Monday, November 30, 2009

When Gatorade chokes, what will you wash it down with?

As I train for my fifth marathon, it's as true as it ever was that I hate the long run. One of the staple workouts for a runner is to have one run that's longer than the others, with the goal of building endurance. If speed workouts push your physical limits, long runs really just test how long you'd last in some kind of soft torture experiment where they repeatedly play the start of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony but leave out the last note. It's especially bad living in the suburbs, where I do get quiet places to run through, but gray skies, brown subdivisions and green grass all kind of blend in after a while.

This, of course, is a problem if you want to run a marathon, since a marathon is a very long run that is the culmination of at least a dozen long runs in different kinds of bad Toronto weather (hot and humid, cold and windy, cold and slushy). Whenever I seek illumination on a topic, I look to my dad ("you should really keep these things to five minutes, that's plenty") and then Aristotle.

On this topic, as with all others, Aristotle would look at the received views (i.e. modern physiology) on this topic, then maybe what the poets said, and then conclude that the virtuous long run is the sort of long run that the virtuous runner does. Somewhat less facetiously, I suppose I'd be classified as the incontinent runner, in the dated and philosophical sense as opposed to the literal sense, even after nine years.

The analogy that Aristotle makes is with water. "When water chokes, what will you wash it down with?" he asks. A runner that knows long runs are good for them but can't manage to do them is in a bad state. She knows what to do but can't manage to do it, so she can't be saved by reasoning. She is, effectively, choking on the water. The runner that doesn't know long runs are good for him is better off because someone can tell him that they are, and he'll quit working on his 40-yard dash every Sunday.

To complicate matters, it's not that I know long runs are good for me and don't do them. It's that I do them but hate them, which means that the choking-on-water analogy doesn't imply. I'm actually a less-than-virtuous runner, not in the least because I don't report the dead bodies I find when I run.

Now that I've deftly alienated anyone who might possibly entertain the idea of reading this blog, next time I'll offer up an Aristotelian training plan for those of you that virtuously want to run your best marathon.

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