We're hip-deep into January; Suzanne replaced the old (tattoo) calendar on the kitchen wall with one filled with motivational quotes. I took fifteen minutes after the first run of the new year to copy my old training spreadsheet, and place the previous year's on the hard drive.
I even began to think about what I could do differently this year, as a coach, a husband, a co-worker, and all those other roles I play. And if your gym is anything like mine, the elliptical trainer machines and treadmills will be in short supply until the end of February.
None of this disappoints me in the slightest. Why? We're safely in January and I can see glimpses of the old, kind-of-motivated, 'hungry-to-run-well' me starting to pop up.
Charley, one of my regular Sunday morning "breakfast club" runners, mentioned the other Sunday he wanted to put together a team for a 5,000-meter road race held on the first weekend of May.
This was both encouraging and frustrating: The encouraging part was this idea came from a guy who in the past would more likely have run dressed as one of Monty Python's 'Spanish Inquisition' skit.
Yep, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Frustration came when I pressed for details. "Who" I asked, "do you want to be on the team?" He mentioned a short list of "breakfast club" group participants, none with us at that moment either by choice or circumstance. Some, in the professional football parlance, were 'physically unable to perform' after a night of end-of-year revelry.
Frankly, it's been a long time since I raced at a level where I felt I was at the leading edge. When I did there was always a sense of frustration at my fellow running enthusiasts, folks who were part of a "team" with which I trained, who seemed less mindful of the "team" construct.
My old coach didn't push it. Occasionally one or two persons would express interest in a relay event, but he knew the group would have to be, more or less, of a single mind.
That's the reason many quit playing team sports; the good athletes didn't like the thought of being dragged down. The less-than-gifted persons (like me) hated busting their chops at every practice just to sit on a folding chair or wooden bench.
Many persons are drawn to running because of the challenge, especially as time progresses, to continually improve ourselves. The first days, weeks and months are giddy as we gain fitness and set personal bests without appearing to try. After a while, though, we either become less hungry to get better, or the big improvements become smaller and smaller.
The races where we drop tons of seconds off our previous bests are past history. The PRs, when they do come, are more gut-wrenching and measured in seconds rather than minutes, portions of an inch, halves of a pound. Scarce as hen's teeth.
While listening to public radio broadcast this morning there was a discussion about how the poor and the wealthy may be more alike than we think. Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, in their book "Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much," say some interesting things about why we focus most on the element we seem to have the least of, and yet we waste it once it's in our hands.
We are at our most efficient when we are focused on what we lack. Take a twenty-percent hit to your income, like we did this summer, and you might begin to make some very strong decisions about where to spend your money: Goodbye, premium cable television. So long weekly Sunday champagne brunch.
When there's no looming deadline on the horizon we're more likely to put off stuff and procrastinate: It's a good reason to go ahead and pencil in a "C" race a few months after you cross that marathon finish line; if nothing else you're not going to stay on the couch and let your hard-won fitness go out the back door. More likely, you're going to take a week, perhaps two, of easy running, then get back on the chain gang and start looking at the training schedule.
Mullainathan and Shafir write that if we become proccupied with our present state of scarcity, say, in this case, financial difficulty, we will be burdened by thoughts of it; how are we going to pay that bill, what will happen to us if our income is not restored, and so on. That preoccupation is not something we can turn on and off at any particular time. No, it's something that affects our ability to think with longer-term vision or insight on other things.
In the running sense, we can become so fixated on trying to improve that 5K personal best time, or to win that grand prix competition, that we start thinking less about easy runs, rest days, stretching, strength training, nutrition. All we want is FASTER and we want it NOW, at the expense of all the other benefits of being a life-long athlete and healthy person. This fixation can lead to one or more traps which are almost impossible to free one's self from without a conscientious, well-laid-out plan of action and milestones; even with a good plan the mindset is a hard one to break. Injuries of an acute or a chronic nature, like plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinosis, stress fractures, shin splints are one thing. How about plateaus, overtraining, or burnout?
There's nothiing wrong with having the hunger for running excellence, but you don't want to be consumed or blindsided by the efforts to satiate that hunger.