Rabbit Test

I've been calling myself a ten-minute miler. I can kick out a 4-5 mile run at that pace. I've run a mile at 8:30 (close to what loyal and trusted reader JS calls 'a respectable pace'); I've run seven at a smidge under 11:00.

But labels are the end of thinking. If I start saying, "I'm a ten-minute miler," I've set a pointless and arbitrary limit. My power-to-weight ratio has changed this winter; I haven't checked a short run against a watch in a long time. Also, the Groundhog Run is coming and I don't want to run conservatively. But what does "conservative" mean? A 9:50 pace? The fastest I can possibly make my body move, even a few yards, is somewhere around 8:00, right?

How to test? Go faster and harder, get out of the comfort zone and see how long I stay there. I wanted a rabbit: someone much stronger as a runner, at whom I could look over and think, "oh, that's what it can look like at this pace." Someone who could monitor the experiment dispassionately. Who'd get that the point was to push to system failure. Who wouldn't be concerned or even care if I made pain noises. Preferably, who would laugh if the noises were comical.

That's Zoolander all over. And he has a Garmin Forerunner, so, bingo. He agrees to witness my tragi-comedy and we motor to the nearby paved trail for a lunch-hour 5K.

I thought we'd start at my disreputable 10-minute pace and gradually ratchet up the speed, finishing as close to 8 minutes as I could. A few seconds into the run, ZL checks his Garmin.

"9:45," he says. Then, a minute later, "9:15." Uh. OK. It's comfortably hard. We're still chatting. I scrap my plan. My breathing, especially next to soundless Zoolander, is like one of those old-timey ventilators with the accordion bellows. Whoooooooot-hss. Whoooooooot-hsss.

At about 3/4 mile: "8:30." And then begins the great oxygen diaspora of January 2010, in which the oxygen supporting the abdominal muscles and digestive processes disperses to the heart and large muscles.

Do you know what happens when a muscle doesn't get as much oxygen as it wants? It's instructive to find out. I don't even want to tell you. You should go find out.

We're near the turnaround. I can't hang on. ZL is loping along beside me, deedly deedly dee, nice and easy. He looks like the poster boy for the Chi Running lean. Cool, I think. I'll be practicing that.

"Slowing down now," I say. I can't tell if I'm slowing down or not. My legs don't want to slow down. My abs do. My abs are telling me to go @&* myself.

Another .2 miles and the intestinal discomfort feels remarkably like heat stress. In heat stress, as I know too well, the internal organs can pull blood from the brain. I walk. ZL stops the Garmin. I'm disgruntled, but better that than passed out or redecorated in half-digested pear and banana.

"Humiliating," I say. But I don't really feel humiliated, just puzzled. All these messages my body doesn't typically have a reason to tell me. Why does it say to slow all the way to a walk? Is walking quitting? Is my brain lying to me that this is going to keep feeling worse and worse? Is it really more like a side stitch that goes away if you ignore it? Could I have stood more? Am I just being a big weenie on a dinky little 5K? I curse.

Zoolander, philosophical next to my disgruntlement, says that's how it goes. Some days you feel at the top of your game and you have a lousy run. Some days you feel like crap and you run better than you could have dreamed.

"You want to know what you've done so far?" he says. I say no. If I hear a number I'll only live up to it. There's more work to do. And my hips and glutes and legs and feet love this; they want to go, go, go.

"7:30," ZL says a few seconds later. Oof. Slowing down. I hang on to whatever I can until my brain says, "Walk or else," and then I pick a point in the path ahead and hang on that long, then walk. And so we proceed. I bust about 150 yards from the finish. I tell my abs and brain to go @&* themselves, like hell am I walking in.

I make a few noises in my discomfort. ZL says the final tally was a 9:02 average for the 2.67 miles on the run with a max rate of 6:47.

Yes. At one point I was flying! Flying right out of my labels! And I learned a ton, which always makes me tingle pleasantly.

Of course my human brain seeks comparison. Did I do well? Did I do poorly? Compared to who? I know lots of runners who can't imagine breathing hard at an 8:30 pace. I know new walkers who are challenging themselves, bravely, with 5K-length walks. I know a woman who I am not anymore, who believed her body incapable of strength.

You know what? Screw comparison. It just gets in the way of enthusiasm. And this run was fun, jeepers was this fun! Now I can't wait to race.

Let's All Get Bikes! Book Sale Update
About 1/10 of the people I've told about the "Buy a Book and We All Get Bikes!" deal have bought a book. Clearly, I have not yet told enough people about this deal. Again: buy a copy of my book and if I sell 1000 copies by March 1 (through my web site, not through Amazon), one of you, and lots of kids, get bikes.


Troy said...

Nice run. You might want to consider a heart rate monitor. With it you will have a better idea if you can run through the pain or not.

As for your books, have you tried posting this same deal on eBay?

Ann Pai said...

Re: heart monitor. ZL suggested the same thing. Never wanted to mess with the gadgetry before, but think it would assist in more aggressive 5-8K runs when the mood strikes.

Re: eBay, I'm hanging onto my 8%. Craigslist is a great idea.

Zoolander said...

I never really considered running over lunch before this...and it was excellent.

Time to buy the book.