I am always amazed when I return to the Himalaya of Nepal and see the children playing outside this time of year. The days are long and hot, but the monsoon is more than a month away. The ground has been untouched by moisture now for nearly two months, and most of them run around with nothing covering the bottom of their feet. What happens? Their feet have become as tough as nails. Sure, I take shoes off and walk on the grounds around our log home literally every day, but I don’t do it for hours at a time, and I certainly don’t run on the hardness of our concrete driveway like these kids run on dried riverbeds. Yet, they have developed a resistance to rough terrain that I don’t, and I envy them.
Ironically, this body part specific toughness becomes nearly useless once they enter their homes. Within the four walls of the place where they spend most of their lives, tough feet have no worth. They get no additional food nor any better sleep because they have calloused feet as thick as Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. They don’t get additional attention during family conversation, and they get just as sick from food poisoning as everyone else in the family does when they eat two-day old rice that should have gone to the chickens.
When the monsoon finally arrives in Nepal, thick cloud coverings cause rain for many hours every day, and its relentlessness make the ground becomes soft and wet for literally the next four months. The kids aren’t outside as much, or if they are outside, they are walking and working in rice patties, with nothing but mud under foot. Those precious callouses that protected their feet for the past few months are no longer needed, but they don’t just go away. Their thickness slowly dwindles until only a fraction of the original remains. Then, the next time the try season comes to South Asia, the cycles commences.
The lifecycle of the bottom of their feet made me think a lot about the lifecycle of an endurance athlete and training this time of year. I am one of many people preparing for a “big event” in the next few months. My heart, lungs and muscles are presently conditioned to “just flipping go” when I hit the starting line, because I have been training them for months to do this. Both on my calendar and in my mind, I have big races. These events have consumed my preparation and they happen. Then there will be a down period, and my conditioning will not be sustained as I back down both in volume and intensity and return to the “normal world.” Just like the Nepali kids retreat to the inside of their homes when the rains come, I retreat from the efforts that made my heart, lungs, and muscles so darn tough. In essence, my endurance lifecycle is a mirror image of lifecycle of the feet of the children in Nepal.
When I am not training, I sit in front of a computer, walk around the grocery store, play guitar, and talk to the athletes that I coach. Just like the Nepali gets get no value from their calloused feet once they go inside, I too get no value from being able to sustain a heart rate of 4 times my resting rate for 6 hours when I do any of those things I just referenced. Indeed, no one cares what my resting heart rate is, even when I tell them! Just ask my wife, for crying out loud.
When Thanksgivings arrives here in the southeast, and the racing season is over, the days are short again. I am one of many who find it too cold to ride a bike outside all morning long anymore. However, the following Spring, we will go outside again, hopefully with a couple of “A” races on our calendar and a bucket load of test events to see how much better we can get before the cycle repeats itself. This is the time of year we get our endurance callouses back.
Not only are the trees showing rapid growth, so are we endurance athletes. Many people see green on the trees and proclaim, “Spring is here.” The athlete in me says, “open water swimming without a wetsuit is here; cycling in shorts and a T-Shirt is here; running before sunrise with only one layer of clothing is here!” and I go forward with hope. Even though I know that it all comes crashing down next November, I joyfully look forward to these next months.
Most of my racing friends would be happy with a “COVID-free” race schedule, meaning we want to see our races actually happen without the entrenched overreaction that has somehow become a cultural norm. I would be satisfied with a great post-race meal and a “eat at your own risk” sign nearby that lets me be a real person and catch up with people I haven’t loved on in a while. Alas, the lawyers guiding the race directors of the world are on a collision course to claim victory over freedom of choice, and I will be relegated to a post-race bag full of items made in a plant in lieu of food grown on a plant. I will have to don a mask and told to go elsewhere if you want to break the rules of safe sport and see people smile.
I say go out and get your calloused feet back. I say register and plan for the stuff that you know gives your meaning and a sense of happiness, even if only for a little while. Sure, your chance to use your callouses might be taken from you ahead of schedule, but you knew that happens every November, anyway.
Plan big. Go big. I am.