Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Mental Wall and 22 Miles for 22 Years

It’s inevitable.

We all train hard. We all are so consumed by our shortcomings, our own doubts, that we compensate by putting extra effort each and every day into our training.  

I’m no different.

The past 30 days, my primary focus, my only focus, has been training.  I’ve missed a lot of chances for fun the past month; whether it were going out for a late night on the town with old friends to reminisce about times of yore, or play soccer with my old teammates, spend time with family, you name it.  There were times where I wanted to do something besides run, stretch, rest or go aqua jogging. 

Yet, for the past 30 days, nothing else mattered.  All that mattered was getting from Hopkinton, Mass. to Boston on April 16 in fewer than 140 minutes. 

At the end of those 30 days, I hit a wall.

That constant pushing and pushing left me deflated.  Physically, I was doing fine.  The problem?

I hit a mental wall.

For some runners, especially those who endeavor into their venerable run streaks, running 36 consecutive days probably doesn’t sound like much.  That was my longest streak.  In addition to those 36 days was a constant 24-hour mental devotion to running.  It was exhausting.

It was too much.

I could easily drive myself insane, burn out and just ruin any chance I have of reaching my goal if I continue to be too tense.  Running is the toughest sport there is; at its most simplest form, it’s something everyone has the capability of doing, and is the foundation of almost every sport, but by itself it’s perhaps the most mentally draining, physically taxing thing human beings experience.  I’m not smart enough to know why that is the case, but I am cognizant of the fact that it is the case.

Because running is so solitary, so difficult and just do damn hard, it has to be fun.  You have to enjoy it.  You have to relax once in a while and just take thrill in the journey from the first step on.  Hopefully, that free mind that will no longer stress when a 12-mile easy run is 6:31 pace and not 6:29 pace (gasp!) and keep me more refreshed.

If I don’t, this mental wall can grow to be tougher than any wall I have ever hit in between miles 21 and 26.2. 

Another note:

Tomorrow is January 13.  For those that know me incredibly well, they realize that tomorrow is my birthday. I say this not because I want birthday wishes, but because I turn 22 years old.  In order to celebrate, I’m running 22 miles for each year of my life.  What better way to reflect on your life to date, on your running career to date, than a stress less 2+ hours out on the roads?  Tomorrow will be the most fun I’ve ever had running 22 miles.

Weather suggests I may have to alter plans as there is impending, dangerous snow and ice coming today and tomorrow.  Somehow, some way, I’ll get those 22 miles in.

And if it does snow, rain and ice to create some deplorable running conditions, well, it does.  It isn’t a problem at all.  I’ll just skid by that mental wall.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What the Boston Marathon Means to Me

Running means something to each individual person; there is, I believe, no definitive, one reason why we all run crazy distances and miles week after week.  Some people run just because they are so talented and naturally gifted at the sport.  Some people do it to escape the reality of their own lives and just get away.  Some do it to constantly tug war with their waistline.  The reasons are longer than the distance between Hopkinton and Boylston Street.

The Boston Marathon is my chance for greatness.

I think greatness, albeit a relative term, is something I have craved for throughout my entire athletic career.  Anyone who knows me is cognizant of my extreme competitiveness.  For better or worse, I am excessively hard on myself.  To me, it is the only way I can improve, strive for more and be better than I am now.   Many can attest to the fact that I am seldom satisfied at the end of any race.  The only races I can be justifiably happy about are PRs.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had one of those since June.

This cross country season has been well documented in its utmost frustration.  While my last race was my best race of the season (and perhaps a PR effort at the always menacing  Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx), I still left the season without ever breaking 28 minutes in the 8K.   Even with the (even more well documented) effort and work I put into the season this year, racing times never came together to what I had hoped.  Those results on websites and racing bibs I pin to the wall of my dorm room are painstaking memories of that brutal reality.

After running almost two minutes slower than my marathon PR at Boston in April of this year, and the lack of improvement this cross country season, that desire and need for greatness burns deeper than your legs and lungs at the summit of Heartbreak  Mountain Hill.

Going into this round of marathon training, there are some inescapable fears I have been dealing with.  The fear of maybe that, because I do not possess the natural running talent of some of my peers, that I have peaked as a runner to the point where I cannot improve any more.  Because of my lack of PRs lately, I can only quiver at that thought. Since I'm still a relative running fledgling and have only ran competitively for 2 1/2 years, I will not accept this as an answer. I know I can still improve. 

Yet, what hurts more, what thought is more suffocating than a 10 mile run in 100-degree weather, is the fear of failure.

Even if I must create my own enemies in my head, I have this undeniable necessity to prove as many doubters wrong as I can and achieve my goal.  I saw Boston last year as my chance for greatness and it didn’t happen.  I see Boston next year as one of my last chances for greatness and flat-out refuse to have it any other way.  Without breaking two hours and 40 minutes, or even earning a PR, any result is just a waste.                 

Maybe, likely, this entire path I must take to “prove” people wrong or attain what I think is something great is all in my head.

Maybe it’s selfish.

In the most brutal of candor, I don’t know what it is.  I don’t know why I am wholeheartedly compelled and possessed by under 2:40 in Boston.   Maybe I’m even running away (figuratively and literally) from my own failures which is why I must accomplish this feat.   What I cannot deny is that there is some hole inside that beckons me to do this one way and one way only. It's the way where I'll finally, after a near 22 years of existence, feel like I belong, feel like I've accomplished something magnificent, feel like a success.

That way is greatness.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dear Legs

Dear Legs,

I’ve decided to run the Boston Marathon again this April.  I don’t know if you heard but the rumors are true.  Yes, you’re going to have a lot of stress under you these next five months.  Stop complaining; I just gave you five full days off.  Plus, at least I gave you fair warning this time.

Now, legs, I’m even going to tell you how I’m going to do it.   This way you’ll be extra prepared for what’s coming.  I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this time.  I’ll treat you better. I’ll roll you guys out more.  I’ll stretch you guys out five times per day, instead of three.  And, yes, I’ll even give you a weekly ice bath, even though I loathe them.  Just get me from Hopkinton to Boston in less than two hours and 40 minutes and I’ll give you whatever you want.

Things are going to be a little different this time around.  First, those 20+ mile long run days; they’re now on Mondays.  Why? Because Boston is on a Monday. 

Remember those times where I told you that we would be running 80 miles per week in last year’s build up for Boston? I do, too. 

 I also remember not doing that.

We were closer to 70-75 than 75-80.  Not good.  As soon as the build up to mileage ends, we’re staying at 80 miles per week.  Don’t worry, at least one day will be six miles or shorter. 

 And, you may find this interesting, but I’m introducing something new to training this year: cross-training! That’s right.  While biking is the bane of both our existences, I won’t subject us to that.  Instead, we’ll be aqua jogging two nights per week.  Sorry, but that doesn’t excuse us from two doubles running per week either.  It’s four doubles now.

 Look, guys. I know it’s going to be tough.  Even tougher than last time.  But, do you want the glory? Do you want that feeling of invincibility after? The race is going to hurt as will the 12-mile tempo runs, 23-mile long runs and ice baths.  It all will.  But I promise you it will be worth it.  If you get me to under 2:40 that day, I’ll give you guys a full three weeks off, massages included.

Get me there in less than two hours and forty minutes, and I’ll repay you guys heavily.

Get me there in less than two hours and forty minutes, and I’ll be forever grateful.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The future is scary.  For runners especially, it can be petrifying.  The next race is cumbersome to think of.

The next training cycle already has me worried.  The next journey I take as a runner leaves me clueless as to what I can accomplish and if I can even accomplish it.

For me, I lament and relish my futures that care coming up sooner rather than later.

In the most immediate of futures I have the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championships at the legendary Van Cortlandt Park in eight days.  My cross-country season so far has been a failure as I’ve attained zero of the goals I sought out for myself in the summer.  This one 5-mile race may be my last chance for some revenge.  This future marks an end of an era for me.

While cross-country may not be the best suited type of running for me, I will miss it terribly once I complete my last race as a member of the Marist College cross-country which is either in two weeks or four.  It was the most challenging experience of my life.  Upon entering the squad, my coach (on the relatively older and slower side) could beat me in a 10-mile race.

Now? Well, I’m still pretty slow, but not that slow.  I can hold my own with the team which I had never really been able to do before.  That doesn’t mean they’re kicking my ass every day in workouts, long runs and races. 

Will I miss it?


I enjoy, and am thankful for, the challenges cross-country have bestowed upon me.  Running with faster people every day has obviously transformed the type of runner I am.  Lining up with these talented runners is a major reason I have been able to accomplish what I have in running three years as a Red Fox.  While this day is soon coming to an end, I am forever thankful for the opportunity to carve out my own running history and be a part of such a venerable squad of runners and be coached by someone who knows more about the sport than I do about my own self.

In the not-so-but-almost immediate future I begin training for the 2012 Boston Marathon, which will be my 6th overall marathon and 2nd one at Boston.  Last year, I had high hopes at breaking 2:40.  It didn’t happen.  This year, I’m starting out no differently with the goal I set out for last year.  I crave breaking 2:40.  It consumes me and it’s a possessive goal that leaves me to yearn for nothing else.  I relish the difficulties marathon training in the middle of winter will bequeath upon me, but am simultaneously terrified of the alternative: failure.

As documented on this very blog, lots of mitigating factors led to my demise in Boston.  It could be a plethora of things that got in my way, but the sheer thought of not accomplishing this goal again is crushing.  There’s nothing I want more than to see the first two digits of that clock when I cross the finish line at Boylston St. read “2:3x:xx”.  Many things could again get in the way of me not breaking 2:40 this time around.  Only the future knows what will happen. 

At long last is my future running career.  I know that it won’t actually be my career as I’m not professional-caliber.  I’m far from it, and that’s okay.   I may have a lot of time when I graduate because I may be unemployed.  I may have no time as I’ll be starting my professional career, whatever that may be.  I don’t know yet.  What I do know is that I want to achieve some level of greatness; there will always be a competitor in me trying to get PR after PR and improve to be the absolute best runner I can be.  While life and the future may tug me the other way, I’m not done with this sport yet.

There’s still a future for me out there in running.

As long as there’s another race, there’s hope. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Questions without answers (yet)

This year of cross country was supposed to be “the year”.  I had finally decided to dedicate myself to cross country only (instead of doing cross country training with marathon training) and seeing what I was capable of.  I wasn’t sure if I could pull off a 27:30 (or even sub 27-minute) 8K or if I were just doomed to not be a solid Division 1 cross country runner.  I put in the work over the summer by running 70 miles a week from June-July.  I put in the work in the earliest parts of the season by running 80 miles a week for most of August and all of September.  In workouts, I was tearing it up.  I was even put in the middle workout group for the first time in my life, when I was always in the slowest one.

The middle group!  After two years of going through a daily Sisyphean struggle of trying to move up from the slow group, I had finally been promoted and adapted quite well.  Being able to hold on in workouts like hill repeats and tempo runs were attainable.  Not only was I elated, but also confident and ready to rip some good times. 

Once racing began, things weren’t so dandy.

My first race, a little 5K to begin the season, went solid.  I knew I wasn’t a 5K runner anyway but was happy with my result.  My first 8K was a complete and total disaster; albeit the course’s footing was like soft sand at the beach, and I was without spikes, I had one of the worst races I could have ever imagined.  The chance to redeem myself was Friday at the prestigious Paul Short Run at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.  Again, things did not go well.  I faltered too hard late.  While I ran over 80 seconds faster at Lehigh than my first 8K in Connecticut, I had expected to run even better, as did everyone else.  It was summed up as “solid” by my coach.

“Solid” wasn’t what I wanted when I decided to solely focus on cross country this year.  I wanted great.   I had aspirations and dreams of completely transforming the type of runner I was, finally grasping that speed I so longingly craved for and becoming a respectable 8K runner. 

I haven’t reached that yet.  I don’t know whether or not I am physically capable of such accomplishments on the 8K course.  I may only be able to reach such prosperity on the roads as a marathon runner.   I may just be slow. 

In all honesty, I have no idea yet of what I’m capable or not capable of.  After two months at 75-80 miles a week or above, I’m dropping my weekly mileage to around 65 miles per week to try and get some more speed.  I have the strength, as I’ve always had, but now comes the time to hone the speed if I even have any.   With two more races coming up and my training style being totally altered, we’ll see  if I can be a respected 8K cross country runner, if I have speed, if I’m more than just a marathon runner.  Time will tell whether or not it’s “the year”.  If it isn’t the year, it’s impossible to look at the hard work and not think you’ve failed when you’ve done what you’re supposed to do, worked yourself harder than ever before and not have much to show for it.  If that’s the disappointment I’m destined for, I have no idea how I’ll ascertain that caustic reality. 

Or, perhaps I do.  If it’s not “the year”, I’ll make sure it’s “the year” when I begin my training for the Boston Marathon in early November.