Aware of this propensity to cast endurance athletes as crazy, I read most of the first paragraph of a NYT article on the life and death of Micah True with the pointer over the close button, anticipating that the author might take his death as a lesson that distance running was dangerous or some other garbage. For those of you who don't know - Micah True was the central character in the book "Born to Run" - probably the most popular book on running ever. Actually I liked the book a lot - it's a good read for runners and probably even non-runners too.
The NYT article on True was actually fair and pretty good overall. It centered on the attempted rescue of True in the Gila wilderness of New Mexico in March and is interspersed with the story of his life - there were both stories included the book as well as how his life changed as a result of the book. True was a bit of a recluse and oddball, but you get the feeling that running saved him in many ways. Running gave him meaning, fame, a little money, and even a girlfriend.
The idea which is highlighted by the title "Born to Run" is that the anatomical structure of humans cannot be explained except that long-distance running must have been greatly important to the survival of our ancestors. We couldn't beat a gazelle in a sprint - but we could track the animal for 5-6 hours until our prey literally fell at our feet in exhaustion.
Humans have been anatomically consistent for about 200,000 years. It took 190,000 years of being distinctly human and surviving as hunter gatherers before the advent of agriculture. Another way of looking at it is that for 95% of the history of humans on earth there were no couch potatoes. As Thomas Hobbes said, life was "nasty, brutish, and short." It may not have been pleasant, but the cruelty of nature had left us with bodies that could do astounding things. Insanely amazing actions were necessary to survive, reproduce, and protect offspring - so, only the humans with bodies capable of performing those insanely amazing things had offspring who survived.
I'll never be one to say negative things about the comforts of modern life. I love that I'm typing this in an air-conditioned house and that once I click publish somebody from the other side of the planet could potentially read it. I love that I could be anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours or that I could have access to almost any piece of music that's been recorded or any movie that's ever been filmed in a couple minutes. The flip side is of course that modern life has allowed us to be very, very lazy with no real immediate consequences.
To take a metaphor - they say that the easiest way to ruin a high-performance race car is to only use it to go get groceries or commuting. The car is designed to go fast for long periods of time - and it can actually damage the engine if it doesn't do what it was designed for. The same is true of our bodies. The challenges of the natural world gave us our bodies. In order to keep our bodies running well we have to recreate the types of challenges that our bodies would have experienced 50,000 years ago.
I feel lucky. I knew how natural and important running was to my body way before I ever read a word of "Born to Run." I've probably told this story before, but when I was 6 or 7 years old I was one of those kids who had more energy than I knew what to do with. My mom - in part to make sure I'd go to sleep at a reasonable hour - would suggest "why don't you run around the outside of the house for awhile?" So that's exactly what I would do. I would go dashing around the house feeling the wind through my hair, taking the corners tight and hard, and getting a little runners high before finally collapsing.
One time we were on vacation visiting some family friends. I hadn't had one of my house runs in awhile - so I asked my mother if I could run around their house. Even though the other family looked askew at my bizarre request I was given permission. Unfortunately I went full bore into my first lap - without checking the course for obstructions - I think I just assumed the layout would be similar to my house. I didn't see the dog house coming around the corner until it was too late. I ended up with some butterfly stitches on my cheek and an important lesson - always do a course preview before any race.
In that spirit - I was in Madison this weekend for the Wisconsin Brick Adventure. WIBA, as they call it, is put on by the Evotri team - with a couple of local sponsors. They charged $0 (shh - don't tell them how much money they could have made!). About 120 people showed up. On Friday there was a dinner and course talk. On Saturday morning there was a swim - it wasn't on the actual course - but it was in the same lake very close to the actual start.
We then went out to the near town of Verona which is where the bike loop starts. The Wisconsin bike course heads out to Verona from Madison and then there are two loops of a 40mi course out in the Wisconsin farm country. The loop is rolling - with at least 3 decent hills. The main reason that I was out there was to see the bike course. Everyone I had talked to said that riding the bike leg intelligently is the key to having a good day. For Wisconsin this means anticipating hills and turns so that you can be in the right gear. It also means knowing which sections you want to coast through and which sections you might want to push it a little bit. Finally - it means understanding that a couple of the hills are so long that you need to just get into a small gear, sit down, and spin your way up as efficiently as possible.
I ended up with a little over 100 miles on the day. I did the loop twice and then 10 miles out and back on the "stick" part of the course. During the first loop I ended up going back and forth with a friendly guy from Chicago - so, we ended up riding the rest of the way together as well as running 30 minutes after the bike.
On Sunday we ran one loop of the run course. Except for one gentle rise (it might seem worse on race day) the run course is pretty flat. There are a lot of turns and changing of surfaces - but I don't see why I couldn't run a fast time if I paced the bike properly and kept on top of my nutrition. The other key to the run course is that there is a lot of cheering support - I don't care who you are - it helps.
I feel really good about my chances of a successful race in September at this point. I wasn't sure how my body would react to 20 hour weeks, but I feel great. 99.9% of people think even the training for the Ironman is harmful to your body, but I've never felt or looked (so my wife tells me) better. Maybe our bodies were made for this level of activity - maybe we were made to run hot.