Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fish Flop!

Have you ever watched an athlete collapse after a long workout or race? I've seen it happen before, watched in dismay at the initial collapse, and then held my breath, skin tingling at their tremendous effort. Thankfully, everyone that I've seen has been okay. They've just pushed themselves to the point of pure and utter exhaustion - their body no longer wants to cooperate with what their minds are commanding. Their sole focus for X amount of time has been to "hit the line" and "hit the finish". No doubt, in the process, they also "hit the wall".

And this "flop" to the ground - or "Fish Flop" as I dubbed it today - doesn't discriminate against distance or athletes. All are welcomed to participate in the wonderful, glorified, storied, post-event fall!

Until today, I never experienced the Fish Flop. It's not that I didn't push myself to a level deserving of a Fish Flop, I just never felt to need to collapse on my back afterwards. Usually my first thoughts after finishing an event are, "Did I turn off my watch?" or, "Was that the finish line?" or (my favorite), "WHERE'S THE PORTO-POTTY?!"

Not once have I thought about collapsing on my back.

But until it happened today, I didn't realize what I was missing.

And how did I get to this point? Get to the point, where I was laying, flat on my back, gasping for breath, while watching the thick fog swirl over my head, feeling an odd pulse in my quads, not really noticing my surroundings...? Glad you asked.

I finished test #2 of my testing week: the 5K Run Time Trial. On the track. Nice. Yeah. So I can see my splits every lap (I've got mixed feelings about this one. While it's great to know where I'm at and how my pace is, sometimes it totally sucks knowing where I'm at and how my pace is). But the numbers don't lie, and in the end, I know that by keeping track of my splits, I'll hopefully be able to go faster. At least that's what I tell myself while huffing around the track.

Odd, sometimes I feel like a hamster. Or pet mouse. Running laps around some gigantic wheel... have you ever gotten that feeling? We do the same darned repetitive motions, weather it's swimming back and forth endlessly, sitting on the trainer, or running around a track... Eeek! Not a fun thought.

Obviously my lack of Oxygen from my time trial and subsequent Fish Flop are affecting my mental state right now. All this babble about hamsters, mice, and flopping fish. *No more 5ks for Marit, thank-you-very-much!*

Back to the 5K. Here we go!

I needed to be back at the house by 7:45, so I could meet my wonderful, but overly-zealous massage therapist at 9 am. I wouldn't be able to sleep in on a testing day anyway. There's just something about knowing that you have to go fast that precludes me from enjoying the morning to the full extent possible.

But, I might add, it was a beautiful morning. If you like fog. The fog was so thick, that when I went to take a picture, water droplets appeared on the lenses and in the photo. Yep, it was 70 degrees with 97% humidity. Nice! The air was very thick: knife cutting thick. And THAT makes breathing difficult, especially if you have a tendency to sound like a caboose while running full stop around a track. I tried to not think that hard about what the percentage of oxygen or water moisture was that I was inhaling with every breath. Too much thought, anyway, especially without my morning dosing of coffee.

That would have to wait until after my time trial.


Originally, I had decided my "goal" time was 19:00 or under. But after reading Elizabeth Fedofsky's blog "Believe" the night before my run, I decided to throw caution to the wind and just go my fastest. What did I have to loose? My previous 5K tt pr was 18:29, and while that was accomplished at the height of last season while approaching a peak, I still felt fit. And a little fast. More importantly, I believed in myself. After all - according to Elizabeth - "If you don't believe it, you don't deserve it." So, if I didn't believe I could go faster than my previous time, then I didn't deserve to go faster.

Very simple.

The right part of my brain kicked in (or is it left??), and started crunching numbers. 18:29? All right: just run 2 miles X 6:09 pace and 1 mile X 6:10 pace, and mission accomplished! So easy on paper! I've done this before... why not do it again?

Perhaps it was the fog. In any case, I don't know exactly what I was thinking. In the end, I decided to try to hold 92 seconds for every 1/4 mile. Again, so simple.

Deceptively so.

Did the warm-up, and felt great. Had a little tightness in my calves, no doubt residual stress from the crazy-hard bosu class that I attended with Mom Sunday night. Ouch! I haven't jump roped or balanced that much since 5th grade! But I had a blast, and was really inspired by what a great job Mom did. But my calf was still nagging a bit, but I figured it would loosen up after I really got going. I could also feel a bit of tightness in the quads, but again, figured things would loosen up.

After stretching a bit, taking in some water, and then stretching a little more, I re-evaluated my stomach. The wonderful restroom facilities at the UWF Track Complex loomed in the distance, a mere 100 meters away.... should I go?

I looked at the orange track - so inviting, the wonderful numbers painted reassuringly on the rubbery surface, and then up at the bathrooms. If given a choice, I would rather start my set a few minutes late with the piece of mind that my stomach "issues" would be okay, rather than starting the time trail and feeling the need to - ahem, drop a piece on the track. Gross - I'm sorry! But we all deal with these internal issues.

When in doubt, I've discovered, use the bathroom.

8 minutes later, I was back on the track, going through my final run down of a few more sips of water, and a few quick stretches. Was I delaying the inevitable? Of course. Did I think about my bathroom stop? Yes. And the worst part? Was the realization that I could have been almost half way done, had I not used the bathroom.

What can I say? (So sorry again...) Haste makes waste.

While approaching the start, I though about the key words I would use. I reminded myself of Elizabeth's blog. I thought about all the inspirational things I've read, images I've seen. I thought about the upbeat music I listened to on the drive to the track (wish I could say it was something uber-motivational, but no. My sister - the same one who loves "Alvin and the Chipmunks" - gave me the new Brittney Spears CD. I'm ashamed to admit it, but it's been a staple ever since I got back from Philadelphia. Today, "Get Naked"/Track 9 was blaring in my car. So cool, had I been 18, looking "fabulous" in the latest fashions and driving a cool car. But no. I was in sweaty running gear, my hair pulled back into an untidy pony tail, driving the Camry. Glamorous indeed!) But hey - whatever helps.

And finally, I thought about what I wrote yesterday. I wanted this test, I wanted to "find my fast", overcome the physical stress and mental demons. It was my time!

I honed in on the keywords, and took off. It was now or never. My time, my time trial.

But this was different: rather than going for the negative split, I started out fast. Out a little harder that I've gone before. But that was okay - I was testing, trying to discovery new things about myself, figure out what worked, what didn't. And what would happen if I didn't go as fast as I wanted? Well, at least I would know that I tried. I would go down fighting.

First lap, I came across exactly in 90 seconds. Excellent! I used the words "focus" and "relax" to steady my breathing, relax my body, remind myself that I still had another 11 laps left to go. I came across the 1/2 mile in 3:02. The 3/4 mile in 4:33. And then the first mile in 6:04.

I'm not one for a lot of swearing in public, but What the hell?

I haven't done jack squat in 4 weeks, except for a few structured workouts. I enjoyed a lot of time off, and even more junk food than I care to imagine. And more red wine on top of that. I was waiting for myself to implode, waiting for my time where I would self-destruct.

But a small voice in the back of my head wouldn't be quieted. It kept repeating: Believe. Believe. Believe. Because you deserve it.

And then I fell into my zone. I was beyond work, beyond pain, beyond effort. It was just me, myself, the track, and the fog. One lap became the next and last at the same time. It was like Gandolf from "Lord of the Rings", where one day for him in eternity became the equivalent of 200 lifetimes of men. I wish I could share my thoughts, my feelings, but everything was so intertwined. I was dimly aware of my second mile split recording at 12:15. But at that point I had lost track of the numbers of laps completed: only my times, my splits kept me grounded.

I was both oblivious to my feelings and highly tuned in all at the same time. It was unexplainable: I felt like I was floating, but still working my tail end off.

My watch read 12:15 on the dot. I must have finished 2 miles... at this point only 1 more mile to go.

4 laps. Break it down. Simple. I've done this before. I've done this today. Just hang in there. Believe.

Lap 9 and 10 still had me in my zen-like state. The intensity went up a few beats, and I had to really focus to maintain my concentration. What had felt so easy, so effortless at the start, was now major work. I became aware of other people on the track, of the lawn crew sweeping debris off the inside late, of the fog gradually lifting. And as I became aware of my surroundings, on those final few laps, I also became aware of my effort, my work output, my breathing, the pain. Just as the fog lifted, exposing the the world for all to view, so too was my own awareness. I could feel my conscious state surface, pushing aside the zen-like place I had achieved during the meat of my 5K.

With each step, with each bound forward, I became increasingly aware. My body, my breath, my mind. My demons were screaming at me to stop. I could feel stabbing pain in my calves, and with each pounding step on what had initially felt like such a springy, rubberized surface, my quads protested in agony.

What was I doing to myself?

Where did that come from?

What was I doing?? WHAT WAS I DOING?!?

No - not now. Not here. My mental dialogue did nothing to detract my pace. With the lightning quick reaction of a race horse, without thought or reason, I blew a hole in my mental demons, shot them back to hell where they belong.

I responded by adding an extra burst of speed: I was already in pain, why stop now. Statement, not question.

And for an extra bonus: I'm doing this to myself because I want to improve. I want to get better. I believe in myself. Thanks Elizabeth.

The final 1/2 mile was probably the most painful I've ever been in. But it was also the best. Because of the pain, because I was pushing so hard, because I was overcoming my physical and mental obstacles. I was focused, I was determined, and I believed. In these moments, of extreme exertion, we find ourselves. We find out who we are, and what we're made of. It's not always easy, and it's not always pretty. There will be down times, instances where we simply can't move forward. But other times, things will "click", we'll find our groove, and in spite of everything that we throw at ourselves, we overcome. We persevere.

Today was one of those wonderful moments.

For 18:22.8, I got to run my heart out. I got to experience the best of what my body and mind had to offer. And I was happy with the result. I know that it won't always be easy or pleasant, that I won't always get to set a new record, but for those glorious minutes, I quieted my physical and mental demons. I survived, I persevered, I believed.

The finish was in sight.

I powered across and hit my watch.

I saw stars. I saw the wizards. Hell, I was the wizard.

I bent my head, placed my hands on my shaking knees, and tried to get my bearings. I heaved, and gasped, still in disbelief over what I had just done. I knew I could, I had believed in myself, had thrown down a great time trail, and now was reaping the rewards of my effort: wibbly legs, a set of lungs that sounded like a diesel train, and the inability to think and process clearly.

And that's when I saw the track surface. It looked wonderful. It looked enticing. It looked like freedom. It became my new best friend.

Without thinking, without caring about how I looked, or who was around, I took my hands off my knees, closed my eyes, and flopped onto the track.

In essence, I became the Flopping Fish.

There I lay, my back on the track, lungs heaving, eyes squinting, oblivious to my surroundings.... stars fading in the distance...exploding into beautiful bursts behind my eyes and in my subconscious. The fog swirled overhead, my legs gave the odd twitch, and I could feel my heartbeat in my head. The sky looked blue overhead through patches of fog, and I wondered if this is what a fish felt like (minus the leg spasms) after they had been reeled in. No idea where that thought came from, except for the fact that there I was, laying on the track, and twitching. Not dead - no. But feeling like I had just returned from a different dimension.

After a glorious minute or two, my breathing calmed and my body relaxed. The fog was still lifting, and gradually - as I had during my running piece - I became more aware of my surroundings.

And the 3 people approaching me, about 20 meters away.

"Are you okay?" One of them asked. I could see the concern in her face.

Her companion, didn't seem all that reassured by my response. "I'll be fine. I'm just relaxing." Who DOESN'T relax by laying on the track, eh?

The third just stared, mouth agape.

I put myself in their shoes: some crazy girl, running circles and circles around a track, making the noise of a passenger train, and foaming at the mouth. Abnormal? Yes...

I tried my best to smile, and stand up. My legs felt like they were being stabbed by a thousand pins and needles, but I didn't think that 3 elderly friends would be reassured by this statement. So instead I smiled, and commented about, "What a beautiful day... I think I need some water." And I hobbled back to my keys and water bottle.

They thought I was nuts. Certifiable. And for 18:22.8 wonderful minutes, I felt beautiful. And a little crazy. Because you have to be in this sport. It's the nature of the beast...

And afterwards, I got to relish, to experience the beauty of a Fish Flop. All things being equal though, it wasn't really a choice. At the time of my finish, I really didn't have the strength to keep standing, so there really wasn't an alternative. But it was a new experience, something that I'll treasure. A moment captured in time, to be relished and savored.

Next time you've got a race, a hard effort - enjoy your Fish Flop! And while you're at it, go down with style (if you can)... you never know who'll be watching.


BreeWee said...

The "fish flop", great expression! GREAT workout, I am stoked for you... hope the rest of your training is more like that and you DO get more 18min. 5ks, even break 18!!!
Next hard workout I will think of the "fish flop"ha ha ha, that cracks me up!

Train-This said...

What's this? Insane test week where we all die? I love it! The Fish FLOP!

:-) Mary!

Anonymous said...

She's absolutely nuts!

Good job sweetheart!


Zora said...

BELIEVE and the kingdom is yours.
I love you!

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