Monday, August 27, 2012

The Tyranny of Results

Dieterle dukes it out at the Downtown Mile

At least once during every run, I consider the question of my limitations.

I’m all too aware of the most daunting one. While I hope to run for many years, I can’t ignore the fact that I didn’t start until 53. So I have no illusions. My capacity to achieve certain times and distances is far less than it would have been 20 years ago. And I will reach that capacity sooner.

But how soon?

As a beginner, I’m still in the stage of establishing times and then basking in the satisfaction of beating them. After far too much fretting, I ran the timed mile at a Tuesday night workout and finally had a number: 8:27. I knew right away that I could have gone faster. But I had a number.

It didn’t last for long. Only weeks later, at the Downtown Mile, I ran with a goal of getting under 8 and finished in 7:47. That felt good—for about half an hour. Then I heard the times of the leaders in my age category, and I was suddenly struck with a sobering thought.

I might never get there.

At some point—too soon, I’m afraid—the gains I’ve been making will level out. Instead of jumping ahead by minutes, as I’ve done with my run up to Buffalo Park, around the loop, and back (35 minutes to 33, then 32, then 30), I’ll have to strain just to claw back a few seconds.

I try to remind myself that this is about fitness and focusing on the enjoyment of just being out there, running. But it’s hard not to think about the times.

How or when this pursuit of improvement will end I can’t say, but I have a feeling that when I hit my physiological ceiling, I won’t like it. And there will be plenty of frustrations on my way there. (Dang it, just how serious is this pain in my calf?)

So for now, I just need to run. And when the times stop improving? Keep running, and be glad that I can. 

Eric Dieterle is a member of the Team Run Flagstaff communications committee and public affairs coordinator at Northern Arizona University