"He's a legend in his own mind," the old joke goes, punning on legend in his own time. The joke is one I make about myself, but I have to believe I'm a legend if I want to perform. I can look at other real legends, though, for inspiration.
To me, Ryan Hall is truly a legend in his own time, and I can't tell you how much I look forward to this summer's Olympic marathon. I am keeping my fingers crossed that Hall brings home the gold - the first for an American since Frank Shorter's astoundng 1972 win. (Frank Shorter definitely qualifies as a legend in his own time!)
As I run, I listen to Phedippidations, but my mind keeps going back to November and the astonishing men's olympic marathon trials. Though the loss of Ryan Shay was egregious, the trials were the stuff of legend, with Ryan Hall setting a new men's trials record and coming in a full two minutes ahead of his soon-to-be teammates - and that on what is acknowledged to be a slow and difficult course. (The Central Park hills are not for the faint of heart - the ONLY flat stretch of more than 200 meters is from 96th street to 80-something on the east side.) In addition, all three top finishers are white, which is rather unusual in this age of Kenyan-bred runners dominating the field. But Meb Keflezighi, who finished second in the 2004 Olympics, came in a miserable six minutes behind Hall in the trials.
What this means is that Hall is in position to pull off what people consider almost impossible: for an American to take home the gold. We've only done it three times in Olympic history: 1904, 1920, and 1972. Hall's biggest competition, as I see it, is his own teammates and one Stefano Baldini, who won the 2004 Olympic Marathon in a course record 2:10:55. But he has been slipping in the last couple of years, finishing off the podium in the 2006 and 2007 NY Marathons. Ryan is the faster runner, but less experienced in this distance. Also, it can be argued that the olympic trials weather was damn near perfect, while the weather and air quality in Bejing is going to be "fucken turrible". Of course, all the athletes will be running in the exact same conditions, but it will affect some more than others.
Maybe I should contact my old schoolmate Priman Lee and see if he has connections enough to get me tickets for the closing games - traditionally, the men's Olympic marathon is the last event of the Games and is incorporated into the closing ceremonies.
Anyway, the stuff of legends need not be on an international scale. I sometimes feel like my performances in the past can only be legend; insubstantial and unprovable, even though there really is proof that I have, in fact, run a 7:30 mile, run a marathon, run a sub-hour 10K. It is with those legends in mind that I set out on my training for the April 6th St. Louis Half Marathon. It is my private goal to go from sick to sensational and set a PR. I have less than four months to train, but if I'm ever going to hit a two-hour half-marathon, this will have to be it. Well, I can aim high, right?
The title of my post also alludes to the upcoming Will Smith movie, I Am Legend. I've read the original screenplay and I think it stands to be a very good movie, which I think I've mentioned before. But what strikes me about the screenplay is Robert Neville's ability to just keep going. I know he's fictional, but I've seen marathoners pull off the same stunt - keeping going in the face of enormous obstacles. Hitting closer to home, I've seen very sick people also just keep going, year after year, even when the future is very bleak. Neville has a very disciplined routine that keeps him alive - when left with no other options, I suppose you either adapt into that die-hard existence or you just plain die.
It's with the opening scenes of the screenplay in mind that I go about much of the business of taking care of my health. Get up, shower, do therapy, take pills, run every other day, etcetera etcetera etcetera. And the etceteras get very lengthy indeed. But there really isn't any other choice. I'm not being hunted by walking-dead humans out to drink my blood, but I do have to fight the opportunistic lung infections, which do, literally, feed off me and are as mindless as zombies. If I want to survive, my choices are no choice at all. Do this or die. And there's no use complaining about it.
There's a certain sense of victory in constantly accomplishing all of this; an element of achievement most people don't get to experience. It isn't the same as taking one's daily shower and keeping up good dental hygiene. I'm talking about maintenance that hits at another level entirely. Still, I can bring that Robert Neville-like dedication to the survival tasks into other tasks as well and use that to improve my daily habits. Unfortunately, it also leads to a lot of rigid rules for living that are not appealing to prospective partners, if you know what I mean.
Enough maundering. Today's must-do run went very well.
Despite the squigliness of the graph, the run was actually quite steady. I did exactly three miles, counting off the blocks as I went. I did half-mile intervals, running ten, walking one, and so forth. Anticipating shin-splints, I did some judicious stretching over the last couple of days and took some Tylenol 8-hour when I got out of bed. (I put Tylenol 8-hour in the realm of miracle drugs, I tell you what.) Result: zero shin splints on today's run!
And though I forgot to take my asthma medications last night AND this morning, I really didn't have any shortness of breath out there. I was able to breath and I had few coughing fits, running through all but one of them. THAT one brought up a wad of phlegm that was almost clear in color - quite unusual for me. This means the levels of bacteria in my lungs are at an all-time low right now. That won't last forever, but I recognize that I need to make the most of my lung-power NOW while I still can. Use it to get my legs and heart in shape, then trust in my legs to carry me through in April, when my lungs will already be on a downhill slide again, in all probability.
I was most thrilled I could be consistent in the 10-blocks, 1-block plan. That's very important. I kept my pace consistent, too, except for the last 100 meters, where I finished strong. My plan is to repeat this performance Monday morning if the sidewalks aren't too slushy and try for 3/4 mile at a time - 15 blocks. Being able to run a steady, walk-free three miles is in sight.
Also, I'm happy with the overall pace-per-mile - quite a drop from where I've been lately and a better indicator of an actual race pace. I was supposed to go run the holiday run in Central Park this morning, but after being out partying 'til 4 a.m. last night...getting up just wasn't in the cards.