Sunday, February 26, 2012

Distance runners have their own sense of humor

Runners, particularly long distance runners like marathoners, can develop an unusual sense of humor. It’s not clear whether this comes from the amount of time they spend out on the road alone, or from long runs with runners already infected with the offbeat runner’s humor, or if it might in fact be the physiological result of the brain bouncing up and down in the head for all those hours.

Regardless of the source, there’s nothing that changes the boredom of the day to day long runs like a little humorous entertainment. When I was in high school this involved the normal pranks like mixing glue in the Vaseline that a runner used on his feet to avoid blisters. It can make removing socks after a run a rather challenging event. Or taking the spikes out of the runner’s shoes and coating the bottom with motor oil, introducing the runner to the equivalent of trying to run on ice. But bright individuals with time will also tend to expand their vision to more challenging escapades.

At our high school we had a small school bus for the agricultural students to travel out to the local farm for classes. The cross country team got to borrow it for races at other schools and our coach would do the driving. This left the runners with freedom to explore all kinds of creative entertainment in the back of the bus. Often these were simple in nature like putting a sign in the window of the emergency door in the back that said honk if you love your country. The coach kept pulling the bus over thinking people wanted to pass him for going too slow. But the simple turned to more complex when we disconnected the alarm to the rear emergency door. The runners would wait to a car was following particularly close behind and then one of the runners would pop open the door and flop out the upper half of his body like he was falling out. We would then haul him back in by the back of his shorts being careful not reduce his chances of having children in the future. I’m happy to report that while startled, none of the drivers had a heart attack. At least that we know of.

Of course as runners move from high school to college and beyond, both the distance and the sophistication of humor increase. One Saturday before a particularly long trail run one of the guys in the group was handing out water and energy food. We had a runner in the group who consistently insisted on running in the front of the group and pushing the pace. On this particular morning his ration of chocolate was replaced with a medicinal version (Ex-Lax). At about 4 miles he had to leave the front of the pack for a nature call. And nature continued to call him every mile for the rest of the run.

Runners have a strange relationship with their T-Shirts and it frequently becomes a way of expressing a more personal sense of humor.

- The realist: “Pain is temporary but your time posted on the Internet is forever”
- Pregnant Runner Shirt – Arrow pointing down to the belly – “Runner in training”
- Woman’s Shirt – “I don’t go all the way” and underneath “Half Marathoner”
- “I like to do LSD” – Underneath “Long Slow Distance”
- For the more arrogant – on the back – “Follow me to the finish”
- Then there are the baby T’s – “Future running buddy”, “Born to Run”, “I plan to run before I walk…get ready”, “Grandpa has me doing wind sprints”
- One of my favorites…On the back “I spit to the right”
- For the Gung-Ho - “Kick Assphalt”
- For the religious – And on the 7th day God did an easy 3.
- “My sport is your sport’s punishment”
- On the back – “Since you’re behind…how’s mine?”
- “There’s no Surgeon General warning about smoking the competition”
- “If you’re reading this you’ve been passed by an old fat guy”
- And least we forget…the mentally self aware – “Any idiot can run. It takes a special idiot to run a marathon” and on the front…”Marathoning is a state of mind”. Back…”It’s called insanity”.

Then there are the inside runner jokes that sound strange to non-runners but get a chuckle out of marathoners. Sayings such as “You know you are a distance runner if”
- You have more running clothes in the laundry than regular clothes.
- You lost a toenail and you tell people it’s no big deal
- Your treadmill has more miles on it than your car
- You watch the weather reports solely to plan your runs for the week
- You have more old running shoes in your closet than regular shoes
- You know where your IT band is and it has nothing to do with Information Technology or music
- You are happy to see (and use) Port-a-johns.
- When someone mentions a city you know all the best running places but none of the best restaurants
- You swear your running watch goes with every outfit
- You can’t smell yourself after a run but everyone else can

If you made it this far in this blog then you are clearly a runner or have way too much time on your hands. In either case you might be interested to know that there is even a running comic strip called “Running on Empty” (Jason Nocera), and at one time there was a running radio station called WRUN that specifically catered to music for runners. Around the Boston Marathon they would play favorites like “Please come to Boston”, “Monday, Monday”, and “Born to Run”.

Maybe the best way to sum up running humor is that the runners don’t always get the last laugh. A marathoner is purported to have asked his wife “Honey, what do you like most about me; my tremendous athletic abilities, my muscular physique or my superior intellect? She replied, “I love your enormous sense of humor”.

Until next time!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Warning: Entering the Mind of a Marathon Runner can be hazardous to your health

Ever wonder what marathon runners think about when they spend all that time out on the roads? It’s probably not one of those things you think about until someone brings it up (like now).

No question that long distance running can be a lonely sport. A typical non-elite marathoner will train somewhere around 40- 60 miles a week which will put them out pounding the road for 6 – 10 hour (assuming of course that they are not doing a gerbil imitation on a treadmill at the local gym). This much alone time to think might be a good thing if you are sitting comfortably in an overstuffed chair in a warm room with a nice cup of coffee, but the perspective changes a bit when it’s below freezing, in the dark, on an icy road and you are chipping the ice off your water bottle (and in my case my mustache too).

Through the efforts of exhaustive research (I asked a couple of my running friends) and untold hours of field studies ( own running) I came to the following conclusion. It depends.

To say marathon runners can become obsessive would be a significant understatement. We obsess about under training, over training, injuries, and potential injuries (will the hang nail on my little toe turn into a run stopping infection?). We worry about getting sick and missing a run, bad weather on days we have long runs, getting enough fluids or drinking too much (a marathoner recently died from over-hydrating), using GU (energy gel) or no GU. And don’t even get me started about race day obsessions, especially the ones having to do with porta-potty timing.

The definition of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) in Wikipedia is:
Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsionsThere should be a picture of a marathon runner next to the definition.

If you are the obsessive type and you happen to be one of those people who don’t like their own company (or fit in the “misery loves company” category) it can be helpful to seek out other likeminded (equally mentally imbalanced) running partners to share your training runs and your anxieties. It may not solve your problems but it may make you feel better to know others are worse off than you.

Then there are those who simply focus on their running, constantly checking their form, taking inventory of how their body feels, checking their watch to see how far they have gone (or more importantly how far left) and ultimately wallowing in their pain. If you happen to be in this category long runs can be very, very, long.

On the flip side, there are those that find running frees their minds to think about other things. The act of running becomes second nature and the experience of being out and mobile supersedes everything else. It takes a while for a new runner to get there but it can be addictive once you do. And what do they think about? Anything their little heart’s desire, from exploring the world around them, to going totally into themselves problem solving. I once heard an ultra-marathoner say I think about anything but how far I have to go. If I thought about that I might talk myself into stopping.

For me it’s a bit of all of the above. When I’m out of shape or injured I obsess over getting in back in shape or healing. But when I’m healthy and the running is good it is not a chore, it’s a privilege.

Regardless, come race day it is a whole different mindset and whether you are an elite runner or a first timer, getting through 26 miles will test your ability to manage your pain and thoughts.
And for a humorous look at what goes through the mind of a marathoner during the race check out the YouTube link below.