Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Intellectually Chubby

A Primer on Student-Athletes

1) have three quads: left quad, right quad, and campus quad.
2) have two bodies of work: A) One is their collection of writings. B) The other is their actual body.
3) drink more gatorade than coffee.
4) rest their legs while they are writing, and their minds while they are running.
5) listen to Michael Bubl√© for their pump-up jams. NO WAIT. That's just me.

If I had to design the perfect life, I would choose exactly the one I am living now. I love school. I am so blessed to be back in a classroom, writing for teachers who are excited about Philosophy and who like teaching. Baylor is incredible. I have great friends. My husband is magnanimous. And I am having a great time training. Running is the perfect ontological complement to my classwork. Life is great. But returning to school is a lot like returning to track workouts after being in the off-season. I'm a little intellectually chubby. I need some critical thinking plyometrics and a good stretch of contemplation. 

the finish line of the Hill Country Marathon


In Fall of 2012, I moved across the country, got married, and switched from being a graduate student to holding my first full-time job—as a teacher. I was living far from home, and people kept calling me by a new name I didn’t recognize as my own yet. I hate change; it exhausts me. But I think I handled it fairly well. That Fall, I cleared my racing schedule except for a 24-hour—UltraCentric (the 24-hour Texas state championship that year). As a new Texan, I considered it my civic duty to run.

The race went fine the first fourteen hours, but as the sun set, I fell asleep.

I woke up in a bush.

As soon as my body struck branches, I was wide awake, and I continued my trek.

“You’ll never believe what just happened, David! I woke up in a bush.” -- (things terrible wives say)

David helped remove a stick from my hair. And I ate a sandwich. 

I won the race by 10+ miles that day. But in the broader narrative of my athletic progression, the performance was a blemish on my record. I missed my PR (at the time) by 12 miles, and I was 17+ miles off of my lifetime best/American Record. I was disappointed, and I still had to patiently take the time to recover from the fatigue of a 135-mile run.

But I guess it was a teachable moment. I made a promise to myself:

Promise: Never run near bushes.

Just kidding.

Never sign up to run for 24 hours when there is a lot of life change.

This year--in the wake of more life change (from teaching to graduate school, round two)--I ran the Hill Country Marathon. It has been fairly traumatizing to watch ultra-distance races pass me by without participating, but I want to be the best learner I can. I've been streamlining my priorities. I keep reminding myself that I don't have to prove anything to myself. I already know I can run hard for a day. I'm exercising my positive freedoms to prove other things to myself now (à la Isaiah Berlin). And I'm trying to get my speed back.


Which runner pictured read Spinoza immediately before heading to the starting line?
[the start of the Hill Country Marathon]

The gun went off in the dark, and we made our way around the track. We exited onto a rocky path, then hit the first road. I found myself in a small front pack. I chatted enthusiastically. There was NO RESPONSE. I’ve read about this! In marathons, people generally talk less than in ultras. These events have a different social timbre, and this was my first experience of it. I hated it. I realized I was going to have to be lonely and quiet for over 26 miles. In normal life, I am not very talkative. But when I run, joy wells up from deep inside of me. I can’t help but talk.  

The course was full of hills. After the first mile, we hit our first major climb, and the pack separated. A man and I advanced. I chatted. He was quiet. He sped ahead. "Don't be annoying," I told myself. "Just don't be annoying."

This was the course profile. 
Hills are roller coaster rides, but without the fee.
Hills have their ups and downs.

 As a middle child, I am well-acquainted with the fine art of being a tag-along. I spent my childhood trying to catch up to my sisters. The thing is, in running, tag-alongs are even more annoying than in real life. In track, for example, the person in the second position is the one in control of the race. They parasitize the leader. The leader does the hard work of setting the pace, blocking the wind, and doing the emotional work of leading…And I knew I was doing it to this man! I was the parasite.

For 19 miles, I tucked behind him, about 20 meters back. He held a decent clip—sixes on the downs and flats, and sevens on the climbs. I rested. I spoke to cows. I greeted aid station workers like I had just returned from 10 years alone on the moon. At mile 19, I made my move. I chatted with the man (to him? at him?) as I passed, trying to be encouraging. Within a minute or two, he reeled me in again but was breathing pretty heavily. I stayed patient until the base of a big hill (the biggest?) at mile 22ish. Then I surged. On the inside, I danced. All of the competitive zest I'd been bottling up rushed to my head, and I floated to the top of the hill like I was full of helium. My delight overflowed. I LOVE to be chased. By the time I turned around a mile later, he was gone. I trotted in, in 1st overall and in a new men's and women's course record. I hugged David. The race director gave me pie.


This morning, David and I ran a cut-down workout--6 miles starting at 7-minute miles, then working our way down to 6-minute pace. It felt nice. I've done a lot more training in the 6-minute range, plus a variety of workouts--mile repeats, fast finishes, and tempo efforts. I'm lifting and doing more core work. It's fun to be doing workouts at a faster clip, and emphasizing quality over quantity. I think I want to try a big city marathon. But I'm also eyeing Rocky Raccoon 100 this February. I last raced it in 2012, and I would love to be back there. 

And, as always, I'll keep coaching. 

One major reason why I coach is that I believe in the moral pedagogy of sport. It's a lot easier to show a runner what perseverance is, than it is to tell them about it. You can run alongside of them and say, "Feel this? Keep doing this. I'm not asking you to push any harder than you already are. Just remain. That's perseverance--to remain under a burden." Then they know what it is--by name and by feeling. 

They know that integrity means going to the top of the hill whether or not anyone is watching. They can feel how discipline hurts (because sometimes it does). And they can celebrate the fruits it yields as they get faster. Anyway, it sounds cheesy, but I don't care. I know I've been formed as a person because I had the opportunity to practice virtues in sports.
Probable conversation:
Sabrina: "Ridiculous falsity."
David: "Something Plato said."

Also, David is my assistant coach. This means bonding time and matching outfits. 

This will be us in 50 years. Mark my word.

So that is my training update. I've not disappeared off the planet (just the ultrarunning planet for a bit). (Though, admittedly, I've raced a 50-miler, a 50K, and a trail 21K since the last time I updated this...Oops.) My sneakers are still hitting the pavement on a daily (or twice daily) basis, and I'm excited about being a student again. Sometimes the ultra community gives you the impression that you need to be racing an ultra once a month, but I'm not sure that is sustainable. I'm going to pick solid races I'm excited about once or twice a year and try to knock them out of the park. That's the plan. Happy training.   - Sabrina