Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cross Country

Previously I wrote an article about athletic feats and how I tend to regret them. Within this article, I mentioned cross country practice in high school. This reminded me of all kinds of awful things to write about.

First off however, I admit I wasn't entirely fair to running earlier. In a non-competitive context, it can be pleasant. Ever take a nice jog free of distractions and full of nice scenery? It's very therapeutic providing you pace yourself properly, and thinking back, I have experienced this rewarding sensation approximately once. The running gods felt like telling me "Hey check it out, this can be fun, by the way you'll never experience it again." 

If I had just gone on leisurely runs now and again, I could've experienced running's positive effects more often, but after joining Cross Country, and practicing every day, the competitive part of me took over. This was no place for leisurely jogs. I was running to get faster god dammit. I'm gonna end up in the fucking olympics. And oh sure, I got faster, but only after I sacrificed my general well being.

So God Damn Much
I think when starting out any exercise regimen, it's better to do it about 3 days a week so you get ample rest between workouts. So much for that! When the season started I went from running about 0 miles per week to more than 30. Probably not recommended. And this is high school we're talking about, so I was probably running more miles per day than I was getting hours of sleep per night. If I had collapsed at any point, doctors probably would've thought "yeah that looks about right." 

Each practice we'd warm up with a couple miles. After those couple of miles, I was ready to go home. Then we'd run maybe five more miles. Then we'd "cool off" with a couple more. What better way to wind down after a long run than to go on another run? Thankfully though, some days weren't full of long runs. We'd do sprints and hill training instead!


I wasn't used to that kind of shit. 

After a couple weeks, running went from "face-meltingly exhausting" to just "tiring" but it was never easy because practice was all about pushing yourself. Those first couple weeks of adjustment were fraught with discomfort, namely:  

We've all experienced cramps while exercising. How to get rid of them? Well you can take it easier for awhile, swing your arms around, try some breathing exercises, or throw yourself under a bus. I would routinely get painful cramps down my left side and occasionally in my neck. They were definitely uncomfortable, but never crippling. Then a week or so into practice I got a new kind of cramp. A "stitch" if you will. It was the mothership from which all other feeble cramps were dispersed. It was on my right side, just under my ribs and it felt like being stabbed. Within seconds I went from this:

to this:

There was no running through it or stretching. Even walking was painful. I just had to stop and wait for the horror to subside. It even happened in the first race of the season. I ended up with a total time about five minutes higher than it should've been. But eventually, I got in better shape, learned to breathe in a more regular rhythm, and ate more bananas, so these cramps went away, but they were soon taken over by:

Shin Splints
Shin splints felt like this:

Left untreated they can turn into stress fractures, but luckily it never got to that point for me. It would flare up during runs and hang around after practices to the point where if I didn't ice my shins for an hour or so I would have a dull ache in my legs all the time. 

After a few more weeks, the cramps weren't a problem, the shin splint pain was miserable but manageable, and I was even getting a little faster! So practices had become tolerable, and since I was hanging out with friends, they could even be fun sometimes. But then came:

The Races
The races should've been called the "watch several people run way faster than you's". After a healthy couple hours of performance anxiety, we'd gather at the starting line and psyche ourselves up. Ignoring the urge to blurt out "Hey guys I'd be just as happy not doing this" we'd all take off at a near sprint. The idea was to run almost as fast as you could for the first few hundred yards, because a strong start is important, and also because the less time the crowd saw you in the compression shorts the better. 

Behold, the sports bra for your balls.

Ah compressions shorts...Perhaps the tendency for parts to flap around while running is evidence that we just weren't meant to run that much. Let me just pause right there and give your sexual fantasies some room to run around for a bit. Oh, and we also had tiny purple shorts. Besides sharing the school colors, they served basically no other purpose than to hide the bulge. 

So there I am in the woods thinking "I can't wait until this is over" for pretty much the whole race, when suddenly the end would be in sight! Seeing it would provide us all with hope, and most everyone would run the final fifty yards or so in a dead sprint. Start strong and end strong right? 

Have you ever sprinted after running three miles? I'm not quite sure why it seems like such a good idea at the time to kill yourself and shave a few seconds off your time, rather than to just take it easy and not end up in the hospital. There was no catching your breath after these sprints. The relief that normally accompanies the end of physical exertion was always late to the meeting.

You would stop running, and still feel just as tired. After that horrible phase was over with, you'd feel ready to puke for a little while, and plenty of people did. I was jealous of those people. As much as a good vomit would have made me feel better, I managed to be no better than a rat, with seemingly no ability to do so. I guess it makes sense, for what would I vomit up after becoming so empty inside?

The Payoff
There was a bit of redeeming value to these runs though. After all the pain and misery subsided, the remaining endorphin surge, mixed with the realization that we didn't have to do it again for another week made us all feel pretty invincible.

I don't regret the experience at all. Getting in better shape, and some healthy competition was good for me. Plus we all know how fun it is to share misery with friends. 

So would I recommend running? Yeah, just stay off the fucking pavement. Jesus Christ shin splints were awful. 

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