Running On Empty

Posted: November 14, 2010 in Motivation, Run

“You have to run like an antelope out of control” – Phish

I have begun my run training again in anticipation for this coming March’s 30k ‘Around the Bay’ ¾ marathon (not quite ready for the big 4-2-point-2 just yet) again, albeit very slowly and steadily at the moment.  The goal right now is to loose all this last extra poundage and get my body back accustomed to the usual wear-n-tear of flesh and bone repeatedly striking hard pavement.  At the time of this writing I am currently weighing in at 211.3 lbs and the goal is to get down to my season racing weight of 185lbs by July.  Basically, over the coming winter months this chubby hippie needs to reemerge as a lean, mean, tie-dyed, running machine.

Take no prisoners. It’s on.

This raises the inevitable and ever-popular questions among my friends and family:  “where do you get the motivation?”, “how do you find the time?”, or “what’s the point exactly?”

My answer is always the same: “beats the shit outta me.”

Motivation is the last frontier.  With enough of it there isn’t anything you can’t accomplish.  Without it you become that guy begging for change outside of Tim Horton’s every morning.  Maybe I have an obsessive compulsive personality or perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment; I don’t rightly know.  I just figure that given I’m single and have no real responsibilities beyond feeding my cat that I don’t really have any excuse for not training anything short of religiously.  Besides, after a hoot of the good stuff I’m up for about anything be it a walk through the park picking daisies or grinding out a long distance run to the edge of the planet and back (or so it seems sometimes).  We stoner hippies are agreeable if anything else.

Truth is that I don’t mind it so much.  Don’t get me wrong, I still suffer physically like every other fat guy jogger out there and I go through all the typical pains, strains and tears, but the actual hard exertion of running itself is not really an issue for me. Go figure.  I’ve had all the usual suspects when it comes to running injuries:  ITB, plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, bursitis, calf strains, pulled hams, dehydration issues, runner’s knee and whatnot.  In fact, you could say that if it swells (and not in the good sense) – I’ve had it.  Yet, once again, here I am ready to embark on another long season of nighttime runs in the freezing cold and driving wind.

I must be a fucking idiot.

I have it pretty easily in all honesty so I shouldn’t complain.  It’s easier for me not having to worry about making time for the wife, the kid’s t-ball practices, graduation ceremonies, and visits from the in-laws.  The hardest thing I deal with pre-workout is managing to tie my laces after a few hits on the pre-work out bong; everything else is just hunky-dory, thanks.  Those people with families and real world responsibilities are the real heroes in my book.  Ask them how they do that because that’s something amazing.

But, regardless, the question of motivation is still there.  Getting your shoes on and heading out the door at 6:00am is one thing but being able to push yourself through a two hour Interval session to boot is entirely another.  At least when you cycle you have things to occupy your mind like keeping an eye open for idiot drivers and enjoying the passing landscape at 30-plus km/ph.  When you swim, well, I guess that’s just a matter of sucking it up and getting to paddling.  But while running you can actually get to indulge in a little added mental stimulation as it were.  So I have a few tricks up my sleeve then that I rely on to provide that added inspiration to get up and get out.

First off, my run workouts are almost never tackled unless I’m first plugged into my iPod.  My iPod is my lifeblood when it comes to running.  Running for me sucks at the best of times but trying to stay focused without the aid of my iPod would be absolute torture.  In fact, if I wasn’t able to plug into my iTunes and get lost in my own little world I’d probably just give up running altogether.  Fuck it.

When I trained for last years ‘Around the Bay’ I refused to listen to my iPod as I figured that I had better get accustomed to as near race day conditions as possible (or so they advise anyway).  I wanted to learn how to push myself without the benefit of a driving rhythm and pumping backbeat to motivate me along.  I quickly discovered that running without some sort of audible stimulus is about as boring as watching paint dry, not to mention the keen awareness I had the entire time to think about the developing soreness in my legs so music became a nice backdrop to focus on instead.  In other activities such as skate-boarding, snowboarding, rollerblading, BMX trick riding, etc., music is an integral part of the sport.  But those athletes (and I use that term lightly) have other things to occupy their mind with like obstacles, tricks, as well as a rapidly changing level of physical exertion and activity.  But swimming, biking and running are long, unchanging and monotonous activities and without something to distract my mind it begins to get tedious.  At least in races, I’m distracted by the other participants, my breathing, the crowd and the whole race day adrenaline rush but during those training sessions, well, not so much.

However, after a while, even the music gets boring.  That’s why I took to listening to audio books instead.  For safety, I still prefer to be alert on my bike and have my hearing unfettered so I can listen for those moolyaks in minivans rolling up behind me but when I run this isn’t really an issue so I get to indulge a little.  Audio books are different from music in that; 1) you don’t listen to them over and over again and get bored of them, and 2) it keeps your mind actively engaged, rather than passively engaged as with music. The audio book becomes the primary focus, rather than those annoying secondary focuses such as time, pace, distance, fatigueness, or the sweat dripping into the crack of your ass. This means I can go do a 15k run (or longer) and I don’t get bored and, sometimes, I don’t notice I’m getting tired.  The real benefit for me is that I’m way too ADS to ever actually sit down and pick up a paperback so running provides me with the perfect opportunity to exercise my mind as well as my body.

But there are still times when I enjoy my music.  I’m a stoner after all, right?

I particularly enjoy music if I’m engaged in faster Interval work where I need to periodically push myself a little harder.  This is where the whole majesty of playlists comes in.  I will organize the tracks in my iPod into an order that will motivate me to pick up the pace for certain time periods and then relax and fall back into a slower pace.  For example, a good high energy song by, say, AC/DC or the Rolling Stones will push my anaerobic threshold where a slower, more soothing Van Morrison song might inspire me to relax my pace again back into a more comfortable recovery pace.

Sometimes, though, I just want to hear me some sick jams, brah.

And that bring me to my favorite question:  “what kind of music inspires me to run faster?” On this particular topic I could talk for days, but, for simplicity sake, I will limit myself here to share only half dozen or so examples of primo motivational tunage that I will affectionately refer to as:

‘Music to Spike Your Heart Rate’:

  1. The entire ‘Exile on Main Street’ album by the Rolling Stones.
  2. Thunderstruck by AC/DC.  Just the opening cords alone are enough to draw up energy reserves from places you didn’t even know existed.
  3. Anything by Led Zeppelin.
  4. The odd funk classic by Curtis Mayfield, Baby Huey, Deodato, or Sly & the Family Stone.  Typically, funk songs base themselves on hard times and rough going.  What better way to identify with your long workouts?
  5. Live recordings by jam bands such as moe., Phish, Umphrey’s McGee, Disco Biscuits, et al. Those upbeat, fast-paced, 15 minute plus jams can really drive you along and help you establish a good rhythm.  It’s also a great way to check out the concert you missed last month because you didn’t want to skip a training day.
  6. ZZ Top – ‘nuff said.

Also on the topic of motivation I have found that it helps to have something to look forward to after your workout.  This serves as a bit of a reward for a job well done; and, for me, that reward is almost always food.  I take great pleasure in preparing a nice, fat steak before one of my long workouts so that I can also look forward to grilling it up for a nice fat surf n’ turf dinner when I get back.  And if that doesn’t make you move along quicker – I don’t know what does.  If you only had celery or yogurt to look forward to, you may not be as inspired to work hard enough to really enjoy it (I know I certainly wouldn’t).  You may as well just reward yourself with a kick in the gut.

To help with my new focus I thumbed through a worn copy of ‘Running for Dummies’ guide at my local library.  To say this thing was well used, would be the extreme understatement of the year.  I have seen old Hustler magazines from the 70’s in Barbershops that were in better condition than this basic runner’s guidebook.  I fought the urge to ask for surgical gloves at the Help Desk.

As it turned out, unfortunately, it wasn’t much help at all.  From the opening pages I was skeptical I was ever going to glean anything remotely substantial as it instantly tried to sell me on the idea that running is a “fun and pleasurable pastime that can be enjoyed by everyone”.  Oh yeah?  Get fucked.  There is only one thing I really enjoy about running and that’s the stopping part; I hadn’t even made it past the first page and already the guide and I had parted ways.  Likewise, it tried to argue that there is an incredible “runners high” to be had from participating in running.  Bullshit.  The only runner’s high I ever experience is the one when I have when I leave the house and the one I get three minutes after getting home again.  The rest just sucks.  The guide even went on to say: “If you can get past that first mile and learn how to let your body relax and run naturally, you can experience the confidence, happiness, and feeling as if you can run forever.” At this point I fought the urge to toss the book through the second story window out into the street but we stoner hippies are nice that way.

So at the end of the day it’s really just a question of getting out there and getting it done I suppose.  All in all, I am happy to be active again after a month off and, maybe, I will actually enjoy the cooler evenings for a change, or the quiet stillness of autumn, or jogging through gently falling snow, or…

… end up as a sticky, oddly-scented puddle of prostatic secretion somewhere along the roadside.

Either way – bring it on.

  1. Will you share some playlists with me? I want sick 15 minute jams please.

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