Saturday, April 30, 2005

Athletic Advice I Wish I Had Followed

A couple of months ago, Lance Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, discussed Armstrong's delayed decision to attempt a seventh consecutive victory at the 2005 Tour de France:

“… A healthy sign for an athlete is when he sets a goal and achieves it, then takes time to enjoy it. I think that's a healthy sort of habit, because if you achieve and immediately go to the next thing, you're never satisfied. You're always thirsty. That doesn't lend itself to a long career.”
Although I couldn't afford to retain Carmichael as my own personal trainer, it sounds as if he has been watching my life over the past decade. I started running regularly in 1998. It was my first serious attempt at a sport since high school gym class, even though my body would be better suited to being a hockey defenseman or a football lineman (except that I'm a little too short). I was truly doing it for personal satisfaction since there was no chance that I would ever be remotely competitive with the ectomorphs who ran twice my speed. I started racing 5Ks, then in November I finished my first 10K.

For 1999, I set my sights on the Chicago Marathon. I picked a training program and followed it religiously. My preparation paid off in October when I finished my first marathon in less than five hours. First marathon? Does that mean that I have run others? Well, no. And therein lies the problem. I fully intended to run more marathons, even 50K and 50-mile ultramarathons. Alas, my left knee had other ideas. As I was building up to a 50K in spring of 2000, the pain in my knee became too much to ignore. Although I tried several "comebacks" since, my knee problems returned after a couple of months each time. I have managed a couple of 5Ks, but at this point my chances of ever running 26.2 miles again look pretty slim. Because I always wanted to run more marathons and beyond, I didn't take the time to reflect on my success like Carmichael suggests.

With my running career prematurely ended, I took up bicycling. I was pleased to find that my knee didn't hurt a bit when I pedaled. Remembering my obsessiveness about running, I vowed not to follow strict training plans or keep meticulous logs. Although I stopped writing things down, my (mentally) unhealthy behavior didn't magically disappear. I repeated the process of building up to ever greater distances, not pausing to savor any of my achievements. After two years, my cycling career culminated in a 3,000-mile cross-country bike tour in early 2002.

With little interest in circumnavigating the globe, I had reached my limit. Even then, I didn't really sit back and enjoy my achievement so much as I sat around wondering what I could do next. I found myself goalless and unmotivated. I could have used Carmichael's sage advice, but would I have been too stubborn to listen?

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