Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Prose and Pacing

My wife told me I need more creative prose. My PhD advisor told me to be more direct. Ah, the life of the man caught in the middle. It’s funny how life becomes so segmented…

I logged a lot of solo miles this week – all except Thursday’s mile repeats with Steve (and I’ll complain about that later) and ten miles with Star on Sunday. I’ve spent so many miles with others lately that I had forgotten how much I enjoy being alone on the trails with my thoughts. I also realized how lousy I am at pacing…and I realized this extends beyond running.

I took Monday off to recover a bit from the Grindstone training weekend. Tuesday I wanted to get up to High Banks, but due to time constraints settled for a run on the bike trail, which is just a stones throw from where I park each morning. This was intended to be a nice and easy 8-miler, but every time the Garmin beeped I had logged a mile 15 seconds faster than the previous. I even tried to slow down, but somehow kept speeding up. I even stopped and did a bunch of push-ups and sit-ups to tire myself out, but when I started running again I was still speeding up. Like I said, I’m really bad at pacing.

Wednesday I left the lab a bit early and hit the treadmill to hike 3.5 miles at a 15% incline. Following this I entered into the weight room for the first time in forever. It felt strangely familiar and comforting…the floor to ceiling mirrors, the smell of iron, the guys with bulging arms, the scrawny kid looking completely out of place...oh wait, that’s just me looking in the mirror, a puny version of my former weight-room frequenting self, pounding away on the leg press and leg curl machines. After sufficiently fatiguing my quads, I looked at the bench-press and thought about trying to rip off a few sets, then thought better of embarrassing myself, so I exited the gym and did something I feel confident in – I ran.

Thursday I met Steve at Antrim for mile-repeats. We ran a warm-up lap, stretched a bit, and then headed out for our first mile. The idea was to run 6:45’s, but with me pacing this first lap we came in at 6:10…like I said, I’m really bad at pacing. Steve led the next three laps and we came in within about 8 seconds of 6:45’s each time. Maybe this is what makes him a good drummer – that ability to tune out distractions and stay consistent (distractions mostly being my panting and whining). And this is when I realized how much I enjoy running with others. This is when I realized how important it was to have people in my life. Because sometimes we need those consistent personalities to keep us in check when we want to dash ahead or fall behind.

So I’ve been trying to listen to my body more recently. I eat when hungry, sleep when tired, wake without alarms, etc. But this too has made me realize how lousy I am at pacing. The life of a grad student is, well, not a great life. The life of a grad student in the sciences is, well, kind of like running 100 miles. You work and struggle and mentally sweat to find that discovery that will propel your career forward and you experience the highs and lows that come with it. One day, what you thought was your big discovery is trashed and returned to you in a red massacre by the brilliant minds you seek approval from. The lows are very low. So you work even harder and finally, the e-mail comes: “Congratulations! Your article is acceptable for publication!” And oh how sweet are the highs. But my real point in all of this is that piling up 80-hr weeks only to be followed by a summer of burnout and a strong desire to sleep and think about anything but science seems to somehow be related to bad pacing. This seems to happen too much. Although the coolness of fall has been in the air as of late, and I’m hoping with it comes a change in my motivation – and perhaps my ability to pace. But alas, I digress… Oh yeah, this is supposed to be about running.

After unsuccessfully trying to put together a group run at Mohican on Saturday morning, Katie decided to join me on my journey with the plan of hiking while I ran. I attacked the orange loop (100-mile direction) and soon found myself flying along, thoroughly enjoying pushing my limits and the solitude of it all. I soon met up with Katie along the river and we hiked a mile or so together before I took off for the car at Covered Bridge to refill my aid. I had drained my bottles a few miles out and was promptly in the midst of a severe bonk. I stumbled onto the purple loop and struggled quite a bit until I had rehydrated and consumed enough calories. After getting my legs back I passed through CB and took off up towards the Fire Tower. I again passed Katie as she was on the return trip from the Fire Tower. Let me just say how impressed I am that she hiked 14 miles at Mohican in about 4 hrs. When I mentioned this was on pace to beat the cutoff at the Forget the PR 50k she promptly shot down my idea…but the seed has been planted =). I wound up with about 25 miles and was completely exhausted at the conclusion. If only I had paced myself… It was fun lounging around the house Saturday afternoon with both Katie and I feeling the satisfaction of a draining workout. Life is better together.

Sunday I wanted to get in a 20-miler, so I shot out a few quick texts to some highly talented pacers. Turns out Star (my rock star Mohican pacer) was lacing up her shoes for a 20-miler, so we met up on the bike-path, and instantly I realized how much I enjoy running with people. We discussed what pace we wanted to settle in on, and I mentioned something about staying between 8:30 and 9:00’s on account of my tough run at Mohican on Saturday. Sure enough, nearly every time the Garmin beeped we had logged another 8:40ish mile. But then it got hot, and we struggled. So after a water and popsicle break at the half-way point, I headed out solo for a few more miles before calling it quits at 16 miles and change. And as I thought about it, I concluded that running alone every once in a while is refreshing, but running with others is nearly always superior. I also realized that this applies to the broader strokes of life as well.

Sunday night Katie and I joined Steve and Leigh for Steve’s birthday celebration and had an absolutely wonderful grown-up time enjoying good food, wine, and conversation. The night ended with a special pre-screening of Leigh’s documentary on the 2010 Mohican 100. What a haunting experience to watch. Job well-done Leigh! If you haven’t seen the video, check it out at:


  1. Absolutely love it! Creative prose is most definitely in. I was hooked and never missed a word. Despite the nudgings toward a 50K, there's no way. Perhaps in another year or so. Love you!

  2. I agree. Love your writing. I think my eyes kept moving faster than my brain as I tried to eat up each word faster and faster (must have problems pacing while reading). I think we can convince Katie on the 50K. =)

  3. When it comes to pacing 100 milers, you do an excellent job.

  4. This is great stuff Dave! I hope we get to run together soon...and I agree Leigh's documentary was awesome. Keep working on Katie re: the PR race : ).