marathoner philosophy.

thoughts aloud.

6 Mental States You Will Encounter While Training

Submitted by 8r4d on May 7 2013

Everyone loves a good list, and after four previous rounds of my blogging extravaganza “week of lists” posts, I’ve pretty much confirmed the old (if slightly modified) adage: If you write them, they will come. Again, seven days, seven lists: and this time the topic honours my starting-this-week marathon training efforts for the summer of 2013, locked in step and stride on this, the week of lists number five, the Twenty-6-Point-Two Miles Edition.

Alright, so I missed my eidtorial deadline by a couple days. Forgive me. I was supposed to have posted this article on Saturday, but it was only half-written and I wasn’t entirely happy with it. Then… welll… life happened. A beautiful day, an invite to a party, some good food and drinks.

Sunday morning I ran a half marathon… and promptly fell asleep on the couch, my mind awash in feelings of “OMG! What am I doing? What ever made me think I could do a full marathon if I feel like this after a half?” Well, never mind that I was near-death sick last week and had a beer or two more than one rightfully should twelve hours before a race. Never mind that it was hot and hilly and I pushed myself for a better time than I trained for.

In this post I want to talk about just that sort of thing. You know… the:

6 Mental States You Will Encounter While Training

1 : Clarity

Everything is perfect. Your goals are all out on paper. Your training plan leaves you months of lead time. You have you eyes on the prize, as it goes. You are clear and focused.
counting the klicks in painful footfalls

2 : Loneliness

Then it hits you fifteen kilometers into a training run or a trial race, plodding along on the open asphalt, counting the klicks in painful footfalls as you canter slowly towards your goal: sometimes you are doing this solo. Sometimes you are very alone on that dusty road.

3 : Hopelessness

There is a punch to the brain-pan that comes unexpectedly one morning. You wake up the day following a big run, sore, achy all over, overwhelmed and broken. The thought of taking one more step is depressing, let alone the thousands more you are destined to run that evening and the millions before you reach your finish.

4 : Affirmation

Poof: the little white angel on your other shoulder appears and reminds you of how far you’ve come and the choices you made. You are re-energized, re-invigorated, and you push a little bit harder knowing that it’s those who sacrifice who win.

You are temporarily invincible…

5 : Narcissism

Your pride tips a little too far. You get cocky and sure. You are temporarily invincible and you judge yourself against others, for better or worse and usually for worse. But who cares? You’re fast and lean and…

6 : Triumph

Everything just fits one day. A fast run. A sure distance. A solid pace. A strong set of legs and no pain. It all clicks together, and you are ready to race.

6 Types of Runners Who Make it to the Marathon Start Line

Submitted by 8r4d on May 3 2013

We’ve all met, known, loved, adored, hated, loathed, envied, or been each and every one of these folks:

1 : For-A-Good-Causers, laughing, loving, optimistic, asking you for twenty bucks for a true-to-their-heart charity drive, raising money, and just running because it’s the good thing

2 : Last-Ten-Pound-ians, knowing that every kilometer is another few calories, plodding along, weighing in, running to eat, eating to run, and not knowing that they probably look just fine they way they are…

3 : Before-My-Xth-Birthday-ites, feeling old, feeling young, wanting to accomplish something worth accomplishing before the arbitrary day marking another year on their life ticks over…

4 : Testing-Myself-iers, introspective and longing for a story to wrap around their idea of effort, solo, strong, but uncertain of a trial not yet met…

5 : Live-From-Fitness-villes, pushing, gruelling, the hard-core, elite or epic-wannabes, burning calories and ripping the roads to the bare pavement, to know that they are fit and strong and making us all wonder if it’s a little over the top, or what…

6 : Try-Anything-Once-lers, seeking, aching, digging through the bubbling excitement of life for the next big challenge, doing, feeling, loving, yearning, wanting to just run, for now, but maybe not for long.

6 Reasons Fatherhood Trains You For Marathon Training

Submitted by 8r4d on May 2 2013

In this post I perform a somewhat inelegant mash up two key and very important components of my life: being a dad and being a runner. The two are always in a kind of counter-balance for either my time or attention, but simultaneously informing each other, building cooperatively on the effort towards making me a better person (or I think so, anyhow.) Running makes me fitter, while fatherhood makes me… well, many things, and many of THOSE things file into the category of…

6 Reasons Fatherhood Trains You For Marathon Training

1 : Learning the Fundamentals of Consequence

I think we all innately understand consequence: cause and effect. But I think we tend to understand it in degrees or shades that don’t become completely apparent until we shift our perception to the NEXT degree or to the NEXT shade. 

Consequence is an important part of running. Some people think it’s all about lacing up and hitting the trails, but SUCCESSFUL running is a balance of body, mind, and spirit… of weighing the consequence of choosing one thing over something else. Or, conversely — and more salient to this point — about needing to sacrifice one thing to attain or grow something else, say giving up hours of your life just to get stronger or faster. 

Kids are bundles of consequence wrapped in squirmy, noisy, jam-and-dirt-covered packages, reflecting every little decision we’ve ever made back at us like an amplifier of guilt, woe, and anxiety. When we were kids ourselves we learned the very basics of consequence. The folks who are out there writing books and preaching on the various positions of punishment and discipline of children are all hooked, in some way, into the concept of consequence. Cause and effect. Sacrifice and gain.

As parents we get stuck learning about consequence, too, either because we decide we need to be better parents… or because our children force us to be better parents. And those ideas, the notions that every thing we say and do, how we spend nearly every moment of our lives in setting an example or forming a character, has consequence on how our children grow and learn to interact with the world, too. 

That same concept holds true for running and training, as well: everything we eat and every way we move, the choices we make every day as we build towards those goals are — like parenting choices — tiny and incremental, but vital for success.

2 : Unlocking the Secrets of Patience

If you’ve never tried parenting, you may not get that at every turn it is little more than an exercise in patience which holds things together. Nothing is scheduled. Everything is slower… except when it’s not, and then it’s too fast and it tries your patience and pushes it to it’s limits.

Kids are learning machines, soakers-in of knowledge and skills: and one of the quickest lessons a new father can absorb is that nearly everything they do in their job as a father actually has very little to do with “supervision” or “play” but rather has everything to do with learning. Kids learn from us the basic skills, from eating their food and zipping their jackets through to brushing their teeth and reading stories at bedtime. But they also need to learn how to interact with friends, how to share, how to have a conversation with a stranger in a store, how to behave in a restaurant, at the zoo, or while sitting still at a wedding. And they learn many these things by the patience of their mothers and fathers, waiting as they slowly work through trial and error, adding multiples of time to just get out the door in the morning, or whittling away the dinner hour picking over a plate of food.

Training is a learning process, too. And as adults we may mistakenly start with the impression that we can buckle down for a few weeks and train ourselves into epic and accomplished athletes. But this idea — if it exists at all — would be quickly crushed by a few group runs. It can take months to build even so much as a moderately strong base just to BEGIN thinking about training or something bigger, let alone being ready for more elite practice. It is a slow, patience-testing process. (I’ve been running for over five years and I’m just now starting my marathon work!)

As a dad I am a teacher and a model for a kid. As a runner I am a student. And both of these are acts of patience and practice.

3 : Losing Your Shame

Running is an ugly process. Sure, we wrap it up in neon sneakers, matching headbands, and oh-so-many be-logoed t-shirts that proclaim our sentiments towards wilful perseverance. But when you get right down to it, it’s mostly about sweat and pain and trying to have something resembling little more than a stilted conversation while on the verge of being completely out of breath. We runners overcome our modesty and shame, and just run on.

In fact if I was to have kept track over the years I would wager that one of the primary excuses many non-runners give for avoiding the sport would all distil down to some kind of shame, and in parallel, the aversion to losing it.

As a dad, shame is in short supply. Personally, I live in a house with a wife, a daughter and a female dog. I am acutely outnumbered. I am being acutely de-shamed, day-by-day, simply by living my life.

I used to wonder at the concept of going to the swimming pool and — you know all about this — when in the changing rooms the old guys who all walk around free and open, shameless. I used to think this was a factor of age, of just getting old and not caring, but I more think about it the more I consider that it is probably more that these guys are just old dads — guys with no more need or ability to feel shame — who’ve long since lost their modesty after living through the day-by-day trials of fatherhood for years and years and years. 

Well, maybe…

Look, I’m not saying motherhood is any better. In fact, mothers probably have it worse. But parenting altogether is an act of getting over those stupid hang-ups, the ideas of thinking too much about what other people are thinking about you and just telling it like it is. Or, better, just ignoring it all-round.

Training gets uglier the further and longer you go. I wrote above that running is ugly. But where a five kilometer race is tough and dirty, a half-marathon has the potential to leave a fit and healthy human being as a wreck of flesh and tears. Marathon training? I once heard that you can’t call yourself a TRUE marathoner until you’ve lost control of your bladder or bowels on a race course. Really? Oh… the shame.

4 : Exchanging Your Pride for Being Proud

Pride is just a different face of the personality dice from shame, of course, and many of the points I made in item number three above hold true for pride as well. But then pride is something else altogether, too.

Where with shame it is all about how we hide the extra folds or the funny waddles or the gurgling gasses that escape unhindered from various places no matter how hard we try, pride is an attitude. We think we’re faster than we are, stronger than we could be, that we can or should be able to out-run, out-pace, or show-up a fellow runner. We put too much stock in our role in a group, or we ask “what the hell was THAT guy thinking?” And we’ve all done it. Admit it.

As a new parent, pride was force-fed into us by family, friends, and the world as a kind of coping mechanism, I think. On the one hand we got messages of cautious optimism, but there was no balance to that: We were honoured as creators of a new life, showered with gifts and adoration, bolstered with platitudes of the innate parenting ability of the human spirit, and told that we could (really) do no wrong. 

And then SHE arrived and (actually) nothing we could do was right. Pride was crushed into a crumpled mess of sleep-deprived worry and feelings of parenting-inadequacy that have barely let up even five and a half years later.

Blossoming out of that crushed pile of broken pride, however, was something similar but quite different: being proud of something, of actually having achieved something worthwhile and seeing it there, living, breathing, riding a bike on her own around the park. 

Likewise, the more we run, the more we race, and the more we simply put feets to pavement our attitude of unearned pride is whittled away and replaced by just being proud of having accomplished something with ourselves. 

5 : Understanding the Real Value of Fitness

I’ve often told people that the reason I started running was because I became a dad. It’s a good story, and not untrue, but I’d been running before I was a dad… so there is a bit a of a gaping hole in that story. Truth be told, I got BACK into running because I became a dad and some part of me realized darn quick that fatherhood was going to take a lot of endurance.

I was right.

Training can have two faces. We can train to maintain our fitness, or we can train to improve it. There are many, many days… months… seasons when I’ve trained simply to maintain. Not getting much better, but not getting worse. (At least not usually.) But within twenty-four hours of writing this post (and within hours of it getting published) I’ll be switching modes: I’ll be moving from maintaining a half-marathon level of fitness to boosting up to a full-marathon level of fitness.

It’s going to hurt. It’s going to take so much out of me that I dare not even speculate on the depth of change that is likely to come in the next few months: Deep down I will feel it physically, mentally, emotionally, and at levels of my being I probably don’t yet know exist.

A few days ago we upgraded our daughter’s bicycle. Last summer she outgrew her toddler-sized two-wheeler, the one that came pre-built with training wheels, and her knees started knocking the handlebars. She got herself a purple Norco Daisy, with big-kid wheels and a little bell with a floral pattern on top. It moves like the wind.

After pacing her (me on foot, her on bike) half-way around the park at a full on sprint — partially to take some video but the protective-dad in me also trailing in case a sweep-up was required — I slowed to a jog and the thought occurred to me then and there: so, I guess all this running actually just paid off.

6 : Finding Beauty in the Everyday

I’ll conclude with a final point that is possibly more philosophical than you would expect. Why? Because it was unexpected for me, too.

Many people preach on the idea that running — or any exercise for that matter — is good for your mental well being. I’ve seldom found cause to argue with that logic, and I’m sure if one looked there would be actual, peer-reviewed research to support the claim. But anecdotally there is something more to it as well.

Training to run, like fatherhood, is a long game: it’s EASY to put your head down, focus on your feet, and just keep trudging one step at a time, but it’s IMPORTANT to look up and check out where you are and where you’ve been and where you are going, too.

Some people ask me why I blog. Some people ponder why I take photos. I get playful jabs about my interest in videography. And I’ve been told I can get a little bit introspective at times when it comes to my writing or topics of conversation. The thing is that while I may have some innate inclination to be this way, both fatherhood and running have been journeys that have forced me to stop and look up more.

Being a dad is just like this. And running through a fog-sunken river valley on a crisp autumn morning, the still of the air wrapping around you as you are out there and vulnerable and in so many ways completely alone… there is a metaphor there: from fatherhood and back, full circle.

6 Reactions You’ll Get When Announcing Your Marathon Goal

Submitted by 8r4d on May 1 2013

Everyone loves a good list, and after four previous rounds of my blogging extravaganza “week of lists” posts, I’ve pretty much confirmed the old (if slightly modified) adage: If you write them, they will come. Again, seven days, seven lists: and this time the topic honours my starting-this-week marathon training efforts for the summer of 2013, locked in step and stride on this, the week of lists number five, the Twenty-6-Point-Two Miles Edition.

In this post we explore the lighter side of sharing the news of your epic decision. Invariably, everyone you tell that “you’ve signed up to run a marathon” is going to either (a) not care or (b) react in some fashion that makes you question your ability, committment, sanity, or some combination thereof. So — in my humble experience — what follows are…

6 Reactions You’ll Get When Announcing Your Marathon Goal

1 : Bewilderment, with a side of cocked eyebrow

You can picture it, right? 

The words spill out of your mouth: “I’ve signed up to run a marathon” you say. And the person you just told stands there, head held slightly askew and mutters a cautious “really?” But you can tell. 

You can see it in their eyes and they way their eyebrow did that nervous little twitch a half-centimeter closer to their hairline. 

“Really? Oh… yeah? Really? I… didn’t know you ran. Are you… uh…”

2 : Doubt, with a helping of injury stats

Of course there are those who’ve heard THAT story before and claim to know the numbers: you know those numbers, too. Not everyone who sets out on this training journey is going to be standing at the start line. 

It’s not something we plan for, but it’s something we hold in our minds as a possiblity, but you say: “I’ve signed up to run a marathon” and a minute later the response is a knowing “well… be careful. People get injured real easy when they run. You could get shin splints and wind up on crutches.” 

Uh… thanks?

3 : Nervous Chuckling, shared like tapas

Myself, I’ve never been good at interpretting people’s variety of laughs. I mean, there are happy laughs, and laughs at well-told jokes, there are laughs that bubble out of people when they are excited and others that tumble out when they are feeling a little awkward. 

“I’ve signed up to run a marathon” you say. And a second later you’re greeted with a grin and a chuckle. 

A nervous chuckle. And it spreads around to anyone else who might be in earshot… as if someone just told a dirty joke and it’s about you… maybe?

4 : Envy, topped with bitter sprinkles

The idea of running a marathon also has a certain air about it that tends to evoke a little of the green monster. 

It’s not a reason to run, to show others up. 

It is just like any other bucket-list accomplishment: it’s a tough goal to reach and those who eventually do should get to brag about it. But utter those words “I’ve signed up to run a marathon” to the wrong person and eyes start to roll, huffs puff, and you either get the silent treatment or the “oh.. aren’t you special” comeback special. 

5 : Admiration, buffet-style until you burst

The flip side of envy is, obviously, the admiration. 

“I’ve signed up to run a marathon” fumbles from your mouth and then you see a shimmer of light glowing on a dark horizon: eyes get wide, grins turn into broad smiles, hands are shaken, backs are patted, and the next thing you know you’re getting kudos for something you haven’t even done yet. 

Your protests of “hey, but I’ve only just signed up” are batted down with platitudes of “the first step is the hardest” or “it’s more than I’ve ever done.” 

6 : Coach-isms, even if you’re stuffed

And you can’t help but love those who take the admiration one step further. 

No, really. 

It’s great and everyone wants to be helpful, of course. “I’ve signed up to run a marathon” you proudly announce to someone… anyone… a fellow runner or even an armchair athlete, and: “hey, I heard about this awesome training program that you should sign up for.” 

It’s appreciated, of course, knowing that others are invested in your success, but I’ll give you the name of “friend of mine who runs, too” may not necessarily fit into your training plans.

Whatever YOUR reaction… we love you all. Thanks for your support.

6 Ways to Gamify Your Marathon Training

Submitted by 8r4d on April 30 2013

1 : Have a Winnable End-Game

Again, this is a modified version of the list linked above. But I think the points were valid for my purposes in this post, too. The first rule seems smart: make sure the game is winnable. No one likes to play a game they cannot win. Progress in gamification (at least in my experience) comes from the idea that (a) you are working towards a goal and that (b) the goal is completely reachable if you take your turns and follow the rules.

As it works out, I gamified my half-marathon training last summer and am intending on doing the same this summer with my marathon goals. My game (called “Hackable Me“) was scoped from the notion that I was going to cross that start line — that I COULD cross that start line — if I followed the rules and beat the game.

2 : Limit the Abstract, Ground Motivation in Reality

You’re probably sitting there thinking that all this seems a little abstract, eh? Turn my running into a game. Or you’re rolling your eyes at the idea of keeping score with points, maybe? And hey, I heard about some app that does that and gives you fake little trophies on Facebook if you… blah, blah, blah.

The abstract components of work = reward probably cannot be completely divorced from the idea of gamification. But it can be grounded in reality. Again, when I did my Hackable Me game, points were earned or lost on real things. Real effort or failure. A point was a kilometer of running. But a point was also a measurable quantity of food. And the reality was that there was a connection between throwing points away on snacks or junk food and the kilometers I knew I’d need to run to earn those points back.

3 : Make it Emotional Too, Not Just Rational

It’s funny to think about but gaming really is a kind of bridging of a rational act with an emotional action. Gaming is fun that requires focused effort. Gaming is play with thought stirred into the mix.

Gamifying a training effort is sort of the same way and needs to keep rooted in both a philosophy of fun and rationality — but the fun part is actually more difficult to achieve. You’ll see some of the apps out there that do this kind of tracking for you attempt this with cartoon-ified profiles or Facebook-like social engagement between players. And like I wrote above: it’s not easy to do… or do right, at least.

4 : Create Payoff that Gets Bigger with Real Progress

This, of course, comes down to your scoring and your results. Grounding the game in reality (as in point #2) is important as you’re playing, but it’s also important as far as payoff goes, as well. 

You game needs to be winnable, yeah, but what do you WIN? Honour and glory? Bragging rights? Or are you getting a little treat at the end? Does a great week and a set number of points win you an ice cream on Saturday afternoon? Or is it that you can cash in your points on a little splurging and spending towards a new pair of headphones in the summer?

5 : Build it Fun & Keep it Light

But at the end of it all, it needs to be light and easy and fun. If you are doing complex maths or logging heaps of finicky data just to play your game I can almost assure you that you’ll turn the game into as much of a chore as the fitness.

Games should be light. It’s not science. It’s not mission critical data-logging, here. It’s just a kind of play and motivation mixed together. Forget tracking every single calorie you consume and just be honest and give yourself a daily score, instead. Don’t log every calorie you burn doing exercise, but rather track your big efforts, estimating distances or achievements, and log that as a simple number. Complexity will kill your motivation faster than a snowstorm in June.

6 : Use Existing Tools

As much as I’ve ranted on and on above about devising scoring systems and building payoffs, et cetera, or even about my little Hackable Me project (which worked for my purposes by the way, but I don’t give any guarantees) given the opportunity for a do-over, I’d find an existing tool to replace every one of those efforts every time.

Here in 2013 there are stacks of great existing websites and phone apps that will do this gamification stuff for you (I’m on Fitocracy, myself, right now.) Rolling your own application or scoring system or even just trying to construct a website or spreadsheet to track all this is probably not worth the time: you could be training instead. Probably… of course, you might do that eventually… but definitely don’t START that way.

It’s just a game, after all.