Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wondering Wednesdays: The Leap Of Faith

“To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

“Don't you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?” ~ Soren Kierkegaard
My love of Soren Kierkegaard's writing sucked me into philosophy many years ago. I was at that age where all in life felt possible, open, exciting and a little ponderous despair from time to time felt good and deep and honest and admirable and authentic. And even today, in my moments of fear and trembling, I still turn to him to grasp and accept the human condition that we all share but which we would rather avoid, ignore, push aside, bury away. But sometimes, our best efforts are no match for life. And then you notice something essentially important that has gone not quite right. Maybe you just catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of your mind - maybe you're not even sure what it it - but it burns into you - you can't shake the awareness you've worked so hard to hide from...
“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed.”  ~ Soren Kierkegaard
You realize that you have become that (mythical?) frog, sitting, seemingly contented, in a pot of water as the temperature gradually goes higher and higher unaware that things have gone horribly wrong but it has happened so slowly that you hardly notice.
“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you'll never have.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard
A leap of faith is what we take when we sign up for that first race, venture out on a run that is farther than we've ever run ourselves a "runner" for the first time. The leap of faith is when we stand, poised to make a move, entirely unsure that there is anything we can trust in, but believing that it will be okay.  And even if it is not okay, it's worth the risk. And as we pick up our foot and move our balance forward, as running is always falling and catching ourselves...falling and catching ourselves...and with each step that choice to act is irrevocable: it can not be undone. That is commitment: The step forward, The shift out of balance, where the action is done and we do not know if we will hit something solid when the next foot comes down.

What Kierkegaard means by the "leap of faith", so well illustrated in the clip above, is that there comes a time when we must commit (if we truly want to live), when our life depends on that commitment, even when every shred of reason and rationality screams "NO!!" vibrating inside your skull. In fact the "Leap of Faith" happens ONLY when it is taken on the basis of faith with no reasonable support - risking all you have to risk. We often look for comfort, support, justification - we want someone to back us up, tell us we're not crazy, that everything is going to be okay. But all those reassurances are false security.Don't fool yourself. The leap requires courage and faith only.
“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one's self.... And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one's self.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard
This is not comfortable or pleasant. And I think runners are just good-crazy enough to understand, and occasionally embrace and welcome the leap.

I'm falling forward. I don't yet know if there is anything there to catch me, to stop me from falling into the abyss...

Throw caution to the wind. Tell that reasoning, rational, safe mind to shut up. Take a chance. Act on a feeling. Commit to that race...that run. Dare to be great. Doing so makes it so.
“It is very important in life to know when your cue comes.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

365 Days From Today...The Flow of Time

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself" ~ George Bernard Shaw
"What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence - even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!"
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?... Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?"  The Gay Science ~ Fredrick Nietzsche'
This is a "what if". A conditional. In philosophy, it's called a "thought experiment", and it's meant to tweak certain intuitions - to press certain issues - to challenge the way we may see things. Thought experiments are often frustrating, because we're not allowed to change them to suit our purposes. We aren't allow to change the conditions so that the problem magically disappears. This makes us uncomfortable. But then in life, can we just make our problems disappear?...

Now you can say to dear Mr. Nietzsche, there's no way life can be all good - that I would want to live every moment over and over, for all eternity - but how about the whole of your life?? That's what he's getting at. When you are about to take your last breathe, have you lived well? 

So I reworked this idea to, perhaps, make it more manageable:

Think about the last 365 days. What do you remember? What will you remember 365 days from today? How about today? Will you remember today? How about tomorrow? 

I purposely say this as the "last 365 days" because perhaps we should be asking ourselves this each day of the year, not just on January 1st, and then after some weeks pass, dismiss the thought altogether, until the next January 1st. 

This thought occurred to me as I realized that I just passed the one year anniversary of a fairly serious and scary concussion, that left me pretty messed up for several months...and moderately messed up for several more. But thinking back on this year, even with the bad parts, these past 365 days have been an amazing adventure, much of it rooted in running and the challenges and gifts running presents to me - IF I grab them. And this year I did grab them I said "Oh what the hell, I might as well..." a whole lot more than I have for the past several years. I played it a little less safe, even though there is no safety net waiting to catch me if I fall, and sometimes it's terrifying. But in the end I feel like I actually did live, at least a little.

We all know, even if we don't consciously acknowledge it, that time passes, and days pass, and years pass, and then we find ourselves on the other side. But where have we been? Where have we gone? What have WE done? What has simply happened to us? It's so easy to get caught up in the daily challenge of just getting through it. We take a deep breath and push on. We survive. And then we do it all over again...and again...and again. And then ten years later? What?

In Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. touches on the issue of time and change, and while his focus is on social/moral change, what he says applies to each of our lives as well. He correctly points out that there is a:
"...strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively...Human progress never rolls in on wheels on inevitability; it comes through tireless effort..." MLK, Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail
The idea that TIME itself changes anything is bogus, passive, reactionary - and I believe, ultimately, pessimistic. It's action IN TIME that creates a life as opposed to just letting time pass and allowing life to happen to me. Most of us (perhaps my assumptions are incorrect on this), okay sometimes I, allow life to happen and I ride it like a wave. The wave takes me where it will. I get to shore and breathe a sigh of relief. I made it. But I'm not really living my life in those instances, I'm allowing my life to live me. I'm allowing the things around my to direct me, like a maze set out by something else. I just passively wind my way through -  the way one must go. This is not how I really want to live. But it is so much easier.

I need to remind myself of this, over and over again, as I get caught between taking the safe route, staying with what I know, with what I have, or risking it all...and for what? I don't know. I go back and forth between the self talk:  "Oh, things could be worse" and "You've got a pretty good deal even though you're miserable". Be reasonable...reasonable...reasonable. 

May the strength I've gained through running help me in other ways over the next 365 days...and beyond.
"Your Problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are" ~ Anne Lamott

Friday, February 15, 2013

How to Avoid Noodling

"Champions are everywhere: all you need is to train them properly..." ~ Arthur Lydiard

If I had a penny for how many times I've been asked "What's the best marathon training program to use", I'd be a very, very wealthy woman. 

Many marathoners, both novice and experienced, end up doing a lot of cutting-and-pasting when it comes to marathon training. Noodling around with this workout or that workout or running what they feel like running - taking this and that from different training programs:  long runs, Medium long runs, GA (general aerobic) runs, hills, tempos, AT (anaerobic threshold) runs, progression runs, MP (marathon pace runs), intervals (400/800/1200/1600???), etc. The logic goes like this: If I just take the best sounding training runs from each approach I'll have a killer program...and of course it might just kill me too. Worse of all is the tendency to stick with what you've done before, even if it didn't work (remember that tried and true definition of insanity). Oh, but this time it will be different! Or, having new goals and doing exactly what you've done in the past, which may have worked in the past but will doing the same thing work again, now with new goals. If a plan worked, I'll just do it again but I'll run everything faster. Brilliant!

A form of fishing in which a crazy person runs into a lake and searches for holes on the bottom with his foot. Then he inserts his finger into the hole and lets something bite it. Hopefully, it's a catfish. If so, he wrestles the catfish to the surface and drags it to shore. If its not a catfish, he may lose his finger to a snapping turtle or his life to a water moccasin." (Urban Dictionary)

You, taking charge of the situation. Yo!

Now there's many other definitions for "Noodling" (most of them sexual - as in bad sex - in nature) but what the above definition points to is the somewhat crazed, ad hoc, haphazard, risky, willy-nilly nature of noodling around with training programs. I don't care that this is not an approved use of the word (Hello, OED, take notice - new use in the lexicon ;)

I've even had runners contact me and ask me to look at their training and their program. I look at what they're doing and make suggestions. The response is often: "So I should just add some miles on to the plan I'm using???" Oh dear!!! That is NOT how it works. That's noodling - here you tweak the plan without taking all the variables into account. You can't just take a given plan and add miles to it and call it a "better" plan. There are certain principles in training - stress and rest, super-compensation, different length cycles, cycles within cycles, etc. - all aimed at maximizing your body's response and making it stronger, faster, better at running. Adding to one component just gets that all out of whack - or it may anyway.

But, the fact is that sticking with a set program for 24, 18, 16, 12...whatever number of weeks, is always a challenge. Schedule conflicts, weather, injuries, illness, etc. seem to throw wrenches into the whole system just as things start clicking. So when things start to go all pear-shaped, what's a runner to do?

Often times it's not necessarily discipline that is the limiting factor. Most runners I know are fairly strong on the discipline side - and this can sometime cause problems itself, such as overtraining and injuries as we pigheadedly feel compelled to complete a run even when injured or exhausted because...HELLO!!! IT'S WRITTEN ON THE SCHEDULE!!. The issue is how do I adjust to these blips along the way?

A couple years ago I was following Pete Pfitzinger's plan in Advanced Marathoning. This plan is fairly demanding, with lots of fairly long runs during the week. Pfitzinger's attitude (and this he clearly states in the book) is that you really have to suck it up and commit to the program and work your life around your training, not work your training around your life. Okay. Fair enough. Commitment is important, but so is paying the mortgage and being there (at least occasionally) for your kid(s), and perhaps even your partner.

So, everything was ticking along and then I hit the proverbial training wall. I was lying in bed one night, facing a 12 mile run in the cold and snow during the 2 hour window I had from 9-11 while my daughter was in pre-school. I'd been doing this for several weeks at that point and now something snapped. I said to my husband, I just can't do this. I'm completely wiped out. Training, parenting, working...I hit my limit. And I gave up.

I slipped back to my tried and true approach, which I knew I could do, and I knew it would result in the same ho-hum results it had in the past. But what else could I do? At that time I didn't know how to fix the plan so that it could work for me. And so I threw out the baby with the bathwater.

Today I have a little more understanding and appreciation for how this all works. As a USATF, RRCA, and Lydiard Foundation Certified Running Coach I have more resources available to me. I read training books before bed for the fun of it. I can see all the mistakes I've made in the past. I understand that I will, no doubt, continue to make mistakes, because the fact is, this is all difficult business. If there was ONE way that ALWAYS worked for everyone, then we'd ALL be DOING IT! But alas. Life and running are not so simple. And if they were it would be boring.

So, out of a twisted curiosity, I decided to make myself a guinea pig of sorts and a couple months ago I embarked on my marathon training experiment: I decided to test the Lydiard Foundation's Running Wizard Training Program on myself. 

 A Lydiard based training program is based on five basic principles:
1) Aerobic Conditioning as the Foundation
2) Response-Regulated Adaptation
3) Feeling-Based Training
4) Sequential Development
5) Peaking/Timing

So how does all this work within a set, pre-planned, program? Well it works and it doesn't work - and this is the problem with all pre-set programs, though this program is, in my experience, far superior to other 'cookie-cutter' type programs because it provides multiple feedback mechanisms. Importantly, Lydiard based programs ALWAYS build on where you are presently at, what you've done in the past, and where you want to go, and helps in establishing realistic short and long term goals.

A couple weeks ago I finished with my "aerobic base" sequence and I felt super strong. Now I was set to begin my "Hill" sequence. Only one problem. I was dealing with an injury, and I am convinced that this was not caused by my running. One of the things I have to remind myself (and those I coach) is to be very careful about adding new stresses when you are already pushing things. I am not always good about listening to myself - and since I was feeling like gang-busters, I started pushing too many things at once - too much swimming, too much core work, too much stuff!! And I snapped. I felt this snap in an instant. I felt the straw that "broke" my back (in my case, my SI joint) as I placed it there. Butt-head, butt-head, butt-head...

So I put off the hill work for a week. THIS is Response-Regulated Training, as much as adjusting paces might be response-regulated training. I did not add insult to injury and stick with the workouts I was "supposed" to do.

This is the most difficult part about working with a set plan. Gaaaaaaaaaaa. My experiment is already messed up! And yet is it? Rarely do any of us make it from beginning to end of a training sequence without dealing with some major hiccups. So I guess now the challenge and experiment means seeing how it works even when everything doesn't work perfectly. I feel so strong coming out of my first sequence, and I am committed to this experiment. I won't throw the baby out with the bathwater this time.

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...