Think of gaining fitness as a similar process as squeezing oranges to make a fresh glass of juice. Each orange you squeeze is a different stage of training in the building-up process of working towards a peak. Each orange you use, you want to squeeze out as much of the juice as possible, because you’re thirsty and you love orange juice. You are willing to squish and grind that orange to make sure every last drop falls into the glass. However, if you are impatient, and you know that you could get more juice quicker by throwing one orange out and moving on to the first squeeze of the next orange, you’re going to run out of oranges. But you’re thirsty, and you want to enjoy that juice now. Although you may be enjoying the sweet and savory taste of that orange juice sooner than you would have had you completed the squeeze of each orange properly, that glass could have been a little more full if you didn’t rush to enjoy the fruit juice of your labor. Instead, you’re done drinking your juice and you’re not satisfied.
Celebrating A Loss
“EL GERROUJ! LAGAT! TO THE LINE! El GERROUJ GOT IT!” When I was thirteen years old, I remember watching the Olympic 1500 final in Athens and having my eyelids peeled back as I stared at the screen in awe. At this point in my running career, I did not fully understand the race’s place in track and field history, and I didn’t have any reason to care. I couldn’t spell El Gerrouj’s name or find Morocco on a map. But when my HS coach told me to watch the best runner’s run at the Olympics and to learn from them, I did as I was told. I have watched that race again and again and again. I know the moves, I know the splits, and I know the commentators description of how the event unfolds. But it wasn’t until I watched the race some four years later that I stopped focusing just on the race for gold, and started watching Rui Silva of Portugal.
This past weekend I flew to the golden coast to chase a regionals time for the 1500 at Mt Sac. The goal was to run under 3:45, get a little bronzing, and see some pretty girls before heading back to Austin to continue putting the miles in. As you would expect with any California meet, the heat was stacked and it was a great opportunity to run against strong competition. Heading over to the line, I was light on my feet, and my shoes were perfectly taut, all good signs. The race goes off and I settle in on the rail near the front, which is exactly where I wanted to be. I just watched the backs in front of me and checked the clocks: 44-59-74-1:45-2:00-2:46-3:01. Feeling confident I’d achieve the primary goal, I jumped into lane 2 and made a surge. With 100m to go I had a final nitro boost, but would need to swing into lane 4 to use it. But as my luck would have it, a hole opened up on the inside and I shot it. I had been waiting to feel this way again for the last 11 months, and there I was, at the end of a race with fresh legs. I caught up with a pack of guys and just tried to get as many as possible. I crossed the line and knew I ran 3:41.
With 800m to go, Rui Silva is in last place. As El Gerrouj takes the lead and starts dropping the pace, the field follows to try and stay in contact. But Silva just waits. In the final half mile, he is slowly moving up, making a pass and tucking back in, over and over. He is patient and waits to eats up track as the rest of the field fades. On the final straight away, as Bernard and Hicham battle for inches, Silva has run away from the rest and takes a look over his shoulder and finishes with arms held high. As he runs across the line in celebration, he hugs a disappointed Lagat from behind and has the fullest of smiles covering his face. He closes in 146.3 [the fastest in the race] and proudly represents Portugal with the bronze medal.
As my momentum carried my legs past the finish, I began clapping. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders and I could feel the adrenaline pumping. I ran up to race winner, Patrick Casey, gave him a love tap on the ass and continued back to my teammate, Trevor Van Ackeran, to celebrate together. I’d imagine that the average spectator was a bit confused as to why the guy who came in 5th place was running around so excited, but for me, it was a special moment. I was Rui Silva, enjoying the best loss of my career.
In the moments of frustration with running, we begin to over analyze and search for the reasons of our failures. ‘What am I doing wrong? Why do I do this to myself? How do I fix this?’ There exists the internal struggle of trying to answer those questions of doubt, while trying to ignore those reservations to focus on the future and to maintain optimism. While gaining fitness in the many miles of practice is a challenge of physicality, the ability to translate capabilities into performance is a contest of mind. But after just a few minutes of racing, all of the uncertainties disappear and become an issue of the past, and the only question that remains is, “What’s next?”
The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.
We have arrived in California. Mt Sac 1500-Friday Night!
“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
“As if every thought that tumbles through your head is so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared.”
Erica Albright, better known as Mark Zuckerberg’s angry ex-girlfriend in The Social Network pretty much sums up what form the Internet today has evolved into. Can this quote describe the narcissistic nature of blogging any better? No longer are the confines of 140 characters adequate enough to fully dive into the depths of the mind. Well, that’s not entirely why I am deciding to get back into the blogging game, it is because I believe in the power of story telling. I believe you can learn the most from personal experiences. Make a few of the same dumb mistakes again and again and you’ll get trained quicker than Pavlov’s dog to not do it again. But the next best thing to experiencing something for oneself is to hear the story of a lesson someone else learned and to absorb it vicariously through their words.
This realization was prompted by some events that took place last week during practice. After struggling to establish any consistency with my health during the indoor season, I was off to a strong start outdoors in a training sense and actually got some miles and workouts in. On Monday after a shakeout run in some 90-degree weather, I spiked up to do my weekly “speed development” work. It is essentially just touching top end speed for a few seconds at the end of some shorter strides, and then shutting it down. It’s a great way to keep in touch with the sprint systems and get those muscles used to firing at such a fast pace. “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” is definitely a fair cliché to describe the purpose of this practice. However, on my cool down, my gastrocnemius muscle [that big chunk of meat behind the knee at the top of the calf] started to seize up on me. That evening I added a little bit of limp to my step, and while my swag levels were through the roof, pain levels were also uncomfortably high.
That next morning I got up at 6am (Thanks Texas heat!) and felt considerably better walking around, so I joined my teammates for our ceremonious jog on the infield. Well, after a few miles of running, the soreness started to creep back and then a couple of pain stricken strides later and I had to have a little pow-wow with Coach Hayes. Together we reached the conclusion that I should sit this one workout and come back when it made sense. As you could imagine, I went into the training room frustrated that my momentum was temporarily halted, chugged a muscle-milk and got in the ice bath. Fifteen minutes later, when my temper and my man parts were cooled off, I reflected on the morning’s events. In one night I went from acquiring a gimp to being able to jog three miles with relatively low pain (only to be exacerbated by strides). I caught it early, and I was being smart. Rather than allowing this ache to develop into a legitimate injury, I had some foresight to play it conservatively, and even though it sucked terribly in the present, within a few days future-Kyle will be praising past-Kyle for his heroic actions.
Well, that’s what happened. The next day I jogged easy on the Alter-G for an hour, and the next day I did an easy run outside. By Friday the pain had subsided and turned into a weakness, and I was able to successfully complete my prescribed workout. I came back on Saturday to pace some teammates in a 1500 through a 2-flat 800. Needless to say, Coach Hayes and myself were feeling like geniuses by weekend’s time. All this prompted me to issue out the following tweet:
The Internet has done wonderful things for the sport of Track and Field, and it has arguably been at the center of this recent Golden Age of running (Flotrack-Running Renaissance). I’d like begin to get creative and continue to contribute in a way beyond anonymously telling HS kids on Letsrun that they are ready to break 5 minutes in a mile because they can do 100 pushups with their eyes closed. The more information out there being shared amongst runners, the more lessons we will each learn, and the faster we will all run.
I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.
In 1982, Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley battled for 26.2 miles over the course of the Boston streets. Despite pounding out sub-5 minute miles for two-plus hours, only two seconds separated the winner and loser. With one thousand meters left in the race, one of the many men on motorcycles accidentally cut off Beardsley as he rounded the turn, and interrupted his momentum. In his own account of the race, he reflects: “you talk about the perfect excuse that everyone would have believed…everyone would have believed it, except the person it mattered to most–me. When it comes right down to it, plain and simple; I just got out kicked.” After this weekend, I can relate.
About two hours before the race, we were each still hiding under the warmth of our hotel’s bed sheets. My teammates and I were miserable. Despite our current comfort levels being at an all time high, we looked out the window and shivered as the wind howled and the elements came pouring down in the thirty-degree temperatures. We made noises that bordered that gray area somewhere between crying and laughing—this was going to be painful.
The Ivy League Championships, more commonly known as Heps, is not your typical conference meet decided by the arbitrary lines drawn up by football coaches. There is history. These are eight regionally located universities that have been competing in everything since their establishment. It is a personal experience. As you run out during strides, you pass by the seven other coaches who recruited you, the masses of kids you personally hosted on recruiting trips, and the same runners you have been battling since high school. Everyone knows everyone. And when that gun goes off, everyone hates everyone. Hoards of alumni travel from all over the northeast and full teams come on fan buses to pack a cross-country course. There is no single sound tunnel, because the crowd outlines the entire course like it’s the last 200 meters of a typical race. This is Heps—a unique spectacle of ancient rivalries.
We warmed up in the gym. Princeton running one way on the inside of the track; Columbia running the opposite on the outside. Oh, the tension. We get the signal. Thirty minutes until the gun. We pack up and head over to the course and as we hop out of the van, the chill hits us like an arctic wave. Spikes come on; shirts come off. I am pretty sure this is why clothing was invented, for weather like this. The gun goes off, and within 800 meters, it’s just as I expected—tactical. Only a mad man would be reckless enough to push the pace in the early stages of a race in these conditions. Just after 4k, after trotting along at a tad above 5 flat miles, the first move is made from the guy everyone was expecting to be the one to open things up. We hit the turn, and Cabral surges. My contacts are sheets of ice, and my eyelids are struggling to stay open, but I see the move and respond. Within a half a mile, we have our pack—the contenders have been separated; the race finally starts. The weather has shifted from rain to sleet. I put my gloves to my face and I feel nothing—always a good sign. I take notice of my breathing, contained and relaxed. I try to take notice of my legs, but I feel nothing. I look down to check that they’re still there—they are. That’s instrumental with 3k left of a race with a rapidly dropping pace.
We come around a turn in preparation for the final smaller loop, and Ethan Shaw of Dartmouth takes the pace. He hits the accelerator just a little bit more, and we separate. Now it’s snowing. I am just sitting, and he knows it. But he presses hard into the wind, the only appropriate move for one of the toughest guys I have ever raced. One mile to go, I pretend that I only have less than four minutes of hard running left—a small white lie to calm myself. At 7k, I look at him—he has icicles where his face used to be. I feel great; I’m in a rhythm and for some reason, still very comfortable. I make a small move to put a couple seconds on him, but then I reel it back. I remind myself of my closing speed, and decide to sit a little longer. Big mistake. With 400 to go, it’s my move. I roll, and start to open up. I make the final turn and see 200 meters until it’s all over. But then I feel someone on my shoulder and he’s back. With 50 meters, we are neck and neck. I start pumping my arms, and lifting my legs—but they won’t nudge, I’m a block of ice. And then the snow leopard pounces on me; he gets his head in front and takes the victory in heroic fashion. I cross the first timing pad, but don’t make it to the second. I thump to the ground. I’m asleep.
It’s cold, real cold—and I am a wreck. I don’t know what hurt more, the loss or my body. I am then covered in layers of jackets, but it’s to no avail, so I am carried off to the ambulance. The shivers get worse as my body is fighting to find warmth, and my groin begins to hurt from shaking so much. After 10 minutes, the paramedics suggest to my parents a trip over to the hospital; I’m sure they have blankets there. I know that I am in no way the only person out of the ninety-six-man field in such form; I was just lucky enough to be the first guy to cross the line who needed medical attention. I’m a mess the whole ride; this never happens in the mile.
I was right; they have lots of blankets in the emergency room. Special blankets too! Some had electric heat, some with air bubbles. But before I get under the covers [again], I notice one of the three female nurses going somewhere bad; I’m being stripped. I yell at my mom to get out, she doesn’t need to see this. Then my worst nightmare, “roll over onto your side.” Wait…what? No! AH! SHIT! Well…my rectum gave that thermometer a reading of 95.4, a lot colder than the 98.6 that I normally am. I’m informed of my hypothermic state, and that I’ll be fine; I just need to be thawed. An EKG, a couple bags of IV fluid, some drawn blood, and an hour later, I start to feel a lot better. But I have to use the bathroom badly. I am given a bedpan, but my extremities are frozen shut and the presence of the female nurses makes me shy. Ten minutes of solitude in an empty room does the trick; and now it is time to check my temperature to see how I am doing. Luckily, this time it will be done orally—why that wouldn’t have worked the first time, I do not know. I quickly confirm with the nurse to make sure that this is a different thermometer than the one before, and it is. I am back to normal temperatures. Shortly thereafter, I was released and able to meet up with my team to venture back to the city.
In the van ride back to school we all exchange the various events of our individual 25-minute adventures. The team ran well, but we came up short. Without a doubt in anyone’s mind, we each ran to the fullness of our capabilities; and it is difficult to be upset when you lose because another team [in this case Princeton] ran better, despite our own best efforts. We joke about the many falls suffered during the race, and in the safety and heat of the van we can now laugh about the misery of racing in a frozen tundra. However, as I analyze and explain the breakdown of my own race, I internalize the disappointment.
.1 seconds–It doesn’t get much tighter than that. I try and think about all the different places I could have made up such a slight margin. The difference of one turn being taken a little tighter, or taking two more extra hard steps off the line. Maybe I moved too early, or maybe I moved too late. What would have happened if I pushed the entirety of that final kilometer? Anyone watching the race would have advised me to just sit-and-kick, to be patient and let my speed finish the race out for me. But in the final moments of a cross-country race, logic is irrelevant, personal bests mean nothing, and the first 7900 meters never happened.
I recall the day before; during our pre-meet shakeout I took notice of the fact that the final straightaway was surprisingly short. On Saturday, I can’t describe how long it felt. From the second I finished, I have relived the race in my head over and over again with eidetic clarity. Each time, the distance from the final turn to the end gets further away. But no matter how many times I replay the race, the order of finish won’t change. Now, from here, I take consolation in my best cross-country performance to date. I remind myself of the grit and determination that each of my teammates ran with and how proud I am to have lined up with them in the final XC Heps of my career. I can only look forward.
You learn in the losses, and you truly find yourself in the failure. It is a reminder that no one race defines a career and that the regret of one race can provide the necessary motivation for another. I wanted to win, and I’m upset I did not. But maybe the refusal to walk away content is what will make the difference in the future. Rain or shine, hypothermic or not; I am not satisfied with the simple truth—I just got out kicked.