Monday, 11 February 2013

Kafka & Marathon Running

In the last forty-eight hours my body has undergone an amazing transformation.

I know sounds slightly overdramatic but it’s true and the more I think about it the more amazing it is. Don’t get me wrong it is the kind of metamorphosis that happens to runners every day all over the world but that doesn’t make it any less remarkable.

This morning I am faster and fitter than I was before and it all happened over 48 hours. At the age of 41 I challenged my body and it literally changed. If I was in a Kafka novel I would be Gregor Samsa and a beetle right now.

Here is how it happened:

On Saturday morning I went for my usual long run. This run is normally a trail run with different terrain and most importantly hills. I try and run it at a comfortable pace without it being too easy. This time I decided to make sure I ran roughly 5minute kilometres and ended up averaging a 4minute 50seconds per kilometre pace. With the hills this was not exactly “comfortable”, in fact at the end of the run I was destroyed.

I wasn’t limping or injured but I could feel my body was in shock and if I pushed it at all there was a high chance I would injure something. For the next 48 hours following the run I just took it easy. I didn’t push my body at all ate loads of protein and slept more than I do normally. It felt as if my body was literally telling me what it needed.

This Monday morning I gingerly went to the gym to do my treadmill speed interval work, I say gingerly because I was worried that my body had not properly recovered and I would injure something. I shouldn’t have worried, I blazed through the speed interval session and ran stronger and harder than I had ever done before.

After putting tremendous strain on my body on Saturday, breaking down the muscles and ligaments it had rebuilt itself and made itself better and stronger.

There are hundreds of interpretations of what Kafka’s surreal novella Metamorphosis really means. For me the last 48 hours has given me a new insight. Our bodies can change quite quickly and dramatically. Normally we don’t even notice these changes. If I wasn’t exercising and so focused on my running I wouldn’t notice that I could complete 15km 30 seconds faster than I could previously. But maybe that was Kafka’s point; we undergo dramatic changes all the time that would we even notice if we turned into a beetle?

Monday, 4 February 2013

Designing The Perfect Runner

You wouldn’t think so but possibly building the perfect runner is like building the perfect house.

One of the things that first attracted me to running was its simplicity.

I loved the idea that in order to run all you needed was three things; a pair of running shoes, shorts and a t-shirt. Wherever I was I could run, on holiday, on my lunch-break at work, anytime, anyplace. I didn’t need a gym, I didn’t need specialist equipment and I didn’t need to rely on other people to form a team.

Recently however, as I get more serious about my running, I feel that simplicity is giving way to complexity. I now run with my GPS phone running app to tell me how fast I am going and my “split times”. I am conscious of my nutrition and have days where I “carb load” and days where I avoid complex carbohydrates. I often run with a drinks belt so I can drink on the go for my longer runs. I have read books about running form and think about how I am engaging my core as I run up a hill or what my glutes are doing as I run down a hill. This is so far from simplicity (shoes, t-shirt and shorts) that it feels like a cruel joke is being played on me. And I am now desperately trying to get that simplicity back.

And so it was with interest that I recently came across the idea of “informed simplicity” in the architectural book; “101 things I Learned In Architecture School” by Matthew Fredrick.

According to Fredrick there are three levels of knowledge, which are demonstrated by the diagrams in at the top of this blog post:

1. “Simplicity” is the world view of the child or uninformed adult, fully engaged in his own experience and happily unaware of what lies beneath the surface of immediate reality.
2. “Complexity” characterizes the ordinary adult world view. It is characterized by an awareness of complex system in nature and society but an inability to discern clarifyng patterns and connection.
3. “Informed Simplicity” is an enlightened view of reality. It is founded upon an ability to dicern or create clarifying patterns within complex mixtures.

In my running I have gone from stage 1 to stage 2 - “simplicity” to “complexity”. What I need to do is get to “informed simplicity”. Instead of seeing each set of muscles working separately that I need to improve I need to see them as one fluid mechanism. Instead of adding a GPS device to my runs on top of all my other running paraphernalia and demands I should integrate it more into my training in the same way a pianist uses a metronome. The metronome doesn’t complicate their playing during practice but is an aid to their performance.

Like the diagrams above I now want to achieve more from my running. To do that I need to work on at least twelve different things but instead of compartmentalising what I need to do into 12 different boxes and increase the complexity I need to find a way to achieve the same result through “complex simplicity”. I still want the same simplicity I had the start (my running shoes, shorts and t-shirt) but I want to achieve more.

After I’ve figured out how to do it with my running I just need to figure out how to do it for the rest of my life.