Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Running The Half

One of the things that I try to practice is change. I used to work for a guy who insisted that it was impossible to read a book or learn something new or change at all "at my age."

I think I'm now as old as he was when he made that statement to me.

It's not necessarily about him, because my choices are solely my own, but I believe it's important to not give up the fight to improve physically and mentally just because we're older. I'm not what I was when I was 20 or 30, but I do what I can.

I also believe that the best way to make progress on anything is to pick a well-defined goal and take frequent, small, incremental steps in the chosen direction. New skills are best acquired by accretion of lots of small, targeted efforts.

A year ago last June I wrote about starting to run seriously for the first time since I was in my twenties. I spent a year of doing half mile repeats on the road in front of my house, thinking more about pace, cadence, and form instead of distance. I ran the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day, as tradition demands, but that was the only long run that I tried. I kept it up faithfully throughout the mild, snowless winter. I was still injury-free and feeling good in June.

Now that I had a good base, I decided that I needed a new goal. At the end of that previous posting I wrote "I'm not trying to run marathons. I don't want to race or be competitive." I don't want to race or be competitive, but I've decided to try completing a half marathon.

I needed a plan, so I fired up Google and found a schedule that I liked. I put the plan into a spreadsheet and set the start date so that race day was Saturday 13-Oct-2012: the ING Hartford half marathon. Plan the work, work the plan. I missed one whole week to attend a family wedding, but I've been faithful with the rest of it. I've completed the first half of the schedule. Now it becomes challenging. I increase the length of the long run by a mile per week until I complete a 12 mile run the week before the race.

This is uncharted territory for me. I have a vague memory of a long run when I was 20 years old. I was living in my parents' house, home from college, when I ran into a friend when I was out for a run after work. I fell in with him for a long time. I asked him how long the route was that we were taking. He told me it was a ten mile run, but now I'm not sure. The six mile run I completed last Saturday might have been the longest I've ever finished.

My times won't impress anyone. I feel comfortable at a 9-10 minute per mile pace. If I can keep that up for 13.1 miles I'll finish somewhere between 2:00 and 2:20. The most important thing will be to finish.

It's not a fait accompli that I'll be able to do it, even thought I've registered and paid my money. My ankles, knees, and hips feel fine so far. I've had no muscle problems at all, not even stiffness or soreness on the day after running. But if something blows out or gives way I'll have to postpone it for another day.

I'm hoping that won't happen. I'd like very much to see this through.

I'm most curious about the mental aspect of running for that long a time. I've never experienced "runner's high." I don't know if I'll be able to handle the discomfort and pain that's an inevitable part of crossing the finish line. How do you stay focused when running for more than two hours? I'll find out.

If I can finish this, who knows? Maybe I'll find a full marathon training plan and just keep going!

I haven't been in a pool in two months. I'm going to go back, but I've learned that daily exposure to chlorine isn't good for my lungs. I'm going to continue to mix swimming in, but it might be just a once per week Masters swim with my friends.

After all these years of pounding out yards, the biggest surprise is that I could stop swimming and actually feel better.

The journey has been a pleasure. I've achieved my real goal: my lungs are feeling much better. I don't wheeze when I run. I recently had to see a doctor. They took my pulse and blood pressure, per usual custom. "Are you a runner?" the nurse asked me. My resting heart rate was 50 bpm; my blood pressure was 98/70. I was startled to see both, because they haven't been that low in a long time.

I smiled and said "Why yes, I am a runner."

What will that next objective be? Where else could I use some change in my life? I've got some ideas.

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