The mind is a distance runner's key hurdle, by far; much more so than lactic acid, de- or hyper-hydration, strains, pulls, soft-tissue dislocations, blisters... Amazing how on even a short run, or before an evening's jog starts, one's mind is often suggesting a few cheesies and a DVD of a long cancelled TV show would be a better option. The easy route is the mind's pre-set default.
Of course the mind is also the athlete's ultimate resource but, as just suggested, it ain't the natural course of thinking 'cause physiological accomplishment means stress and stress hurts, or is at least less comfortable than less stress. Stop, says the brain stem; get your ass in gear, says grey stuff much higher up in the noggin. Which brain wins is championship stuff.
Story in the Globe this week about a Canadian who competed in some across America bike race. 5,000 miles in 10 days and some hours plus. A race where people's bodies shut down, but as a physician was saying, along with a psychologist in the article, most fail in the race long before renal failure threatens. The Canadian finisher (I think he was third?) commented that he would not have been able to finish the race if he hadn't lost both parents at an early age -- only that sort of loss prepared him for the mental games of the ride. He said one begins to hate one's support team (especially at night -- riders are timed from the go -- on or off the bike) wondering where they are in the dark, wondering why they get to sleep, not him.
Like Smith and Wesson beats four aces, ultimately physical failure wins over even the most stalwart steel-brained psychological master of mind over matter motivation and performance, but where is that line. The bike guy, his doctor said would be up and fine the next day, it will be his mind, said his psychologist, that will give him performance "nightmares" waking and sleeping for some time. Sleep proves difficult because he'll wake up worried he's alseep not racing...
No where have I whined more consistently than in this blog about my status as a has-been runner. Injuries being the reason I run no more -- first my immuno-inflammatory (I love saying that) condition in my back and hips stopped marathon training in the summer of '99. I worked through that with drastic reductions in training and then while running down hill on a trail I stepped in a hole and did everything but break my ankle (chipped bone, nearly severed ligaments, torn cartilage -- sadly diagnosed first as a simple sprain) but had started to run post both of those when the knee thing and subsequent surgery stopped me for good in the winter/spring of 2003.
I ran/walked the Pride and Remembrance Walk a month or so after my surgery and that really was the last time I did any running except some treadmill stuff before things got worse to the point that walking to work many mornings was a painful affair indeed.
Here now in a classic case of burying the lead (especially given I chose headline format for the blog title) I tell you that I RAN most the entire distance of this morning's Pride and Remembrance Run.
No training, no internal expectation or remote intent to run it, and following a five week bout of sloth (no gym or cardio work for some reason), I walked the first few hundred metres of the run. I then hugged the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada--who asked why I as a walker was passing him as a runner. That comment transformed in my eyes the upcoming intersection into a finish line and that reptilian brain segment screamed "Don't, your knee!" to which that higher grey stuff asked "what can a hundred metres hurt?" and so I jogged it and then the next and the next few tens of metres. I walked into the water station, did my traditional (they fall for it EVERY year) toss water onto a couple of my ex running pals rather than drink the H2O, and then I ran some more. Each time the ol' lower brain fretted and worried I told it to go fuck itself and I just kept running. And passing people. I even chose my line through curves to ensure distance efficiency...
Just recounting it makes me want to weep, I so love running. Such an irrational love. The knee was totally absent--not so much as a peep. The back and hips... well as my rheumetologist told me once -- " sometimes the body just inflames joints for no good reason that we know of, so feel free to exercise the hell out of it until the pain stops you..." No pain, but lots of reminders from the iguana in my brain, but with more and louder retorts of "are you nuts this is incredible, so fuck. right. off. from me in response." And I ran, wearing dress shorts (and underwear!) and a cotton hat and t-shirt, although I didn't notice until the end.
But I ran. And I'm pretty sure I just might do it again soon, like say, Monday...
PS -- finishing time was 27.05 (And that despite the fact that given I walked much of the first mile I hit that mark at a sad and whopping 10:21!!!!)