The Party’s Over – “Easy” Ends Here: 7.53 Miles

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If your social calendar calls for a party the night before your long run, you should either (a) exhibit some form of self-control, or (b) consider staying home.  If you were to guess that I went “off the board,” a la The Joker’s Wild, you would be absolutely correct.

When attending a party, you are generally at the mercy of whoever is providing the food, unless you have the forethought to bring along something that is sensible fuel for a distance runner.  However, since the goal of a party is to actually have fun, I decided against that.  As you might imagine, the grub at our little throw-down was all delicious, but not precisely what I should be putting in my body on a Friday night.  Several handfuls of cashews, a couple dozen shrimp, an incredibly awesome sausage and pepper sandwich, and three (or was it four?) bottles of Victory Golden Monkey; for my money, the best beer on the planet.  Oh, and birthday cake.

Saturday morning, I wasn’t able to set out until 10:00 or so, which left me plenty of time to “eliminate” the detritus of the previous night’s debauchery.  Trust me – that was not something I wanted “knocking at my back door,” three or four miles from home.  Hal Higdon told me I needed to log seven miles, so I took off with the appropriate route committed to memory, only to remember too late that the damned access road at Trenton Mercer Airport is still out of commission.  So, I did a little bit of improvisation, in hopes that I would not leave myself short; ultimately, I left myself long, by just over a half mile.  The weather was just about as nice as one could hope for in late August; a nice preview of the early autumn weather that will make my training life that little bit easier.

Checking my time when I finished, I was hopeful that I did eight miles or more, but alas.  However, the energy level was good, and nothing hurt.  I will put that one in the win column, and move on.

Thus concludes my last Saturday run of “easy,” single-digit mileage, until the final taper week in November.  Shit gets serious, starting next week.  Friday nights as I’ve known them all these years are over, until Thanksgiving.  I am a little bit afraid of what my weekends will look like, now that the next ten weeks will feature anything from a half marathon to 20 miles.  Will I be of any use to anyone when I’m not running?  As supportive as my wife is of my ridiculous little hobby, I am expected to be a full participant in my family, which includes doing everything that would normally be expected of me, were I a sedentary slob (as opposed to the highly active slob I currently am).  Not that I would want it any other way, but I’m just wondering how I will physically survive it.

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Why “Sir Legs-o-Lead of Birmingham?”

The whole “Sir” part really is self-mockery.  I’m a second-generation American, descended on the maternal side from low-born, working class Britons, who fled for the Land of Opportunity in the late 1930s.  I am definitely not a knight.  Not even when I change the litter boxes without being asked.

I have legs of lead.  This is readily apparent to anyone who’s bothered to check my dailymile stats.

There is a huge rock near the West Trenton Traffic Light.  In it is embedded a historical marker that commemorates the spot where General Washington’s troops split into two flanks – one went to the 7-Eleven, and the other went to the Dunkin’ Donuts, I think? – en route to the infamous sneak attack on the Hessian troops in Trenton, which turned the tide of the Revolution.  When you read to the bottom of the marker, you learn that the land where I currently take up residence was once called “Birmingham.”  Given the reputation – largely earned, I’m afraid – Trenton carries these days, I’m surprised nobody has lobbied to have the place name of our neighborhood changed back to Birmingham.  Or, “South Hopewell?”  “East Yardley,” anyone?  Anyway, Birmingham.

Ergo, Sir Legs-o-Lead of Birmingham.  In an internet filled with trillions of little pieces of excrement, this cannot be among the worst of them. Can it?

Ewing-Hopewell Death March – The Todd Ridge Variation: 10.17 Miles

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Friday night’s pre-run nutrition consisted of four bottles of the incomparable Troegs Perpetual IPA, two heapin’ helpings of Polenta Vegetable Bake, a few slices of Italian bread, and maybe 1/3 cup of ice cream.  How the fuck is it that I weigh 225 pounds, despite all this exercise?  Jeez, I really have no idea!  Anyway, I’d truly planned on skipping/curtailing the happy hour indulgences the night before this long run, but we wound up having dinner guests who really do enjoy the drink.  And I like good beer.  Breakfast was a peanut butter sandwich, banana, cup of coffee, and a half-liter of water, one hour prior to takeoff.  For the road, I strapped on my Nathan belt with 8 oz. or water and a pack of Clif Shot Blocks, which I would devour fiendishly at the six-mile mark.

Chugging down Jacobs Creek Road as often as I do, I would always pass Todd Ridge Drive with a sense of dread, knowing full well that I would someday have tackle this sumbitch.  Well, today was the day.  From a distance, Todd Ridge looks to start with about a 300’ climb, in one tenth of a mile…because it needs to be that high, for its residents to be able to look down their noses at the surrounding area from their billion-dollar McMansions.  Oh, I kid.  I’m sure they are all very nice people.

In reality, it is a mere 6% grade over a quarter mile, but I am a fat slob who can barely crank out ten-minute miles, so this was by far the absolute least enjoyable three minutes of my entire morning.  And I was not by a damn sight finished by the time I wheezed my way to the summit of Todd Ridge, I would learn.  No, the entire one-mile loop through this neighborhood is a series of steep-ish, rolling hills.  Exiting this ‘hood, Tanglewood Drive provides a severe enough downhill that one should check one’s self before one wrecks one’s self.

Hopewell being Hopewell, I’m a little bit surprised that there is no Township ordinance or neighborhood covenant that prohibits non-residents (especially Ewingites such as myself) from using the streets of its residential neighborhoods (especially the mansion-y ones) for fitness purposes.  But, no; to the best of my knowledge, this activity is perfectly legal.  So, the next time you’re running Jacobs Creek and want to shake things up a bit, the Todd Ridge neighborhood may be just what the doctor ordered.  You will curse the day you were born while you’re in the thick of it, but you will thank yourself when you’re finished.

The Todd Ridge Variation really did a number on the rest of my run.  The legs had pretty much turned to mush by the time I finished the Scotch Road leg of this journey.  Making the left turn from Nursery to Bear Tavern Road, about 1.5 miles from the finish line, I stepped around a sizeable puddle left from last night’s rains.  I seriously considered dropping to my knees to drink from it.

This being only the seventh time I’d run ten miles or greater, my body reacted accordingly.  My breathing returned to normal almost immediately, but the hips and calves were on fire, soon to be followed by…well, pretty much everything.  It seems that when I exceed 8 miles, many other muscle groups join in the chorus of fatigue-induced whining.  Getting out of bed on Sunday was a chore.  And I keep telling myself that ten miles is (far) less than “halfway there.”  I should probably stop telling myself that.

Ewing-Hopewell Death March Lite: 9 Miles

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Last night I had three pints of ale, a bowl of soup, and a plate of fish and chips for dinner.  For dessert, I enjoyed a slice of key lime pie, and two fingers of Irish whiskey.  Self-sabotage?  Check!  Breakfast was a peanut butter sandwich, a bunch of grapes, a cup of coffee, and about a half-liter of water.  I gave that about an hour to digest before hitting the road.

“Ewing-Hopewell Death March” was the name I gave my first ten-miler, after it almost killed me last October.  Since my calendar called for “only” nine miles this weekend, and the Trenton Mercer Airport loop road is closed until further notice, I made some slight tweaks to the original EHDM.  I think I managed to simultaneously shorten it and make it more difficult.  The weather was a bit on the brutal side; warm for mid-morning, with air that was simply chewy from the humidity.  Despite my abominable Friday night “nutrition,” however, my body more or less did what I asked of it.

Once I passed over I-95 and cheated death at her Exit 2 off-ramps, I was slowly transported to as happy a place as I could be; while on a nine-mile run, that is.  Suburb dissolves into country over the course of one mile.  I always give thanks for the rural splendor that exists just two miles from my front door.  Jacobs Creek babbles off to my left; so peacefully, that I forget about how Jonathan Nyce dumped his wife’s dead body in it, after he murdered her a few years back.  The occasional deer frolics.  The canopy of trees offers my lily-white hide additional protection from that mean old sun.  People who trash New Jersey – usually without ever really spending time in it – really need to see shit like this.

My time was total shite, but I really felt pretty decent the whole time.  Given what I’m preparing myself for, I will gladly take a slow nine miles of feeling great, over feeling like shit while knocking a few minutes off a run that, when you really consider the big picture, is totally meaningless.

Why “Sock Full o’ Toenails?”

Because I heard that you stand a good chance of losing all of your toenails while training for and participating in a marathon.  Which sounds pretty cool, right?  After the 2011 Philadelphia Half Marathon, I noticed that my left middle toenail was purple and extremely tender to the touch.  Since that was the end result of running a “mere” 13.1 miles, I’m pretty sure I can expect at least one sock full of toenails this fall.

Hence, “Sock Full o’ Toenails.”

Welcome to My Narcissistic Exercise

If you’re not some sort of a runner, you probably know someone who is.  It really is the silliest activity; one foot in front of the other, thousands upon thousands of times in a row, usually to arrive at the very place you left.  Pointless, yes?  When I took up this hobby, which would soon turn into an obsession, a friend had the standard one-word question for me:  “Why?”  Why?  Since you asked…

About a year and a half ago, I figured (OK, hoped) that it was probably not too late to atone for an adult lifetime of treating my body more or less like a toilet.  Starting my fifth decade on this planet, leaving behind ages of perceived immortality, I was able to see what could well be my future – a ceaseless treadmill of pills, doctor visits and hospital stays – a heavy user (pun absolutely intended) of the vaunted American healthcare system.  That’s where my parents are, and they don’t speak very highly of it.  So I figured if I get hooked on this running thing, maybe my first hospitalization can be for something minor like knee arthroscopy, instead of coronary bypass surgery.

On top of that, I became a father just days before my 40th birthday.  These days, that’s not an insanely advanced age for one to sire progeny, but more than old enough that I am destined to be a busted-up, decrepit old fart who is too out of shape to have a catch with Junior (and Child the Second, due to join us in early January), unless I clean up my act in a big way.

After finally having our fill of the urban paradise that is Trenton, New Jersey, we managed to escape, all the way up to the West Trenton section of Ewing Township.  It’s about five miles and a universe away.  After I adjusted to the culture shock of being able to gaze out my front window without wanting to vomit (provided I don’t look at my own lawn, of course), I noticed that lots of people around here like to do legal and productive things outside, running not insignificant among them.

Lastly, and because I don’t think my wife knows this blog exists as of yet, I think it’s safe to admit this: While out on a run, I would not be able to change a diaper, nor could I hear my then-infant son’s latest screaming fit.  Plus, I figured, If I’m going to occasionally escape the house for a little bit of “me time” – which I fiercely recommend to all new parents – I might as well spend that time doing something that’s actually good for me.  As opposed to…oh, let’s say…emptying my pocket into the cash register of any of the area’s many fine publicans.

So I literally dusted off an old pair of kicks in January 2011, and set out for a loop around my neighborhood, hoping against hope that nobody would actually see me.  Just over one mile and thirteen minutes later, I thought I would die on the spot.  But miraculously, I did not die.  So I did it again the next day.  Still alive.  About a week later, I lost my mind and ran all the way out to Trenton-Mercer Airport and back; a gaudy two miles, plus hills!

You can see where this is going, can’t you?  Two miles eventually turned into five.  I participated in my first 5K in over a decade.  If you believe in such things, the 5K is definitely the “gateway drug” of running.  It shows you that you’re not so fat, you’re not so slow, and might well be destined for something bigger.  Flogging the metaphor, I went from rocks to bricks, signing up for last year’s Philadelphia Half Marathon.  Prepping for this took 13 weeks, during which I ran over 250 miles; no small feat for this corpulent fella.  On the big day, I crossed the finish line in 2:19, and was overcome by a rush of accomplishment, soon followed by a rush of exquisite pain that would last for about a week.  I thought that was it for my illustrious running career.  Once an addict, always an addict, however; you forget about the pain as the memory recedes, and you sign up for another race.

Just over three months ago, I survived my second 13.1, the St. Luke’s Half Marathon up in Allentown.  Better than merely surviving, I knocked seven minutes off my Philly time, and on a much more difficult course.  Still hurt like holy hell for a week, though.

Having just completed two half marathons, I concluded that the terminal step in this addiction would be to run two more of them… only one right after the other.  That’s all.  Piece of cake.  Proving that I had finally hit rock bottom, I signed up for the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon, which takes place the Sunday before Thanksgiving, whether or not I am ready for it.  Putting the drug metaphor out of its misery, you can say I’ve gone from snorting it, to smoking it, all the way to mainlining it.

Thanks to the lovely folks at WordPress, who have a pretty rigorous set of standards for getting your content hosted, I get to combine the narcissistic activity of marathon training with the equally – if not more – narcissistic activity of telling you all about it!  Rather than making this all about me, however, my intent is to convince you, Sid and Terry (…sedentary?  get it?), that if I can pull this off, almost any one of you can.  Also, I look forward to sharing my novice runner’s advice and wisdom with you, absolutely free of charge!  And if I happen to even accidentally entertain any of you along the way, that’s a bonus.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.