Saturday, September 24, 2011

TAPER GREMLINS IN YOUR BRAIN


"Damn, I knew I shouldn't have put in that two hour run this week. What's wrong with me.  AHHHH!!!!"


It’s 3 weeks to marathon day, and you just finished your last long run. You took your body to its limit. Your face is beat red from blood rushing through your body, the mitochondria in each of your cells has expanded and is carrying more energy than ever. Your legs are aching, thighs and calfs feel shredded, and stretched ligaments are begging for an ice bathe and some Ibuprofen. Your stomach demands some protein, or pizza, or some chocolate, and just when you think that you are done, you throw in a Five Guys cheeseburger (and the obligatory handful of peanuts while you wait) 

Three weeks to marathon day and now your real work begins.  Rest and taper.  I have heard it said that you are now at the point where there is nothing you can do this late that will improve your performance, but there is much you can do to hurt your performance and damage yourself.

The idea of a two week taper baffled me when I first heard it.  You mean I slow down for two weeks before I run such an event?  An event where people fear to tread, and I’m going to finish this event with a two week slow down?  Um, WTF?  But this was before I knew the science, or at least before I understood it.  Okay, better yet, before the science of tapering taught me many lessons.

After many trials and tribulations, I have come to fully believe in the full three week taper.  And I credit respecting the taper and obeying it fully for allowing me to finally qualify for Boston.  My last three weeks for my recent qualifier looked like this:  

*Three weeks before race date, 23 miles. 
*Two weeks before race date 13 miles.
*One week before race date, 8 miles. 

The rest of the runs were just fillers and all at 6 miles or under, and never two days in a row. I included some striders and some marathon pace miles, but always always holding back when the desire was to fly.

My second marathon, the first one that I ran for time, I was kicking ass in training.  If I wasn’t running miles, I was on the internet researching training plans  (um, this was before two kids).  I was doing many fast runs, and all the race predictors from the 10k’s and ten milers I had finished predicted a 3:05-3:10 marathon time. My mental drive was such that a bullet to the head would be all that could stop me. Two bullets. So, during the 20 mile training run 3 weeks out from the event, sponsored by a local running shoe store, I was going to see how ready I really was.  I basically raced the event, and did 20 miles at a 7:05 pace.  Hellz yeah!  And then a week later, because I was so tormented by the mental games of qualifying for boston and proving my worth, I slogged through another twenty miles, aching muscles and ligaments hurting, and then finally did a taper.

Then off to the Chicago Marathon, where I ran the first 20 miles on pace, but the last six, I was done. Shot. Splat. If I was in a Zombie movie, I would have been shot in the head, because I was a slow moving, leg ragged freak who almost had a DNF.  My thighs had such cramps in them they bulged in a way my wife will never forget. Ironically, it is still my PR at 3:16, but I know if I had trained better, I could have beat that time by ten minutes.

Still, I didn’t learn my lesson, but the lessons were beginning.

After training so hard, your body has been beat down, and you need to be 100 percent rested and healed in order to run your best, and I don’t mean injuries, although there is that too, I mean all the things you can’t see.  All the tiny tears and muscle rebuilding, not from your last long run, but from the last many months.  Think of it as a damn with an empty reservoir behind it, and you need to fill it up to the top until finally the damn breaks through with an incredible rush. Time it so that the break happens on marathon morning.

The problem is, you have been driving yourself so furiously for weeks, pushing yourself and fighting against any urge to slow, and now the goal is to push back against that drive, to resist the urge to go fast and long, and to instead rest and heal.  And the irony is, now that you have the reality of the upcoming race to worry about, you don’t have the relief of the same intensity of running. The worries mount, and your drug to cope is fading. Running is the ultimate high and rearranges all your brain cells and spiritual angst and emotional maladies and brings you back to a place of increase serenity, tranquility, and makes you feel like a kick-arse mudda fudder.  When you don’t have this, it will be a slight detox, and symptoms will appear.  Grogginess, crankiness, and the demons and gremlins of doubt will creep in.  You haven’t ran enough, you need to do more. You really think you can do this? You didn’t train enough. Better go take a run to see how fit you really are.
"Someone pause my Garmin."


Yes, Your taper brain will fu*ck with you (sorry, any other word besides the F-word would be an understatement) and make you doubt your abilities. It will find any small ache and pain in your body and blow it up into something huge and threatening.  The tiny ache on your knee, the hip that seems a bit crushed with your strides, or the calf that seems to pinch with every stride will feel so much more intense and be blown out of proportion.

 Beware of the mental drama and the chatter of ‘self-talk’ in your brain that threatens all you worked for.  It might go something like this:

I’ve recovered pretty quick, maybe I don’t need to taper as much as I thought.

Come on, three weeks of tapering?  Way too much. You have a friggin marathon to do, its dangerous for you to go out there and not train more. You want to embarrass yourself?  DNF? WTF? . You used to run right up until two weeks before the event, and now you’re getting lazy. You’ll lose so much fitness,

Yes, Your body will talk to you. It is a machine, an effective, lactic acid burning, heightened aerobic capacity machine. It has been molded it into something efficient and to take it for a run is blissful. It knows this, and will beg of you; “Don’t you want to go for a run and see what I can do, just a little test drive and rev your engines? Let’s  do some intervals or just see how effortlessly a ten mile marathon pace run has become. Like butter. Come on, it will feel so so good. You will love it, I promise. You know you want to.  Besides, see that extra pinch of flesh on your gut? You will be lugging that around for 26 miles if you don’t go burn some calories.”

Talk back, tell it no. No!  Don’t trust your gut in this one. Your gut and your body and your legs want to run. Trust your head. You might feel fresh and feel you are not exhausted now, but ‘you will be, you will be.’


Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone needs to taper for three weeks, but through experience, learn the kind of taper you need and follow it.  My mantra (plagiarized, of course) is that marathon training is an experiment of one, and the results you get will work for you and you alone.  For me, the results of the three week taper surprised the hell out of me, and if I doubt it, I only have to remember the last 6.2 of the marathons where I went Splat! When I was beaten down and dragging legs of dead weight the last miles and saw all those runners passing me by. Again and again, runners would shoot by me, my watch mocked me, and it took effort just to stop from walking and collapsing.  I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, and swore to the heavens “God, I promise, I will go to church and taper longer next time if you just help me finish this one.”

So, make a commitment to taper. A solid taper is the road to negative splits, which, to me, is like a powder day on a ski run, like a perfect rainbow on the ocean sky, like a hole in one in golf, and running free and steady and at an even pace, reeling in runner after runner, the last 6.2 miles of a marathon is, without a doubt, the best feeling (family events besides) I have ever experienced in my whole life.  It is the high and bliss of heaven to me and why I come back. And, I have experienced many of the highs life has to offer.

 Do other things to distract yourself, study the course, start pouring through your Netflix que. Go watch all those shows saved on your DVR.  If you want a great inspiring movie, watch the movie Saint Ralph  (you will cry if you have a heart) and keep your focus on the event.  Remind yourself, that if you have done the miles, then you will be fine.  And if you wished you had trained more, now is not the time to fit it in.  Just know that, if you have the balls to train for a marathon and then show up marathon morning, you will cross the finish line.

"The Jade Rabbit" - A story of a miraculous marathon run, by Mark Matthews

Stray, the novel on Amazon
Stray addicts and stray dogs, wandering the streets looking for salvation.





Sunday, September 18, 2011

SIMBA, YOU ARE MORE THAN WHAT YOU HAVE BECOME


If you see this bench during a Long Run, take a bite and carry on.



 
As a marathon runner, you get the joy of crossing the finish line in an event where most fear to start, but oh so much more. For one, there is nothing in life like finishing a Long Run in a marathon training program. Especially if it felt triumphant and you were running rather than just slogging and dragging yourself for the last few miles just to satisfy your training schedule.  I have had my share of those.  And then there’s that lovely, Saturday or Sunday afternoon exhausted feeling, where your whole body is tingling, all the molecules of your body seem to be on fire, and you can eat and eat and eat, and still not make up for all the calories lost.  People seem like zombies compared to what you just did, the beauty of life is vibrant and easy to see, and afternoon football seem so much more vivid.  I tend to look at the the athletes and think “I worked just as hard as you today, my good man.” You will sleep the sleep of the elite that night.

But, when it comes to Long Runs, there is so much variance on the buffet table of training options.  When to run the long run, how fast, how many, and at what length?  If you are obsessed enough to run like a crackhead looking for a rock, then you have googled pretty much every training table available. I am a firm believer in marathon training as an ‘Experiment of One’; the results will work for you and you alone. Of course, studying and having some sort of plan that resembles a tried and true program is important, but each marathon attempt is an experiment where you then modify your next program accordingly.  So, with that in mind, here’s what worked for me.

**Scheduling: First of all, when doing your marathon training schedule, do so backwards. Look at your marathon date, and then schedule your last long run three weeks out. This is the pinnacle of a training program, so start with that and then work backwards. Usually, there is a shoe store sponsored training run in your area around that date, so circle it on your calendar, DVR what needs DVR-ing, promise your spouse you will watch the kids on another date so you can have that day free, and let your mojo build to that moment.

**Help On The Way:  While you are on the go, you will need some help.  Here are some thoughts to get you by.

-A killer playlist on your iPod. But no, not killer from the beginning. Put in an hour long podcast to start. (Pheddipitations is my fav) and let yourself slowly build to some momentum building songs. Sing the songs as you run, and badly, and out loud as if nobody's listening.  And Love like you never been hurt and shoot snots out your nose like nobody's watching.

-Your Own Aid Station-  make a central point where you can run out and backs froms your water spot.  I have a route to a gas station where I run 4 miles, get a bunch of water and leave it by a tree, then do a few out and backs that return me to my water, until my final run home.  Yes, getting the water at the gas station with sweaty bills pulled from your shorts and perhaps snots on your nose may get you some looks, but really, shouldn’t the dude next to you buying a 5 dollar pack of smokes really be the one getting the looks. (For nonconformity, the world will whip you with its displeasure.  Feel the crack of the whip and ask for more.)

-Energizers and Fuel. Of course there is Gu, but ever since I read (I think it was in Runner magazine) about an ultra runner who gets by on Kit-Kats, I always buy a few and man are they perfect.  Easy to digest, a nice change, and my body responds more when I promise a kit-kat after another 2 miles more so than the poopy-gooey stuff.

-Anti-Inflammatories- (insert not a doctor disclaimer notes) Before a few of my long runs, I started taking a few Naproxen’s (Aleve) and I think it helps.  It may have been just a placebo effect, and it feels a little too much like cheating or doping or playing with nature, but as long as it's not oversused, I think it’s worth it.Test before trying in a race, as always.

** Getting There is Half The Fun: How to build up to your longest long run? Intially, I just ran a certain length and then bumped it up 2 miles for my next long run.  What I have found, is that for many of the long run lengths, I do 2 attempts at a certain mile length before I bump up. (maybe not all the lengths, for example, maybe two runs of 14 miles, one 16, two at 18, before moving on to twenty, and so on.) The first one is just to cover the miles, but the second is to do a few, up to 8, at marathon pace. Preferably the last parts of the run to get yourself prepared to run fast when you are tired.  That is so important, I believe, cause you can get to the point where you can run 20 miles at a certain pace in your sleep, against the wind in the rain, and on a boat with a goat, but if your legs can’t handle the speed, then you are done. 

** Rabbit or The Hare:  Start as a cute-as-hell turtle with the voice of that sea turtle dude from Finding Nemo, but end with the leg kicks of a wrasckly wrabbit. Some speed or marathon pace runs during some of your long runs is essential. This can be a shock to your legs if you have done 10 miles at a comfortable pace, and then you try to do that last 4 or 6 at race pace, so try some striders at race pace for a minute or two a mile before you hit the change of pace to preprare.  The initial shock will seem hard, but once you hit it again, it will flow smoother. Think of it as getting into a cold pool. At first it is cold and shriveling, but then jumping back in again, its nuttin. 

**Nothing Sacred.  Top out with a run longer than the token 20 miles.  Of all the changes that helped me to reach my BQ PR, (including a 3 instead of  2 week taper, resting when my mental demons begged me to run more) it was topping out at 23 mile long run that put me over the top.  Making this change totally changed the feel of the last 6.2 of the marathon. Despite the character in my novel The Jade Rabbit, who believes in the adage that the last 6.2 are sacred and should be saved for the race. (I was going for the ‘Hemmingway-esque’ metaphor of fearing the psychologically dark places.)  Running 20 is enough for many folks, but as I stated, in this experiment of one, it didn’t work. 

Of course, the risk is that the last long run damaged me nearly as much as the race itself, so what I did was go out super-duper slogging slow.  I ran the first ten miles slow, sped up for the next 5 to 6 miles, and then ran the last 8 at marathon pace.  It made a huge difference. 

If you are doing a training run with a running group, and you are doing more than the group is, then get there early and do them first rather than afterwards. Nothing more dehumanizing than having to run on when everyone else has finished. You will regret going more, you may stop, and you will feel slow when everyone else sees you crossing long after they did. On the other hand, if you get there thirty minutes before hand and put in three miles, you will feel a stud or an amazing Amazon warrior.  (which you already are, by the way, so don’t forget it.)

**Simba, you are more than what you have become; Just some thoughts that worked for me.  Take what you want and trash the rest.  I will ramble on more about recovery time, recovery nutrition, why I cry every time I see The Lion King, tapering, how and why to brush your teeth in the shower, and why I don’t trust people who wink at me at a later date.





If I could stick a knife in my heart, and spill it all right on the stage...

My brain is wondering.... this blog, what should it be?  How does anyone decide what to blog about?  I am 32 flavors and then some, to quote Ani Defranco, which flavors should I spill out over here?  If I could stick my knife in my heart, I'd spill it all over the stage. Would that satisfy you? Would that slide on by you? Would you think the boys insane?

Okay, that's musical loose association.

So, lets see. I can write forever about addiction.  I lived it, I am in recovery every day from it, and can talk all day about drugs and drinking and walking like a camel for 20 years sober in a wet and raining world.  But who wants to hear that.

I can write about adoption, but that just seems pretty darn personal.  Not something I want to blab about concerning my daughter, at least not too much, so, in that case, I just won't stick the knife in my heart.

I can talk about writing. I've been writing since I was little. I remember how honored I was in fifth grade when, after we all had to write short stories, the teacher had me read mine to class. Books continued to shape me, and my heroes have always been writers.

But my running life may be most interesting, and mostly because, when we run we write, we get high, we become part of a bigger family, and train ourselves to tackle all the mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges thrown our way.  Running boils all your truths to the top. So, quite enthusiastically, that's what I'm going to pursue,

Everybody's out on the run tonight but there's no place left to hide.

Since it's Marathon training Long Run season, look for some thoughts on that soon.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Novel 'Stray' Gets A Little Love and A Second Edition. 'The Jade Rabbit' Gets A Shout Out

A dear blogger posted on the importance and role of books in our lives, and included The Jade Rabbit. Here's the link: New Authors Blog

But then there's my first born. Stray is my first baby, and as all parents know, we learn a ton with our first.  There are some things we would have done differently, but the experience of creation is a miracle, the nurturing moments are so powerful they leave imprints on us everywhere we go, so how could you have it any other way.

The novel is sweet and full of compassion and redemption, but deals with some raw, edgy, and ravaging moments.  (By the way, the whole novel is true, it just all happened in different order, all of it to different people at different moments, so pretty much nobody is recognizable.  Well, all of it is true except the ending, that was made up.  But even if it isn't true, doesn't mean it didn't happen.)

So, I had seen the novel as kind of an endearing and rockin' garage band that may not sound good in your car but sure is powerful when you feel its energy.  Well, after a few comments and reviews from readers about me sending my baby out into the world without the proper attire, I decided to make some changes, and a second edition is now available. Thanks to my friend Katy from Goodreads, it has been proof-read and cleaned up, and the new version is now available on amazon, smashwords, and should appear soon on Barnes and Noble and in the paperback version.

And just in time, Stray is getting a little love at the following blog: Kandes Book Reviews by the mad tiger reader Kandes.

Yes, I copied and pasted a small quote below, but please click and look at her other reviews. Kandes reads books like I eat licorice:

"My favorite character in this book was Rachel. I'm a huge huge huge animal lover (I have 2 chihuahuas and 1 retriever mix myself) and I just loved the scenes that were set in the animal shelter. And I really felt her pain when she had to euthanize these poor poor creatures that did nothing wrong other then be around these horrible people that use and abuse these animals. I really don't know how people can handle euthanizing them, they must be so strong.

Overall, I highly recommend this story, although I don't recommend it for kids under 18 due to the graphic nature of the drug use and slight sex scenes from what I remember."

In honor of the new edition, and a new paperback cover, look for a paperback giveway on Goodreads soon. Option two: if you send me an email to xmarkm@yahoo.com, I will give the first three callers a coupon for a free ebook download on smashwords.  Well, the first three emailers, but you get the drill.
Thanks!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ten Reasons Why I Love Goodreads, and One Reason Titles of Posts Always Seem to Need A List With A Specific Number Attached

You ever notice there always has to be a number attached to any title? For example, it's "4 secrets to getting into heaven"  or "5 ways to be a better juggler" or "the top 12 reasons you should floss."   I guess we all want definites, and it makes the author of the post or book sound much more official because in all their wisdom and research, they have found a definite number attached to the clues to the universe.

So, in that spirt, Ten Reasons On Why I love Goodreads. 

1.  You can talk about any kind of books; pop culture, pulp fiction, zombie fiction, wizard books, classic works, and anything under the sun and you are treated the same. You can talk as artsy-fartsy as your college unshowered English Lit Prof, and as much power and passion there has been with your relationship to books, there is someone out there who seems to have more.

2. You can get to know other like minded folks by seeing how many stars they gave your favorite book and seeing what quotes they choose to capture. It's amazing how many people out there are just like you.  Into books about new trends in Brazilian acupuncture?  Well, so are others. Find them here.

3.  The lines between reader and writer are slowly getting erased, all of us are bits of both, maybe more one than the other, but it feels like a hippie writer commune at times and not so culturally elite.

4.  It doesn't have the privacy invading arm of facebook, and it isn't just full of quips like Twittter.

5. Merging your blogs into the author page.  (one complaint: the post shown is usually not the most current.)

6. Updating on your most current read, being able to comment as you go, looking at other folks reviews and saying, 'dang, the review is a piece of art'

7. Befriending folks who slam your book, just to show you can take it.

8. Befriending folks who praise your book, cause that just seems right.

9. All the cool subgroups; name it, and it's there.

10. Smut-free.

-By the way, this could turn into top 12 reasons, or top 8 reasons, since the number is pretty arbitrary. The important thing is, the site is great and is right on.

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