Thursday, May 10, 2012

Breaking Through

Gaining fitness is like walking an uneven ridge line. One side feels safe but staying away from the edge isn't that exciting. The other side is precipitous and dangerous, but the rewards for staying near the edge are immense. The views and sensations one has at the edge make everything worthwhile.

Just over eight weeks ago I began training again. I wrote about my experiences then in a post called "Fitness is Hard to Find". Since then I've been running and climbing every week. Some weeks have felt hard. Prior to a climbing trip to the Red River Gorge, and during the trip, I didn't run for a full 11-12 days. The rest was much needed and hard-earned.

Since returning from the Red I've built climbing endurance, and developed much needed callouses on my hands while increasing my aerobic fitness significantly. 3+ hours of running plus 3 climbing sessions a week have knocked me down and built me back up again.This week I'll have run 5 sessions plus put in three good climbing sessions - two in the gym and a day outdoors. Tack a couple days of guiding on top and the week feels pretty full.

My partner came home from a pickup soccer game the other day and said "running is hard" and my reply was "yes, running is hard". However, if you can't swallow the idea that training is going to be devastatingly hard you might want to reconsider your goals.

It occurred to me after this discussion with my partner the other evening that I should write a little bit about training and pain. I'm not talking about joint pain or injury. That kind of pain is a sure sign that you should stop doing whatever you're doing and rest. I'm talking about the temporary pain associated with training. Training is hard.

As a youth I was able to learn about enduring this type of pain, and how it can make you tougher. My high school track coach used to say you gain "mental toughness through physical pain" and he wasn't kidding. We'd run each other into the ground. As a high school runner I ran races of all different distances, and some of them were so hard you would practically go blind by the end of the race. Run a 400-meter race the right way and extreme oxygen debt causes you're vision to close down to blackness by the end. An 800 is almost as bad, and longer. The longer distances are more measured but you're left thinking "I have how many laps left? Can I sustain this?" I feel fortunate to have this type of pain as a benchmark for all my future training. There's no question, I'll never run as fast as I did in high school and college, but I can still train hard, know what to expect and anticipate how I'm going to feel.

Breaking through on the other side of hard training is what it's all about though. Once you're fit there are days where you just go; it's like there's a rope pulling you effortlessly along. You're lungs feel like they've deepened, and the effort needed to approach climbs becomes less. Even the climbing starts to feel easier.

I'm headed to Yosemite in less than a week and I'm thinking "devastatingly hard" is okay as long as I can climb the things I want to when I'm there. Remember to add rest to the equation if you're feeling tired, but be prepared because training isn't supposed to be easy.