Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Dismantling of My Psyche

The mid-life crisis is most often viewed as a desperate attempt to cling to youth. But i think that most of the mid-life crisis variations are about a transition from the illusions of your youth to the reality of life: literal disillusionment. Some of the realizations that you must confront are bleak: yes, you are going to die some day; no, you are not going to realize all of your dreams. Others are just sort of depressing. You are officially too old to be referred to as a wunderkind. You are no longer eligible to win the Fields Medal. You've passed a point where your body is not going to maintain itself.

The hard part though, at least for me, is the more mundane stuff. By the time you reach 40+, your degree of career success is fairly apparent, so if you're not recognized among your peers it's probably not because you haven't blossomed yet. Any physical imperfections are no longer diminished by youth, so if you were beauty-challenged to begin with you can't fool yourself into believing that you are "quirky" or "alternative". You're just ugly. If you haven't taken the risks you wish you had, you probably aren't going to.

What you're left with are self-imposed challenges that mean little to the rest of the world (i run marathons and do martial arts). And if you're lucky like me, you have family. You can't take credit for your family, but if they love you and you love them then they contribute in some intangible way to your self-esteem. Being that middle-aged dude who lives alone in a studio apartment and talks about his "girlfriend" would be suicidally depressing to me.

But you realize at some point in your growth process that it's all illusion, even the things you hold most dear. This is, i think, the mid-life crisis, and it happens in mid-life because that's the first point in your life where your fear of the unknown is overridden by the knowledge that there are worse things than death . You have to tear down all of the elaborate mental framework you've built up over the years, and then find something useful to build out of it. If you can, i suspect that your later years can be a time of self-realization and enlightenment. If you can't, your later years are a tedious series of near-identical days that you eventually hope will simply end.

If all this sounds vaguely Buddhist, that's not really my intention. I don't claim any sort of awakening has or will occur. In fact, i feel that it's the opposite in the sense that i have no greater understanding of reality, except the realization that it is and will probably remain elusive. Not only do we have these pitiful excuses for sensory organs that allow us to only vaguely and partially sample our environment, but we cling to primitive models of interaction to make sense of our human relationships: faith, trust, morality, family, religion. All in all i love life and am grateful for the opportunity to have existed; but that doesn't mean that it will have mattered.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sub Three

This last week marked the first week in a 24 week training program for my next marathon. My goal for the this one (Carlsbad Marathon, Jan. 21) is a bit ambitious: i want to break 3 hours. Sub three hour marathons are not rare by any stretch, but for me it's going to be a serious challenge. First, it's more than 15 minutes better than my current PR, which is a huge jump. Second, i'm not really built to run fast. Although i'm down to around 10% body fat, i still weigh in at about 180, which is about 50 pounds heavier than elite runners. Finally, i'll be 43 by that time.

The first step in my preparation has been to try to lose weight. I'm shooting for about 175, and around 8% body fat by race time. So far that's been hard, though i've managed to lose almost 5 pounds. The program i'm trying to follow is from Pete Pfitzinger's "Advanced Marathoning". It ranges from about 50 to 70 miles per week. That's a bit more mileage than i'm used to, but i think training volume is going to be key. I know i can run the sub 3 pace for a half, so the trick is going to be to get myself confident that i can maintain it past 20. However, doing 10-15 mile runs mid-week is going to be hard to maintain.

My first week was mixed. I did a really nice 7 miler on Thursday. I felt relaxed and finished right around 50 minutes, which is just a touch slower than my necessary marathon pace. I did a slow but OK 10 miler on Friday, and an adequate recovery run on Saturday. But my 13 mile run yesterday was a chore. Doesn't help that i was up late Saturday and drank too much, but still i'd have hoped for an easier run. This part of the program is an endurance "mesocycle", so i mostly just run a lot of miles. Not much VO2 max stuff until later. The only speed work at this time is some 100m strides built in to the Tuesday run.

I'm not sure if i can deal with making several attempts at this goal, as i did with Boston qualifying. Given the step up in mileage, training duration, speed, etc.; i can't imagine doing this every year until i succeed. I guess it will depend to a certain extent on how close i get. If i miss by a minute, i might be motivated to try again. If i miss by 10, it'll be hard to justify.