Sunday, December 2

Not getting discouraged

I read a fairly interesting article today headlined Running with the Satellites about training with a GPS.

Here's an excerpt:

Dateline - Eldoret, Kenya

In this cradle of world-beating marathon runners, I set out for a run hooked up to a couple of Global Positioning System devices that record distance, speed and time. One of them, with iPod-style earphones, even tells me my pace every quarter mile.

I started, as my gadgets informed me, at 6:41 a.m., and in half a mile I had left the pavement and settled onto dirt roads, African red and glistening from equatorial rains. I decided to run 10 miles and shoot for a 7½-minute mile pace.

I was never into exercise gadgets. I didn't even run with an iPod, because I love the sound of birds, the wind and my own breathing. And I love the elation, which every runner knows, when one's muscles have warmed up and strength and speed become their own joy, an exuberant physicality at one with the whole natural world.

For Ryan Hall, the 25-year-old who just won the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, training is "a way of worshipping. I feel really close to Him when I run," Mr. Hall says. "I can't sing very well, but I can run."...

Mr. Hall -- whose Olympic trial pace was less than five minutes a mile -- says he uses a Garmin GPS device when he travels because he doesn't know the lay of the land and wants to know how far and fast he's running. "But I don't use it on a daily basis at all," he says. "You can get all discouraged."

He explains, "A lot of runners get into how fast they run on their easy days -- no one just wants to plod along. But you get into this always-need-to-push mentality. But especially on marathon training, you need to let your body absorb the training." He concludes, "If your body needs to recover with 7:30 miles, that's what it needs to do. ... My big thing is moderation." Well, moderation for an Olympian. My 7:30 goal is Mr. Hall's example of an ultraslow recovery pace.

I never held 7:30 during my time in Kenya. But I wasn't far off, usually running around 7:45. Then, when I returned to the steep hills of L.A., my pace fell to nine- and even 10-minute miles. For weeks, I felt other sensations every runner knows: legs like wet wood, lungs like thick lava, spirits like dirty snow. The GPS made it worse. Sure, I ran 10 miles -- but so slowly! Mr. Hall's warning rang in my mind: "You can get all discouraged."

Then work sent me to Spain, and I had a breakthrough: a five-mile run in Madrid's Retiro park, where I held a 7:05 pace, and the next day a 21-mile run in Madrid's Casa de Campo park, where I held 8:05. I wasn't minding my GPS. I was just listening to my body, running what felt comfortable. As Mr. Hall says, "When you're feeling really good, you know it."

Back home, I just ran a 20-miler through the Angeles National Forest. For much of it I felt ragged and spent. My pace? A droopy 9:49. But my Spain breakthrough has infused me with a new Zen: A string of slow runs doesn't mean faster runs will never come again.

So the GPS didn't discourage me. Yeah, I ran slow, but I ran 20 miles! Indeed, the numbers bestow a satisfying sense of accomplishment -- which is why I plan to keep using the device.

Maybe on a future run I'll shave a few seconds off my pace. And maybe all my running will defer by a few weeks or months the inevitable disintegration of my body. Maybe. But I've learned I run mainly for moments apart from the ordinary ticking of minutes and seconds, dates and deadlines. In the Angeles Forest, I crest a hill, my legs burning with achievement and relief, when a deep canyon sweeps into view and a large antlered buck bounds along the trail and into that field of experience where everything is miraculous and vivid and exquisitely alive.


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