Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mind over matter: Full of energy, but why?

My posts are almost always far from home. But on my return home from a month in Asia, it felt new again, and a recent run was particularly thought provoking. So here goes:
At home, I generally run three or four times a week and on weekends I try to join my running partners, Chuck and Ellen. I was set to go out with Chuck early this Sunday but he told me the night before that he had some early morning work and couldn’t make it.
That got me thinking. Where did I want to go? What would be exciting? I decided on a run on the Capital Crescent trail north through Bethesda, toward Silver Spring, ending near an area landmark, the Mormon Temple.  
For me, this would be a run of consequence, perhaps 90 minutes. When I trained for marathons, I ran past the temple a couple of times a month, but I hadn’t run there for well over a year.
So I went to bed excited about the prospect of a long run first thing in the morning. I woke up excited, too. And I started out about 6:30 a.m. with a bounce in my step. 
I had run the day before and my legs felt sluggish – likely the byproduct of getting back in the routine of biking to work during the past week. But I felt energized now. I wondered why was there such a difference from one day to the next?
Then I thought to the night before, about my preparation and excitement about this run. It reminded me of other times, especially back in my 20s and 30s, when I used to plot long runs a day or more ahead. I would mentally prepare myself, visualizing parts of the runs, thinking about pace, about water stops, about possible new legs to the run. I pored over maps. I put out my running clothes before crawling into bed so that I could leave as quickly as possible.
It was fun – just as this recent run was. The mental aspect of the run seemed to overshadow the physicality of it, becoming more dominant, adding a sheen of happiness that somehow dimmed or dulled any pain. It also made me think about how such mental preparation and planning or studied concentration before any event could add joy to the actual experience. It didn’t matter if it was a run or a bike ride or a backyard barbecue, enjoying preparation could equal a more enjoyable experience.
The second noteworthy aspect of this run happened during it, near its midpoint. It was an out-and-back run along Beach Drive (which is far from any beach) and near my turnaround point several large groups of runners led by a pace-person were headed the other way. The groups ranged from 10 to 20 persons.
When I turned back toward home, I soon came up on the first group. They were running about 10 minutes per mile pace. As I approached them and prepared to pass the group, someone in the back yelled, “RUNNER LEFT!” A path opened immediately for me as the pack narrowed.
I found myself speeding up, suddenly turning into the Young Racer for a few seconds, competitive gene asserting itself, striding and pushing and passing with ease. I laughed at myself after (and slowed down as I had to recover my breath). But minutes later, I came upon another group, and I pulled the same Young Racer self out for the 15-second dash, only to feel my age later.
I thought, what am I doing? What am I proving? Maybe it was just a short moment of satisfaction, I still have it in me. I picked up the pace home (as my mental powers were still strong) and when I reached our house I told my daughter Paige about passing the groups with a burst of speed.
“That’s the best,” she said.
Competitive genes, indeed.