Thursday, October 31, 2013

Runner’s Log #7 – Arrrgh. Injury!

I had been so good.  Carefully increasing my mileage.  Making sure I took rest days.  Trying to balance endurance with strength training.  But this week pushed me over.  I ran my longest distance ever on Saturday – 23.7 miles.  I was tired and sore afterwards, but appropriately so, I thought.  When I ran on Tuesday after 2 days rest, I still felt a little sore in my knees – not the kind of scraping sore I’ve felt in previous years when I would run in the same shoes for two years or on the same side of the road forever.  So I ran through it, albeit at a slower pace.  I think my mistake was running again on Wednesday with my running club.  They wanted to do 10 miles in preparation for their upcoming half marathon, and I thought I could go along at their slower-than-me pace.  But towards the end, I felt some pretty exciting pain, not in my right knee but alongside and behind it.  I was able to finish, but I had some unhappy tendons or muscles. I’m guessing that it could be either the medial collateral ligament or even the popliteus muscle.  

Medial Collateral Ligament

So far as I can tell, I haven’t torn anything, just strained it.  I am hoping that three or four days of rest will enable me to start back gently.  But I may be in complete denial.  At any rate, I’m going to see my doctor tomorrow.  How exciting!  My life has been such that ‘me’ and ‘sports injury’ have never been found in the same sentence.  And while I am hoping that my participation in the race on November 16 is not in jeopardy, I need to face reality that I may have done as much running as I can do for a while.  Even though this would be disappointing, my training has taken me to levels I never dreamed possible.  And nothing or nobody can take that away from me!  But all is just speculation at this point.  Time to see someone who knows what they are doing when it comes to these sorts of issues…

Here are a couple more cartoons that made me laugh:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Runner’s Log #6: It’s Really Happening

My runner’s bib and number arrived in the mail this week.  I’m number 4529.  They have helpfully put my name just under my number (in case I get lost? Or forget it?)  And I’m identified as being in ‘Wave 4’, which means I start with the crowd that would be in danger of being trampled underfoot by all the faster runners (just about everybody else) if we presumed to start near the front.  And I got a cool pumpkin orange long-sleeved runners shirt.  I’m feeling very happy about anything long-sleeved these days.  Five years on the equator in Kenya reduced to nearly nothing my wardrobe for anything under 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Which brings me to this morning.

Saturdays are my normal long run day.  Unlike last week, I was not nearly as neurotic in the lead up to flinging myself out the door and taking the first and hardest step.  I even managed a good night’s sleep!  There were, however, other challenges to confront this morning.  It’s been cold here on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge for the past several days.  And last night the wind died down and the clouds disappeared, which means radiational cooling did its thing and the temperatures plummeted, so when I checked the temperature at 5 AM when I rousted myself out of bed, it was 27 outside.

So let’s see, what to run in.  A pair of shorts.  A long-sleeved white runner’s shirt that appeared out of nowhere a few weeks ago when I was sorting through my stuff.  I have no idea where it came from.  But this morning I was just grateful to have it.  And a golf hat (see the very one above).  So after eating some breakfast, packing my chomps and phone and contact details in case I keeled over on some lonely mountain road (I had set out my water and PowerAde yesterday afternoon), I was ready to go.  So out I went, into the darkness, into the cold.  Usually I take a warm-up walk to the corner and then fire the jets, but not this morning – it was too cold to be strolling down the sidewalk.  So I just set out, in the hopes that the act of lugging this body of mine through the streets of Crozet would generate some heat.

The darkness wasn’t really darkness – the night before the dawn was illuminated by a bright half-moon straight overhead.  The fields I passed were all white with frost in the moonlight, and even the Blue Ridge Mountains behind me were outlined against the spangled night sky.  A coal train returning empty coal cars to the mines in the west thundered by.  After three miles I turned off the main road and headed down a country lane, through woods still laden with turning leaves, crunching some underfoot, passing a lake whose relatively warm water was making steam in the chilled air.  Then it was up a steep hill and onto the gentle up and down past farms and through woods and pasture.  The line of the Blue Ridge marked my way on the left, whilst on the right a widening band of color announced the new day.

I got to my first water bottle, slightly concerned that it had frozen.  It was fine, but in the process of drinking and running at the same time I managed to get my hands wet and they in turn got very cold.  Numb even.  One tends to lose perspective rather easily on these runs and I found myself worried about frostbite and losing fingers…  So I tucked my hands up in my sleeves and then ran with both hands under my armpits, which probably looked as awkward as it felt.  It would be another 5 miles before they warmed up.

The highlight of my run was to be five miles up and back through Sugar Hollow, following the course of a rushing rocky stream through a steep-sided valley to a dramatic dam and reservoir at the eastern wall of the Blue Ridge.  I love the sound of the water.  And I was looking forward to running through the forest in the early morning sunlight.  An introvert’s dream!

So I finally found myself on Sugar Hollow Road.  My first hint that something might be amiss occurred when I passed two women kitted out in the latest everything in terms of fashionable running attire stretching beside the road.  Southern gentleman that I am, I asked if everything was ok, and they replied Thanks we’re just taking a break.  Two minutes later, two other runners going opposite me pass by.  Then another three.  Then two more.  Then six.  By now it was a steady stream, and all of them seemingly dressed to the nines for a cold morning’s run.  About 15 minutes (and 50 runners) later, the two women I had passed caught up with me.  And before they whizzed past I found out that I had stumbled upon the weekly long run of the Charlottesville Track Club, a long-time Charlottesville, VA running institution that’s based in one of the area’s running stores.  So much for an idyllic jog through drop-dead gorgeous Virginia mountain scenery.  But I did get a lot of ideas for what I might want to wear out on the road if I ever become upwardly mobile.

Ok, it wasn't this crowded...  But you get the idea.

Laying eyes on the dam, I reached the halfway point and turned around, grateful to follow the stream on its downhill course for the next 4 miles.  Then came the looonnnnggg (mile-long) hill that might have done me in a few months ago.  But I’ve learned to put my head down and just chug on up to the top.  That behind me, it was a matter of retracing steps that I had taken an hour or two earlier in the dark.  I resisted the temptation to keep track of the miles and focused on just running.  But by this time, my legs were starting to sound like my children when they were a certain age on long trips in the car – ‘Are we there, yet?’

By this time I had rejoined my ‘go-to’ running route, a 6 mile stretch that my mind and body are very familiar with.  The good news is I knew exactly how far remained.  The bad news is, I knew exactly how far remained.  By this time I was on mile 19 of a 23.7 mile run.  And it was all work.  My pace slowed.  My legs complained.  Time lengthened out in front of me.  20, 21, 22, 23, seemed like I would never get there.  But I did.  The longest run of my life.

Marathon day is three Saturdays away.  When I started training in earnest back in May, I could only hope that I might be in a position to run the race.  I had no idea how hard the training would be, and I have never attempted anything like it in my life.  But I can also say I had no idea how good the training would be – giving me a goal, motivating me to, step by step, go beyond what I thought I could do.  And though hitting the wall is definitely not fun, it is gratifying to learn from one’s mistakes and see the difference the adjustments make the next time I head out.

Running has been and is a solitary experience for me.  This morning, after the initial disappointment of having to share ‘my’ road with 60 other runners, it was awe-inspiring to see so many others working really hard to accomplish some really amazing goals.  Some were getting ready to run the 8k in Richmond; others the half-marathon; still others going all out for the full marathon like me.  In three weeks, our numbers will swell to 8000 for the half and 9000 for the full.  That means sharing my road with an awful lot of people.  But it will by then hardly matter. I think I will by that time be in a state of perpetual amazement at what it has taken to get us all there.

Of course I will be in the back to avoid being trampled...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Runner's Log #5 - Mental Games

The human brain is a wonderfully amazing complex of tissue.  But the brain is also a chatterbox.  After skipping my long run last week, both to recover from my near death experience in Minnesota and also to be able to run the Arlington 8k with my daughter, a long run this past weekend was a must do.  And so all week long I’ve been receiving little messages from behind my eyes like, ‘Are you crazy or what?’ ‘You’ve lost all your momentum, you’ll never be able to run that far again;’ ‘All those other long runs were a fluke;’ ‘Your real self is about to show up and you won’t even be able to do a 10k.’  It is very annoying to live with a brain that’s saying these sorts of things.

So I put the chatter to the test and did my usual 8 and 9 mile runs during the week and discovered that I could still do them no problem.  Even so, Saturday morning loomed in front of me, like a trip to the dentist – no, (let’s just be age appropriate here) like a colonoscopy.  Ugghh.  I was amazed at how fixated my brain was on this one long run.  I mapped it out.  It was going to be 21 miles.  On a route I’ve been on before.  Moreover I had gone further twice before.  But that hypothermia/hitting the wall thing in the cold rain at Lake Minnetonka rattled my confidence.  So I began to realize midway through the week that, endless loop backtrack aside, this was an important run for me.

I learned from my previous shortcomings and made some adjustments.  I decided to eat my chomps three times en route instead of two and to have three gatorade/water drops instead of two.  I also decided that I would eat something before I started.

So Friday afternoon I did my water drops.  And I packed two packages of chomps in my belt.  I set my alarm for 5 AM and went to bed at 9:30.  But my brain was not finished with me yet.  Starting at 12:30 AM, I woke up every hour antsy about the run.  Eventually 5 AM came and I got up and dressed.  And then Mr. Know-It-All-Between-My-Ears obsessed about how cold it was going to be.  These thoughts took a while to beat back into some semblance of sanity.  At which time I decided to have a bowl of cereal.  Which of course led to another cascade of mental scenarios all revolving around me throwing up at various points on Virginia Highway 250.

At this point there was nothing left to do but drag the contrarian inside my head out the door and start running.  It was dark.  And quiet.  And once I locked into my pace, my running reality kicked in and the obsessive-compulsive naysayer gave way and then disappeared altogether.

Twenty-one miles is a long way.  And it took this middle fifties guy three and a half hours to run it.  But my new food and drink regimen made a huge difference.  I didn’t get cramps of arm or leg pains.  I actually felt pretty good (except for the unexpected and sudden GI incident that sent me bounding over a fence and into the woods for relief!).

All the literature that I’ve read, as well as the people that I’ve talked to who have done this sort of thing have all said that half of training for a marathon is mental.  This past week has demonstrated this truth in spades for me.  And the mental battle is every bit as tough as the physical battle.   

So two more long runs to go.  Then all the plans say to taper off .  And then the race.  But in the meantime, me and my brain are gearing up for another long run this coming Saturday.  23 miles this time.  Only five days away!  Yay.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Following Jesus and the Cult of Self-Promotion

I have written my umpteenth cover letter accompanying an application packet for a faculty search committee seeking to fill a vacant academic position.  In this letter, I am supposed to tout my abilities and experience in such a way as to set me apart from the 200 other applicants for the same job.  And whether one does this in a way that’s understated or an in-your-face, the way to get noticed and then to get hired is by shameless self-promotion. 

And it isn’t just secular positions that require this peacock display.  ‘Christian’ institutions are doing the very same thing, requiring the very same credentials and publishing record and evidences of competence and references that magnify one’s strengths and don’t mention one’s weaknesses.  And the only way we set ourselves apart from our secular counterparts is that for Christian institutions sinners need not apply.

The same is true for men (and women) seeking pastoral positions.  Twenty years ago I applied for what a church said was the position of associate pastor, but what they were actually looking for, if their job description was to believed, is Jesus on a good day.

I am being pushed relentlessly to present a side of me that would be worthy to set up in the Pantheon.  It’s the way our secular employment system is set up.  It’s the way our churches are set up.  It’s a system that encourages us to hide, dissemble and cover up those aspects of our lives that we’re afraid do not measure up to the judgmental scrutiny of others, especially those on search committees giving their verdict on our applications and on our persons.

 So self-promotion is the game.  Given them what they want.  Tell them what they’ll like.  Get your foot in the door, be it in a relationship, in a job, in a ministry.  By the time anybody figures out that I am less than what was advertised, then hopefully it will be too late to do anything about it.

Such a culture is understandable if inexcusable in the secular world.  But our Christian institutions and churches have done a remarkable job of aping the way of the world in this regard.  And the tragic result is there is no safe place.  It makes hypocrites and liars of just about everybody.  We keep the truth away from people in positions of responsibility because if they knew what I was really like, I wouldn’t last much longer.  And so I sell my soul for a false security based on keeping everyone else in the dark.  I wonder how many others find themselves in a similar situation?  I wonder how long Christians in churches and Christian institutions will continue thinking that this is an acceptable way of being Christian?

 The cult of self-promotion sickens and kills Christianity wherever it is found.

I found a profoundly challenging antidote to this cult of self-promotion in the journal of Fr. Alexander Schmemann.  On Tuesday, January 20, 1981, he writes this:

‘If I were a starets – an elder -  I would tell a candidate for monasticism roughly the following:

Get a job, if possible the simplest one, without creativity (for example as a cashier in a bank);
While working, pray and seek inner peace; do not get angry; do not think of yourself (rights, fairness, etc.).  Accept everyone (coworkers, clients) as someone sent to you ; pray for them;
After paying for a modest apartment and groceries, give your money to the poor; to individuals rather than foundations;
Always go to the same church and there try to be a real helper, not by lecturing about spiritual life or icons, not by teaching but with a “dust rag” (cf. St Seraphim of Sarov). Keep at that kind of service and be – in church matters – totally obedient to the parish priest;
Do not thrust yourself and your service on anyone; do not be sad that your talents are not being used; be helpful; serve where needed and not where you think you are needed;
Read and learn as much as you can; do not read only monastic literature, but broadly (this point needs more definition);
If friends and acquaintances invite you because they are close to you – go; but not too often, and within reason.  Never stay more than one and a half or two hours.  After that the friendliest atmosphere becomes harmful;
Dress like everybody else, but modestly, and without visible signs of a special spiritual life;
Be always simple, light, joyous.  Do not teach.  Avoid like the plague any “spiritual” conversations and any religious or churchly idle talk.  If you act that way, everything will be to your benefit.
Do not seek a spiritual elder or guide.  If he is needed, God will send him, and will send him when needed;
Having worked and served this way for ten years – no less – ask God whether you should continue to live this way, or whether change is needed.  And wait for an answer; it will come; the signs will be “joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.”’

Just makes me wonder if self-promotion was drained away from our practice of Christianity, where would we be?