Monday, May 30, 2016

Cup of stress

I learned long ago that I can only have one hobby. Running is that one hobby, and it is the best of all possible choices. When I can't run, some other distraction percolates up from the recesses of my brain to take its place. Possibilities include chess, reading (which I should be doing anyway), writing (same, whether fiction or this blog, or something professional, like an article), a computer game I have dedicated hundreds (thousands?) of hours to since ~2001ish, or something else that my mind becomes obsessed with, etc.

I also learned long ago that I cannot have more than one hobby. I cannot maintain running while imposing other hobbies. There is only so much time in the day not already dedicated to family (primarily as husband and father - two separate, distinct roles, regardless of however intertwined they are - but there is also son and brother) and profession. 

Occasionally I agree to take on additional roles. I recently was elected to the board of the alumni association for the staff of a scout camp that, in one role or another, I attended/worked at for 13 summers. Some of my closest friends are those who I worked on staff with; they were in/at my wedding, and I was in/at theirs. I threw my name into the hat at the election, time commitment be damned, because of how much the camp gave me. I can give something back to ensure that it is around in the future to do so much good for others like me. 

Every one of these roles - husband, father, son, brother, attorney (trial lawyer), runner, board member, etc. - cause, in their own ways, stress. This is not a bad thing in and of itself. In running, training stresses the body to achieve a fitness response. That three-hour long run stresses every part of the body so as to improve overall fitness. A jury trial stresses the mind and makes me a better advocate. Being a parent and husband stresses every system so as be the best father I can be to my son, however taxing, and be the best spouse I can be to my wife. How the body responds to stress, and adapts to it - whether becoming a more athletic, responsible, or patient person, e.g. - is the benefit of this stress. 

But the body can take only so much stress. We have a reservoir, like a cup, in which to put stress. We add volume to that cup by all of our activities. We take stress out by getting enough sleep, taking appropriate relaxation time, eating real minimally processed foods (not too much, mostly plants) and appropriately recovering from our stress. A banana and a glass of milk post-run does wonders for recovering from said run, for example. 

The cup of stress can overflow. This happens because there is simply too much stress - another activity or stressor has been added, and the input into the cup of stress is too great - or with insufficient recovery - not eating well, not relaxing enough, not sleeping well. I get irritable, cranky. It tends to be a vicious cycle. When I am stressed at work, I tend to wake up in the morning with my calves balled up in knots. My sleep is less restful, and the recovery benefit I gain from it is reduced. My diet goes south, my weight and body composition changes. Etc.

The end result is that one of my roles gets dropped. More often than not, running gets dropped. Why? Without running, I sleep more. No more 4:45 AM weekday wake-ups, or earlier on the weekends if I'm going long at Afton, for example. No more quick runs post-dinner, or being exhausted in an afternoon after a 20-mile jaunt on a weekend. The time needs to be devoted elsewhere.  

This spring, I broke the "one-hobby-at-a-time" rule, and my cup of stress overflowed. I was asked to teach a university course on very short notice, just a few days before the semester was to begin. The course was taught in the evenings twice per week, but given prep time and grading materials, most weeks I dedicated three or four evenings per week to it. Grades were due this past week, and I made a huge push to review submissions, final project sets, and grade finals.

Teaching caused my cup of stress to run over. Running was the casualty. I stopped running in the morning. My evenings were occupied with teaching, preparing, grading, or being a father/spouse to make up/ensure the quality time that I was otherwise missing on the evenings I was on campus or otherwise occupied. Or the non-teaching evenings were spent relaxing, again to make up for the time I was otherwise missing. 

On Saturday, I will toe the line at the Kettle Morraine 100 for the second time. Last year, I dropped at mile 80 after chaffing badly for the previously 30 miles. I have no business starting this race. I have done only a handful of runs that could count as long runs. Two of those were races, each which I finished with relative ease under the conditions but knowing that I was nowhere near my regular fitness level. It reminds me of this: 

That's where I am. Undertrained. What hangs in the balance is not just a DNF, but missing the WS lottery and having to re-set my ticket count back at one for the 2018 race (instead of having two tickets in 2017 and four in 2018, etc.). 

I've faked my way through 50K and 50 mile races before, and I've been running ultras long enough to know how to get it done when the chips are down. So maybe I'll finish - time and ugliness be damned. 

Maybe I won't. Maybe the fact that this is 100 miles will do me in. Hundred milers are completely different ballgames than their shorter cousins. They require purposeful dedication and the payment of one's dues in respect and adoration for the distance. Maybe my mind has written a check the body can't cash. 

"This just is," Ed Sandor wrote in his 100 Mile Lessons. I read and re-read that list before almost every ultra, and also when it inevitably pops up in FB when someone asks for tips on finishing one of these endeavors. It calms the nerves, prepares the mind, and sets the attitude. These races are run in the gray matter between one's ears, not underneath one's footfalls.

This. Just. Is. 

I'll finish, just you wait.