Monday, June 1, 2009

Ran the 2009 San Diego RocknRoll Marathon yesterday. Time: 3:50. Reason: ______.

That bug must still be up my butt. I could call Aaron, our friendly pest control guy, to blow out my colon with undiluted malathion, but I imagine he might charge extra for that service, and it might damage our burgeoning relationship. Anyway, I did it. Three marathons in a month, which is hard to do if you wish to schedule two weeks between each long run. (Months don't often have that many Sundays.)

I didn't do it to do three in a month, however. I did it because I just wanted to know. I actually thought I was in pretty good condition for it, but here's a news flash: there is something called "overtraining". I know because I did it. It affected my time.

Which wasn't half bad, actually, for this lanky, clumsy 39 year-old. And I matched my half-marathon time of 11 years ago, crossing the carpet at nearly exactly 1:40, which would qualify me for the Boston Half-Marathon, if there was one. It was all downhill from there, however, and I don't mean that literally.

Mrs. Ditchman, who is my staunch advocate, says I don't take in enough calories, and that may be part of it. I'm not one for Gu or PowerGel during a run, but I think I've hit a speed wall where if I run any faster than an 8:00/mile, I need to supplement. Perhaps I'm just that skinny. It's part of the theory I'm going with right now. Your thoughts and comments will be accepted and considered.

I was very good about hydrating and carbo-loading last week. I consumed no alcohol and limited myself to one cup of coffee each morning. I had previously instituted some speed work into my training regimen and was impressed by my performance. I ran less last week and tried to sleep well on the Friday before, (because the Saturday night before is always a bad sleep) and I tried to take it easy at work -though work did get in the way. (The books say using the stairmaster is a poor choice for crosstraining, and I was so disappointed to read this.) And race conditions were described as nearly perfect -all overcast, 60 degrees at the start and 70 at the finish- but there was some drizzle, and I was sweating furiously from the starting gun for the first half. (The Honolulu Marathon taught me that humidity can really sap you of energy.)

And then at the half I just slowly fell apart again, like at the OC race four weeks ago. Only this time it wasn't cramping and muscle pain, but rather depleted energy and plain exhaustion. I suppose I went out too hard in the beginning, and it all adds up. Mile 13 is right about when you're feeling great, but then there is a game changer, awoken by that foolish moment where you thought you could run forever. From there it's a slow cruel turning, when the pavement becomes so indifferent to your efforts that you begin to pre-suppose everything. It's not "running" anymore, it's something else: a heavy pushing of the mind and spirit, and a questioning of their governors. You don't know which limb or joint or muscle to trust, or whether you may have been wrong all along. Then there is a Great Reckoning with the endeavor. First-timers are always impressed by this unwelcome rendezvous, but Old-timers are awed by its enduring significance, like a return trip to the Grand Canyon -it's always big, it's eternally poignant, and it's still a long way across. And a long way down.

They say the average human body is made to run 18-22 miles. In some odd scientific calibration you take your body size and structure and figure how many calories are burned in running, and then you figure in the body's ability to store energy in its glycogen reserves, and I understand it adds up to about 18-22 miles, which marathoners refer to as The Wall. That's where the body starts burning fat, which is a painful transition. All of this is what makes a 26.2 mile race such a fantastic event. Train right and you can increase your glycogen reserves, trick your body, and pull off a super-human feat. Of course, there are a thousand more things to worry about -but you'll heal. Evidently, it now takes me more than a couple weeks to heal, so I see that my speed potential will only be added slowly, and in small increments. It runs contrary to the human condition where we want change overnight. We want to lose weight in a week, accomplish this or that in a day, transform our attitudes about something in an instant, but life doesn't work like that. It's a lesson I'm forever learning.

So I'll take the long, slow, focused haul until the next race. There aren't any marathons in the Southern California summer, which is one of the reasons why I decided to go for it yesterday. It was something of an experiment to learn about my capacity, and it was worth it: a $100 lesson on Running and My Body. Otherwise, I would have just wondered about it and trained all summer, not really knowing or fully understanding, until the next race, which is in October, and which I signed up for when I got home yesterday.

I'm not crazy. I just want to see and know, with proper training, discipline, and commitment, what I'm honestly capable of.

For a change.