A couple months back I participated in a Herculean carnival of endurance-sport obstinacy. In a fit of temporary insanity, I signed up for Rouge-Orleans, and in a subsequent fit of charismatic persuasiveness I talked five people into doing it with me. For the uninitiated, it's a 126.2-mile race from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. We opted for the relay format, because, come on, it's 126.2 f—ing miles.
Even so, I felt as though I'd earned a break after the race. That, and I pulled my Achilles tendon, so I had an ironclad excuse. (Don't remind me that I could have kept swimming. I don't care.) I limped through Mardi Gras and early spring with way more free time than usual (entire hours almost every week), but before I knew it, the sweet spot of racing season had arrived, and I had become a fat, lazy parody of myself. Part of that might have been because, based on absolutely no research whatsoever, I had convinced myself that fast food helped tendons restore their natural lubrication. Or maybe the creaking in my ankle reminded me of those old-school cheeseburger containers.
The real lesson here is that I should obviously do a column on how to stay fit through your off-season, but I'll deal with that at a later date, perhaps when I've successfully mastered it myself.
In any case, I spent the early spring races wearing "volunteer" t-shirts. It was fun (and cheaper), especially working the last finish-line shift at IronMan New Orleans. Many props to the "DFL" finisher, who staggered across the line with an NOPD escort rolling ominously behind, and collapsed into an ice bath immediately after. As our coordinator said, "DFL beats DNS every day of the week." And, I might add, twice on race day.
So I started thinking about tune-up races, and fortunately, there are plenty of shorter contests here. Here's why you should do one:
1. Because you can.
Almost anyone can haul their own carcass one to three miles. Five days ago we handed finisher's medals to two brothers – one of whom was in a wheelchair and completely immobilized – who had just finished IMNOLA. One brother had pulled and pushed the other for the entire 65 miles (they cancelled the swim and truncated the bike). 5k races don't push the bounds of human endurance; they're quick, fun and doable.
2. Food and music.
We sprinkle those elements like salt and pepper down here. They go with everything. Fun runs and 5ks are invariably more racy than race. Wake up early, jog a few miles and then hang out in the beer tent. You'll be signing up for your next race before the soreness sets in. Also, you can dress up. Think of it as a really fast parade.
3. They're always happening.
This weekend alone, we have the Gator Run and Run Forrest Run. If you don't feel like waking up early after an evening at Jazz Fest, don't worry, there are plenty more throughout the year.
4. They tune you up.
It can get a little dry pushing yourself through a training regimen. It gets more and more exciting the more teammates you have – a running partner, a training team – but nothing beats the gut-wrenching, pulse-pumping psych-up of the starting line throng. You'll run faster and harder (and generally stretch more thoroughly) on race day. Recover properly, and you can use a shorter race to bust through a training plateau in preparation for a longer race.
5. They won't kill you.
This goes back to item No. 1 a bit. In one longer race I found myself staggering through City Park singing "Seargent MacKenzie" to myself to try to keep cadence. This was a horrible idea for three reasons. First, focusing on song lyrics broke what little concentration I had left. Second, it's a Scottish dirge, and a slow one at that, so whatever rhythm I was trying to trick myself into was too languid. Finally, the other runners around me had to deal with sunburned, bearded bleating lunatic, which no doubt threw them off. Longer races can be fatal (triathlon fatalities are usually the result of head injuries during the swim, but marathon courses are no strangers to heart attacks); shorter efforts, much less so.
So get out there. I'll see you on the Connection.