Monday, October 18, 2010

Running Fast and Running Zen

I’m currently training for the Marine Corps Marathon, which will take place on October 31st. Although it’s a “run only” event, I keep swimming and cycling, in addition to running. It helps me keep balanced.

Just last week, I was in DC for a business meeting with my law firm partners, and one announced that a group would be meeting to run five miles around the Mall at 6:30 a.m. I had already planned to swim the next morning. What to do?

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and swam in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s very Zen pool. Actually, I played “swim golf,” which involves counting the number of strokes per lap and adding them to the time a lap takes to swim. The lower the overall score the better, just like golf. Apparently, in golf, you’re not supposed to swat the ball numerous times down the fairway in an attempt to get there as quickly as possible. I have tried this before, only to be told that the number of strokes is what matters most. The same is true, they say, in swimming: flailing your arms around in circles like a madman is not recommended.  Especially if you plan to cycle or run when you get out of the pool.  Thankfully, if you are swimming in a Zen Pool, you relax and lengthen out your stroke. Also, swim golf in a Zen pool includes as many Mulligans as you’d like. I read it in the rules.  Plus, when you get to the nineteenth hole, you get a banana and a fancy glass of water with slices of lemons and cucumber in it. After 45 minutes of swimming in the Zen Pool, a banana, some Zen Water, and a cup of strong, hot coffee, I was ready to take on the Monuments of the Nation’s Capital.

“How fast do you run?” I asked Randy, who had organized the group. Randy runs regularly in Richmond with two other partners; on Fridays in the summer, they run past Huguenot Flatwaters, and see me swimming in the James River.

“Oh, when we get to chatting,” Randy said, “we slow way down, from our usual 8 minute mile pace down to, say, a 9 minute mile.”

“Hum,” I said, “Can you guys sing show tunes?” He said something about having seen “Billy Elliot” on Broadway, and doubted the trio’s ability to sing and dance while running five miles.

I steeled myself for a fast five miler. Based on some time trial runs I’ve done recently, I should be able to run five miles at 10 minutes per mile, assuming I push really hard. A nine mile pace seemed unlikely, but I had a map.

We waited for a light to change so we could cross the traffic into the mall. In addition to Randy and his regular running buddies from Richmond, our group included two partners from our overseas office, a partner who reguarly mountain bikes to work, my partner Kim who just ran the Baltimore marathon in 4:26, and a partner from our Texas office.  Would there be any runners at my pace?  The light changed, and "bang!" I knew my answer. 

I am good at starting out really fast on a run, though, so I kept up with the fast crowd.  Then I noticed the sun peeking out over the horizon just beyond the Capitol Building, casting a reflection in the pool of water in front of the building. In just three weeks I would be running the Marine Corps Marathon in this same location. 
I ran faster and my breathing grew heavier as I recalled some of the reasons I keep doing these races. Just a week ago, I saw my friend Robin Yoder, who came to cheer friends racing a triathlon. Robin did the Augusta Half Ironman with me last year. Late this summer she lost her leg to cancer, but there she was, walking on an artificial leg with the aid of a cane. She spoke to my coach about training.  Why?  She intends to race another triathlon, once she gets better at walking and can try cycling and running again. Already, she is swimming. What an inspiration!

I slowed my pace and let my breathing even out as my partners rounded the back of the Capitol Building, their forms silhouetted against the Capitol and the rising sun. I consulted the map, and figured out a short cut. “Where’ve you been?” I asked them as they joined me on Pennsylvania Avenue, headed for the White House. "I thought you got lost!" 

We zigged and zagged around the White House and related security details, and then passed the Washington Monument, surrounded by American flags flapping in the wind.  Maybe I wasn't fast, but at that moment, I felt serene.  I looked ahead and noticed my partners were stopped at the top of a hill in front of a red light.  Great--I would have just enough time to trudge up the incline before the light turned green.  My Texas partner turned around and looked at me as I crested the hill, and declared, "I didn't realize we ran up such a steep hill till I saw you coming up it."  He explained that he typically runs only four miles, and we had arrived at his limit.  I can run a long time, as long as the pace isn't too fast.  I was beat.  We walked some, ran some, and caught our breath.  And counted our blessings to be able to run our whole lives.

I recalled the fast fiver when I began my long run the following Sunday. I was to run 22 miles, and my friend Charlene announced she planned to “push the pace” by keeping up with Mark. I have run with Mark before, but typically when I do, he slows to my pace. I attempted to keep up with Charlene and Mark for a bit, and realized after about three miles that I had broken my own personal record for a 5K (3.1 mile) run.

Breaking your 5K personal record is a great idea if you are running a 5K. Maybe it's even okay if you are running 5 miles.  It is not such a great idea if you are only three miles into a twenty-two mile run. Fortunately, there were other, smarter runners with me that day, and I slowed to run with them at a more regulated pace. Thankfully, I had not used all of my energy during that first three miles.  I still had a sense of zen.  After four and a half hours, my 22 miler was complete. I was a little sore, but happy.  I am blessed to be able to run!

My goal for the Marine Corps Marathon is to complete the race in less than five hours. My personal record is 5:13.  More important than how fast I run the marathon, though, will be the feeling of tranquility that I will have when it is complete.  Because, no matter how fast I run the race, I am doing it primarily to raise funds to help cure cancer. My father, my hero, is still in remission from lymphoma, and he has successfully fought another round of cancer too. This is great news, but we have to keep fighting, coming up with newer and better treatments and cures for cancer, hopefully ones that do not cause the secondary cancers that my friends Robin and Ed Stone are facing today, twenty years after their first bouts with cancer.

To highlight the fight against cancer, I will be running the marathon with PURPLE HAIR. At this point, I have raised over $4000, so I will have purple highlights all over. If I raise $5000, I will go ALL PURPLE for the race. I promise to take LOTS of PICTURES. Can you help?