Monday, October 24, 2011

Embracing The Empty Miles

Force of habit caused me to reach for my watch and just as I was about to put it on, I thought Oh wait, that's not the point of today's outing.   Today was going to be my first attempt at empty miling.  I was going to run without a plan.  That's a big deal for a planner like me.

I was at the tail end of a head cold but the day was far too beautiful to spend sitting inside with a box of tissues so I broke out my hot pink Saucony's and hit the road.   I subconsciously reached my hand over to start my watch and looked down to realize that I hadn't put it on.  Riiight.  Ok.  Time to run.

I stood at the bottom of the walkway to our apartment and weighed my options.  I looked left down the road.  Don't want to go too far as I'm coming off of a cold.  I looked right, up the road.  Gotta stop at the bank to use the ATM.  Practicality won out and I turned right and made my way up the road towards Bloor West Village.  Gotta say, despite the week layoff and the remnants of a cold, I felt really good.  My right hamstring felt a bit tight but other than that the legs felt great.  I turn north to go up to Bloor and I hit my first light.  My hand traveled over to my wrist once again.  Wow, I can't believe how much I rely on my watch.  How much it is a part of me when I run.  Crazy.

I crossed Bloor and headed east towards the bank.  I was cooking along feeling great.  I get to the bank, take out my money and head back out the door.  Which way to go now?  I decide to head east again to Runnymede.  I turn south onto Runnymede and meander my way through side streets until I hit the Queensway and the path at the bottom of High Park.  I figured the park was going to be a busy place given that the weather was so stellar but that was ok by me.  A little stop and go never hurt anyone.  I turn into the park and I'm on auto pilot.  I've run in here so much I know all the paved paths like the back of my hand.  I come out into the playground area near the zoo.  Hmmmmmm...

Fall Foliage
copyright Phaedra Kennedy 2011
A red tree catches my eye and I turn in the direction of the zoo.  I run towards the tree and marvel at the redness of the leaves against the blue sky.  I take out my phone so I can take a picture.  So *this* is what it's all about.  Old habits die hard as I once again go to "start" my watch as I start running.  I chuckle to myself as I run by kids checking out the llamas and water buffalo.  Silly me.  I run up through the zoo and immediately turn right to head down Centre Road to another path at the east end of the park.  It's gotten warm so I roll up my sleeves, my left wrist feeling particularly naked.  No matter. 

Blue & Yellow
copyright Phaedra Kennedy 2011
I run along Spring Road at what feels like a really good clip and I catch myself turning my left wrist to take a look at my pace.  Ha ha ha ha...seriously?  I am grinning like an idiot at this point.  Whatever.  I am stopped in my tracks by a strikingly bright yellow tree against the crystal blue sky.  Out came the camera again.  Days like this are why I love fall.  I keep making my way along Spring Road until I get to the bottom of the Hill.  It's the puke inducing hill repeat hill.  The nasty bugger that appears at the end Harry's Spring Run off.  Whatever.  I'm only going up it once.  I start the ascent only to see this crazy sculpture out of the corner of my eye.  It's in a clearing just off of a trail.  I'm in.  No hesitation.  The hill can wait.

copyright Phaedra Kennedy 2011
I leapt on to the dirt path and stopped just in front of this sculpture.  The way the light was coming through the trees was amazing.  My iphone didn't do it justice.  Oh well.   I head into the forest.  I've never run on this path before.  Sweet.   It's a busy place.  Lots of walkers, some with dogs some without, all moving at a very leisurely pace.  That's cool.  I'm in no rush.  

As I run along watching the ground for roots and rocks, I marvel at the brightness of my pink shoes against the dark dirt of the trail.    For some reason this makes me smile.  I run through the mud and into the clearing where the community vegetable gardens are.  It too is a very busy place.  Urban gardeners are out in full force getting their gardens ready for the impending winter.  I meander through here some more, dodging a few overly excited dogs and I gradually make my way back to the upper loop of the park.  I am tempted to take another path that I spot just before I reach the main road, but I've been out for a while so I figure I'll leave that for next time.

I come back to the main road and chug along until I approach Bloor Street.  In my peripheral vision I spot a group of people dressed in period costume.  Really?  What the hell?  I stop for a bit to watch them and contemplate taking a picture.  That would have meant walking closer and I didn't really want to appear like I was gawking (which I clearly was).  So, I watched for a bit from a distance and then decided to continue my journey back home.

I ran west along Bloor Street, dodging pedestrians as I went.  Somewhere along that stretch I thought Ohhh a pumkpin spice latte would be the perfect way to cap this run off.    A few minutes later I made the detour into Starbucks.   A few more minutes later I was back out the door into the autumn sunshine with my warm beverage.  I ran / walked the rest of the way home, savouring the crisp air and glorious sunshine.  I stopped at the same light I stopped at on my way out.  This time my hand didn't wander, my wrist didn't even turn.  I waited with a satisfied smile.  What a perfect afternoon.   I could get used to this.

Lose the watch and love the miles.  


aggosst! said...

Oh my God! This is the MOST TIMELY post of yours for me! Okay, last week in LE, we were asked to see if there was anything in our lives that acted as the feather from Dumbo - the feather that he held onto, believing it was the only reason he could fly. So anything that was like a talisman, without which we believed we couldn't succeed, either at LE, our training, our work lives, whatever.

I finally answered the question last night: my feather is my SPORT WATCH. I feel totally helpless without it. I time every run, every interval, every race. I memorize the numbers, log them, analyze them, compare them to previous numbers, or to other racers' times. In a number of recent races, I realized I have no capacity to tell how fast I'm actually going, what is a good pace, if I should speed up or slow down. I know nothing unless I look at that watch. [This was really obvious at the Lakeside Sprint, where I forgot the watch at home, and I blamed "losing" (coming in 2nd) the footrace at the end on not knowing my pace. I remember Gary and your buddy Joseph scoffed at that!]

I've started dreaming about being able to just intuitively feel my own speed, what I had left in the tank, how much I can push compared to others, etc. I've started feeling like I'm suppressing some natural human instinct with that danged watch. But it's a total addiction.

Anyway, on our LE forum, I posed the question about how a racing athlete can manage both - using the proper tools/gadgets of the trade, while still "knowing" their own bodies and capacities. Our coach had been a competitive runner years before, and said she had the same obsessive problem. Nowadays her advice to clients is:

"What I recommend to my athlete's now is a balanced approach to the stopwatch (like you said, it is a tool). I recommend they take out the stop watch for 2-3 "main" workouts a week. The rest of the workouts treat as recovery. Keep the stopwatch at home, disregard pace and intensity numbers, and just listen to your body and perceived exertion. You want to feel "better" not worse after these recovery workouts.

This approach allows you to use the tool while still allowing yourself to stay in touch with your own body's signals. And I think you'll find that your "intense" workouts are much more intuitive as well--- the stop watch will "be there" but you'll be focused on your body's gait, breathing signals, etc."

I'd be so interested to hear your opinion of this. Actually, in the swim training, I've been completely disregarding the clock because I think that I've got much better things to focus on first, since I'm just re-starting after so many years. And it feels great! I just swim hard, or easier, according to how I physically feel. BUT I know that once I start getting better, I'll be looking up at those colourful clock hands in no time.

HELP! :)

Phaedra Kennedy said...

Wow! Crazy! Today seems to be a day of much Kismet that's for sure.

Since I only run 3x a week and those workouts are very specific, I always feel the need to wear my watch. Now that racing season is sort of over, I probably won't wear the watch as much. At least not for my long runs any more. I'll just bring my phone so I have a rough idea as to how long I've been out so I don't get too carried away. I have a good idea of what my long run pace feels like so I think I can manage that without my watch. Tempo and interval workouts are a little trickier. Heart rate training is an important tool though, especially for beginner athletes. it takes a while to figure out what easy, medium, medium-hard, tempo, and barf inducing feels like. :) Ok maybe not barf-inducing, that you'd get right away. :)

In swim training I almost always disregard the clock unless Kim specifically asks us to come in on a certain time. If she just asks us to swim 200's (or whatever) then I never look at the clock.

Paul Mora said...

I totally LOVED this post! I too, have had a few spectacular empty mile runs, where there's just as much stopping and looking around (and picture taking) as there is actual running.

When I run, I do like to carry the watch, to measure my progress, and record (ie. like a journal) my training. But it's just as important to leave the watch at home. My Saturday running group is just such a run; no watches allowed. We just run our regular route, then go for breakfast.

Thanks for the post, it was a great read. :-)

Phaedra Kennedy said...

Thanks Paul! I'm thinking this will be a regular occurrence for the next little while. Probably on my long runs. I'll just run based on time - I'll take note of what time I'm leaving, bring my phone so I at least have a way to tell the time, and a way to take pictures. :) I might have to do out and back runs so I don't go out for too long but that's ok.