February 22, 2012

Give the drummer some

When rhythm has become the sole and unique mode of thought’s expression, it is then only that there is poetry. In order for mind to become poetry, it must bear in itself the mystery of an innate rhythm. It is in this rhythm alone that it can live and become visible. And every work of art is but one and the same rhythm. Everything is simply rhythm.
— Hölderlin in conversation with Izaak Sinclair, 1804

Running is rhythm. Rhythm is stress. That's the point: stress the system, heal back stronger. Do the right kind of damage and you get fast and strong.

But stressing out is no good without a break. Even club kids know that relentless rhythm grinds you down, without the right kind of intoxication. (Which is a story for some other time.)

As a novice masters runner, or inexperienced old guy if you like, recovery is more important than training. I've often trained hard on great-feeling legs, only to find a dagger in my calf the next morning. Now that will break your rhythm.

So, to create the kind of phat beats you need for a marathon - healthy long runs, energetic high-mileage weeks - you need a break in the rhythm. For me, it has to be like every other day. Or if I experiment with back-to-back intense workouts I'll need two or three recovery days.

There are different cycles of recovery, from recovery during the race (e.g., change cadence occasionally), to after the race (put your feet up). And of course the most important leg of the race is run in bed. When my daughter was learning to walk I remember hearing her thump around in her crib all night long. She was absorbing the bodily lessons of the day in her sleep. Adults do the same thing. You earned a lot in the race, but you don't get to deposit it until you sleep deeply.

Then there's the recovery day. It isn't necessarily pure rest, although it can be. I get good results from a recovery run within 24 hours after the race (ideally within 12 hours, but that's not always practical). A recovery run is under 40 minutes at a slow, comfortable pace. It could feel stiff or fresh. But above all, don't burn off tomorrow's freshness.

So how to reconcile recovery with a 10 mile day? Split the runs. I did 6 in the morning, which felt great. I put in a long stretch afterward. Then 4 or so more in the evening. The two recovery runs flushed out my legs without stressing my system, and left me fresh for today's 13 miles.

This is all pretty time consuming. That's the real trick of the rhythm, you have to sync it in with the rhythm of you life. Time with the kid, fixing the sink, moving the car, working on the blog. . . I'm not very good at the mix yet, and it's the biggest challenge of marathon training.

Friends of mine make time for a lunchtime run at work. There are good yoga positions, like legs up the wall, that you can do anywhere there's a wall (a great opportunity for learning to withstand ridicule). Sometimes I do little stretches at my desk or on the subway.

Whatever it takes. To get ready for a marathon you need a lot of miles. But the beat means nothing without the quiet between.

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