Running Wish List

I’ve never done new year resolutions, but I thought this year I would make a wish list for running things I want in 2013.  Some of them are things I want for myself (goals if you will) others are things I think as runners we could all use.

  1. To find a balance of family, work and running as my family continues to grow
  2. Year of injury free running (I think we all want this)
  3. To banish my marathon demons
  4. An end to running is going to kill you and make you crazy news articles
  5. An end to the media at large writing about scientific research in general
  6. Less racing t-shirts
  7. More racing pint glasses
  8. Roadkill Racing to remain the coolest most awesome running team in the World
  9. A Sub 16 minute 5k
  10. Adidas not to ruin my favorite shoe when the new version

Running and Religion

In my last post I mentioned my displeasure about praying before a race, and it got me thinking about running and religion in general.  Maybe it is because of Ryan Hall and his standout performance at this weeks Boston Marathon, but I spent most of my run yesterday thinking about what role God or more precisely a belief in God might play in running.  I should probably add here that I am Jewish and an Atheist.  I will now use that bane of college professors everywhere, Wikipedia, to explain that seeming contradiction: . Jewish atheism is practiced by atheistswho are ethnically, and to some extent culturally, Jewish. Because Jewishness encompasses ethnic as well as religious components, the term "Jewish atheism" does not necessarily imply any kind of contradiction. Based on Jewish law's emphasis on matrilineal descent, Orthodox Jewish authorities would accept as fully Jewish an atheist born to a Jewish mother.[1] . Being born of a Jewish mother, I am 100% Jew even though I do not believe in God.  Ryan Hall however, is a devote Christian who left his training group to train under God's guidance and talks often and extensively about his belief in God as a guiding force in every aspect of his life which of course includes running.  I am sure he is not the only runner who feels that way, and indeed I have heard many professional runners thank God for their triumphs on the track and on the roads.  I think the interesting thing about Ryan is that he talks about God in relation to his training and preparation for racing, where as many other professional athletes only seem to mention God once they have won something.  You don't ever hear the loser of a football game say God didn't want us to win today, but Ryan does often discuss God even in his defeats, saying it is part of a larger plan.  Being an atheist I think it is absurd to believe God plays a direct role in someone winning or losing any sporting event (obviously because I don't think there is a God how could he have a direct role in anything).  What I do believe however is that if someone believes that God is helping them, and that belief gives them the mental resolve to train and compete at their best, that believing in God can help them run faster.  I don't think that belief however, would have any more power than say a belief in ones self, but it does have power. . I am no theologian, but of the religions I am familiar with I think Buddhism would probably lend itself best to running and racing (and apparently golf).  The Abrahamic religions on the whole seem a bit to fatalistic to serve as a good guidelines for hard training and racing. I will now shamelessly cherrypick from Buddhist teachings to this point. The first of the 4 Noble Truths: Life as we know it ultimately is or leads to suffering/uneasiness in one way or another. Can we not simply replace the word life with the word running? The 2nd Noble Truth: Suffering is caused by craving. This is often expressed as a deluded clinging to a certain sense of existence, to selfhood, or to the things or phenomena that we consider the cause of happiness or unhappiness. Clearly this suffering in runners is caused by a craving to run faster, we are often deluded in our expectations of how fast we can run.  We also believe as runners that is we can just run x time we will be happy. The 3rd Noble Truth: Suffering ends when craving ends. This is achieved by eliminating delusion, thereby reaching a liberated state of Enlightenment.  When we stop clinging to our arbitrary goals and just train as best we can each day suffering ends. The 4th Noble Truth: Reaching this liberated state is achieved by following the 8 fold path laid out by the Buddha.  Unfortunately the 8 fold path is not a divinely inspired training plan that will help you BQ, but there is some good stuff in there.

  • Prajñā is the wisdom that purifies the mind, allowing it to attain spiritual insight into the true nature of all things. It includes:
  1. viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.
  2. intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness.
  • Śīla is the ethics or morality, or abstention from unwholesome deeds. It includes:
  1. speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way
  2. acting in a non-harmful way
  3. a non-harmful livelihood
  • Samādhi is the mental discipline required to develop mastery over one's own mind. This is done through the practice of various contemplative and meditative practices, and includes:
  1. making an effort to improve
  2. awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion
  3. correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first four jhānas


    Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.-The Buddha.

Of goals and dreams

When I was a kid I played a lot of sports, not very well but I played them.  Soccer, basketball, baseball, football, street hockey, wrestling, and of course track and cross country.  I even did road races before I started running on a team in high school.  Like most kids when I played sports I thought about being the great players in those sports.  Larry Bird knocking down the game winning 3 pointer, Don Mattingly hitting the game winning homer, Marcus Allen running 98 yards for the game winning touch down… you get the idea and can tell what years I was a day dreaming kid.  I never gave any real thought to playing any of those sports professionally and my childhood day dreams were about being those famous people doing great things not of being a famous doer of amazing sporting feats in my own right.

When it came to running I didn’t know any of the great distance runners, I only new Carl Lewis or Edwin Moses.  This had an interesting effect on my running day dreams.  When I thought of running triumphs it was always me accomplishing them.  I remember lying in bed before track meets going over splits for my world record breaking mile performance.  I can not once remember thinking about what splits I might actually run, this is probably because I didn’t find it very interesting to think about running 72 second 400’s.

Over the last 20 years a few interesting things have happened to my day dreams, most of which I have while running alone on my easy days.  As a quick aside my wife thinks I have a problem because even when I’m running I think about running.  If I day dream about baseball I don’t think about being Derek Jeter, I think about being the surprise 36 year old spring training invite who makes the team and has a season for the ages.  Today when I day dream about running, I dream about doing very mundane things like running 5:08, 5:12, 5:08, 31 to break 16 minutes for 5k and set a new PR.  It must be a sign of growing up that while you hold on to your dreams, you hold even tighter to your goals.

Meaningless Numbers

This Sunday I’m running the Ed Erichson 5 miler in my old home town of Poughkeepsie, NY.  Back in November I ran my 5 mile PR of 27:06 at in that same town, and I hope to better it by 7 seconds this weekend to run 26:59.  All I have to do is run this race 1.4 seconds per mile faster and presto a PR.  My training has been going well and I feel like I am in much better shape now than I was 3 months ago so this should be a slam dunk right?  Of course not.  So many things have to go right on race day, many of which such as weather and competition are completely out of your control. 

My current 5 mile PR was run on a 45 degree day in November with no wind, and I had someone to battle with for first place the whole race.  The weather should be fairly benign and the course is as flat as any 5 mile course in Dutchess County can be, so the main uncontrolable will be who else is in the race.  The key too good competition is to face runners just slightly better than you who on a really good day you can just squeek out a win over.  If they are too fast they either leave you in the dust from the start, or you blow up your racing trying to stay with them early on.  If they are too slow you may end up with a win, which is always nice, but it is hard to run your best time when you don’t really have to.  I know there are a few Poughkeepsie runners who can run just north or south of 27 minutes for 5 miles, the question is will any of them show up at this particular race?

All this writing about PR’s got me thinking about the nature of our running goals.  where do these times come from?  It always seems like we want to get just faster than the nearest even number for me that comes out to 4:29 for the mile, 15:59 for 5k, 26:59 for 5 mile, 33:59 for 10k 1:17:59 for half marathon, luckly I’ve already run just under 3 hours for a marathon so I can leave that one be for now.  Is it because we want to say “Yeah I’m a 15 minute 5k runner” or “Oh the mile? I run sub 4:30 for the mile.”  Never mind that we ran a 15:59… it is in the 15’s and that is good enough for us, who cares if we are putting ourselves in the same boat as guys who run 15:04 and are just hoping to shave those last 5 seconds so they can tell people they are 14 minute 5k runners.

When it comes right down to it, our PR’s are really only important to us (although our wives, or girlfriends may amuse us by faining interest).  We could just as easily pick times that corresond with signifigant numbers in our lives.  I could set my 10k pr at 32:54 because I was born in 1974 and 1974 seconds in 32:54.  As I look at my racing time goals for the year taped up on the all of my cubical at work I wonder if I shouldn’t change all those 9’s at the end to 4’s or 6’s just to mix things up a bit.