Friday, October 09, 2009
| Category: Training
On a magnificent Sunday in early September, I took my 12-year-old daughter to the Michigan State Fair in Detroit, and it was one of those times when it is easy to think, "We'll never have a day quite like this again."
And when you also think, just below the surface, that time is passing way too quickly, after all I was just walking my daughter, one-day-old, down the street in her carriage, just home from the hospital, it can’t really be 12 years ago, and now I barely see her and she is six years away from leaving for college.
It was sunny, dry, and beautiful at the Fair, the light cleansed and pure, the temp at 77, the crowd exhilarated and screaming on the scary rides, laughing and talking, walking down the midway and taking in huge quantities of home-made lemonade and sugar-coated elephant ears. No one cared that the day was going by too quickly, everyone was having too much fun to notice that my daughter and her friend were going on ride after ride, including some that they had no business being on, huge steel contraptions which threw them high in the air with wild spins and then jerked them downward with violent accelerations.
I was the guardian, the one keeping track of time, watching the clock because of our necessary six-o-clock departure, feeling those 12 years gone by, and the day was so beautiful and fragile that it was also filled with extremely intense pain. Instead of enjoying the moments, the succession of rides, the smiles and shrieks of delight, I was focused on how soon the day would be over – on how quickly cherished things can pass away.
When I sent my friend Dave an account of what had happened at the Fair, he replied that I was failing to look for and appreciate “moments of perfection.” As he pointed out quite wisely, many, many beautiful things had happened at the fair, but I had filtered them through my preoccupation with the transitory nature of life and thus had failed to receive and enjoy them.
Thanks to Dave, things went much, much better two weeks later when my daughter and I traveled to an old country mill and discovered two moments of near perfection, one when I steered her away from the graveled path on the edge of the apple orchard into the interior, where we found a dark, grassy alleyway with trees brimming with Galas on either side. She was entranced with her apple picker, although it was nothing more than a long broom stick with a lacrosse-like trapper at the end, with protruding wire fingers to strip branches of the reddest and juiciest orbs. I taught her how to reach the highest fruit with her picker and how to taste the most-promising apples with no feeling of stealing - and to throw the left-over cores on the ground without the guilt of polluting or littering. Each bite of gorgeous Gala produced a mix of sugar and juice on the apple's edge, causing nearby bees to behave like cockatiels and walk along our hands to get to the line between white and red, the luscious border. The bees were so engrossed in their task and drunk with fermented sugar that it never occurred to them to sting, and we filled our sack merrily, until it was half-full, when my daughter announced that it was time to feed the fish in a nearby pond.
We rushed back to the apple barn with our too-sparsely populated sack, coaxed a bag of fish food out of a reluctant, wanting-to-go-home vendeuse, and walked hurriedly to the pond, which we found to be perfect, devoid of afternoon pickers and humanity of any sort, with thin lines sketched on the glassy green surface by hurrying water striders. At first the pond seemed empty of fish, too, but a few despairing throws of pellets into the water suddenly produced a collection of catfish mouths, gaping and swallowing, moved along by the swirling and splashing bodies of the gigantic fish. Albino carp tried to sneak past the thrusting barbels and slapping caudal fins, but the catfish were far too aggressive, keeping the beautiful white streaks at bay and away from the prizes, the tiny nuggets which my daughter was tossing so happily into the water.
The fish were so tame that they followed my daughter right along the shore, moving in rhythm with her walking; the purplish cats had no fear and rolled somersaults in the water under my daughter’s relentless shower of food. She talked to the fish, saying “Here” with each sprinkling and “Come on little fella” to a small, bold cat which nearly came out of the water to get the choicest grains. Clouds edged over the sun as we finished the catfish dinner, and so our walk back through the appled woods was especially dark and particularly moody and happy. There was no need to talk in the car as we returned to Lansing.
And so it goes with our training. When we focus on nothing more than what we are doing - those small moments of perfection within our workouts, that’s when we train most effectively and thus become much-better runners.
If we are thinking, “I should be doing this much better, I should be hitting my splits, I should be running a lot faster,” that’s when we relinquish control of what we are doing. That’s when our running economy goes south, and that’s when we lose our so-necessary moments of perfection. Those perfect moments are present when we abandon our dark thoughts and begin moving our muscles and joints in smooth and efficient ways – and thus enjoy the thrill of movement. That exhilaration can be there, suddenly, even when our splits have been bad or the pace of our long run has been too slow.
Although it is a difficult concept for many runners, it is actually OK to throw away all negative thinking during training and racing. And it is even better than OK to throw oneself into the excitement of the moment, the powerful bounding from one leg to the other, the sensation of flying along the ground.
When we think, darkly, “Oh, I’m tired and I’ve still got five more intervals to complete (or five more miles to run),” that’s when we shut out a wondrous moment of perfection, and that’s when our running becomes much, much less than it can be.
When running a workout or race, it is not the time to think about the hostility of the universe, the unjustness of life, or a previous failure as a runner. It is a time to be perfect.