Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ease on Down the Road

Exercise: a series of strenuous activities which help convert fats, sugars, and starches into aches, pains, and cramps.

Just in from a terrific run: an hour and a half, bathed in the liquid summer heat. This is the longest I have run in over a year and I am stiff. But it was a relief for once not to have something snap crackle or pop in some part of my musculo-skeletal structure. Stiffness: yes, pain: no. After the beating-up my body and mind took last month in Arizona we are starting to wake up to the fact that we are not dead yet. The road stretches before us.

I am easing my way into Ironman this summer, trying to combine some sort of focused training plan with a reasonable demand on my body. Ridiculous, of course. Ironman requires a lot of time in the water and on the road, and there is no way to train properly for it without doing that time. You can’t “ease into it”. Do, or do not, as the annoying little Muppet said

Yet after 25 years of marathons, triathlons and dreams possible and impossible, I have learned there is a benefit to some sensibility when it comes to what we ask of our bodies. In the best of worlds, our older physical selves should be the beneficiaries of the accumulated experience and lore our minds acquired while we were getting older. Therefore my training this summer will not involve me trying to emulate some twenty-year-old steroidal Olympian in a Gatorade commercial. I will strive for modest gain with minimal pain. Lots of miles, yes. Lots of easy miles.

We athletes are a contradiction sometimes. Of all people we should be the most in touch with our bodies and the constant stream of physical feedback they provide, yet we seem to be capable of selectively tuning out what they are trying to tell us if it doesn’t elide with our plans.

Many years ago while out running I noticed a tight soreness just in front of my right heel. Since the pain it seemed to go away after I was warmed up, I ignored it and continued running for several months. (By now, any experienced runner will recognize the unmistakable signs of plantar fasciitis). One day I came back from a 20k run and my foot gave up on me. For several months I could barely walk, let alone run. It was what we call a season-ending injury and I was finally forced into treating it properly. With that proper treatment, it went away and never came back.

The point here is that we can push our bodies to accomplish amazing things, but they are not to be considered slaves to the demands of our dreams. Our hearts and minds need to treat the body as an equal partner, not as a mindless Morlock, toiling away unseen in the dark for our higher pleasure and fulfillment.

So I am going gently into my training this summer, and if I hurt, I am going to slow down.