11-Mile Run, the Value of Belief, and Thinking About Mom

Ran 11 miles along beautiful Mission Bay today, picking up the pace for the last 2 miles. While much of the rest of the U.S. is starting to get colder, it’s getting hotter here in Southern California, with temperatures near 100 degrees (38 degrees Celsius for my international readers). I’ve never liked running in the heat. It makes the pace feel so much harder. (There’s a few physiological reasons for this, namely that more blood is directed to the small blood vessels of the skin to increase convective cooling, making less blood and therefore less oxygen available to the working muscles, and we sweat more to increase evaporative cooling, which decreases blood volume and therefore the heart’s stroke volume, resulting in less blood and less oxygen being sent to the working muscles. If given a choice between holding the pace and overheating so much that we threaten our survival, our bodies will choose to prevent the latter.) Even growing up as a runner in hot and humid New Jersey, it was really tough for me to run in the heat. My body generates such a heat load that it becomes difficult to dissipate it and stay cool. So I started my run today in an irritated mood, because by the time I started my run, it was already after 8 am and the sun was already high.

Four years ago tomorrow, September 15, my mother, a tough cookie from the Bronx with a personality you would think could never die, passed away. I thought about her on my run and how she worried about me running in the heat. The funny thing is, I miss her worrying. We should all have someone who worries about us.    

And then I thought about something that I have thought many times before—that the discomfort of running in the heat, or of doing a hard interval workout or tempo run, will be worth it when it’s time to go to the starting line ready to race. I’ve run in hot or cold weather many times in my life and have done innumerable hard workouts, and I ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Why run under the hot sun? Why put myself through such discomfort all the time?” But of course I already know the answer before I ask myself the question: “Because it will be worth it.”

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that since running the New York City Marathon last November, I have turned my attention to the mile, perhaps in an attempt to chase my times of my youth, trying to get back under 5 minutes. I was hopping it would happen this summer. But after running 5:11 in February, I plateaued, and a sub 5-minute mile didn’t happen this summer. So I’m spending this fall working on my aerobic base before returning to the speed-endurance training and then the speed training again in the winter to prepare for more track meets and a chance to get that elusive sub 5-minute mile.

Runners run the miles in the heat because we believe it will be worth it. We tell ourselves, “By doing this workout, it will help me when I go to the starting line.”

But it may not. There are no guarantees, after all. Despite the miles in the heat, despite the hard workouts, despite all of the discomfort that goes into the training, we may still not get the result we are chasing. That’s life. But at that moment of discomfort, we believe it’s worth it. We hold on to the belief because that’s all we really have. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

And so I completed the run I intended to do today because I believe it will help me meet my future goal. And afterward, I ate my PowerBar, soaked my legs in the cool water of Mission Bay, looked up into the clear blue sky, and nodded to my mom and told her not to worry.

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