Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Date With The Devil

I got introduced to the devil earlier this week.

As in, the one from the old English proverb that reads: "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't."

Don't worry, it's not as dramatic or traumatic as it sounds. It simply means that I decided that it was better to know exactly what lies ahead for me, rather than to jump in blindly.

Runners are divided into two pretty distinct groups when it comes to pre-race rituals -- those who want to know every hill and turn and those who will just tackle whatever the route throws at them on race day.

I've always fallen into the latter category, which is probably a surprise to anyone who knows me and knows that I worry about everything and anything -- all the time -- all the "what ifs" in life, no matter how far-fetched.

In life, I definitely feel most comfortable when armed with more information.

But my race philosophy has always been that once the run had started, it wouldn't matter how big the hill was in front of me. I'd have to run up it. (Note to self: perhaps not a bad philosophy for life, too.)

If I knew the route -- especially if I knew there was something dreadful out there -- I'd just be focused on the fact that I'd have to face it. I might, gasp, chicken out?

Now that I think about it, I don't think I've ever driven a race route prior to showing up at the starting line -- until now.

The other evening, when a strong summer storm caused the quick cancellation of a bike ride, I drove the second half of the Manchester Marathon course. Not only did I drive it, I did so in preparation of running it this weekend. Yes, actually training on the course. Go figure.

With my Trusty Companion riding shotgun and supplied with the marathon route map (and later the mapping function of his iPhone), we started at the half-way point -- which incidentally is right outside TC's building.

See, it's just as important (if not more) that TC familiarize himself with the route, since he'll be providing me with support for my run on Saturday (and presumably on race day).

When I found out I wouldn't be running with the team on Sunday (due to an important cow-belling engagement for TC's first cycling race), I decided I'd take a rare opportunity for a long run in the city to test out the course -- at least part of it.

I'm sure that during the marathon the course will be well marked, volunteers will be directing runners at intersections and -- let's be honest -- I'll be following someone the entire way. I won't really need to know where I'm going.

But when I run on Saturday, I'll have to find my way. I made mental notes of street signs and landmarks as we drove the course, even though I'm sure TC will be there at all the right moments to point me in the right direction.

As expected, I also made mental notes about some of the hillier parts -- and there will be quite a few as we run through the St. Anselm's College campus. A few of those hills seemed pretty long, especially considering that I'll be running them at the 18-mile mark. (On Saturday I should just remind myself to be grateful that it's only Mile 5, right?)

Driving the course gave me an appreciation for how far I can already run -- "I can't believe you're going to be running this far," TC said at one point -- and how far I will be able to run. (Although I do admit experiencing the slightest moment of panic wondering if I'd be able to run it twice, mileage-wise, in just three months.)

One thing's for certain, now that I've been introduced to the devil, I look forward to getting to know him up close and personal.

See you Saturday, Wicked One.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

That Extra .22

I'm going to try to ignore the fact that this says it's 26.42 miles.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Right on Range Road, Right?

I rode 36+ miles on my bike last night -- not entirely intentionally.

When I ride with my Trusty Companion, we generally take our bikes somewhere and ride a route he's picked out. And I just follow.

When I ride by myself, I ride the same 21-mile route. Always.

After putting in 27 miles on my bike up at Newfound Lake last week , I felt the itch to get to the next level -- a 30-miler was within reach. Even though it was only adding three miles, somehow the jump to 30 seemed daunting. After all, 30 miles seems pretty darn far.

But I did it -- and then some -- and even finishing feeling pretty good about it.

Of course, it's easy for me to say that now. There were times last night when I wasn't feeling so good about it, at least mentally.

Plans for a ride started simply enough. A beautiful summer evening, a night without other obligations. TC and I exchanged a few texts as I figured out where I'd be riding. He encouraged me to go for the 30-miler. (I appreciate his confidence in my ability.)

After confirming (several times, actually) that I'd be taking "a right on Range Road" after I came through Derry on Route 102, I set off for my ride -- decked out in my new cycling shirt (love it!) and sassy new checkered cycling socks that I picked up at Concord Market Days this weekend.

At least I looked the part.

TC gave me a headstart, then left his place with the plan that he'd eventually catch up with me. He's much faster than me, so there was little doubt that he'd catch me on the course. Somewhere.

I started along my usual route, pedaling pretty well and keeping up my pace. I practiced the new techniques to get up the hills -- don't take them sitting down! -- and even tried practicing riding in the drops on the flatter sections.

Periodically, I'd glace behind me at the top of a hill to see if I saw TC coming. Nope, no sign.

I kept going, making my way from Manchester, through Auburn and Derry, then into Londonderry. I navigated some pretty busy intersections, clipping out of my pedals as needed and even switching my water bottles on the go.

Wow, was I actually starting to get the hang of this biking thing?

I felt great. My legs, which had run 12 miles with the team the day before, seemed to loosen up and felt pretty strong.

I passed the landmark to start looking for Range Road, which would turn me back toward home. I checked my watch and, per TC's instructions, went about six minutes. I saw a side road up ahead where a car was pulling out onto the main road.

High Range Road.

Instant confusion and decision-making time. Hmm.

TC had said Range Road. Clearly. And I had confirmed it. A few times.

Maybe Range Road was just down the road a bit? Not knowing where in the world High Range Road would bring me, I decided not to take the turn and keep going along Route 102 looking for Range Road.

I passed one intersection, then another, then another. Soon I was into Hudson -- a town not mentioned in TC's directions.

How was it possible that TC never caught up with me? We sort of brushed over the details of the final turns because we were sure he'd be riding with me by then.

I figured he must be ahead of me -- and pulling farther away with each turn of the pedal. (Turns out, he was actually behind me -- underestimated my speed, maybe? -- and reached High Range Road as I was making my way down into Hudson. Just missed each other.)

Decision-making time again. I thought about the hills I'd just gone up and down -- and realized if I turned around, I'd be doing them all over again. But if I went any further, I would just be adding miles.

I pulled into a walk-up ice cream stand and asked two girls at the counter if I could come upon Range Road if I kept going. I wouldn't. But, they said, there's a High Range Road back in the other direction.

Ah yes, High Range Road. I knew exactly where it was.

"You have a pretty long ride ahead of you," one of them said. Yeah, thanks for that reminder, lady. I'd already gone at least 25 miles or so at that point.

I snapped into my pedals and started making my way back -- worried that I'd now be battling daylight. I just wanted to make it home before dark. And I didn't know exactly where I was going and I was worried that I might take another wrong turn that would put me even further out of my way.

I started feeling uneasy and anxious -- a hard feeling to explain. But I pedaled on, knowing that eventually I'd get back to something that looked somewhat familiar. I approached the two-hour mark on my watch and knew that I probably didn't have much more light to figure out just how to get there.

I knew TC was probably getting worried and was probably feeling terrible after seeing the "High" part of the High Range Road sign. I tried to figure out what he would do. Would he ride back and try to find me? Would he finish out the ride and go get his car?

I thought about what I would do if I couldn't find my way or just exhausted myself -- stop at someone's house and call TC? Walk my bike home? (This scenario is not good for a worrier-by-nature that constantly plays out the "what ifs" in her head.)

Somehow, I figured it out -- after stumbling upon signs that I knew would bring me back to familiar territory.

A little more than 2 hours and 15 minutes and 36.46 miles later, I pulled into my driveway.

To be honest, I felt pretty good at the end -- after the mental weight of trying to find my way was lifted.

It's a route, I might even add to my repertoire (minus the stop at the ice cream shop for directions, of course).


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Takes A Lickin' ...

Never give up.

Nope, I'm not talking about suffering through grueling hours of marathon training or pushing yourself to the top of a steep climb on the bike.

I'm talking about my iPod.

Yep, that's right. Just as I had (almost) come to grips with the fact that I'd be buying a new iPod and starting an iTunes library from scratch, I saw a flicker of hope -- literally.

Ever the optimist, I faithfully checked my iPod for signs of life every day since I discovered it soaking in a bag of water almost three weeks ago.

Yesterday, I saw a slight orange light come on. (Incidentially, I don't remember it having an orange light in its former life.)

I gave it a quick listen -- but heard nothing. I decided to give it a full battery charge to see if I could revive it. I plugged it into the computer and saw the list of songs come up.

Hmm, more signs of life. This was looking promising.

Confident I couldn't charge the battery any more than I had, I plugged in the headphones and give it a try.

The sweet sound of Barenaked Ladies crackled through the ear buds. The crackling sounds subsided and I flipped quickly through a couple of songs.


Instantly, I was amazed at the durability of this tiny device. I didn't even have to follow the tips from those who suggested putting it in a bag of uncooked rice or coffee ground or baking it in the oven.

So never give up, my friends.

Or at the very least, put a little more faith in those geniuses at Apple.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Waddle On, Penguins!

You may have noticed the quote at the upper right of this blog: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. It’s that I had the courage to start.”

I find these words, written in a book by John Bingham, to be personally meaningful. Sure it applies to training for a marathon. But they mean so much more than that.

Having the courage to start anything – whether it be training for a long run, a new job or basically starting over in life – is often the hardest part.

It's kinda like the modern-day version of another inspiring quote: "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

People tell me all the time that they are impressed with my consistency in training or that I finished another half-marathon.

The compliments are nice, but really, it’s not always about finishing. It's having the courage to start – to start that first mile, to start training for a race, to start moving life in a better direction.

They look skeptical when I tell them I didn’t do anything they couldn't do. I just focused myself and put my mind to it. Anyone can do this. I really believe that.

I’ve found inspiration in many people along the way – some of whom I’ve never even met. One of those people is John Bingham.

Through his books and columns in Runner’s World, I’ve identified with him as a “normal” runner– maybe not someone who was born to run. Once a self-described couch potato with bad habits, he's someone who along the way discovered running (through Team In Training, I might note) as a way to better himself and inspire others.

His advice is practical and real. His stories make me laugh. His nickname – “The Penguin” – kinda says it all. He supposedly “waddles” when he runs. But he runs nonetheless and has finished many, many marathons. An ordinary person doing extraordinary things.

Being a "Penguin" isn't just about how you run. It's more about why you run.

The "What Is A Penguin" tab of John Bingham's website reminds us that "Penguin" has come to mean a person who runs more for the joy of running than for recognition and publi
c rewards. Some of us are perpetual Penguins. We are consumed by the pleasure of movement.

Imagine my surprise and excitement when I opened my mailbox to find a birthday package from my dear friend, Kristi. I unwrapped it and found a copy of John Bingham’s “Marathoning For Mortals.”

An excellent gift – and an excellent book.

I actually read the book last summer when I was in training for the Maine Marathon (before my unfortunate motorcycle mishap knocked me off my training plan and meant I wouldn’t be running the full marathon last year).

I picked up so many good tips about marathoning for “real” people. (And I am definitely a “mortal,” especially when it comes to running. My body likes to remind me of that - often.)

I know it will come in handy as I embark on another training plan for my first 26.2.

I was excited enough about the book and the thoughtfulness of the gift, but as I got in my car to leave for work, something inside me told me to go back and open it. (I know Kristi, after all. And I suspected she might just have another surprise up her sleeve.)

Sure enough, I opened the front cover to find a personalized, signature message from John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield, co-author and Team In Training coach.


Many thanks to Kristi (and her husband Scott, who works for a marathon travel company and I suspect was instrumental in arranging this personalized birthday gift).

And continued thanks to John Bingham for providing encouragement and advice to fellow “penguins” across the country. Just like me.

It seems appropriate to end this post by quoting John Bingham once again: Waddle on, my friends.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Two of my recent races have ended on a track. At the time, I remember thinking the only thing I liked about the track was that it marked the end of these runs.

I don’t like the ultra-flatness of the track or the limited scenery. I don’t like the thought of sharing my running space. I don’t like the monotony.

But I’m now trying to embrace track runs with more excitement. Or at least I’m just trying to get to the track. Period.

I had my first go-around, literally, on the track last week – finally taking the advice of my Second Coach Geno, who’s been urging me to try track runs or tempo runs as a way to build up strength, speed and a laundry-list of other benefits.

My online training plans also built in a weekly track run, and my successful marathoning friends sing the praises of a little speed work.

Surely not all of these people and training plans could be wrong.

I know I’ve fallen into a rut of running semi-consistent mileage at a semi-consistent pace. I want to get better – to run faster, longer and stronger. And this seems like the way to do it. Or so I’m told.

I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated of the track. I’m not sure I’d actually ever run on one – except maybe the occasional gym class drill. Running plans with numbers like 2x800s confused me. I didn’t know exactly how to tackle it.

Geno provided me with detailed instructions and a plan, even agreeing to meet me at the track if I needed help and answering my many questions by email.

But I decided to try this one on my own, on my 34th birthday. Sure, happy birthday to me.

I made my way to the Memorial High School track, where a large group of high school lacrosse players was assembling for a practice on the inner grass. (I didn’t realize until later that this would mean I might be dodging lacrosse balls that came flying across the track.)

I pushed myself through Geno’s planned workout, which consisted of a mile warm-up, several intervals at a faster pace, then a mile cool-down. It ended up being about four miles. And it seemed to take forever.

Normally I can run four miles without much effort. But I felt this workout in my legs and back. I felt myself pushing my heart rate. I challenged myself to run faster laps.

That morning-after soreness in my muscles felt good. It felt like I was advancing already.

If that’s how I felt after only one workout, I can’t wait to see what a summer of weekly track runs will do for my training.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tomorrow, Tomorrow...

... the sun will come out tomorrow?

Who knows at this point. We're in the midst of the grayest, rainiest season I can remember. At this point I think I'd settle for a day with bright clouds. It doesn't even have to be sunny or blue skies.

Normally, I don't let the weather affect me too much. But in the third week of straight rain -- maybe more -- I'm beginning to feel the affects of the dreary, damp days.

I can't believe it's officially July -- when we should be spending hot days at the beach, tending to our sunburns and clicking on the A/C.

Last night, the only thing I did was change into my most comfy jeans and sweatshirt and snuggle on the couch with Rebs. My mind was telling me I needed to get to the track or the gym. (I knew I'd feel better and uplifted if I did.) But my body just wouldn't let it happen.

I've been slacking big-time on my running schedule -- and am reminded of it every time I pass by the blank boxes on my training plan taped on my fridge.

But I guess sometimes it's okay to slack. After all, there are an awful lot of boxes I gonna fill on that training chart before I get to marathon day.