Thursday, March 30, 2006
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Sunday, March 19, 2006
The race had a cross country start, hundred of feet stomping in a grass field across the entrance road and onto a mowed path that led straight up a hill with a leftward slant. I thought of my single season running cross-country in high school, though soon realized that I was actually stuck in the middle of the pack with some people running way too fast on the uphills and way too slow on the downhills--a much slower start than the mad dash XC meets years ago. As we wound along the back of the park and clung to the treeline, I finally put my headphones on and began to tune everything out. We finally hit Tranquility road and I was ready to take off on the firmer footing when I saw a guy blaze past me with a baby stroller. Tranquility Road soon became a dirt/gravel road that wound past classic Virginian houses, a few cows, and even crossed a full stream before turning into Lickey Mill Road. Here life got a bit more interesting as we ascended a one of the first hills that I would later curse under my breath.
One thing, good and bad, about an out-and-back is that what hate on the way out, you love on the way back, though the more important corollary is that what you love on the way out will kill you on the way back when you're much less equipped to deal with it. Something akin to love came with gently rolling hills on Sillicott Springs Road (690) that melted into a long, long downhill that made running nothing less than pure joy. It seemed like a few short steps before I turned left onto another gravel road in Shoemaker, where horses ran to the fence (the best omen a runner could ask for). Life was good, even when the wind soon pummeled me from the side and I watched the leaders begin to stream by on the opposite side. Another thing about an out-and-back is that you will see exactly how many people are in front of you (and it isn't always comforting).
After the turnaround, I was able to see exactly how many people were behind me (many fewer). Still I felt pretty good, much better than the previous week. This lasted for approximately ten more seconds when I felt a twinge in my right calf, something that started in Tuesday's run, but I thought had completely subsided before I took to the line this morning. I was wrong, which is nothing new but still seems to surprise me when it happens, which is often. I turned the music a little louder hoping to drown out any thoughts about my calf and test the naive theory that it was all in my head. I was now at mile 8 and worried that I was one surge step away from a crappy calf that would make me walk the rest of the way, or worse yet take a ride from volunteer so I could look completely hopeless. The best part was that the long, long downhill on the way out was about to hit me with a long, long uphill on the way back that was sure to test my mind-over-matter dreams.
A funny thing happened on the way to the summit. Somewhere between Sublime's Santeria and Tom Petty's Free Fallin' my calf felt absolutely normal. Sometimes denial is a good thing, I learned.
Mile 10 was something of a landmark. Every step past it was a step farther than any race I've done before. While that thought made me feel pretty good about everything, there was no denying my lack of condition and training for this race were showing in a gradual decline that would last until the bitter end. The uphills on the return trip were far more punishing than any of the downhills were alleviating. I watched other runners looking supremely pissed as they made it to the bottom of yet another ascent, giving a hard stare and a mental middle finger to gravity, the wind, the cold, and the futilism hill repeats often become. I just turned up my music a little louder and soon realized I was listening to Johnny Cash's rendition of NIN's Hurt (how did that get there?! ... next song).
What happened between then and re-entry into the park with a little more than a mile to go is a complete blur. I remember politely declining water and finally passing a couple people who had been in front of me for nearly twenty minutes. I remember volunteers shouting encouragement that seemed like another language. I remember the coming around a bend and seeing my wife and my dog and seeing my dog try to jump out and join me for the finish. I remember hearing a lady shout that all I had to do was run up ONE MORE HILL then all I had to do was turn around and run back down it to the finish line. I'm sure more than a few runners had choice words for her. I decided not to kill the messenger.
When I cut through the treeline and turned back down the hill to make the final sprint to the finish, I had visions of that scene from Chariots of Fire with
Bannister Liddell running on the beach. If I had video of my finish, it probably looked more like I had one leg much shorter than the other as I hobbled over the uneven footing in the grass, recklessly ignoring the mole tunnels.
I finished in 2:12:55, not bad for 40 days of training and 40 nights of solid sleep. I think I'll tone things down a bit now and do some hiking and biking. My next goal will be a 45 minute 10k before I start my marathon training in July.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Saturday, March 11, 2006
The beginning of the run felt great, the grass feeling much softer on my stride. My legs paid no attention to the uneven footing. When I hit Tranquility Road, there was a brief moment of asphalt before hitting gravel road. My legs wanted to take off, but I held back because I knew I still had a long way to go, I didn't know what laid ahead, and the sun was high in the sky. Temperatures reached into the mid-70s, more than twenty degrees higher than nearly all of my runs over the last couple weeks. The complete lack of shade made things slightly worse. At the turnaround, I still felt strong. That changed maybe a half-hour later when I felt a little light headed. As soon as I found a small spot of shade, I sat down for a couple minutes, drank more water and had a Powerbar. When I started up again, I felt a lot better, largely because I cooled off. I finished off another fifteen minutes and then walked the rest of the course. My GPS said I hit about 13 miles, so I was close to guessing the right course inside the park. My running average was 10 minute pace, right where I wanted it.
I learned a few important lessons that will hopefully help next week:
- I'm grateful the race is in the morning, so heat shouldn't be much of an issue. I'll need to make sure I'm better hydrated and fed next week.
- This course is a lot harder than the W&OD, defined by rolling hills and a relative absence of flat stretches. My lack of training may become a factor.
- My "perfect" new shoes are slightly prone to blisters on the inside of my big toes. I still love the shoes, though.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Saturday, March 04, 2006
Today, things seemed a lot better, so I decided to try for this week's scheduled long run to see if I could get back on track. I drove out to Leesburg and jumped on the W&OD trail near Loudoun County High School and headed west. The winds were pretty strong, so much so that it felt as though I wasn't moving. I set my goal at 10:00 minute pace, but it felt like I was at 11:00 minute pace. So when I finished the first in 9:18, I felt a lot better, but still thought it a good idea to slow down a little. For the rest of the run I averaged 10:00 pace, though this became a big chore about mile 9 when the lack of conditioning began to show. My legs just flat out wanted to quit and ached all over. I decided to push through the last couple miles anyway and let the two scheduled days of rest do their magic. I finished in 1:49:52.
At the point of typing this, my legs are a lot more stiff than I'd like. My concern isn't covering the half-marathon distance. My concern is the half-marathon course is a lot more difficult that the W&OD trail and I'd like to finish without looking like Lee Harvey Oswald after he met Jack Ruby.