Sunday, September 12, 2010

Relatively Difficult

You don't want to get in the habit of contemplating the what-if/either-or questions and scenarios given life on the message boards at I mean, really. "If becoming gay would make you 10 percent faster, would you have an affair with a man, and if you did, should this be considered using performance enhancing drugs? And how would they test for it, LOL." But the other day the real live question was this: "For an average fit and healthy male in their 20's with no great deal of talent which would be a more impressive achievement, to go Sub 5 for a mile on the track or to go sub 3 hours for a marathon?" Ignore the sins against grammar, punctuation and syntax, and the age restriction—Who gives a shit about 20-somethings?—and this is pretty intriguing.

I've been busting my ass for almost a year now trying to stuff 26.2 miles into a 2:59:59 sack. So far, 3:04:05 is the best I can do, but I think I know what it will take to get the rest of the way. I think I will get there. But cracking cinco minutos in the mile? You don't need to be a running expert to understand we're talking about widely disparate achievements here, requiring dramatically different sorts of fitness, each of which could be arrived at only through a training regimen appropriate to the task.

I pondered this puzzler as I ran today. There was plenty of space in my mind for pondering as there was no plan or goal for the run. (There hadn't even been a plan to run. I was driven off the couch by the 49ers' wretchedness in Seattle and lured outside by the sunshine and mid-70s.) There I was, running. Got to think about something.

Five minute mile. What would it take to do a five minute mile? How far am I from a five minute mile? I don't even know. Maybe I should run a mile and see?

Two slow, joint-and-muscle loosening miles later I was at the track at Grant Park. Four times around plus 10 yards, that would be a mile. Off I went! On the first curve it occurred to me that this would be a painful little exploration. And that the roast beef sandwich I had eaten an hour earlier was perhaps insufficiently far along in the digestive process to stay down. So I ran a fairly hard 402 meters, which is a quarter mile. Then I jogged a quarter mile to gather my wits. Then came another hard one. Then an easy one…. I did four hard ones separated by easy ones. The hard ones clocked in at 1:18, 1:18, 1:18 and 1:15, adding up to 5:09.

I interpret that to mean I am further from cracking a five minute mile than I am from dipping under three hours in the marathon. That last hard quarter, the 1:15—that's what I'd need to run four times, with no rest interval. That might be impossible! So, obviously, I'm now reading up on training for the mile and will shortly be launching into a program. Told you it's a bad idea to contemplate questions posted on the message boards.

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