The Subtle Art of “Now What?” The #OnlyWhenChased Capstone

When I shared this photo I was told — “you don’t need a helmet to run” — “HA! Have we met?”

“Tomorrow it will be December. Now a full month plus from the end-of-October GFNY Marathon and bike race double.” That was the first line of this very same article as it was begun almost three months ago. Sitting here in what can be officially termed “late February”, I noticed this morning on a conference call that I am still wearing my racers wristband from GFNY Florida. I can only guess that the reason I have yet to cut off this tattered, now-grimy piece of plastic, is that I have yet to achieve closure on the whole “marathon journey into running a marathon” as I called it over a year ago. (February 9, 2021 to be exact —

Put into perspective, it was an obsession that consumed me through the Winter. Nights spent on the bike trainer, mornings or later nights spent out running. On a cold and miserable Friday night in April of 2021, I got as close as I would get to a marathon distance. I stopped running at 3 hours and 15 miles. Not realizing it was a 2-mile walk back to the car, I started running again. But my body quickly rejected the notion and so I limped back as quickly as I could and sank into the welcome splendor of a hot shower thinking that it could only improve from here. And “by jingo, if I can run 15 miles now, you betcha I can run 26 in the Fall — no problem!”

Having covered the specifics of everything that came next already — let’s not relive it. With about 4 weeks to go, Chris (Chris Armen, my running coach), and I began ramping the distance back up. I had to give it a week for the head injury to clear itself out and so it didn’t allow much time. We were basically picking up the pieces of a broken marathon attempt and making a half-marathon omelet out of it. I had done that distance at least three times training, and once racing. I was almost to that distance in the long runs leading up, so we knew I could make it. But there was still the pain. Daily stretching, strength training, and 3 times weekly physical therapy were making progress, but there was always some discomfort with every run. Not enough to stop anything, not enough to ruin the next run, but the time was not coming back. Having done a 2:14 half in June, my expectations were slipping, and I was setting myself up to be happy with a 2:45 finish. With each run, the confidence grew a little until I had finally gotten myself to a goal of 2:37. A now very “settling” 11:59 pace.

Me and Vance hitting the tarmac for a Thursday warmup run in Sebring.

We packed the car and got ourselves down to Florida. Upon unpacking, I hit out for a warmup run to get the two days in the car out of my system. Along the way, I met a new friend, Vance. He was a hand-cyclist who would be competing and saw me running and decided to do the run with me. Vance and I chatted about all kinds of things, his race experiences, his boat, history, the Sebring area, and it really kept us both entertained as we had a great workout among the palms and enjoyed the warm embrace of the Florida sun. Going for about 4 miles, I realized that the pains and discomforts that I had had in previous runs were not there today. The breathing was good, and it held up the next few days as I put myself through the paces of pre-race warmups, cycled back and forth to the expo area to keep myself limber, and maintained my stretching.

Truly I say unto you, I have met guys that have crossed the line in first place, enjoyed the hot seat, and prevailed to take the win, tell me “dude, I sucked out there today, I just got lucky to come in first.” It doesn’t matter what the rest of the field did. When you don’t feel like you measured up to your own expectations, it makes for a long drive home.(

Going quickly — and quoting myself, I can only tell you the half-marathon experience was surreal. The gun went off and me and my long-lost friends Jenny and Alexandra were off in a flash, pacing right behind the 10:15 pace balloon. About a mile in, we decided to drop it down, and keep it sane. I kept going at a steady pace and hit every rest station along the way. Walking through calmly and cooly, taking every bit of liquid offered, and hitting a gel at every other station. Along the way, I seemed to have the same groups flanking me ahead and behind, and so I kept the pace steady and hung in. This is anti-climactic. There is no big reveal. I finished with a 2:26, and it was fine. I beat my goal by 11 minutes, and while not quite the triumph I had in June, it was enough to guarantee that I might not have the drive of shame, although, I still had some self-convincing to do.

It’s a symptom of the universe I can see it in your eye’s yeahhhhhhhhhhhhh!

After some post-race milling about, waiting for others to come in, and rehydrating, I found out that I had made the podium. 3rd place out of 4 finishers in my category. It was enough to finish the job of self-convincing — for the day at least — as we arranged a few social calls with family for the next few days. One of two podiums I have ever won in the time since I have established my desire to be an endurance athlete, I felt accomplished for the moment. With the bike race coming next week, I would set aside pride, embrace disappointment, and settled into the next round of pre-race anxiety, not even remotely knowing what I was out to prove or to whom I was out to prove it. I was lost.

As we made the drive from Sebring to Cape Coral, I thought constantly about the heaping disappointment of how it had all gone. The failure to do the full marathon, the slow time, the injury recovery. Knowing that even with my podium finish, I was still 14 minutes short of a time that saw me at the bottom of the pack in another race. And so you wonder, if with a 2:13 time, and in tenth place out of 12, if I would have taken it a little easier on myself. I would get a chance to find out the following week in the bike race. But another bike race — at this point — was not the challenge. The goal going in was 26.2 and that needed to be reconciled.

Meetings with both Chris and David (running and cycling coaches) during that week proved effective in talking me off the ledge. The notion of “now what” was the 800-pound gorilla in the room with each of them. Chris was on the edge of his seat waiting to hear my marathon goal for 2022. And out it came.

“I’m not doing a marathon in 2022. I don’t know if I can spend the best part of the training season focused on something that if I don’t deliver it, turns everything else I accomplished along the way into a letdown. Instead — I would rather focus on maybe 3 or 4 half marathons, duathlon, and my usual smattering of GFNY bike races. Do more, not do once.”

David’s reaction to the whole thing had been that “when you chase two rabbits, you increase the risk that both will get away”. At my age, and with my ability to train effectively — this was a great perspective. And so, he and I went about building the goals and plan for Sunday’s GFNY Florida bike race, and I went back to Sebring and executed.

Intentionally, the story of race day has been slimmed down and cut short. It was a great day and a great accomplishment, and I am very proud of it to be sure. Especially since I got on the bike and time trialed 90 miles the following Sunday without an ache, pain, bonk, or bathroom stop. Straight through without unclipping.

Contemplate it on the Tree of Woe

4:51 on the Tree of Woe — cycling and thinking the whole time of running.

My contemplation on the Tree of Woe was my fixed position on the bike for 4:51 through the orange groves and cattle ranches of rural Florida. I decided today was a day for that contemplation and along with David decided I would ride alone, set a goal tempo, and think of nothing else. But instead, I thought of running. Where did I go wrong? Today would end up being a fairly routine finish for me. 304/379, 34/39 — right where I belong. But all of my personal goals for the day were satisfied. Done. So where did I go wrong?

This was a time for some perspective. Getting home, managing the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, work trips, etc…life getting in the way, I finally got around to asking someone who knew what the rigors of multi-sport training were and how I might have missed the point. Far from training like a triathlete or duathlete (probably a closer approximation), I was training like a schizathlete who was focused on winning a 1-day monument race and a major marathon all in the same year. I reached out to Nate Llerandi, while taking complete ownership of the irony that my #onlywhenchased hashtag was in direct conflict with his Orion Training Systems tagline “Become the Hunter”. I was lucky enough to speak with Nate for close to an hour where he told me about his transitions from elite swimming to triathlon, running a cycling team, and finally running. Where we surfaced the grim meathook realities of what running does to the body that cycling and swimming do not. The impact and load on the joints, the rigor of building those muscles day in, and day out. Nate’s perspective was that at this age breaking up the workout cycle into run-heavy and bike-heavy, mixing in bricking to achieve the right volume while reducing the impact on the joints might have been a good way to maintain overall health and volume, and not sustain a major injury along the way. But also to build the endurance required on a marathon or whatever the event.

But there was a bigger departure from everything that I believed. To use Nate’s words — “it’s been so drilled into us that health and vibrancy and long-term care is tied to cardiovascular health because diabetes and heart disease are all tied back to cardio, and genetics, and diet, and sleep, and so many other things that aren’t necessarily talked about in a comprehensive conversation about fitness. If you are trying to promote youth as you get older, weightlifting is a large part of that for lowering cortisol and getting the endocrine system going.”

As we kept talking my perspective began to build about where I am as an athlete vs where I need to be as a human. Nate’s perspective was that sport-specific weight training was not anything that should be embraced. “The body doesn’t care what exercises you do. Are you stressing this muscle? If you are, then I am going to adapt. The body doesn’t care, it just knows you are making the muscle burn. You are there to make the connective tissue adapt, the body stronger. Don’t get fancy, and don’t get lazy. The body is going to naturally adapt to the rigors of the sport you do.”

Sometimes we just need an extra pair of eyes to look at the problem in a wider scope. I present myself to my coaches as an athlete in a specific sport. We discuss these things specifically. The conversation with Nate was a break from the specific, and wider look at how this should look on a 55-year old male with a day job, business travel, and occasional want to compete for 8–10 weekends per year.

And So, Now What?

All of what I heard from my coaches, from Nate, from my physical therapist during the injury recovery were coming around to the same place. For all that I was doing with cardio, endurance, etc…I was somehow still a doughy, middle-aged dude, who no one would actually believe was an endurance athlete if they saw outside of that context. My lack of focus on strength and flexibility was hurting me physically. Diet was hurting me physically and mentally, and for all that I could accomplish, I was probably “fit enough” but not “fit”.

Secondly, the events are the outcome. The training is the thing. The training keeps you alive. The events keep you motivated. I knew this, but let it go, and when I focused on the outcome — plain and simple — I fucked it up. Sue me.

So back to the process. While reveling in my own disappointment for the marathon as I wrote this, I was also able to relive all the experiences in the journey. Looking back, there was really never a single point of failure in my racing calendar. There would be great performances, reach performances, and extremely difficult performances. All the disappointment of the marathon miss can not hold a candle to the finish line at GFNY La Vaujany, and so with this, it’s time to look forward and start chasing. Balance the training load, hit the weight room, and put down the fucking Oreos.

Finally — regain gratitude. I did a lot, I learned more, I experienced everything. I lost nothing — I gained immeasurably. Grateful.

See you down the road in 2022:

GFNY Uruguay | Brooklyn Half Marathon | GFNY NYC World Championship |GFNY Lourdes | GFNY La Vaujany | Cal-Tri Duathlon Williamsburg | GFNY Rockford | Toughman 70.3 Duathlon | GFNY Florida Half-Marathon | GFNY Florida Sebring



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