I was running in Griffith Park one evening when I ran into Moises. Moises is one of those guys who advocates running slow. He’s also someone who finished AC100 in about 20 hours, and when I hear fast guys talk about running slow, I always think to myself “yeah, right. His slow is probably pushing it for me.”
We ran a couple of miles together. I thought I was running easy, but I had to dial it way back for Moises. When we were done he said “You were pushing it a little there.”
Later that evening Andrea said “Yeah, those fast guys. When they say slow they really mean it.”
Eleven Minutes Per Mile
I’ve done a couple of runs since then, and each time I tried to dial it down to 11 minutes per mile. It’s hard to run that slow on fresh legs. Really hard. If I’m really deliberate and conscious, I can bring it down to 10, but 11 is tough on flat ground.
Today I set out for 20 miles in Griffith Park. There’s a bridle trail that runs along the east edge of the park, and then along the northeast edge. It’s flat and dusty. I figured I’d start with that and probably end with it, and maybe work it in to the middle a few times, too, so I could keep running. I started at a gentle 9:30 pace, much too fast. I slowed it down to 10 mpm, basically opening with an ultra shuffle, that special running style of ultramarathon runners in which the foot barely leaves the ground. There’s no kick. The knees scarcely bend. But my ultra shuffle was still too fast.
Over the long haul, 11 minutes per mile is a brisk pace. You won’t win a half marathon at that pace, but it will get you to the finish line of a 50K in 5 hours and 41 minutes, which would be a PR for me. It would be a 9 hour 50 mile race, an 11 hour, 23 minute 100K, and an 18 hour 20 minute hundred miler. That’s a much faster 100 miler than I’ve ever run.
None of my first few miles got anywhere near as slow as 11 minutes. Eventually, though, I started slowing down a little. I hit some climbs. Some of those I hiked. I held back on the downhills. The next batch of flats, I was still around 10 minutes per mile. Some rolling hills. I hiked more of the climbs than I might’ve liked. Now the flats were getting closer to 10 and a half. My cadence slowed. A few more climbs. A few more gentle downhills.
I’d picked this route because it offered more running than a twenty miler usually does for me. It was a test to see how much I could run. Unfortunately, it turned out to be less than I’d hoped. The last few miles those flat stretches were a struggle. And this is why I need to learn how to slow it down.
Michael the Junkie
I knew a junkie named Michael. She was beautiful, smart, talented, and when she was clean she seemed very together. The problem was she couldn’t stay clean. She’d get 6 months or maybe even a year, and then she’d get loaded, and she’d be out for a few months before I’d see her again.
This was nearly twenty years ago. I was struggling. I wasn’t just struggling to say clean and sober, but at life in general. Staying clean and sober was actually one of the easier things I had going on back then. Michael, on the other hand, seemed so together. She made it all look easy, until she fell apart…again.
Outside of a meeting one evening I asked her why she couldn’t stay sober.
“I clean up too well,” she said ruefully.
What Michael meant was the stakes didn’t seem high enough. If she didn’t end up killing herself when she went out, (and she’d survived thus far, although there were plenty of close calls and they were happening with increasing frequency), if she made it back, she’d get back the house and the career and find herself another handsome boyfriend or husband. It would all come back quickly and easily.
Nineteen years or so after that conversation with Michael, and two months after my Western States derailed for good at mile 85, my left knee twice the size of my right, I was in Santa Monica getting worked on by my physical therapist. I’ve come a long way from those junkie days.
He was happy with the progress from my last visit. “You are so easy to fix,” he said, as he says every time he works on me.
Being easy to fix might just be a problem. See, I’ve not been at all diligent at following his suggestions. I should be going through a set of exercises every night. Instead, I do them every now and then. Things get better because I’m fixable, and I can head back out and run, but the underlying problems remain. What fixable means is the symptoms go away really fast, but all the various imbalances, and they are kinda serious. I’m a bit of a wreck, if you get right down to it.
The thing is, I was pretty much built for running, which is why I was so good at it so many years ago, despite never really training (I’m pretty much uncoachable. It’s a problem-with-authority thing. I’m also lazy.) And so I am able to work around all these physical imbalances. I’m no longer fast – a near-the-front-of-my-age-group guy, but solidly in the middle of the pack. But structurally, there are all sorts of misalignments and not-really-healed-from-the-last-time rag-tag assortment of minor injuries that never let me get anywhere near my potential, and in a way I’ve been okay with that. I could do a lot better if I work a lot harder, but I’m lazy, and a this injury imposed ceiling spares me the effort.
The last time I saw Michael was at a Ralphs grocery that’s no longer there. She was with her two kids. She seemed like she was holding it together, but she was pretty tattered. She looked drawn and her clothes weren’t hanging right. She seemed too small for them. She had on way too much makeup for early afternoon, or even for daylight, and it hadn’t been applied with clear vision. She looked alarmed when she recognized me, and scurried off. Whatever was going on, it wasn’t easy anymore.
I’d rather that not be me.
Grind it Out.
My training plan says go fast. I need to train near my lactate threshold, at least some of the time. I don’t even know what a lactate threshold is. I used to think it related to that stuff that hurts your legs when you run too fast, but it turns out maybe it isn’t, and anyhow I haven’t had that problem since my track days.
My training plan says go slow. Learn how how grind out mile after mile after mile at a slow, steady pace. I need to learn endurance, which is challenging if you are as impatient I am. After all, patience is endurance, by definition, which means impatience is its direct opposite.
I’m having as much trouble going slow as I am going fast. I don’t seem to know how to do either. I seem to be stuck at medium, which isn’t really doing me much good because I’m not getting any faster going medium, and I can’t run forever at that pace either.
It bothers me just a little that I should be so instinctively drawn to the middle-of-the-road. I thought I was a little more exciting than that, or a little more zen. Turns out I aspire to mediocrity, at least as a runner. It’s comfortable there, even if nothing is accomplished other than taking up time.
North By Northeast
There was a guy headed up Avenue 57 ahead of me. If he was pointing straight north, his feet were pointed north by northeast. In order to go straight, he had to walk sideways. One foot pronated, and the other supinated.
I guess we’re all a little fucked up, some of us more than others. I’m pretty sure his multi-directional stance doesn’t bother him at all in his day to day life. I’d also bet he’s not a runner.
I need to take better care of myself and my imbalances. As is, I’m still pretty blessed.