Thursday, September 16, 2010

Risks and Payoffs

My morning run today gave me the idea for this blog. While I was pounding the pavement, I saw lightning in the sky and wondered to myself: was it stupid for me to run today knowing that there was a storm rolling in? It made me think of all the risks we athletes take on a daily basis, sometimes by choice and sometimes by accident, and how some of mine may be the very things responsible for making me the Disaster Magnet. Although, lack of common sense and not paying attention do not constitute risk-taking but also may be responsible for some of my disasters.

Some risks are merely the result of an overeager attitude (one of my fundamental personality traits). Some of these risks result in disasters. Some don't. One such risk was the one I took when I was a 14-year-old freshman on my high school track team. I didn't realize I was taking a risk that day when I ran an all-out quarter mile at my track coach's request. Everyone had to do it - no one asked why. This was back in the days when we ran "quarters" and not 400 meters, high school tracks were made out of something called "cinders," and anyone stupid enough to run an all-out lap would end up running that all-out lap in the first track meet of the year. How was I supposed to know that 70 seconds would seal my fate for the next four years? And it wasn't really a disaster -- not until I won that first all-out lap at that first track meet of the year. My "finish line lean" -- yet another risk taken -- threw me onto one of those cinder tracks in one of the most painful -- and most jubilant -- moments of my life. Disaster number one? Perhaps. A risk worth taking? Definitely.

I've learned it may be hard to assess the results of risks taken in the name of overeagerness. For instance, blowing up at the end of a half-marathon or marathon when you think you had your pace under control but went out too fast. A disaster? Sure. A risk worth taking? Yes if you look at the race as a learning experience. No if it's your goal race of the season. Then you should know better. The same goes for nutritional risk-taking in races. It's the reason why practice and B- and C-races are so important. There is no place for risky behavior in your most important event, so get it out of the way beforehand and learn what you're capable of by taking those risks when you have nothing to lose.

And then, some athletic risks are ones we take because we're just being stupid or obsessive. You all know what I'm talking about. Tell me, again, why you're running with that injury? Or why you're not taking the day off when you have a cold or fever? (You have pneumonia now? UM, how did THAT happen?) The problem is that we don't see the risk we take by running through an injury but instead see the risk of taking a few days off. Is there any other group for which pain is not seen as a warning signal from the body? Risking injury by ignoring pain was my disaster M.O. for years -- my marathon running was plagued by five tibial stress fractures in less than 10 years.

Which brings me to today's run. I took a risk. I took three days off from running after my race on Sunday. Will it affect me in Clearwater in November? The rational me says: probably not. The rational me says it was a risk worth taking because I'm burned out. Then I took another risk today. I checked the weather before I left the house and saw that there was a line of thunderstorms just about to hit. I ran anyway. The whole time I was out, I kept thinking "I can run in thunder and lightning, what could possibly happen?" And this is precisely why I may continue to be the Disaster Magnet. I see the potential for disaster -- I live in a neighborhood with a LOT of old trees in a town that has endured severe flooding. But I took the risk anyway. Was there a disaster? No. But that doesn't mean there won't be one next time. And you can be sure that I will blog about it.

1 comment:

  1. I’m convinced that every injury I’ve had was preventable. I run hurt and these “A” races you speak of are as few and far between as that letter was on my high school transcripts.

    When someone (I’m talking about you now) operates at the highest levels of performance they often flirt with the possibility of injury with every intense workout. Partly because they push hard and partly because they don’t give their body time to recover between beatings (you know this is true).

    You keep forgetting that, in addition to pulling on other ferromagnetic materials, a magnet repels too (yes, I Googled that). I guess what I’m trying to say is, acceptable risks taken during training can insulate/repel you from disasters during those “A” races. I also know for a fact that 3-days off after a race will only serve to improve your performance because you just beat the crap out of your body.

    Was Ben Franklin a “disaster magnet” when he tied that key to the kite or was he a visionary pushing the envelope in the name of science? If you want to be a “real” disaster magnet then I would suggest running in that storm holding up a 3-iron singing “Superstar” by the Carpenters. Now THAT would be a real Disaster.

    In the meantime, keep doing what it is you do and take it easy on my pro triathlete friends in Florida.

    Shit, now I have that damn song in my head.

    Long ago and oh so far away…….

    All the best,