Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Off the Divide


I am no longer at the crossroads or on top of the mountain ridge trying to decide which side to come down on. With the help of my old friend Daniel Collins, I made a decision. The Mississippi Trail 50 is out. Running for fun and training for the Chicot Challenge is in. I feel a giant relief.
Being pulled in more than one direction is nothing new for me. Athletically it has always been that way with running. Dad used to tell me I needed to focus on the 10 K. That is what he did and he ran times I have never touched. If I had followed his advice, I could have, no doubt, run some faster times at that distance. I even thought I might take his counsel for one year at least. But it never happened. Inevitably, I went out the door too many times just to have fun. I think that is important, however, having fun, because you (or I anyway) can only punish yourself so many times before you decide you are too busy, or too tired, or you just don’t want to do it anymore.

I also thought I would spend one year focusing on the triathlon and seeing if I could place at the Heart ‘O Dixie. I started in the triathlon sport in 1980, that’s right, 1980. At one point I was doing five or six per year, but now I am down to one per year, and I don’t think I will be doing very many more any time soon. It would be a real trick to pull that off a place at HOD. As the oldest continual triathlon in the continental United States, and as the state’s championship race, the HOD draws an unbelievably competitive field. Typically my age division will contain fourteen or fifteen men. My finish in the respective events within my age division will usually look something like this: Swim, 1st; Run, 6th; Bike, 14th. It doesn’t take a socket rientist to figure that that is a scenario for never placing.
I am simply not a good biker, I will not pay the price to get better, and I just don’t care anymore. I only want to have fun, and I do have fun finishing the HOD each year even though it is still frustrating to get passed by fat ladies on the bicycle or while running up a hot hill in Neshoba County. When push comes to shove, I like to do a lot of long slow running and when I bike I like to do it long and slow and see things and take pictures and eat a lot of food along the way. That’s just who I am.

And then there is the ever present tension between running and swimming. Slowly over the last few years, my athletic identity has changed, and I consider myself now a swimmer who runs rather than a runner who swims. If I have any natural athletic ability, this is where it lies. I did not swim in college. I did not swim on a high school swim team or even on a junior high one. I was given lessons as a child (thank you, Momma), and I splashed in the water like everyone else. As a young adult, I started triathlons, so I trained my swim a bit then. But that was all solo work and then I was off for eighteen years while I raised a family, went to school, and pastored a small church. I started back into fitness for fun and for health in 2004 in a very small way. That year I swim trained three times and did the Heart ‘O Dixie Triathlon. In short, I am an adult-onset swimmer with no competitive swimming background. I started serious swim training in my fifties.
In 2006 I became a little more serious about overall training because I was frustrated with the fat ladies beating me at the Heart ‘O Dixie, so I joined the Masters team at DSU. I did my first open water marathon in 2007, That Dam Swim Twelve Miler in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, because I was injured and could not run. There were no more marathon swims in my life until 2011 when I heard about, entered, and recruited Randy Beets to do Swim the Suck Ten Miler in the Tennessee River near Chattanooga. That is when I became a swimmer.

The following June, I did the first Chicot Challenge, my personal birthday swim (I was fifty-six) that I converted into a fundraiser. The Challenge started like this: I received a text message from Randy Beets.
Beets: I just did a thirteen mile kayak in Lake Chicot from the State Park to downtown Lake Village and back.

Me: That sounds like it would make a nice open water swim.

Beets: I’ll crew you if you want to do it.

The Challenge was born.
We set a date, I started training, and we did it with the additional help of Robin Bond. When it was all done, the swim was 13.94 miles, and the rush I got crawling out at the end was addicting. We raised over $1,250 for the American Diabetes Association, and I realized that I had some talent, maybe only a little, but some gift for long swimming.

Maybe the gift is mostly in the area of ‘want to.’ Endurance athletics, in my opinion, is as much a matter of personality as it is of muscle fiber composition. I am a Type E personality, i.e. the Type Endurance kind. You have to want to do this kind of thing and for some people this realm is the very height of insanity. I understand. I had a wise man once tell me, “If everybody liked the same thing, there wouldn’t be enough to go around.” Very true. God made us different for a reason, or two or three.
But though the gift may be in large measure a part of my personality, it is at least in small part physical as well. Not only do I have the want to, I respond rapidly to training stimuli, swim training stimuli that is. I can do a hard workout and two days later detect the difference in my body. I am certain an exercise physiologist would say that is utterly impossible, that science refutes my claim. However, I know that is not the case with me and swimming and will gladly submit to scientific examination. Any takers out there? That’s what I thought. I have lived in this body for fifty-eight years, I have used it a lot, and I know it well. So in some small way, though I am very late coming to the party, I feel like God has gifted me in the realm of swimming. Though the gift may be small, I don’t want to bury it. To do so is to dishonor God, among other things. So I am not going to gamble with the Challenge by putting the Mississippi Trail 50 on the calendar. It is just not wise. To sum up in a concise manner:

Reasons not to do the Mississippi Trail 50
  • It pushes the training window for the Chicot Challenge back a little farther than I am comfortable with.
  • It competes with Chicot base training for time and energy.
  • It risks severe fatigue from running fifty miles and traveling to and from south Mississippi.
  • It costs money in terms of an entrance fee and travel expense.
  • It dilutes the gift.
  • It makes life unnecessarily complex.
(Sorry about the spacing issues here. Sometimes the formatting just will not cooperate)
Reasons to focus on the Chicot Challenge
  • I can still do the Mississippi River Marathon in February without pushing my build phase back as I would with the Trail 50.
  • I won’t have to obsess with running mileage but can just run for fun, adventure, and fitness.
  • The risk of hangover fatigue is greatly reduced with a marathon in February as opposed to an ultra-marathon in March.
  • The Challenge IV is longer than ever (nineteen miles) and I will be older than ever so I really need to focus on it.
  • It honors and uses the gift.

And besides all that, the Challenge raises funds for a very worthy charity that supports a very important cause. Starting with Chicot II, I switched to the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi (DFM) as my charity of choice. Check them out at Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org). The DFM “is the state's premier nonprofit health organization providing diabetes research, information, patient services and advocacy. The mission of the Foundation is to provide hope through research, programs and service to the 372,500 Mississippians with diabetes. The Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi is the one diabetes organization totally dedicated to all Mississippians from our children to our seniors, who live with diabetes. Through our three locations in Jackson, Oxford and Hattiesburg, the DFM strives to better serve Mississippians with diabetes; provide more programs statewide; and increase research at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.” Find them at www.msdiabetes.org