Monday, September 26, 2011

It Must Be The Shoes

Hard to believe that seven short days ago we were at Hampton Beach up in New Hampshire, having just run almost 200 miles in under 26 hours. It feels like a long time ago and a world away already. I have delayed writing about the experience so far, not because it was bad—in fact the opposite is true. It was once again a great experience. Reach the Beach is everything I love—short, demanding, intense and then over.

But all week I have felt like there was nothing worth saying in writing. Then it struck me today that I do indeed have something to say about my experience at Reach the Beach this year. The captain of The Rosie Ruiz Fan Club, (my wife Erica), assigned me a tougher draw than she has in any of the past years. This time I had three legs totaling just over 19 miles. Two of the legs had big hills smack in the middle. And when it was all over I had run my 19 miles in under 8 minutes per mile. While not speedy in absolute terms, this is fast for me. In fact, if you go strictly by time it is my single fastest long run ever.

The reason Erica had enough confidence to give me some hard legs was that my training had gone very well all spring and summer. I ran a half marathon in New York City in March and another in Philly in May and both went well. After Philadelphia I had some toe troubles and needed to switch over to Vibram’s five-finger barefoot running shoes. I was a bit nervous about making the switch, but I needn’t have been. I watched several people start too fast with too many miles in these shoes and I did not want to end up hurt. So, I took it very slowly and built up my miles gradually. By the end of the summer I was able to do a 14-mile run in the five-fingers without any negative repercussions.

Looking back, my toe injury was pretty serendipitous. I didn’t even know it at the time, but I think I was getting a bit bored with running. I did the same 4-mile route from my home 3 times a week. My long Sunday runs were all along the same ugly New Haven route. By changing over to new shoes and having to refocus on how each run—even each mile—was making my body feel, my running became interesting again.

So, my 19 Reach the Beach miles were all run in those same Vibram five-finger running shoes—which are, by now, needing a good wash and dry. Or maybe replacement.

I have a couple of half marathons coming up in the next two months (Shelburne, VT and Rehoboth Beach , DE) and I think running in the Vibrams will help keep my interest going a while longer. I hope so—I am trying to run a half marathon in all 50 states and these will be just states number 9 and number 10.

Anyway, the infusion of interest and enjoyment given to me by my switch to Vibram’s has got me wondering if maybe some other small change might make the rest of my life feel more exciting again. Wouldn’t that be great? Maybe a new pair of jeans and my job will be thrilling again. Or a haircut and my marriage will be like new.

Or maybe I’ll just take to wearing my Vibrams all the time—they have already proven their worth and effectiveness. Don’t mind that smell---small price to pay for making everything seem new again.

Monday, September 19, 2011

After Reaching the Beach

When I got out of bed this morning and tried to walk down the stairs to the kitchen to get some coffee started, it was clear that something was dreadfully wrong with my calves. I had our embarrassingly small dog cradled in one arm and my laptop in the other and that first step nearly sent me all the way down. I hadn’t quite run a marathon the day before, but I had run 19 miles in a long distance relay called Reach the Beach. Two of the three legs I ran had some big hills and I ran in my Vibram five-finger running shoes, so my calves were feeling like someone was sticking ice picks into them with each step.

I made it to the kitchen, dog and computer intact, and started making the coffee with an enormous smile on my face. This year was my 4th Reach the Beach and every year it proves itself to be the best-organized race there is. There were 36 legs covering 192 miles from Cannon Mountain in northern New Hampshire to Hampton Beach in the southeast corner of the state. Somehow, over 400 teams with anywhere from 6 to 12 runners each cover the entire distance day and night with no major mess-ups, injuries, or meltdowns. The volunteers who staff the many transition areas are unfailingly pleasant and helpful—some are even downright joyful. I am not exaggerating when I say that Reach the Beach restores my faith in humanity each year.

The team I run with is called The Rosie Ruiz Fan Club and its membership varies year to year. This year we had 6 newcomers and 6 repeat offenders. Altogether, we covered the miles in 25 hours, 26 minutes, and 56 seconds for a pace of 7:57 per mile. More importantly, everyone felt great about the run and, in the warm glow of the post-race celebration, we all agreed it had been an amazing experience.

I just wanted to say thank you to the organizers, volunteers, and all the other runners who make this race better than Christmas for me each year.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Anger and Compassion

I have always been afraid of other people’s anger. I have some theories about why this is so, but at the age of 45 I have finally come to see that the reasons for my fear are, ultimately, unimportant. Whatever their roots, my fears are proving to be a real hindrance and the real task for me is to figure out how to have a different reaction when confronted with someone else’s anger—especially if it is aimed at me.

Even more basic, I have also been afraid of my own anger. So much so, that I hardly ever let myself feel it. I have always prided myself on being in control, and anger makes me feel out of control. Once I realized this about myself I decided to play with the idea of allowing myself to get mad and see what happened.

I will spare you all the navel-gazing details, but the results of my experiment have been pretty astounding. I have found that allowing myself to wade into my anger and really feel it—to live in it for a while without trying to talk myself out of it or simply cram it down out of sight—actually leads me to a place of greater compassion. Trying to skip the whole process and get straight back to “normal” was what I did for many years and it turned out to be not-so-effective.

When I refused to even admit to myself that I was angry, I was not very likely to know what I was mad about. Often, the trigger for my anger is some word or action that is really just the final straw—the underlying cause is often not obvious. When I let myself feel the anger and live in it a bit I can now sometimes get to what is really there. Usually, it is something pretty basic, like feeling unheard, misunderstood, or undervalued.

Allowing myself to get to the root cause of why I am pissed off has had some great side-benefits. It has let me generate some self-compassion rather than judging myself harshly for even feeling anger to start with. It has also helped me take the next step and feel real compassion for whoever has triggered the anger in me. It has helped me remember that we are all out in the world doing the best we can to get by. Working through what I am feeling—simply letting myself feel it without judging it—lets me feel real compassion and real forgiveness. For myself and for other people.

And it is not the smug pseudo-compassion I felt when I believed I was better than people because I did not get angry. It feels realer and better. So, I never would have guessed it, but letting myself feel angry for a while actually leads to some pretty good results. Who’d a thunk it?