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. 

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