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10.08.2003

I Will Smoke P. Diddy Like A Cheap Cigar

(flashback to last Friday)

Here in deceptively peaceful Brandon, months of intensive training are building to a crescendo. The better half is carbo-loading for tomorrow's LSAT, the law school qualifying exam she has been preparing for since before time began. And I am entering the most intensive part of marathon training, where you have to cantilever yourself out of bed in the mornings because your knees won't bend. Where if you accidentally drop something, you say to yourself "I'll pick that up in November".

I stole a peek at the better half's enormous LSAT training manual, and noticed an eerie resemblance to the advice I'd been getting from my book on 'How To Run A Marathon':

  • Get a good night's sleep
  • Drink plenty of liquids
  • Make sure you know where you need to be
  • Show up early
  • Pace yourself
  • Wear layers in case you get too hot
  • Don't be distracted by how well/poorly others are doing
  • Wear a good watch
  • Take it one section at a time
  • Visualize yourself succeeding
  • If you need a bathroom break, be quick
  • Bring plenty of sharpened pencils

Before embarking on my journey into chronic pain fitness, I used to think running a marathon was simple:

while ( !crossed_finish_line) {
run();
}

Now I know better. The race itself may be just a race, but preparing for it can rival the Normandy invasion if you really want to let yourself go. There are tempo runs, recovery runs, hill runs, long runs, track intervals, speed work, fartleks (huh huh), timed miles, cross training, cool-downs and warm-ups, negative splits, hydration strategies, fibers that wick moisture away from your skin, energy drinks, bee-pollen bars, power gels. There are charts for your mileage and charts for your calorie intake. There are shoes to be replaced every 300 miles, middle-distance races to enter, strength training programs to follow, pages and pages of carbohydrate equivalency charts and useful recipes, dire lists of painful knee injuries to avoid. There is the whole business of tapering, carbo-loading, and adequate sleep. If you are obsessive-compulsive, this is truly the sport for you.

I've applied my usual standards of diligence and thoroughness to preparing for the New York race, which means that I stumble out of bed at one in the morning on alternate nights to stuff my forgotten running clothes into the washer, and then stumble out again at six to do a painful lap around the local marsh.

But I've learned something about the biomechanics of running.

It turns out the body has three basic speeds. The first two we know from high school - anaerobic exercise, where your muscles are working faster than your body can get oxygen to them, and aerobic exercise, where they get enough oxygen to go on indefinitely. Of course, if you cross into anaerobic exercise during a marathon, you are doomed - your muscles produce lactic acid, and soon you are paralyzed with cramps, laying on the road being trampled.

What I didn't know is that there are two fundamental types of aerobic exercise, depending on whether the body is burning carbohydrate or burning fat. Fat burning is good when you need a slow trickle of energy - desk jockeys are heated by fat, albeit in miniscule amounts - but for high-intensity exercise, you need sugar. Carbohydrate is easier for the body to burn quickly, and allows you to sustain a high level of effort. Your liver and muscles can hold about 1500 calories of the stuff, and you can eat a few hundred more carbohydrate calories during a long race. But if you're my weight, you'll need 3900 calories to complete the marathon.

When your body runs out of glycogen, it is not a happy feeling. A modern American body like mine has a limitless supply of high-energy fat (3500 calories/pound), but the stuff doesn't make for easy burning. The changeover from carbohydrate to fat is the physiological basis for the "wall" some runners hit late in a race. Skinny, fast people never hit it. But if you are a slow, lumbering blogger like me, there's someone I'd like you to meet right here at mile 15.

What makes the marathon so challenging, and such a mental race, is that it really does get much harder to run towards the end. The point of marathon training is to teach your body to conserve its carbohydrate fuel for a longer time, and run more efficiently. It also teaches your mind to ignore the feeling of being about to die, and keep ignoring it for two hours. For a first-time marathon runner like me, it takes 16 weeks, with at least three long runs of 18-20 miles, to get the body fit enough to run the race.

So when I hear that P. Diddy is going to run the marathon, and only started training for it three weeks ago, I laugh a hollow laugh. Does he really think that celebrity, money, and a small army of personal trainers can make up for three months of bitter work? Maybe in the governor's race, but this is a marathon, last bastion of Puritan values. Neglect your training in the gay, frolicsome days of summer, and you will reap the whirlwind in the medical tent come November. How can one even envision a scenario where I am not a distant blue dot on P. Diddy's horizon, disappearing into the mists of victory as he staggers into mile 13?

And yet... And yet, in the middle of my peaceful revery, I feel the cold, harsh blow of a dagger plunging into my back. "He's got a lot of personal trainers, you know" says the better half. "He used to play football."

"Football?" I ask, incredulous. "He lives a life of pampered luxury. He is taken everywhere in an armored land yacht. I've been running my heart out for months. I know I'm slow, but three weeks of training? Come on! I've got to be able to beat P. Diddy!"

"I'm sure you'll try your best, honey."

You have it right, dear reader. The viper warmed against my own chest, the treacherous blow from the very person I suspected least. All for what?

A couple of bad records, a line of ritzy clothing, an environment rich in bling bling.

I'm going to beat that overmoisturized dilletante if I have to lose a lung trying.

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