Monday, August 31, 2009

Oh, Danny Boy!

I'll take a hurricane over a hangover any day of the week.

That was the advice from a TnT alum in response to a Facebook post I made debating whether it's worse to run 18 miles in the remnants of a hurricane or the morning after a wedding.

The consensus, at least among my runner friends, was to take on Hurricane Danny, which was scheduled to send some significant rains our way on Saturday.

So I did.

And although it wasn
't as hurricane-like as I was expecting, I admit to questioning my sanity after hearing the rain pouring outside my window when my alarm went off a little after 5 a.m. on Saturday morning. It was pitch-black, a sure sign that summer's coming to an end.

And pouring. Did I mention that?

Almost instin
ctively, I picked up my cell phone -- a little part of me hoping that Shawnna, my running partner for the day, would have sent me a text calling off the run. Nothing.

I checked Facebook and saw Shawnna's post (for all to see): "Yes, it's pouring. Yes, I'm running 18 miles in it. Let's do it, T."

No backing out, I guess.

I packed up my GU, filled my fuel belt and prepared the items for our waterstops. (We were determined not to be under-prepared like we were for last week's 13 miles in the humidity. Lots of fluids this week!)

I sent a simple text to Shawnna: "Are we crazy?"

She replied that these types of runs are what marathon training is about. And pointed out to me that, if anyone, she was the crazy one -- she wasn't even signed up for the Manchester Marathon (yet!) and didn't have a wedding to go to that night.

Crazy, maybe. But a true running buddy, for sure.

I'm not sure that I really expressed to her that day -- although we spent the entire 18 miles music-free, just enjoying chatting with each other and catching up on life as the miles passed -- how grateful I was (and am) for having her by my side for another milestone in my running career.

While I'm sure I could have made it through, one way or another, without her, I'm not sure I would have wanted to.

We were soaked from the beginning, as Hurricane Danny pelted us with big raindrops during the first few miles of our run. We dodged puddles and laughed at times, noting the sogginess of our shorts and shoes and the challenges that wet runs can create. (Runners might know a few of the things I'm referring to here.)

Overall, we felt great. Much better than the 16 I did a few weeks ago in the scorching heat on the Seacoast. Even better than last week's 13 miles in the humidity.

I'd take a hurricane over the heat (or yes, a hangover, like Matt said) any day of the week.

The day's route consisted of the first 18 miles of the marathon course. As we passed the spray-painted marks along the pavement noting the marathon miles, I mentally checked them off in my head. Thirteen more to go, eight more to go, three more to go.

While winding our way through a neighborhood on the Westside, we stepped across the 17-mile marker. "Only one more to go until you've run farther than you ever have," Shawnna said. Too late, I reminded her. Before that moment, 16 miles was my farthest.

Soon enough, we passed the 18-mile mark, just as we turned the corner to make our way up the Daniel Plummer hill. Our cars were parked slightly passed the marker, so let's note that we actually ran more than 18 miles that day.

We finished feeling strong -- soaking wet and getting a little stiffer with every step, but feeling good. And smiling. I think both of us agreed we could have kept going (although I didn't mind stopping at the parking lot to take off my shoes, wring out my socks -- literally -- and try to dry off and warm up).

This week's schedule falls back a bit, with the longest run somewhere in the 10-mile range. Then it's on to 20 miles the following week. I was excited to see a message from Shawnna this morning saying she'd be around that day to run it with me.

Yes, 20 miles. That will take us to the other side of St. A's -- and only 6.2 miles from the official finish line.

I've now run every step of the marathon course. Not on the same day, of course. But that will come soon enough.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Prepare to Shift Gears

I bumped into Geno yesterday while meeting a friend for lunch. It made me realize a couple of things:

1) I hadn't been to Spin Class in a long, long time. But I can't bring myself to push the pedals inside when there's beautiful weather and scenery to experience. There's plenty of time for indoor training during the long, cold New Hampshire winter! I'll be sure to get back soon enough.

2) Sometimes I forget that people are following this blog and supporting my training from the sidelines. Geno mentioned he read about my 16-miler. ("Why does it always seem so hot when you run, he asked. I beginning to think now that I'm just a complainer!?)

Today I received an email from Geno commenting on the latest post on the challenging bike route in Bow. Mental challenges, he reminded me, will help me in the marathon. And he thanks TC for pushing me in that direction. Sometimes we certainly need to be pushed past what we think we can handle.

I'll close this post by quoting Geno's latest words of wisdom for a first-time marathoner:

The first 20-miles are powered by your engine. The last 6.2 are powered by your mind. Be prepared to shift gears as needed.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I recently discovered a new website that will scan any site with an RSS feed (or any block of text you give it, really) to create word-art based on its content. I tried my blog this morning.

I really like the results. Interesting to see what words it pulls out as the dominant words and what words support them.

And interesting to note that TC appears center-stage, nice and big.

I know it's probably just some computer formula, but it seems to know exactly where my focus is at this point in my life and training. Miles, hills, run, frustration, road. TC.

Can't wait to see what it comes up wi
th next time.

Teetering On The Edge

There are a few things you might not know about me.

I can be pretty stubborn. I don’t like failure. I don't like finding out there are things I can’t do. And I don’t like crying in front of people.

Okay, so maybe those things aren’t exactly earth-shattering. They probably don’t come as any big surprise to anyone who knows me.

My not-so-lucky Trusty Companion got an up-close-and-personal look at those things last week – when during a sweltering day during our vacation he brought me on my toughest bike ride yet.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how tough it was on me – mentally and physically.

We made our way one afternoon to the start of TC’s bike race in Bow. I was admittedly nervous about it from the start. I’d felt a slight set-back in my cycling ability lately, not really sure of the reason, and tackling those hills, especially in 90-degree weather, seemed more than daunting.

But I couldn’t back out. I couldn’t say I didn’t want to even try.

So I clipped into my pedals and started up the first hill. Without exaggeration, it was about a mile long. Nearly immediately, I had my doubts about making it to the top. I remember walking up the same incline during TC’s race to encourage the cyclists up the hill. (I only found out later that I had only walked about a quarter way up the hill. Yikes.)

I pressed down on the pedals and, despite my best efforts to shift gears effectively, got slower and slower. At some point, I knew I wouldn’t make it all the way up. I stopped on a side road for a break – something I don’t usually do during a ride and something I don’t like to do – and built up a little momentum to make it up the rest of the hill.

One down.

Little did I know what the next hill had in store for me. You know when you pass those yellow road signs warning trucks of a steep hill, it’s gonna be bad.

And it was. A few miles bad.

I made it up as far as I could – which in reality didn’t seem really far at all.

I knew I wouldn’t make it up. After a panic moment of trying to keep the bike balanced upright long enough to clip out of my pedals at the slow-motion speed at which I was now traveling, I hopped off the bike with a lot of frustration.

And I walked. And walked. And walked.

It wasn’t even an easy walk. My cycling shoes clicked along the pavement and I navigated my bike up the steep incline as cars whizzed by me. Great, I thought, all of these drivers seeing my moment of defeat.

At the top, TC (in his usual supportive and cheerful fashion) greeted with me with some encouraging words. To be honest, I can’t even remember what they were.

Yikes, I had gotten there. No, not the top of the hill.

I was teetering on the edge of the Bite Me Zone – that emotionally charged zone in which the parts of our personalities leap out at unsuspecting supporters. Not just the little parts of our personality we don't want others to see – the parts that form during the most physically and mentally taxing parts of our training and lives.

I admit my heart and my head were completely out of the ride at that point. I wanted it over. I dreaded the last 25 miles. I dreaded that it meant going over that first hill again to get to that second part of the ride. I dreaded that I had no idea what the last 18 miles had in store for me.

We rode in silence. I felt the frustration building up in me – and I know TC sensed it too. He gave me a little more space than usual, and at one point even quietly asked if I was mad at him.

I told him I wasn’t. And it was the truth.

It had nothing to do with TC – although he did pick the route and, as I reminded him, really overestimated my abilities. (“It’s just because you are so fantastic at everything you do,” he said. Really?? How could I ever get mad at someone like that?)

I was frustrated with myself. Frustrated with my inability.

It seemed like another hill was around every corner we turned. And it seemed as if I struggled with every one of them. Looking back, I’m sure it was because I was just mentally defeated and didn’t have it in me to give it my all. Or much at all, really.

As we rounded the loop past the parking lot with the car, I seriously considered telling TC that I’d just wait for him while he finished out the 29 miles.

But no, I couldn’t quit. I don’t quit.

So I pressed on and slowly started up that first hill for the second time. I planned a stop at the same spot I did during the first go-around. As I pulled over for the break, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.

What? Why was I crying? I couldn’t help it. I was totally frustrated with my performance, my inability to make it once around a loop that TC and the other racers had done three times. I felt completely inadequate. Like, who was I kidding trying to do these athletic things?

Luckily, cycling always involves wearing sunglasses so TC didn’t see my breakdown. (I confessed it later to him on the car-ride back.) I know TC sensed I was bothered more than usual. He offered some more supportive words and even a high-five at one point. I forced a very fake smile (he knew it was fake, I'm sure) and I quickly took off down the street to get ready to get the rest of the way up the hill.

I was determined to make it up in one trip – still a very, very quiet trip for us. We finally made the turn from the loop and headed out to finish the last 18 miles, a long way to go when you’re dancing on the edge of the Bite Me Zone.

The road quickly turned into the fastest and steepest downhill I’d ever experienced. I used my brakes to try to control my speed, but had really lost all confidence in my ability. I didn’t even feel good riding the downhills, where I usually enjoy the break for my legs and the wind whipping on my face.

I only hoped we wouldn’t be putting that hill in on the other side. I wouldn’t have been able to take it. I think I even told TC that if I got the slightest sense that we’d be going back up anything like that, I’d pull over and he could pick me up with the car later. Yes, I was willing to quit.

Luckily, the rest of the road was much more manageable. And with every mile, I felt my frustration disappearing. The weight lifted from my shoulders and the storm that was brewing inside me subsided. I started to talk about the beautiful views and chatted with TC along the way. We were heading home, the ride wouldn’t be much longer and I felt darn good about the trip back to the car.

Better spirits, for sure.

We eventually pulled into the parking lot, where TC announced we did 29 miles (we had planned 28 miles and I'm not exactly sure how that extra mile came in). We loaded up the bikes and I apologized profusely to TC for my cranky attitude that emerged along the way.

I was only teetering on the edge this time. I’m almost afraid to see what happens at Mile 21 or so of the marathon, when I hit the real Bite Me Zone. I bet TC is too.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Got That Feeling Back

This morning I ran farther than I've ever run: 16 miles.

It's hard to describe that feeling you experience after you finish a run farther than you've ever had. You feel like you can do anything.

Of course, I didn't feel that way during certain parts of the route -- when summer temps went into the 90s and the sun beamed down on us so intensely that I swore I might melt into a puddle or burst into flames.

Too hot to be running.

But we did. And, some way or another, we got our 16 miles in.

I breezed through the first five that we did on the downtown loop and got the second five in rather easily to make it to the Mile 10 water stop.

Miles 10 to 13 got harder, but I still generally felt good. At Mile 13, where I mentally noted I'd run a half-marathon and still had a few miles to go, I started to struggle.

Miles 13 to 16 weren't pretty. It was surely a test of mental fortitude, not to mention the physical aspect of keeping my legs going when all I wanted to do was stop.

As I rounded the top of Sagamore Hill, which marked a little less than a mile to the finish, I thought to myself: Now this feels like marathon training.

Pushing your body beyond what you think it can do, keeping your mind focused on the goal, dealing with the balance of hydration and sweat. It's all part of what I signed up for.

Some people say Marathon Day is just a culmination of all the hours and sweat you put into training. It's a day for celebrating all that you've alreadt accomplished.

Getting to the starting line is a feat in itself.

If today is any indication of what it takes to get to the starting line, I wouldn't argue with any of those statements.


Hierarchy of Roadkill

When you run the kind of miles I do, you come upon more than your fair share of dead animals on the side of the road.

I've noticed -- based on my own reaction and those of my running pals -- that not all of these creatures are regarded in the same way.

Here's my take on the Hierarchy of Roadkill, a runner's perspective:

8. Raccoons, opossums, skunks. These are the bottom of the food chain. It might be because they're a dime a dozen on the side of the road. It might be because they're often considered nuisance creatures. Whatever it is, runners barely flinch when they pass by them.

7. Squirrels, chipmunks. These are just slightly ahead of the aforementioned critters. I think they're considered to be slightly cuter, so people feel a little more guilty seeing them on the side of the road. Still, You see them everywhere -- and generally speaking they don't fare well in a head-to-head meeting with a vehicle.

6. Birds. These are a little more rare on the side of the road. I've often wondered how these birds get hit. I suppose many of them actually fly into the vehicles. What a way to go.

5. Frogs. I debated the placement between birds and frogs on this list, but generally speaking I feel a little more sympathetic toward those poor little amphibians trying hop-by-hop to make it to the other side.

4. Deer. I think we all picture those big blinking eyes, recall our childhood memories of Bambi.

3. Cats. We passed a little kitty on the side of the road at last week's team run. I think you could hear the collective 'awwwwe' from the team as we passed what we all knew was someone's pet.

2. Dogs. I'm a self-proclaimed dog person. I've never actually encountered a dog on the side of the road, but if I did I'd probably have to fight back tears thinking of the owner who'd lost their ever-loyal pal -- and didn't even know it yet. Doggies seem to have a habit of trailing me from time to time and I've actually walked a few dogs back home after checking their tags. I only hope someone would do the same for my buddy (not that I ever intentionally let him out of my sight).

1. Humans. You can debate the order of the rest of this list, but be concerned if humans don't top yours.


Friday, August 7, 2009

"Only" 10

All of this week and last, I've been mentally gearing up to run 16 miles on Sunday -- farther than I ever have.

I admit that adding two-plus miles onto last week's run seemed more than a little daunting.

I knew the marathoners-in-training on the current team were on schedule for 10 miles this week. I figured I'd run the extra six solo. Yep, an extra six on top of the 10 miles. Quite a task.

I was pleasantly surprised a few days ago when I was filling out and crossing off boxes on the training chart on my fridge. Sunday's box: 6 miles.

Six miles?

How could I possibly have misread that for weeks? I was sure that I had 16 scheduled for this week. Maybe I was just so anxious to move up in the mileage and get that farther-than-you-ever-run-before feeling.

I'll get there soon enough -- next week, actually.

For now, I'll add a few miles to my scheduled run and finish the 10-miler with the team. I've actually thought to myself and said aloud a few times that I'll be running "only 10 miles" on Sunday.

Only 10? It's funny to think how far I've come in just a short period of time. Not so long ago there was no such thing as "only" 10.

Seems like my sights are already set on next week's challenge: 16 miles. For real this time.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

July Stats

I officially completed my first month of marathon training. Here's how the numbers added up for the month:
  • 79 miles running
  • 203 miles on the bike


Monday, August 3, 2009

The Real Thing

Somewhere around Mile 5 or 6 of my weekend long run, I took time to look around and appreciate the scenery.

By that point, I'd run from downtown Manchester, through a few neighborhoods (some good and some not-so-good), up a long but gradual hill and onto the St. Anselm's College campus.

Somehow, despite almost oppressive humidity and blazing sun, a cool-ish breeze came across the hill. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. The grass was a green as could be. There was barely a sound.

That is why I run -- to see new sights, to appreciate nature, to experience the quietness of running alone, to push myself to do things I didn't think I could do.

I was glad I was feeling well enough to appreciate any of that on Saturday. I'm not so sure I'll be feeling the same way when I see it during the real race.

See, I'll reach the St. A's campus somewhere between miles 18 and 20 -- where runners notoriously enter strange and shaky territory, both mentally and physically. On top of that, I'll be at the route's highest point, which means I will have run all the hills to get to that point, so I just don't know what to expect.

That's why I train.

Saturday's run -- a little short of 14 miles that included every step of the second half of the Manchester Marathon course -- was the first chance I had to actually run the same route I'd be running in exactly three months.

It was way hotter and much more humid than I would have liked. I was drenched with sweat almost immediately and went through two liters of water and some Gatorade --- selflessly hauled around in a heavy backpack by my Trusty Companion while riding his bike in uncomfortable heat, I might add.

As usual, TC was perfectly prepared. Map folded in a pocket, GU and fluids in the pack and ready to meet me at just the right spots. (Would I expect anything less from him now?) Those 14 miles would have been unbearable -- and perhaps un-doable -- without him.

It was the longest run I've done since the week before the motorcycle accident that halted my marathon training last summer.

Not only did it feel good to get over that mental hurdle, it felt great to actually be on the course -- to know where the hills are going to be the hardest, to imagine myself running across the bridge to the West side after completing 13.1 on the East side of the city. It felt great to conquer the hill on Daniel Plummer Road and realize it was nothing to fear.

And honestly, it felt great to just be finished. (Let's not forget it was only half of what I'll be doing in November.)

There's still a lot of training for me to do. It probably won't be the last time I run the course.

Hopefully I can get at least some of the first half under my belt in the next few weeks. And I'll probably follow up with a few more runs on the course's hardest parts. On Sunday, I'm on schedule to run 16 miles -- farther than I've ever run.

It's real now. I will actually run a marathon.