The Chronicles: December 1999
The late George Sheehan wrote that we are all an experiment of one. Considering how much experimenting I did in my 20’s and 30’s I must have agreed. I doubt, though, that what I was experimenting with would have please Dr. Sheehan.
My running has been experimental, that’s for sure. Most of the time I’ve acted like a mad scientist mixing a potion in his basement laboratory. I tried new shoes, or a new training program, or a new diet and then stood back and hoped the results didn’t blow up in my face.
But my grandest experiment so far was to go for a year without training; no logbook, no keeping track, no training schedule. I was feeling a little burned out, so for an entire year I ran when I wanted, as far as I wanted, as often as I wanted. I tried to remember my weekly mileage in my head, but never wrote anything down. I just ran.
During that year I raced at every distance from 5K’s to marathons. In fact, I ran several marathons and enjoyed every one of them. I was healthier and missed fewer days of running in that year than in any other.
But in the final analysis, the experiment was a dismal failure. I missed training.
I enjoy running. I enjoy the activity of running. I enjoy what it feels like to run. But, what I enjoy more is training. Training. The act of having a plan, thinking it through, calculating distances and times for runs. The process of searching for that balance between doing enough training to improve but not more training than your body can absorb.
Believe it or not, I even missed making training mistakes. I missed thinking that those few extra miles wouldn’t hurt me, and then being wrong. I missed thinking that I could ignore the little aches and being wrong. I missed wondering how I could ever have been so stupid as to think I was so smart.
Maybe I’m just a slow learner, but it’s been through the mistakes that I have learned the greatest lessons. So when I wasn’t training, I wasn’t making mistakes. But I also wasn’t learning. I was running well. I was happy with every aspect of my running. But it felt like something was missing. And therein lies the paradox.
It’s not that I LIKE being wrong. I learned, though, that if I was never wrong, I was never right. I never had the satisfaction that comes from having a good training program, a good race strategy, and the ability and willingness to follow it. It was true that I never failed during that year, but it never felt as if I ever really succeeded either.
So, next year I’m going to train more, even if that means running less. I’m going to draw elaborate training schedules months in advance of the all of my races. I’m going to detail my runs and record them with laborious accuracy. I’m going to know when I’m running, and why I’m running, every time I put on my shoes.
More importantly, I’m going to make some mistakes. I’m going to overestimate my ability, and underestimate my ignorance. I’m going to dream fantastic dreams and then have to settle for reality. I’m going to imagine the runner that I want to become and then have to accept the runner that I am.
No doubt I will have some failures. There will be races when my plan will be wrong or my training will be inadequate. There will be runs when my body will not forgive me for my mistakes and my spirit will not pull me through.
But I’ll have some surprises as well. I’ll have those runs when I exceed my expectations. I will have those few races when the training was perfect, the plan faultless, the execution impeccable, and I am touched by the race day magic. I’ll have those days when I am better than I ever dared hope I could be.
I think Dr. Sheehan, and Dr. Frankenstein would understand.
Waddle on, friends.