Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Miles

I may not have gotten around to writing much over the last week, but that hasn't stopped me from logging some miles.  Last Tuesday I had planned to get up early and run 14 miles before work.  However on Monday night, because of various family, work and holiday obligations, I didn't make it into bed until about 1am.  When the alarm went off at 4am I surprised myself by actually getting out of bed and heading downstairs.  I was in the kitchen, in the dark, dressed like an out of shape superhero when I realized that, with only three hours of sleep, I would be able to finish the run just fine, but I would be worthless at work for the rest of the day.  I crawled back into bed and caught a few more Zs.  I  decided that I would take the last two hours off of work and take care of the run.  My wife agreed to pick up both kids from school, so I was all set.

Work kept getting more and more hectic and there were a million reasons I should have stayed.  But there were 100 very compelling ones that told me to get out the door and run.  Despite an overdeveloped sense of guilt and responsibility that plagues me every time I take off of work early, I knew I needed to run.  So, with work phone in the pack and a plan, I headed out for a slow 14 miler.  I was very pleased when I reached the 7 mile mark about 6 minutes ahead of what I thought I would be running. I managed to maintain that pace on the way home and finished with an 8:45 average.  I ran along a fairly busy road that was without a sidewalk for a couple of miles.  This experience convinced me that my time and energy is much better spent on the trails.  Sure running in the woods has its own set of hazards.  But these in no way compare to harried motorists, in their urban assault vehicles who are busy texting, tweeting or talking and can't be bothered to keep their eyes on the road or in any way pay attention to their surroundings.  In spite of my best efforts to be visible (reflective clothing and a bright LED headlamp) these "drivers" didn't seem to notice me at all.  Either that or they don't care.  I'm not sure which is worse, incompetence or indifference. Either way, I'll be staying off the roads for a while.

On Saturday, I got a respite from the self-absorbed motoring public when my wife and I left the kids with the grandparents and headed out to Umstead for a 16 mile run. The weather was beautiful and I felt really fresh once I got loosened up. We mixed single track with dirt road and covered the 16 miles without any difficulty.  (I was able to stay upright for the entire run, which was nice.)  Running single track always reminds me of my youth when I spent a lot of time in the woods and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail with my dad.  I was lost in those memories as the miles ticked away.
Christmas Eve on Turkey Creek
I normally run on both Saturday and Sunday but this Sunday was Christmas so the only running I did was from one family's house to another and in circles with the kids.   However, this lack of exercise didn't bother me because my training partner, Tim, and I had been planning a long run on the 26th.  We decided we would run our own Boxing Day Trail Marathon this year.

We met in the pre-dawn hours and hit the trail together.  We ran the Umstead Trail Marathon course, just slightly out of order.  It was the longest either of us had run since early November and we could both feel it as the miles piled up.  My legs were getting tired but still felt pretty good.  Around mile 22 it dawned on me that I had not adequately planned my nutrition.  One pack of Power Bar Blasts was simply not going to cut it.  Too bad that was all I had.  Even though my stomach felt like it was eating itself and I was quickly running out of gas, I kept telling myself that this was good training.

Every time I get tired or feel like I'm about to give up, I just picture myself at Leadville in August. I imagine I'm huffing my way up Hope Pass at 12,600 feet and that motivates me to push harder.  While I love the easy runs because they are fun and exciting, I know that the hard ones, the ones when I really suffer and want to quit but don't,  are the ones that make me stronger.  These are the runs that make me better. I frequently tell myself that if I suffer more now, I'll suffer less later.  With that mantra in mind, the First Annual Boxing Day Trail Marathon became a beautiful experience.  One that was run on a crystal clear December morning, in a beautiful setting with a good friend.

How can a run in this setting ever be bad?
I can't decide if I loved it because it was beautiful or because it was difficult.  Probably both.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ahh, that's more like it.

As I noted in my last post, I had managed to rationalize skipping a day from my training plan so that I could rest a little and allow my body to slowly get used to running more miles per week.  I was, of course, torn about this because I am scared about not having enough training miles for Leadville.  It appears that my strategy may have worked.

I woke up at 5am on Saturday, got dressed and headed out the door for a 20 mile run.  I don't live too far from Umstead so my plan was to run there, do some miles on the trails, turn around and run home.  It was perfect running weather, cool but not cold and it had rained the night before so everything seemed fresh and clean.  As I started off I felt awful.  I was huffing and puffing up the first hill, trying to maintain a very moderate pace.  This was discouraging as I had been looking forward to this run for several days.  I pressed on, knowing that it usually takes me several miles to warm up and hit my stride, such as it is.

I have never run with music.  I always considered myself a purist and looked down my nose, ever so slightly, at those who run with MP3 players. I told myself that they were missing out on so much.  They didn't get to focus on the rhythm of their breathing and the sound of their feet striking the ground.  They were missing the internal monologue that is such a vital part of the reason that running means so much to me. This reluctance to embrace music always fit rather nicely with one of the motivating factors in my running, a smug sense of self-satisfaction.  It's easy to feel good about myself compared to non-runners, but how else am I expected to feel smug compared to other runners, especially when the vast majority of them are quite a bit faster that I am?  Thus the the non-MP3 arrogance was born.  That, and I didn't own one until recently.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to give music a try and had one of the most enjoyable runs I have had in years.  None of the things I thought were true.  I was still able to think and reflect and focus on my breathing and my footfalls.  The difference was that I also got to listen to music that I love in a way that allowed me to really focus on the words, the tunes, and how all of it is woven together.  I'm sure people who passed me in the park that day thought I was a crazy person. I had a huge grin that I couldn't have stopped even if I had wanted to.  

Since I was going solo yesterday I decided I would listen to some tunes again for my run.  (I think it's a slap in the face to your training partner to listen to music while running with him or her.  It's like talking on the cell phone while you are paying for your groceries.  It says, "I think I'm more important than you are.")  For the first several miles the music did part of its job in that it kept me from getting creeped out as I ran through the dark by myself.  However, it was not the great motivator that I had experienced on my first run. Oh well, I thought, must have just been one of those days that runners have every now and again.  I kept on keeping on until I was little over 5 miles into the run.  As the night was slowly giving way to twilight, I entered Umstead and was starting to feel good.  Just as I got into the woods Wildflowers, by Mr. Tom Petty, started playing.  It just seemed to fit.  "You belong among the wildflowers....Far away from your trouble and worry, You belong somewhere you feel free."  There I was in the woods, where I belong, with my worries far away, feeling free.  Thanks, Tom. 

The rest of the run was excellent.  As the sun came up over the trees I felt like a love struck teenager.  You know, that sappy, saccharine feeling you get, when the sky is more blue, the birds' songs are sweeter, the air feels more fresh and everything seems possible.  It was great. 

Sunrise in Umstead

Everything felt great as I turned around and headed for home.  Every song that came on sounded like it had a message for me.  I felt empowered and emotional all at the same time.  It never ceases to amaze me how much a great run can do to lift my spirits.  I ended up running a negative split for the out and back by over 6 minutes.  I was home by 9 and spent the rest of the day with my family.   (Being a working father of two small children is some of the best ultra marathon training I could imagine.  It forces you to stay on your feet, even when you're exhausted and teaches you how to be patient and keep a positive outlook, even when you feel like giving up.)  While I was rejuvenated and excited, I knew the real test would be my Sunday run.

Sunday morning my wife and I dropped the kids off at the in-laws and headed back out to Umstead.  I had mapped out a route just shy of 11 miles, with lots and lots of hills.  It was another beautiful day, with a gorgeous clear blue sky and mild temperatures.  As with Saturday, it took a couple of miles to catch my breath and start to feel good.  I worked harder than I normally would have early in a run because I didn't want Wendy to run away from me again.  Once I warmed up, we both had a great day and got progressively faster throughout the run. We ran shoulder to shoulder almost the entire time, both of us pushing each other at times.  With about 45 minutes to go in the run, I asked her if she'd be willing to snap a picture of me running on the trail for this post.  She said she'd be glad to, just let her know when.  I was running with a pack and had the camera in one of the many pouches so I knew I'd have to stop to fish it out.  I kept seeing great places to take a shot, but I was having so much fun running that I didn't want to stop to get out the camera.  Less than a mile from the car, she pointed out that we were running out of trail if I wanted a picture.  I decided that I'd rather keep running than stop and break our rhythm.  Now, that's a good run. 

I end the week feeling healthy and very motivated.  Next week's schedule will be altered for Christmas a little as I'm planning to run 16 with Wendy on Christmas Eve and 26.2 on Boxing Day with my training partner, Tim.  I can't think of a better Christmas present than a few hours of running in the woods. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Itchy and guilty, but rested and ready.

According to my apparently somewhat initially overambitious training program, I was supposed to run 6 miles yesterday and 8 today. I found my way to a treadmill on my lunch hour yesterday for the 6 miler. I had two problems:

1) I was just tired and was feeling the residual effects from my runs this past weekend, and
2) whenever I run at lunch it stresses me out that I need to get back to the office.

The end result was that I cut my run short. 

My plan for today was to run outside tonight after I got home. Then I got home and the kids were cute and my wife didn't have to run out for a meeting or work out so I decided I would rather hang out with the family before the kids went to bed. I was able to rationalize that it would let me recover and recouperate in preparation for another long weekend full of early morning runs. With my decision made, I set about enjoying my evening of family togetherness.

It was certainly time well spent, however I discovered a couple of things as the evening progressed. I felt very guilty for not running. This was not a new sensation for me, as I have frequently bailed on a workout when I didn't have a training partner to push me. Usually I am able to rationalize this pretty easily. However I wasn't able to do that this time. This is due to the fact that even though Leadville is about 9 months away I still feel tremendous pressure to train and prepare. Also, one of the main reasons I started this blog was to publicly* hold myself accountable to my training schedule.  (*Not too sure how public this is. It's a lot like being a DJ on a small college radio station.  I'm talking, but there is very little evidence that anyone is paying attention.)

So, I'm full of guilt for bailing on my weekday run. However, thanks to an upbringing where guilt was liberally applied in lieu of corporal punishment, I can handle the guilt.   This is due in large part to an over developed ability to rationalize.  I have been a big fan of rationalizations for many years. I think the power of the rationalization was best explained by Jeff Goldblum here. 

What did surprise me was that I felt restless and itchy. Not literally, I don't need any calamine lotion or anything. I just felt like I was missing something. Once I recognized that I was irritable, it didn't take me long to figure out that I was missing my run. This was surprising, in a very pleasant way. As I have said, I have always been pretty slack with my training. (For instance, for the iron distance triathlon I did in October, I made it to the pool about 5 times in the 6 months leading up to the race. That is some serious slacking.)  In the last few weeks I have gone from running three days a week, at the most, to running at least 5 days a week, with much higher mileage. My legs are struggling to keep up. I realize that's the idea as I have to train myself to run on tired legs. As my very smart wife pointed out to me today, I just don't have to do it all in the first two weeks. The upshot of my epiphany this evening is that a day off was just what I needed to feel rested and fired up to run this weekend and that my power to rationalize is growing weaker the closer I get to August.

I'm sure I will mourn the loss of my super ability to rationalize in the short term but I know that, in the long run, I will be much better off.  I wonder if there is a 12 step program for rationalization addicts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tired Legs

The last two weeks, I have taken my running more seriously than I ever have before.  That means not only more miles, but more quality miles.  I ran several days last week during the week, which is frankly not something I have ever spent as much time doing as I should have.  Then on Saturday I ran about 16 miles out at Umstead with my good friend and frequent training partner, Tim. We did a lot of single track, as he is getting ready to run the Mount Mitchell Challenge in February.  http://www.blackmountainmarathon.com/

Normally Tim and I are pretty evenly matched, which is one of the reasons that we run together so often.  However on Saturday, I think he'd been eating his Wheaties, or maybe taking some meth, because I really had to struggle to keep up with him.  I managed to hang on, but it wasn't pretty.

The next day I went back out to Umstead to run with my wife, Wendy.  She needed to do about 14 miles for her current training plan.  We arranged a sitter and headed off to the park to spend some quality time together running as much single track as we could. Let me say, right off the bat, that my wife can run.  We have run multiple marathons together and it is not unusual for her to say good-bye to me somewhere around mile 20.  Sunday was no exception.

I knew right away that I was in for a long morning.  Although it was a beautiful morning and it was great to be in the woods and running with Wendy, my legs just felt heavy. This didn't pose too much of a problem until we got to our first stretch of the single track. Just a few minutes in, right after commenting to Wendy that the stretch we were running was fairly technical and that she should be careful, I tripped on a rock and went down hard.  Fortunately, Wendy was in front of me and didn't see it happen. It was not a graceful move. I did manage to put my wrists out in front of me because everyone knows that when you fall down you should try to break your fall with the back of your wrists, right?  After skidding to a stop, I took a moment to gather myself and off we went.  I was a little dirty but nothing was broken, torn or ruptured.

About an hour later, still on one of the trails, my hip flexors felt like they were on fire, which was a new sensation for me.  This was exacerbated by the hills.

I managed to keep up with her until we got back out to Turkey Creek, although I was sucking some serious wind and had hit the ground one more time.

Eventually, she simply ran away from me. I did all I could to keep up with her. I'm almost foot taller than she is so I decided I would try to catch her by bombing down the hills as fast as I could, using my longer legs to make up time. This worked for a while. I would almost catch her on a downhill and then she would pull away on the uphill.  I finally managed to catch her with about a mile to go.  Too bad I had to basically sprint to do it.  I fell in step with her for about 10 yards and then had to stop and walk. She was waiting for me at the car when I got there. Because she's good person, and a wonderful wife, she was kind enough to lie to me and tell me she hadn't been there long at all and that I hadn't slowed her down during the run.

Monday was my rest day and I didn't do anything that could even remotely be considered exercise.

This evening after I got home from work I jumped on the treadmill to knock out what I thought would be an easy 12 miles.  Boy was I wrong. I felt pretty off for the first mile, but that's not unusual. When I run on the treadmill it takes me a few minutes to work out the kinks and get moving.  Sure enough, after a couple of miles, I started to feel a lot better.  I did notice that that my left shoulder was still feeling the impact of my fall, but nothing to make me stop.  I finished the 12 miles in about 1hr 42min, which was several minutes slower than I had wanted to run.

I can tell that my body is still getting used to running more than a couple of days a week.  I'm scheduled to run 6 tomorrow, 8 Thursday, 20 on Saturday and 10 on Sunday.  I'll let you know how I feel after my Sunday run.