10 sets of hill repeats.  It was supposed to be at Cat Hill in Central Park, a route that even till today I have not run (or I probably have, but just nodded and followed along with everybody else–like a lemming eagerly anticipating what’ll happen if I hop over the edge of that cliff).  I find myself at odds with the great park, mainly because it took me 4 years of working in the city to realize what the hell the transverses were only last year, and that I’ve been calling them everything BUT transverses.

The following was a typical conversation between me and a few students (or colleagues, the people are interchangeable here):

“Where are we running today?” Inquired the enthusiastic runner.
“Oh,” I hesitated.  “That uh–road, path, thing–that cuts across the park.”
“The transverse?”

“Sure, why not.”

As I continue to assistant Coach runs nowadays, though, my confidence in knowing Central Park is steadily growing, although I still probably wouldn’t run through some of the lesser known routes without company.  It’s still certainly better than my knowledge of anything related to Brooklyn (my second most frequented borough next to Manhattan, but even far less familiar).  Don’t even get me started on anything south of Houston.