1. What it’s all about
We made it out of the desert, but it seems the desert wasn’t done with us just yet. Four of the six members of our team have had to seek medical help for infections following the race. Two of the guys are dealing with respiratory issues from Valley fever and Nikki’s foot had some gnarly complications narrowly avoiding surgery. I currently have pneumonia—originally diagnosed as allergies until a chest x-ray said otherwise. I’ve been down for the count on antibiotics this week and hopefully can kick it before heading to Boston this weekend, but the race is going to look a lot different than I had planned.
I’m trying to think of this setback as a forced taper since I didn’t take too much of a break after The Speed Project. While cutting back on running I’ve had a lot of time to weigh one of the questions on the last post about the experience of running TSP: “What was the point of punishing yourself?”
Really the question can be shortened to “what was the point?” since the idea that running is punishment is a subjective presumption. But I want to address both, what was the point and if running is a form of punishment.
The point of racing is to see how fast you can go from one point to another. The point of running depends on the person. For some, cardio is viewed as a kind of torture—see the use of suicide drills in team sports as a penalty during practice mocked by cross-country runners and the tagline “our sport is your sport’s punishment.” I dislike this kind of attitude for a lot of reasons, first among them is all through high school and college my hands were torn up from rowing and the source of endless Ben-Hur jokes. This attitude also contributes to the shame-equation women face in diet culture—it is part of what’s behind the idea of using exercise as a form of atonement for eating.
But I think the distorted view and mentality of exercise in general as a form of punishment goes back to the breakdown between being goal-oriented versus values-oriented. If it’s just about the end result for you the day-to-day grind will eventually start to feel punishing like an obstacle to be overcome to reach the conclusion, a delay to the joy of whatever the goal is—winning, weight loss, whatever. Something you have to do rather than something you get to do. But if it’s about embarking on a lifestyle where movement is centered in your life every workout becomes an opportunity to delight in what the body can do.
In the first and second issues of this newsletter I laid out my reasons for volunteering to be on the team: to see how far I could go—an impulse to test my limits, but also looking at my New Year’s Resolutions and how I want to be. The race was a goal, yes, but I was happier in the middle of Death Valley with the sun beating down on my back, sprinting towards the RV than I was after we reached the Vegas sign.
Like all identity-building forms of exercise and habit, running can be an aid to self-determination in that it affirms the ability to manage yourself. Running was the point.
In the last post, I focused mostly on what it was like to run TSP rather than the racing in and of itself. For all the teams, competing came down to relay format, the lengths of each segment, and recovery time. The teams that were most competitive dropped down to shorter segments almost immediately and did shifts trading off sets of three runners for set times so the other three could rest for longer. Our team stuck with 5ks and longer the whole first day and night. We dropped down to doing miles and half miles when we hit the heat in Death Valley and the runners who had the longer preceding stretches, which couldn’t be broken up due to lack of vehicle access, started to face serious fatigue and pain.
While TSP strategy is its own monster, during our speed test back in January we talked a bit in support cars about various other racing strategies. For marathons, Forrest told us about the 10-10-10 method: You run the first 10 miles with your head, the second 10 miles with your training, and the last 10k with your heart. Jes Woods is a Nike coach and TSP veteran whom I got to meet and run with for a Brooklyn Track Club long-run before heading to Death Valley, she broke down the 10-10-10 method in detail for Runner’s World:
Running the first 10 miles with your head means being smart, being patient, and listening to your coach. “You want to make a conscious effort to hold back and run the first 10 miles at a pace that’s slightly slower than your goal marathon pace,” says Woods. . . .
Running the second 10 miles with your legs is all about trusting your training, says Woods. “Let your body do what it has been trained to do,” she says. “This is where you want to hit goal marathon pace like a metronome. Let it feel rhythmic and settle in.” You know this pace; you’ve trained for this pace. . . .
Running the last 10K with your heart should be pretty self-explanatory: This is where you let it rip. “Your strength doesn’t come from your body, it comes from your heart—OK, and that fire in your belly asking you, ‘How bad do you want it?’” says Woods.
Since I’m still a little shaky coming back it’s probably going to look more like a one-mile-at-a-time run. I’m beyond thrilled and honored to be running for Team Beans. I’ve run for causes in the past, but this one is particularly close to home. As the pandemic drags on there are still so many suffering from other severe illnesses that need attention and resources. Cancer is still among the leading causes of death in America. Last year Andrew Kaczynski dedicated each mile to a child with cancer:
As always I’m still adding books to the reading list that could probably be broken down into several shorter lists at this point.
I jinxed myself reading this piece in Runner’s World last week on pre-race anxiety and how one of the top worries is getting sick. It hadn’t really occurred to me to worry specifically about illness before the race since there’s a pandemic and that’s just a constant worry now (I’m also a bit of a hypochondriac and always think there’s something wrong with me anyway). So naturally, I would come down with a lung infection completely unrelated to the pandemic—cheers to Murphy’s Law.