Saturday, March 17, 2012

Knowledge, Good Advice, and Stupid Behavior

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Well, this has been an interesting adventure of a week, partly because of some of the choices I've made in my training. The unseasonably warm weather here in MN has affected everyone in the usual it's-spring-and-warm-so-let's-go-crazy-outside kind of way. Everyone and their brother's dog is outside walking, running, biking, or just hanging out by the grill. Going from the mid-40's and low-50's to upper 70's in just a matter of days has given me the illusion that the end of the school year is really close, and that I'm way behind in my training, but it's only mid-March! It's strange how much weather can affect us, and I am particularly sensitive to it. I'm sure that when I'm old I'll be one of those people who can predict thunderstorms because my knees hurt. In any case, I can't complain about the weather: the temps are comfortable, the trails are already dry, and my feet don't get numbingly cold walking barefoot around the house on our wood floors.

Due to all of this, I decided that it was time to do my first official truly barefoot run on Tuesday. With a temp in the mid-70's, I couldn't resist. I decided to go barefoot for the first short part, and then put on the Five Fingers to finish it out. The point at which I would put on the VFF's, however, was undecided when I left for the run. Now, did I know that I haven't run barefoot for anything more than about half a mile to a mile, and slowly at that? Yes. Have I read again and again how important it is to go slow, both in actual speed and progression of distance? Yep. Did I have all of that in my head when I left the house? Sure. Did I still end up tearing the skin off several of my toes and giving myself blisters on the balls of my feet? Damn right I did. As it usually happens with me, once I'm on the run, there's a disconnect between the logic and knowledge in my head and what my brain actually let's (or makes) me do. There have been numerous occasions when I've made stupid choices that have caused injury, pain, or complete exhaustion when I totally knew better. The best example is probably how I care for my fair ginger skin in the sun. You can imagine how someone who makes the type of choices I mentioned above might have dealt with some disgusting and excruciating sunburns over the years, but I must admit, I'm getting much better in that department.

So what is it about us that makes us do stupid things when we know better? I've heard numerous stories from dozens of people over the years who can relate. Is it stubbornness, a desire to prove that we're hardcore, or are we just having too much fun right until we hit the point of no return? In the particular instance of last Tuesday, I was just having too much fun, and I wasn't listening to my feet as well as I should have. I felt the heat building on a few areas of my soles, but figured a few hundred meters more wouldn't hurt (I really wanted to make two miles even, which I did). Because of that, I've spent the week with bandages on two toes and didn't run again until yesterday. In order to take care of my feet a little better, I took to the trails in my Merrel Trail Gloves yesterday as a sort of compromise and because I REALLY wanted to be in the woods again now that the trails are finally dry. It was actually a great 5-miler, but because I was sockless, the hotspots on the balls of my feet returned and became blisters once again. That will happen with temps around 80 degrees. With all of this, I'm wondering how my 10-miler on the road tomorrow will go. I'm taking it really easy today to rest my feet and am caring for my skin the best way I know how, but the concern is definitely there. The damage is done, and at this point I NEED to be smart, and yet my training plan is in my head, the beautiful weather is calling, and despite the pain and hassle I've experienced, it was still really fun and enjoyable, so what's really gonna make me stop? Middle ground can often be the toughest thing to find.

There seems to be something about human behavior that makes us act contrary to what we know is right, healthy, and logical. I have always believed that the world needs dissonance, strife, misery, and complexity in order for us to actually be happy. The scene from the movie The Matrix was right on, in my opinion, when Agent Smith explains that the first version of the Matrix was designed as a perfect world without suffering, and it was a total disaster because people couldn't handle it. Hell, it's the American Way when you think about it; a person thrives on utter despair to overcome the odds and pull themself up by their bootstraps to become successful and happy. We need the challenge.

All of this can be useful when you think about it. With every issue, one learns both their limits and how to overcome the negative results of said issue when it happens, that is, if they make the conscious effort to do so after it happens. As the saying goes; "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always got." Especially thinking in terms of ultraunning, where the race is more of a survival test than a race, if I can learn how to deal with problems quickly and effectively, I'll be more prepared for the future and can hopefully avoid them altogether. It's often not enough to just hear or read someone else's advice, or acquire the knowledge secondhand, but rather we must actually go out and do it and make the mistake ourselves in order to truly learn and internalize it. This has been one of those times. I will now start over in my progression with barefoot running and do it right. To add one more proverb into the mix; "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand."

With all of this, I'm sure some of you might be thinking; "Well done, Captain Obvious!" Perhaps I am stating the obvious in my observations, but I've found that it's valuable to remind oneself of the obvious from time to time, because that's the easiest thing to overlook. In closing, I'll say to you all, go out and make mistakes! 
**But try and be at least a little smart about it and learn from them.

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