Embracing the Suck
Saturday, July 18, 2015

Let me preface what I’m about to write about by saying that I am in no way comparing training for a marathon, or running a marathon, or umpiring 3 baseball games in almost 90 degree heat and stifling humidity to dealing with the ravages of war or dealing with a serious personal illness or trauma.  Realistically, it doesn’t take any special skill to run.  Almost anyone can do it, health permitting.  Having said that, I can tell you that experience has taught me that getting through the training for and inevitably running a marathon does take some skill and practice.  The difference between running and running for a purpose, in my humble opinion, comes down to mental toughness.  But what is mental toughness?  For me, it’s a simple definition.  It’s doing something that you don’t want to do.  Or better yet, something that your mind tells you not to do because it’s too difficult or something scary.  It might be something that will cause you pain or discomfort but you do it anyway because you are able to block those things out from the recesses of your mind.  I have found that marathon running; and to a lesser degree, the training, is something that you know is going to hurt.  I’ve never completed the distance and walked away unharmed.  The suffering that takes place during the race is one thing, but then the after effects can last for days.  No doubt marathon running takes mental toughness.

So how do you acquire mental toughness?  Again, just my opinion, but I think it starts small.  Something simple like forcing yourself to get out of bed when you want to sleep in. Maybe forcing yourself to study for a test even though you don’t want to.  I believe mental toughness starts in your childhood and continues to be developed until the day you die.  For me, a big part of what has made me mentally tough was my involvement in sports.  One story I can recall from my youth happened when I was 7 years old.  We had just experienced a house fire and even though we all survived and the house was spared major damage, I was called upon by the manager of my little league team who needed me a day or two later because he was short players.  He needed me to be his third baseman and came by our house 30 minutes before the start of the game.  As I write this I cannot remember his last name but his first name was Red.  Red and my parents tried convincing me to go play ball, but I can honestly tell you that I was scared.  Unlike little league these days, it was age 7-12 all on the same team.  All the boys playing were bigger than me.  I was a runt.  I tried telling them that I didn’t want to play because my parents needed me to help around the house.  But Red and my parents were persistent.  Eventually they convinced me to go play and although I can’t remember what happened that night I do know that everything was o.k. and I continued to play the game and fell in love with it despite being petrified on that particular night.

By the time I had gotten into high school my mental toughness continued to be formed with the help of many coaches and teammates who pushed me to go beyond the limits of my mind.  Which is another pretty decent way of saying it.  Your mind is something that constantly wants to limit you.  I don’t know why this is, but that is what I know to be true.  So much, in fact, that I think of my mind almost as a completely different person or being.  You control your mind or it controls you.  Sounds like something that isn’t yours right?

This past spring I attended Leadercast Live, which was being hosted by Caroline County Public Schools.  It was a fantastic experience that I would recommend to anyone.  It is basically a variety of leaders who are simulcast across the world and I was fortunate enough to be able to go this year.  Although there were many great speakers, one in particular said something that jumped out at me and describes what I’ve been talking about here perfectly.  Commander Rorke Denver, a former Navy Seal Trainer and author of Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior, spoke about a number of topics that day.  The one that I recall constantly, especially during tough training runs or on days like I had today on the baseball diamond, is to embrace the suck.  Embracing the suck, to me, means taking pleasure in the misery that you may be in whether its battling a tough course, or weather conditions like I had today.  Scheduled to work three tournament games today at West Salisbury Little League, I awoke with a sour stomach (probably something I ate last night) and ran a 4-miler before heading to the field.  I then proceeded to work three games behind home plate in weather that progressively got hotter as the day wore on.  By the time I had walked off the field the temperature hovered around 90 degrees with stifling humidity.  Pretty miserable in the moment, but embracing the suck makes you tougher.  You almost learn to enjoy battling the elements, or your opponents, or in the case of running, your mind.  It is something that is very satisfying to be able to embrace the misery or suck, and come out on the other side of it a mentally stronger person.  Simply running 4 miles and umpiring three little league games certainly does not make me a Navy SEAL.  But my point isn’t to compare getting through a pretty rough day to the battles waged by SEALS a world away.  It’s all about embracing the suck.  What is your suck?  I know what mine was today.  And I know, with an 8-miler and two more games scheduled tomorrow with even hotter temperatures forecast, what it will be tomorrow.

Run on…

Mile 16 Doubles
Friday, July 17, 2015

Today was a big day of training in my journey toward the Marine Corps Marathon.  From a running standpoint it was fairly inconsequential. A three mile run at a 7:33 per mile pace. Nothing really to write home about. And much like yesterday my mind was in wonderland. Which maybe is a good thing considering that the journey is so long. It definitely takes its toll on you and as I documented yesterday, my mind blankness is clearly week #2 mental fatigue. In a lot of ways your mind works harder than your body when training for a marathon.

But today was definitely something to celebrate. And possibly something to worry about at the same time. Today was a day that I equated with Mile 16 of the marathon. Not because the fatigue I’ve been feeling is similar to that of mile 16 in a marathon. It’s because at mile 16 of each race (technically it’s at mile 16.2) it is the point where you get down to single digits in terms of miles remaining.  In all nine of my marathons previously run I blurt out “singles” as I cross over mile 16.  It’s a mental checkpoint for me and usually gives me a bit of a boost of energy because it makes the distances seem a lot more how manageable.  Let’s call it the $9.99 deal.  Doesn’t it seem much cheaper than paying $10.00 or more?  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, marathons are a constant mind game. If something silly like saying “singles” works, you do it.

So what does this have to do with today? Today we cross the threshold of getting under 100 days until the race.  With 99 days remaining, its a mental checkpoint.  And with it comes the inevitable worry about how time is slipping away and marathon Sunday seems so close. Will I be ready? Do I have enough time to get ready? As I questioned myself a bit post-run this morning my iPod appropriately began playing Jay-Z, who had 99 problems.  I got 99 days.

Run on…

I Got Nothin
Thursday, July 16, 2015

Well, it was inevitable.  I ran a quick 2-miler this morning and unlike most days nothing really stood out in my mind.  I can’t say I ran aimlessly because I had a planned route and distance and stuck to it.  I just didn’t think much while on the run.  Nothing spoke to me on the run and no exciting visuals along the way to speak of.  But in keeping my commitment to a daily blog post about my training and running,  I found myself searching this evening for something to write about.  I knew that this would happen from time to time so that is why I have been building a list of great topics to write about and have available for just these kind of nights.  The problem is I am also quite fatigued.  Another long day of work (we actually moved our work offices today) after a late night last night and tonight  I had a ticket to the local Class A minor league baseball Delmarva Shorebirds.  All of the topics I have been putting aside will need some time to dedicate to them, and given my state of fatigue I was looking for something quick and easy.  Even though it has only been 11 days, it is something that you go through and mental fatigue is just as likely as physical fatigue.  Given the time I’ve been spending not only running but umpiring and working I’m not surprised.

Also, not so amazing to me, it didn’t take much for me to find a topic.  As I have written about in my book Four Seconds from Boston, writing topics can come at you from out of nowhere and tonight was no exception.  As I sat in my kitchen thinking about whether or not I wanted to use one of my canned topics I was having an evening snack that I just cannot get enough of that I’m certain would surprise many people I know.

Reese’s White Chocolate Mini Peanut Butter Cups.  God’s perfect food:

Vice

We all have them; vices.  Mine come in bite-sized foil-wrapped white chocolate and peanut butter goodness that, if I could, I would eat an entire bag in one sitting. Just looking at this picture that I snapped moments ago is making my mouth water.  The funny thing is I don’t really like chocolate all that much, but you put these in front of me and I simply cannot resist them.  It’s actually cruel punishment that my wife keeps a bowl of these freshly stocked and lying right out on the counter in our kitchen.  But just like marathon training can be, it’s punishment that I’m willing to accept…..if I have to.

Run on…

Runnin’ with the Rams!
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Today was Wednesday, and according to my Runner’s World VIP training schedule that meant one thing: Intervals!.  Interval Wednesday was something I looked forward to last week but after the heat and humidity made it a lot harder than anticipated I wasn’t as ecstatic about heading out today.  Just like last week when the temperature was 75 degrees with 94% humidity, the weather today as I walked out the door was a balmy 74 degrees with 94% humidity.  I’m sure that in some instances, 1-degree can make a world of difference, like in architecture.  Not so much with the temperature and running.  Just like last week the plan called for intervals, which again, are defined as short, intense efforts of running followed by equal or slightly longer recovery time.  Sandwiched, of course, by a 2-mile warm-up and 2-mile cool down.  The difference today  was that 600 meter runs were added.  Today called for seven intervals broken down like this: 3 – 400 meter runs (one lap around the track), 2 – 600 meter runs (1 1/2 laps around the track), and 2 – 400 meter runs.  Interestingly, on my Runmeter App, the graphs of my runs are a fairly straight line with small peaks and valleys as I speed up and slow down.  I noticed today that visually on the app, an interval run actually looks like an interval run.  Note below:

Interval Visual

Pretty cool if you ask me.

I was on annual leave from work today, but because we are preparing for an office move across town I had to go in this morning for a little over an hour to pack up some things before heading out on my run.  The delay was just enough to get me started about an hour later than I normally would have on a regular work day.  As a result I ran in more plentiful sunshine.  If you are a sun worshiper, I’m about to offend you.  I hate the sun.  Let me clarify that statement.  I hate running in the sun.  When you pick up a copy of my book you’ll read plenty about races that I ran in the sunshine and how it saps my energy.  I’m more of a high 40’s, low 50’s temperature, light-mist o a steady-rain kind of guy.  But I digress.

After my warm-up I made my way to the track at Parkside High School, home of the Parkside Rams.  It’s the closest track to my house and although it’s not a public track I have the benefit of being employed by Wicomico County Public Schools.  I asked for and received permission to utilize the track for my training.  As an employee of the Board I suppose you could call it member privileges, but I want to publicly thank the Board and those involved in allowing me to use the facility one day a week.

The intervals themselves were a bit of a disappointment because as I got deeper into the workout my times slowed considerably.  Not to sound like a broken record but much like last week I would have to attribute a lot of that to the humidity and the abundant sunshine.  But since I was out later than usual I received a surprise in the form of the Parkside High Football Team who arrived for their summer workouts.  For about fifteen minutes I ran while the Rams prepped for their session.  On one interval in particular I passed the team on their warm-up lap.  The team could not have been more respectful as they stepped aside giving me the inside lane.  As I finished my workout I couldn’t help but think back to my high school career and the summer workouts in July that we would do in the evenings.  I would like to thank the boys and the coaching staff for allowing me to share their space even if it was only for a short while.  Today will be a day I look back on as the day I ran with the Rams!

Streakin’
Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Although it has certainly been hot and humid enough to run naked I’m not really interested in being arrested for indecent exposure, and my college prank days are long behind me.  No, my streakin’ has been about running consecutive days.  If you’ve already read the my Kickoff post on this site you know that I came up with the idea of a running streak (running at least one-mile per day for a minimum of one year according to the U.S. Running Streak Association. earlier this year after I saw a CBS News Report on John Sutherland.  Sutherland holds the current record for longest running streak in the USA at just over 46 years!

I decided for some idiotic reason that it would be a good idea to begin a run streak a few weeks before starting marathon training.  I’m still not sure it’s a very good idea but as a runner I have grown to know my body very well and I am monitoring my mileage, my speed and the overall wear and tear I am experiencing.  I love the challenge that a run streak has given me almost as much as I love the challenge of training, preparing for, and running a marathon.

My previous high-water mark for a run streak was 8 consecutive days, but as of today my streak stands at 53 days and admittedly it has me in a bit of a conundrum.  There is no doubt in my mind that if my body starts to break down and I cannot handle the streak any longer I will take a day or two off if needed to preserve the integrity of Marine Corps Marathon training.  That’s fairly easy to say now, but as this streak grows I become more and more committed to it and it will be harder for me to let it go if the need arises. 

In a weird way I almost feel as though doing the streak has made me more aware in my training and forced me to be more disciplined so maybe it will end up being a good thing.  At the very least it will be interesting to see if the good days that I’ve experienced so far  will continue.  Am I crazy?  Maybe a little, but I’ve grown to learn that all runners are a little bit crazy.  Some more than others.  Just like those guys who were crazy enough to go streakin’ back in college.

How About Seconds?
Monday, July 13, 2015

If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog/website then you know I always try to be a little catchy with my post titles.  I’m hoping it’s the hook that will get you to the page.  Hey, why should I be any different from mainstream media?  This one is no different.  Am I going to write about missing a goal by a few seconds like the book for which this website was created?  Am I talking about a great meal I had and decided to break down and ruin my training diet by having a heaping second helping of heavy pasta? Did I run a race and finish in second place?  No, none of those.  In this instance I am simply referring to the completion of the first week of training and the kickoff of the second week of training.  That leaves just 15 weeks, or more accurately, 14 weeks and 6 days before I take on D.C. and the www.marinemarathon.com.

Before I get into the heart of today’s post, I first must apologize for missing yesterday.  After the previously mentioned rain outs on Saturday I was scheduled to do a doubleheader of games yesterday afternoon and early evening.  So I squeezed in an easy 2-miler and then worked my baseball games before heading into Ocean City for a quick work-related conference.  A very long day ended around midnight where I was lucky enough to have caught the end of the www.pittsburghpirates.com second come-from-behind extra innings win over the www.stlouiscardinals.com.

So I began week 2 of 16 with another easy 2-miler, but did it in Ocean City, Maryland.  In my running life, I can tell you that there is simply nothing better than getting in your run in any beach town in America.  I’ve been lucky enough to get some runs in at resorts along the east and west coast, and there is just something about running near the ocean that makes the run more enjoyable and different.  I think its truly something in the air.

So what did I get out of the first week?  Pretty much what I wanted to.  I continued my run streak, I finished all of my scheduled runs while staying motivated (easy to do in the first week to be fair) and most importantly I got into the second week healthy.  There is just nothing else I can hope for at the conclusion of each week.  Because at the end of the day, the goal is really two-fold.  It is about getting to the starting line healthy and then getting to the finish line.

Here’s the bonus.  As training schedule ramps up with the mileage increases that will come along with it I will be able to have, while maintaining good conscience, those seconds of heavy pasta.

Run on…

IMG_8790

Beach miles are good miles