Even before I smashed my foot with a 125-pound rock, I’d already decided to abandon the half-marathon I was supposed to run today.
Yeah, remember that half-marathon I was supposed to do? It’s today. Maybe even going on now. The first few months of this year, I was following a half-marathon training plan. I wanted to retry this race, which I sucked at in 2011, & do it right this time. I wrote myself a plan mixing CrossFit, sprinting, & long-distance running. I thought if I was more disciplined & fitter, I could make it work.
It went pretty fine. I had a sprinting day every week. I abandoned the sprinting almost right away because of chronically shitty weather. Sheets of never-melting ice glazed the sidewalks around here for months at a time. This is what I’d call “suboptimal terrain” for booking ass up a steep hill over & over. For long runs things went all right. I built up mileage steadily from 0 to 10 miles. I never hurt myself. Always a plus. I found myself locking into steady paces. I breathed right. I surprised myself & set new personal bests for running without water or nutrition or a breather. I punched some nasty hills in the throat, powering up them nicely. Squats did that. Thank you, squats. Overall I was much more disciplined & fitter. The plan worked — but I still am not running the race.
I could go on & on about why1, but there are 3 simple answers.
1. I didn’t like long-distance running as a chunky guy & I guess I don’t like it as a fitter guy either
Sorry. Got bored. I ran different routes. I read good audiobooks. I gave myself little challenges. I tried the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach of forcing myself to enjoy long runs just enough to PR at the half. Nope. You can’t outsmart yourself. Tried to convince myself this was preferable to a swift kick in the nuts. While that may be true, I still didn’t like it, & besides, a swift kick in the nuts is over in a few minutes. Tried to approach it like the sport training it is & force myself to get it done. But I’m not an athlete — just some below-average fuckhead doing this for shits & giggles. When the runs went well (which was the vast majority of the time) I still wasn’t that happy about it. The one time it went poorly, I hated myself & everything on the planet for about 4 days. Either way wasn’t positive. This is how you can tell if something’s not for you: Even when it goes well, you could take it or leave it.
I needed loads of motivation to get out the door. The freakishly cold winter didn’t help. I constantly wanted to lift instead. Standing there picking the folds of my running tights out of my jimmycrack & trying to invent reasons why this was a good idea. This is also how you can tell if something’s not for you: You have to keep convincing yourself to do it.
I simply don’t dig running long distances. By which I mean anything over 3 miles. I’ve known this for quite some time. So have you. I guess I keep forgetting & have to remind myself every once in a while.
I remember vividly at the last 5K I ran, in Providence, I overheard a conversation between two runners. They were talking about that elusive stuff people call “running mojo.” You know the deal. One guy goes, “I haven’t run in a few weeks. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. I’ll make myself go out, & sometimes it works. I just need to find my mojo.” It’s this thing I heard from somewhere behind me to my left while I was jogging through downtown Providence. But it’s a conversation I’ve overheard from many other people who run, & I’ve had myself many times. Some people cite this as evidence that they should run more. I think this should be telling people something else. For the record, I have never — on my mother’s life, not even once — needed to find my “lifting mojo.” I’ve never once sat around sheepishly trying to get the balls to go into the garage & deadlift. Never. Not when it was 15 degrees in the garage, not when it was 5 degrees. I just went because it’s good for me, I like it, it works, & you couldn’t stop me. I’d be happy to stay out there deadlifting for hours. I’d deadlift every day, probably more than once, if you let me & if that weren’t terribly unhealthy for my physical & mental well-being. I’d have to be fetched out of there by the ear. And I’m not even good at this shit. I know people who feel like that with long-distance running, & may the good lord bless you & keep you close to his bosom because it’s nice to have a thing you enjoy that much. But it’s not my thing.
2. The training started making me fall out of shape again anyway
During this training cycle, I lifted less & ran more, & gained about 15 pounds because of it. Not muscle. I got chunkier. I’ve read enough articles about the negative effects on body composition from long slow distance running & knew it could happen — LSD cardio sucks for fat loss & can decrease muscle mass. I know it doesn’t suck for everyone’s body comp, but it definitely does for some people’s & I’m pretty sure I’m one of them. Even going to CrossFit classes twice a week, I saw my belly and love-handles grow. Started to look & feel bloated all the time. I had to bail out of a 215-pound squat one day. Oh hell no. A few days after that I bailed out of a 185-pound squat. That shit cannot happen. I didn’t regain because of food, either — I eat right every day. My sleep levels were the same as before2. The only difference was the change in my main form of exercise from lots of intense conditioning to more slow cardio. I said before, if this fucked up my body composition I’d quit, & it did. So I quit. I didn’t put in years of work to watch it get flushed down the fucking toilet.
In late March I stopped running entirely & refocused on a new lifting plan. It contains absolutely zero cardio — instead I do more conditioning. I’m dropping body fat again, even after eating a fuck-ton of cupcakes for Nik’s birthday. I feel better. Nik told me (after the fact, because she’s nice) that she didn’t want to say anything, but during the half-mary training I was getting a wee bit chunkier again around the middle, & that in the weeks after I quit I’ve been getting less chunky.
3. I crushed my toe so I can’t run on it regardless
Nik told me, “Keep lifting, & if for some reason you feel like running it later, just show up & do it.”
Good advice. You never know.
For a day or two I considered rucking the half. Yes, I find it tedious to jog 13 miles at a time but I looked forward to walking 13 miles lugging 30 pounds of masonry. I don’t pretend to understand my brain — I just do what it says.
I decided it would be smarter not to ruck it. It’s questionable whether I could do it in the 3.5-hour cutoff. That’s a 16 minute mile march with a 30-pound pack, plus water. I took the dogs for a 2-mile test with a loaded backpack & logged a 16:05. I could probably shave that down if I didn’t stop so often to piss on telephone poles. But it’d be very close & I’d be stressing out the volunteers & keeping the course open just so I could tromp around like an asshole.
Also I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring suspiciously heavy backpacks full of duct-taped packages to race courses these days. I think that’s wise.
Still, my compulsion to lift & carry heavy shit could not be denied. I got my squat back & maxed out at 275. Once, I maxed out my deadlift twice in a 7-day span — first 335 for an easy PR, then 350 pounds — & now I want to pull 400 by the end of the year. I’ve got plans in the works to build a loadable sandbag using my old college duffle & lug it around the neighborhood. The half-marathon training plan demonstrated to me that all I want to do is lift even more things & heavier things more often. Conditioning, not cardio. That’s the rule. Cardio produces softness. Conditioning builds grown-ass man-strength. That’s for me. I want to learn to pull sleds & push prowlers. Flip tires. Carry sandbags up & down hills. Chop wood, fetch water.
Some plumbers did some excavating under my back porch recently3. They found a massive chunk of granite under there. My first thought was, “I bet I could carry that around for conditioning.” Weirdo. This past week I dragged it out from under the porch, took my bathroom scale outside & put the stone on top: 125 pounds & change. I could pick that up. The stone rolled off the scale & onto my right foot, which stung like a motherfucker for a second — then I shrugged it off, hoisted the rock, & carried it back& forth across the yard 10 times.
A bit later, I went to take a shower & noticed my sock was bloody. I took off the sock & saw my right big toe was smashed open. A, uh, rather large piece of it was sort of barely attached & flapping around. It was hurt more than I realized.
I’m not going to include a picture of the toe, because who needs that shit, but I will include a picture of my sock.
I told Nik. She didn’t want to look at it either.
“Jesus! Didn’t you notice it hurt when you were carrying that thing around?”
“Well yeah. But I just felt it go numb so I figured it was fine.” Weirdo.
Long story longer, I bandaged it up, threw on a sandal, & went to the ER to get myself x-rayed. A nurse with a laptop wanted to know how I hurt myself.
“I was in my yard & a 125-pound rock that I was carrying fell on it.”
“Doing yard work.”
“No, just carrying it.”
She stopped typing.
“For exercise,” I said. I shut up after that because you should, shouldn’t you.
She didn’t type that into the system. After a while, she said, “OK, someone will be in shortly.”
A doctor came in & checked it out. “A rock fell on it?”
“Doing some yard work?”
“Yes,” I said.
Lucky for me, my toe wasn’t broken — just bashed up. I’ve spent the last week keeping it bandaged & limping around a lot. A little over a week later, the little flappy piece has healed back. I limp less. It mostly hurts when I bump into things, which because I’m a klutz is very often, & if I walk for a while. I certainly can’t run on it — it’ll seem fine, but then I’ll tap it against a stair tread & my eyes fill with tears. My point is, even if I wanted to jump into the race for the hell of it now, I couldn’t. So it’s over.
I don’t think I’ll do this again. I wanted a new half-marathon PR, but the half training just doesn’t agree with my personality or my body type. That’s OK. Everything isn’t for everybody. So I’ll have to live with my old PR. This also isn’t the worst thing in the world. Greater tragedies have been inflicted on humankind. I just hoped I could do a little better than I did before, & I guess I won’t know for sure. I probably could, but who knows. I’m not mentally tough enough to find out. It’s disappointing, but I’m also much happier now, lifting & carrying heavy things that can fall & mutilate my extremities. I’m also out 35 friggin bucks for the bib — I could’ve used that money to buy beef. Plus, the fact that I started another thing I’m not going to finish also sucks, but I’ve excelled at doing that for 37 years so far, so why stop now.¶