“But I have to stop.”
“But it hurts when you stop.”
“It’s hurting now.”
“Fine, then stop. There, how does it feel?”
“I told you.”
You want to know who is having this conversation, don’t you? Of course you do, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog, duh. OK, I’ll tell you. This conversation happened during my run yesterday between me… and me.
Those of you who don’t run have just decided that I’m completely insane (or you decided that a while ago, and this affirms it), and those of you who do run not only understand but have probably had this exact conversation.
Yesterday I was on my long run. Still in the first month of my training plan for the New York Marathon on November 2nd, this long run was relatively short at 11 miles (again, non-runners just gasped, runners nodded their heads in understanding of calling an 11 mile run “relatively short”). And it was a bitch.
After my great run in an otherwise awful triathlon last week, I decided to go all out on this one. It started off fine, but somewhere around mile 4 things started to get ugly. My legs were OK, but I developed a side stitch that decided to keep me company for the next 3 or 4 miles. It was hard to figure out how long because my watch was apparently possessed since it went backwards by a ½ mile and then kept randomly shutting itself off. Nothing quite like looking down to find your time and distance only to realize that your watch is paused and you don’t know for how long (and this happened 3 times during the run. Annoying).
I was also hot. Really hot. It was humid when I started, so I brought a little towel with me that I hooked onto my water belt to wipe sweat off me before I drowned in it, but by mile 6 or so it was completely saturated. I usually need 2 bottles of water for an 11 mile run in the summer, so I brought 3 just in case, and by mile 7 I was almost empty. At one point I used a person’s sprinkler system that was inaccurately aimed at the sidewalk as a makeshift misting station. This helped for about 30 seconds, but then I was hot again. I even shorted out one earbud from my Ipod with my own sweat.
Because I was so hot, I kept stopping. I probably stopped at least once every mile, though I have no clue since my watch was being schizophrenic. But that’s when the problem started. Have you ever biked up a really big hill, and at the top you stop pedaling and just coast for a few seconds while you make sure that you’re still alive and swear to yourself that you will never ride a bicycle ever again? Well, during those few seconds, have you ever felt your legs starting to SCREAM? That’s lactic acid buildup. The quick explanation of lactic acid is that your body produces it to give you enough energy to pedal over those enormous hills that you swear you’ll never face again. So, when you stop pedaling, it builds up and has nowhere to go, and for some reason that is extremely painful even if it’s for only a minute or so (and the obvious trick when you’re cycling is to actually keep pedaling when you get to the top of that hill, even if it’s really slow and gentle; that way you use up that lactic acid without it trying to kill you).
Anyway, when I was stopping during the early miles I felt a heavy feeling in my legs, but it didn’t burn. By the later miles, though, each time I stopped I felt a wave of fire run through my legs. So I’d start running again, but then I’d get so hot that I felt like I was going to pass out. So I’d stop. The waves of fire intensified. So I’d run to get away from the pain. But then I’d feel like I was going to pass out again. So I’d stop. Pain. Run. Pass out feeling. Stop. Pain. You get the idea.
With about 1.5 miles left on my run (approximately, of course, since my watch was running only slightly better than the 7 train), I had that conversation that started this whole monologue. I had to stop. But it hurt, so I didn’t want to. But I couldn’t run anymore. But I couldn’t stop.
I told myself that I could just stop and walk the rest of the way home, but I didn’t. At that moment something funny occurred to me. My run hurt so much because I kept stopping. The point of a run is to get from the beginning to the end in one fell swoop, but by continually stopping, I was just making it harder. And isn’t that what happens with pretty much everything? If we dive right into something, it feels too hard and we stop doing it. And then when we try to start up again, it’s even harder so we stop again. Bad cycle, bad idea.
|2013 NY Marathon. Just keep going.|
So what’s the solution? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. First, start small. If I had started my run at a pace better suited to the heat and humidity (and my athletic abilities), I wouldn’t have struggled so much. And when the trouble starts – which it will at some point – don’t stop. Just ease up like those slow pedal strokes at the top of a big hill. You won’t be moving fast, but it keeps the pain away and you continue to move forward. And I’m not just talking about running (this time the non-runners are getting it and the runners are totally confused since they’re thinking, “When is something not about running?”).
Unfortunately I learned my own lesson in the last mile (I think) of my 11 mile run. I also learned this lesson at age 39 when I decided to start my journey of losing 70 pounds and becoming an athlete (albeit an old, crappy one). The good thing though is that I can use it forever. Here I am, 6 years later (though somehow still aged 39 :-), with the weight off for over 5 years and training for my 5th marathon.
Next week my long run is 12 miles. I’ll get through it just fine. I just have to remember my own lessons – and get my watch fixed.