Sunday, January 16, 2011
Limits? What limits?
I say this because I'm not really a runner. At least, I haven't jogged regularly for probably six months to a year and even then, I was maybe going four miles at most. So this week I ended up running three times. The first time, on Monday, I went 3.5 miles. Hey, not too bad for having let myself fall out of shape. There's one stretch of the route I did that had me running alongside some warehouses and empty industrial lots for a while. For some reason I seem to enjoy my most lucid thoughts while passing that stretch. I don't listen to music when I run, so it's just me and whatever pops into my head, and that gets amplified when I pass out of the more populated areas where I don't have to worry about cars honking at me or playing chicken with other joggers / bikers. Along that stretch I seem to experience the transition from exercise to meditation.
Back when I was running a few times a week, I would always follow one of a few variants of routes around where I live. Even though they weren't long runs, I would come back a panting, tired mess. Still, as I plugged along past a darkened stretch of warehouses, I had this silly thought - I've never really pushed myself. I'd been going along the same routes over and over again. The only challenge here was in getting my lazy ass off the couch to do anything.
So Tuesday night I figured I'd experiment. It was a bitterly cold night (for southern Louisiana anyway), probably in the high thirties to low forties, so I bundled up with pants, sweatshirt, gloves, and hat, and made my way out. I started out along the normal route, but instead of turning where I normally would down warehouse row, I kept going straight. Why the hell not? Rather than do what I've been comfortable doing, I'll try something different, go somewhere I haven't gone. I was being observant of how I felt along the way. The odd thing was, I felt fine. Around what I later found to be mile five of the six miles that I did that day, I had some slight pain in my left foot and a brief cramp in my right inner thigh. Other than that, it was strangely easy. I opened up the mind to new possibilities, and the body obliged.
I figured I'd give myself a couple days to see if I was sore or in any pain, but I didn't experience any more soreness than I had after my 3.5 mile run. So by now my thoughts were churning more rapidly. What next? The answer seemed pretty clear. A longer run! Keep pushing the outer boundary between can and can't. Or better, get rid of can't. Can't isn't there.
Saturday morning seemed perfect to try another experimental route. On what was thankfully a much warmer morning, I suited up and went out. Down the same path that I went the first time and past the first turnoff. This time past the second turnoff. Across a busy street and over to the river where an endless stretch of bike path sits atop the levee. This was another one of those quiet, serene moments where it was just me and my thoughts. Occasionally I would look over to the left and see some barges floating along the river. To the right, businesses drifted by. Then houses. Then a golf course. Then more houses. I didn't really have a good idea of how far I was going. I just kept going.
Again, I was keeping a close watch on how I felt, looking out for the pain in my foot or any cramping at all. Nothing. No muscle pains, no cramps, no joint pains, no feeling winded. What was there after a while was a lack of water and energy. Even on a cool day, I was sweating lightly in the late morning sun. I decided to break off of the levee path and head down to the busy street that I knew followed the course of the river just beyond some houses. Luckily enough, I popped into civilization right across the street from a Winn Dixie grocery store. I'm sure they didn't mind a sweaty jogger making his way through the store to the drinking fountains in the back. I was probably in there for less than a minute, then back out.
I found some streets I recognized and zig zagged my way back to where I live, making it back feeling surprisingly good. I got on the computer and calculated my distance. Just shy of ten miles this time. Ten miles with no pain or tiredness. Ten miles is about the longest I've ever gone in a single outing, and the last (only) time was about five years ago. Today I expected to be hurting, but here I am and I feel fine. Again, no more soreness than the first 3.5 mile run. I'm pleasantly surprised with how this is turning out. I went from effectively zero to a ten mile run in a week.
What is this telling me? Maybe the boundaries we set for ourselves or let others set for us are misplaced. Maybe we don't experiment with pushing those boundaries enough because it's just easier not to. Maybe we're capable of more than what we're told to expect.
Or... maybe I'm reading to much into this. Either way, I'm enjoying the experiment. I think I'll be taking it further, only next time I'll be humble enough to recognize that I am human and that extended periods of physical activity require replenishment of water and energy. As bold as I am, I don't need to dive head first into dehydration and heat stroke.
Until next time.