Thursday, August 21, 2008

Embrace the Middle

Today the Runner's Lounge wants us to write about "Don't Quit Now! The Middle"—that is, how to survive the middle miles, whether it be in a race, a training run, a training program—whatever spin we want to put on it.

Well, I'm spinning it 180 degrees and taking the opposite position. The middle ain't so bad. A lot of good things come in the middle.

Take, for example, the middle of an Oreo.

Or the middle of a workday.

Or a school day for that matter!

Or Matthew McConaughey's middle!
(I'm talking abs, people.)

So as you can see, the middle can actually be quite... yummy!

And when it comes to running, the middle doesn't have to be a chore of endurance, something you just have to get past. In many ways, the middle can be almost the high point of a race, training run, or even training program. (I say almost the high point because, obviously, the end is inevitably the high point, for reasons good or bad.)

The beginning is always hard. The first few miles of a race or a training run always seem so long, and sometimes they are long, if you are not warmed up yet. The beginning of a training program? Sure, there's the initial excitement. But still, you don't know if you can do it yet, maybe you're a little out of shape, you're definitely not in the zone yet.

The ending, on the other hand, is a different kind of hard. The last three miles of a half marathon, the last six of a marathon—these are the miles where, if you're going to hit the wall, you do it. Now hopefully you'll get over that, and get a second (third, fourth, fifth) wind to push you to a big finish, but before that happens, those ending miles are brutal. The same thing with the final weeks of a training program before the big race. This is where you're running more miles than you ever have before, wondering if it's really true that you can run faster in a race than you do in a training run (because those long, slow, distance runs are really long, and really slow).

But in between the painful beginning and the agonizing end, you have the middle miles. These are the miles where your muscles have finally warmed up and your heart and lungs are pumping strong (but not to the point of sucking air) and your legs lighten and you're floating along like a balloon on a breeze. This where you go into the zone and it seems, for a little while at least, like you could run forever. (Yes, that feeling does go away, but while you have it, it's sublime.) Your middle might be long (many many miles) or it might be short (just a few miles), but somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot where everything comes together and you are a runner.

Enjoy it, because it will pass. Yes, there are more good things to come, a glorious finish for one, but the heart of the run—the center of the cinnamon roll—is in the middle miles.

The middle is underrated. For a long time, the phase of life known as "middle age" was dreaded and derided. That phrase still has a negative connotation, but more and more we are realizing that our middle years are the prime of life in many ways. Even in high profile events such as the Olympics, athletes in their thirties (and in at least one case, forties) are excelling in the endurance sports. In more local running events I have noticed women and men in their forties and even fifties beating the younger runners.

And you certainly don't have to win a race or even an age-group prize to experience mid-life success. Many of the women I meet in my age group of runners did not start running until their late thirties or even in their forties. Now they, like me, are stronger, faster, and fitter than ever before, certainly more than we were in our pizza-loving twenties.

So don't knock the middle miles. They may be the best miles of your race.

And if you think that's all B.S. and you need some real ideas to get through your middle miles? Okay then, you can...

  • Eat Oreos! You're burning off 1-2 per mile, depending on your weight.
  • Plan the lunch you're going to eat after the run! Or...
  • Think about Matthew McConaughey's middle! You can pass the time counting his six-pack abs. And if you still have more miles to go, move on to Lance Armstrong and David Beckham! Oh yes, the middle is a very good thing.


Michelle J said...

Great post...i agree that the middle of a run is the best part, at least for me!!! The beginning is tough, getting warmed up and the end, well your just praying to finish what you started!!! The middle though, its a thing of beauty!!

Wish i had a box of oreos waiting for me at the finish line of every race i ever do!!!


Lisa said...

Very nicely put!!

I also enjoy the middle. I like to push to get over the hump. Once you do that, you are closer to the end goal. Once I go over that hump, I am officially committed.

By the way... I hope you had a fabulous birthday. I was remiss in not posting to you last week. I know as we get older, our birthdays lose a little of the punch. I hope that yours had plenty of punch and then some....

Kristin said...

Thank you, Lisa, that is very sweet! I did have a nice birthday-I'm still finishing up the various gatherings (family today, girlfriends next week), and using my various birthday freebies (dinners, store discounts, etc.). (I'm afraid I'm going to have to let Coldstone Creamery go as it's only good through Tuesday and there's too much eating on the agenda already!) I also share my birthday with a friend's little boy and two of our office paralegals (as well as Bill Clinton, of course), so it's quite the group event!