Doldrums

We are approaching the time of year that runners around here refer to as the doldrums.  That bastion of true and accurate information, Wikipedia, defines the doldrums (at length) in such a way to make the reader feel much more stupid for having read it, but suffice to say it’s an atmospheric event that happens near the equator in which there are days and days of warm temps and light winds, making it very difficult to get anywhere fast.  Sound familiar?

I was introduced to the term in 2007 when I was training for a marathon.  Let’s see if I can describe it accurately…

In mid Missouri, it consists of about 2 1/2 months.  It starts in mid July(ish) and goes until about September.  The daily temperature is as hot, on average, as it will be all year and its miserable little friend, humidity, is making the air all chewy and stuff.  Just stand outside long enough and the weather service will issue a flash flood warning for your armpits (gross… but accurate, no?).  The daylight that had sustained our long morning or evening runs starts to fail us at the beginning of the doldrums so now we are running in the heat, humidity and total darkness.  At least we have the horseflies to keep us company…  This is also the peak of training season for most of us.  This means that we are running and riding the longest distances we will ride this season… In the heat… and the humidity… and the dark… with our friends, the flies.

It is said that many a sailor went insane while adrift in the doldrums from despair and boredom.  Indeed, myself and many friends I have discussed this time with admit to having fantasies of just giving up and curling up in a fetal position in the corner with a bottle of Jack Daniels.  I found myself wondering what the hell I was doing out at 4:30am running 16 miles alone and in the dark.  Many was the time I wanted to divert my route and terminate it at the mental health clinic rather than run another damn mile for nothing.  It was only the promise of fair winds and calm seas ahead (only 3 more f@&!ng long runs left and then I can quit this s&!t!) that got me through without just leaving my stinky, sweat soaked shoes sitting in the middle of the trail and walking away.

These are the “mental miles”.  Not because they will drive you nuts, but because they challenge you mentally.  You will fight these same “I wanna quit” thoughts in the last 10K of a marathon or {insert race here}.  Now is when you build up the mental callouses that help you say “sure… I wanna quit.  But I’m not going to”.  Because if you can get through the doldrums, you can get through just about anything.  Getting through the doldrums was much harder for me than the actual race.

Since then I have started training for triathlons.  The cross training has helped immensely because I don’t feel like I’m doing the same exercise (in futility) daily for months on end.  But it’s still tough…  Believe me, I’m not complaining.  At least I don’t have to put on everything in my closet just to keep from freezing to death.  And really, I don’t think it’s the weather as much as it is just the monotony and repetition.  At this point, you either have one race left (like me) and/or it’s a long damn time til your next one.  There is a shortage of races this time of year as well due to heat concerns so finding a place to suffer with your peers for a day gets harder to do as well.  In the end, you are left to just suck it up and get through it.

But it WILL make you better.  There are many strategies to help but you have to experiment and find the one that works for you.  I have tried to just relax and run/bike/swim in no particular pattern.  I’ve made a strict plan and vowed to stick to it religiously (what I’m doing currently).  I’ve tried to take a break and do things differently (mountain biking, trail running, rowing, etc.).  You just have to trust that you will get through it but understand that NOTHING will make it easy.

I was thinking about the doldrums this morning on my run.  This year, since I don’t have a target race (and only have one race left on my schedule) I’m going to try a couple of things to make it more fun.  I am currently working on a route for my bike commute home that takes my by not one, not two… but three spray parks.  The goal is to ride through all three of them.  I know it sounds silly but it will occupy my mind, cool me off and add 6 miles to my commute/workout.  I was also thinking (while I was running alone) that, since I usually run alone after the first mile of my group runs (not by choice, just by virtue of pace) I’m going to start wandering a bit from the appointed routes.  For no other reason than to just change things up.  I haven’t quite figured out how to make swimming fun and different yet.  I still really need to focus on form and technique so I don’t want to screw around too much.  Maybe switching venues will help.  I don’t know…

I guess I’m trying to drift through the doldrums a little quicker by otherwise occupying myself.  In any case, I need some fun.  Something different.  Maybe I’m trying to get to the offseason quicker so I can play… I dunno.  I do know that it’s not necessary for me to suffer this year through this time period (it never really is, I just choose to) so I’m looking for fun and different workouts.  And, no… I don’t consider 80 mile, zone 5++  interval rides or “stairs til ya puke” runs to be fun.  Puking for any reason is anti-fun… just sayin’…

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