Redemption: 20 Miles

Apologies to the one or two people who read this; on account of that whole Sandy mess, I’m just returning to full functionality on the ol’ inter tubes, after ten days offline; I enjoy writing SFoT, but not nearly enough to bother thumbing out entries on my so-called smartphone.  Factor in the work mess from which I still need to extricate myself in the wake of the unplanned, unpaid “vacation” that followed Sandy’s wrath, and you can see why I’ve been AWOL for a few weeks.

You may recall that my 18-mile training run was a bit of a disaster: the wall, leg cramps, almost died, yada yada yada.  My “virtual coaches” assured me that I would bounce back in time for the 20; “take it slow” was the consensus.  Also, in an effort to ward off cramping, I had two bananas before setting off, and filled two of the bottles on my belt with Gatorade, rather than water.

I was treated to an Autumn morning, the likes of which I couldn’t have done a better job creating, even with my own personal weather machine.  Heeding the advice of those who have gone before me, I took it slow.  Really slow.  Just-fucking-finish slow.  As a result, I realized the heretofore laughable achievement of running twenty miles.  On the same day.  In a row.  Without stopping.

When I just-fucking-finished, I didn’t think “Oh well.  My goose is cooked.  There is no WAY I will ever be able to run another hour (plus…very much plus) after doing THAT.”  I felt eerily calm.  I just went into the kitchen, brewed a cup of coffee, ate something, hosed down, and was out the door with the family in under an hour.

Being on my feet for several hours after was a blessing and a curse.  I probably felt better Sunday morning than I would have, had I parked my ass in front of the TV for several hours with a pizza and a six-pack.  Which was for the best, because shit was about to get REAL in New Jersey, in less than 24 hours.

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Confidence (Re-)Builder: 14 Miles

Suffice it to say, the 18-mile run felt a like a setback wrapped in achievement and excruciating pain.  I was definitely out of sorts for the rest of the weekend, the physical pain coupling with the notion that maybe that was the end of the line for me.  Maybe this big, fat train doesn’t go to 26.2?  The only way I could see to put this behind me was to literally put this behind me; with mileage!

Monday seemed to come way too soon, but without thinking, I suited up and banged out just over five miles in just under 50 minutes.  Once I got the ever-ugly first mile under my belt, the pain seemed to melt away, and the rest of the rush-hour run was quite enjoyable, so far as rush-hour road running goes.

Wednesday:  I just could not drag myself out of bed early enough to log nine miles, help get the boy ready for day care, and make the 6:56 train to Philadelphia.  That, and my alarm never went off.  Hmm…14 years into the same alarm clock, it’s unlikely that I set the buzzer for 4:30 pm purely by accident.  There must have been something sinister (and slothful) going on at the subconscious level.  Putting in nine miles after an entire day of…life, when I want nothing more than to stare blankly at a TV screen for a couple hours before passing out, is not all that easy.  Not unlike setting off on a predawn long run, however, the first step is the hardest.  I found that the back roads that I favor for my early morning jaunts are not at all suited to true nighttime running.  Death by auto, anyone?  Loath as I am to completely geek myself up, I am perilously close to decking myself out in a headlamp and reflective vest the next time I run in the dark.  My family would probably prefer a safe geek to a dead or quadriplegic whatever-I-am.  Still, the danger was somewhat invigorating, and I put in a pretty solid time for nine miles.

My Thursday five was not happening for a host of reasons, but rather than bagging it altogether, I squeezed it in on Friday.  Seeing as the long Saturday run would be dialed down a bit for this week (as is The Higdon Way), I figured this would not be the end of the world.  My punishment for skipping Thursday was five miles of ankle-deep puddles and colossal downpours on Friday.  I find the former preferable only to perhaps a compound fracture or dengue fever, but the latter was oddly enjoyable to me.  I’m strange like that.

A calm settled over me as I lay in bed, somewhat early last Friday night.  I felt neither excitement nor dread for what awaited me at 6:00 the following morning.  I just…was.  This relaxed state stayed with me after my alarm sounded, through the dreaded first mile, and never really left.  I enjoyed 14 miles of running just about as much as I am capable of enjoying 14 miles of running.  I got out early, but late enough that only the first six miles or so were run under cover of darkness.  No excretory emergencies presented themselves.  The effort and rhythm were consistent; I never felt like I was either flying or crawling.  Most importantly, nothing hurt.  I definitely could have continued past the scheduled 14, but that’s a tall order when your finish line is one block from Dunkin’ Donuts.

I think I can consider myself recovered from my last week’s disastrous 18-miler.  Entering my peak training week, I’m definitely buzzing at the prospect of logging a 40-mile week for the first time in my life.  They say the training is tougher than the race.  I agree wholeheartedly, assuming my half marathon experience to date is a fair basis for extrapolation.  All of my weekday training will go down in a Fort Wayne park; a pleasant, stress-free venue for running.  A little bit flat, but at least nobody can throw unwanted foodstuffs at me from moving cars.  Not unless they have one hell of a good arm.

I have been led to imagine that if you can run 20 miles, the final 6.2 falls under “oh hell yeah I got this,” but it seems like so much is left to chance; so many more x-factors.  Not least among them, 6.2 miles is ANOTHER HOUR OF RUNNING for me.  Probably more like 1:10, at that point.  This “wall” I keep hearing about: did I actually flirt with it when I ran the 18?  Near-total exhaustion?  Onset of leg cramps?  Check and check.  I have five days to figure this out in time for Saturday’s “dress rehearsal,” and hope I come up with a workable strategy for November 18.

I’m quite curious as to how the taper will treat me.  Obviously, I’ve only tapered for 13.1s before, and while definitely felt like I should have been running more, it didn’t drive me insane or anything.  I’m told it will be different this time around.  Whatever.  Bring it.  My legs are constantly fatigued these days.  Getting up before work to log anything more than a quick four-miler just sucks donkey turds.  I miss being awakened by my son early on a Saturday (for the past eight weeks, this has been considered “sleeping in,” ironically), watching cartoons and reading newspapers while Mommy gets a bit of hard-earned extra rest, so I sure wouldn’t mind having some of my spare time back for a few weeks.  All that said, I hope you’re eagerly awaiting my “Oh-My-Gawd-This-Fucking-Taper-Is-Killing-Me-I-Will-Never-Finish-This-Goddam-Marathon-I-Am-Losing-All-My-Conditioning-This-Is-Fucking-Bullshit!!!” post, which will probably go live on or about November 10.

Deer Count! 3 (Live Deer Count! 1)

Toenail Update!  Deteriorating.  My right “piggy (who) had roast beef” is sporting a nail that is pretty much purple underneath.  My boy accidentally stepped on it Saturday afternoon, and I almost needed to be peeled off the ceiling.

A Pyrrhic Victory: 18 Miles

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My weekday runs were displays of continued progress and dropping mile times.  The lowlight was a 9-miler in Bethesda, MD, on Wednesday.  The running itself was great, but oh my goodness, what a bunch of flaming ass-hats I encountered.  I normally like to wave to, grunt a “hey” at, or otherwise acknowledge anyone I pass on my travels.  It’s just being nice, y’know?  Would you care to guess how many times my gestures were returned, from the 40 or so walkers, runners, and cyclists I passed?!  Suffice it to say, it was a big, round number.  Also, I was cut off not once, but twice.  By motorists PULLING INTO THEIR DRIVEWAYS.  Th’ fuck?!?  And this wasn’t even Fancy Bethesda; this was Just-Inside-the-Beltway-Maybe-It’s-Not-Even-Bethesda-Proper-Bethesda.  It made Boston seem downright chummy, by comparison.

Thursday’s five-mile mission was scrubbed by life getting in the way.  I should be pleased that this was only the second time in this training program that I had to bag a run.  I toyed with making it up on Friday, but figured I should save myself for Saturday; a notion confirmed by consensus of my “virtual coaches.”  All things considered, confidence was high, heading into Saturday’s 18; the longest run I have ever attempted.

Things started well enough.  I had a proper dinner on Friday, a great night’s sleep, a sensible breakfast, and the luxury of not hitting the road until 9:00, on account of the rest of my family’s schedule.  It was just another run, with daylight (oh, blessed daylight; how I love thee!) and a bunch of new Autumn scenery, until about the 11-mile mark.  I came out of a short but steep-ish hill feeling not quite right.  However, I knew that the last seven miles held no surprises, terrain-wise, so I figured “shit, I got this!”

Oh, I got something, all right: nearly killed.  Nearing the 17-mile mark, I started to unravel.  About 2.5 miles from the finish, I reached for a higher gear to help me make a green light.  At this point, I learned something about myself that really should have been obvious: After running nearly 17 miles, I don’t HAVE a higher gear.  All I came up with was a very intimate brush with the type of leg cramps that would have dropped me like a sack of bricks in the middle of a four-lane street, had I not been able to make some last minute adjustments right before the calf knots tightened.  I spent the rest of the run trying desperately not to flex my knees too much, or point my toes downward any more than was absolutely necessary.

Dragging my slime trail across the finish line in front of my house, I literally wanted to die.  My lungs were freeze-dried from processing 3:20 worth of air that had been chilled to anywhere from 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Every last muscle below my waist was fried, and the back and shoulders were joining in, as well.  I was useless until sometime Sunday night.

I should have been thrilled at somehow managing to run 18 miles, but all was nullified by my near-complete breakdown.  The swagger I brought into this week is history.  My confidence is shot.  I am mentally and emotionally crushed.  How am I going to add two miles to this in two weeks…let alone 8.2 in five?

Pride and Fall: 16.02 Miles

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Loath as I am to recap an entire week or so of training here on SFOT, I will do just that, if only because it was remarkable.  By my piss-poor standards, that is.

Less than two weeks ago, I did the unthinkable: logged four miles at a 9:00 pace.  I hadn’t done that since my first running “career,” over a decade ago.  So, it is only natural that I would try to get this down into the “eights” the next time I would do this loop, a week ago.  And I did, but at a price.  Setting out at a brisk pace last Monday, I covered so much ground before the thirty-minute “beep” sounded on my watch, I was certain the sumbitch was broken.  With the finish line in sight, I decided to pour it on, only to catch a bit of uneven curb with my toe, a mere 40 yards from the end.

It happens so quickly, but time really does stand still.  On my half-second tumble to the asphalt, every hospital in Mercer County flashed before my eyes.

Graveyards, too.

Shit, I have a flight in three hours!

Did I leave the oven on?

Impact.

There were no audible signs of broken bones, which I took as a good sign.  I pretty much hurt like bloody hell, but stubborn pride would only allow me to “spring” up and “bolt” to the newspaper boxes at the next corner, where I would take inventory of my wounds.  Somehow, I got out of there with a bloody right knee, a pretty badly bruised right elbow, and some scraped knuckles on my left hand.  On the bright side, the next day would be my off day.  And what timing; one more 5:00 am run in Houston might really have been the death of me.

Despite the near-ER experience, I knocked 19 seconds/mile off my past performance on the 4-mile loop.  A new bar has been set for me on short runs; 10-minute miles are no longer acceptable to this garden slug with running shoes.

The after-effects of this spill made my Wednesday 8-miler a true exercise in masochism; I’m hard pressed to conjure up worse running partners than a sore back and stiff neck.  Still, I managed to log a 10:15 pace on an easy-ish course, selected as a concession to my convalescence.  For good measure, I followed that up on Thursday with my best 5-miler ever (9:24/mile).

There was a time, not too long ago, where any plans to add mileage on Saturday would haunt me all week.  Not this time.  I woke up.  I dressed.  I ran.  I ran some more.  I stopped to take a squirt somewhere in Hopewell, shortly before the woods thinned out (First time Road Whiz.  I know; what took me so long?!?).  I made it home in under three hours, at which point I could have bartered away a family member for five minutes alone with a bottle of Flexeril and a fifth of Irish whiskey.  Coffee and a donut would have to suffice; beer would be about twelve hours away.

I know you’re only as good as your last run, but for the first time ever, I really feel like I’ve GOT this, despite how much preparation still lies ahead, not to mention the prospect of six additional miles of who-the-hell-knows-what on race day.  Still, the fear is gone.  Gone.  For now, anyway.

Deer Count! 9 (Living Deer Count: 9!)

Toenail Update!  About three sore ones, bilaterally.  A little bit of discoloration on the right middle digit.

Fifteen for My Fifth: 15.05 Miles

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Who’s wedding anniversary is today?  Who kicked off their big day by getting out of bed at 3:45 am to run 15 miles?  How does the divorce rate of distance runners compare with that of the general population?  Who’s had enough questions for a Saturday morning?

If I were to say that I’m not yet tired of going to bed at 9:30 on a Friday night, I’d be lying.  Lying like Paul Ryan about his marathon finish time.  Yes, this getting-up-way-too-damn-early nonsense is quickly getting old; Presidential campaign old.

But the show goes on.  I walked out the door at 4:00 am sharp, into a beautiful, clear, 60-degree “morning.”  Sigh, I remember when 4:00 am was still “night.”  But I guess there comes a time to put away childish things.

After the usual (i.e., sucky) first mile and the big climb up Bear Tavern past the airport, everything fell into place very quickly for me.  I can honestly say I didn’t really “feel” anything until well into the thirteenth mile, when a bit of hunger set in, and various minor twinges made themselves known to me.  For my money, the scariest part was the two miles or so spent on Route 29 and Maddock Road.  The former is a two-lane State highway with no shoulders to speak of; the latter, a 1.5 mile stretch of rural beauty by day that is just so much pitch-black nothingness in the middle of the night.  Oh, and I almost rolled my ankle something wicked at about the 14-mile mark.  Occupational hazards of running in the dark, I suppose.

Crossing the imaginary finish line, I absolutely, positively could have kept going, believe it or not.  Overall, this journey was a massive win for me.  Beyond the objective data from this run (especially, longest distance ever), knowing how good I felt throughout and how much energy I had at the end are very good signs.  I fully realize that I’m still eleven miles short of my ultimate goal, but this is some real progress I’m making here.

Deer Count! 6 (Living Deer Count: 5)

Toenail Update!  All ten still look and feel A-O-K.

According to my dailymile stats, I burned over 2,000 calories this morning (in reality, my actual burn was probably quite a bit higher, because dailymile doesn’t know I’m a lard-ass).  Before the sun came up.  Happy Anniversary, indeed.

Speaking of…hardly anybody reads this pile of garbage (yet, I hope), but I can’t quite explain how lucky I’ve been to have Lady Legs-o-Lead by my side all these years, and as my wife for the past five.  She has given me undying love, a beautiful son (with another on the way), and too many memories to count.  Happy Anniversary, Lady.