Monday, September 26, 2011

One fine run

As I charged into my final mile of my 10K run today, I was gaining on another runner and his dog. He was running bending down as if to pat the dog on the head and in the span of two strides, he unhooked the leash...

After a particularly late night in Boston over the weekend, I found myself sitting at the corner of my bed, 8 a.m. with barely a few hours of sleep. On the calendar was 16 miles. I had nothing in me. But I set out just to run. I left the hotel where I stayed in April of 2010 and started a familiar route. To Boston Common, where in the spring, one day it fills with thousands of runners lining up to board school buses.

So hung over, I could not find a comfortable pace. My legs were lead, but I continued to run. Down past Cheer's, to Beacon Street, where I crossed a pedestrian bridge, then an actual bridge to Cambridge. Across the river from which I trudged, hundreds of cyclists were participating in the annual TD Mayor's Cup ride. I could see florescent dots of cyclists streaming east.

It was there where I tailed a few runners. As many in Boston do, one had had Boston Marathon gear and was going at a slow steady pace. I instead trailed a woman who was going at a perfect pace for a hung-over runner. We stuck to the gravel path that has be carved out by the countless runners who have trained on the path. Slow felt comfortable, almost normal.

Miles later, feeling a little bit better, I found myself in front of Boston University. I got lost for a moment, then spotted the Citgo sign.

Streets were deserted and it was an odd thing. A whole stretch of road that makes up part of the last mile of the Boston Marathon was clear for the cycling event. So I ran on the 'course', alone, under the overpass, and up the ramp, which in years past were crowded with fans. It was nice to tackle the hill, take the right on Hereford, left on Boylston. Not many times can you run that route without a car. Not many times you can run that route at all.

I ran on the sidewalk down Boylston, my hangover cured. The block that on one day of the year is the best finish line anywhere was cleared away by a car accident down the road. So I ran back on the street. As I approached, I thought about sacred ground, and how moments like this are fleeting, so in mid stride, I bent down and touched it for good luck. After 8 miles, I felt revived.

Unhooked by his crouching owner, the dog did as dogs do when untethered. He took off, into an amazingly high gear, sprinting around the park, heading right, left, and in a circle, happy.

I looked and smiled, but not too long because today I was running with some pace. In the first time in a month, I was feeling the hurt. The heel was not complaining much today, even not at all. So the hurt came with effort and it was the pain that feels good, one that comes with a final 4:32 kilometre.

I thought about my trip in Boston while ramping up my pace. I remembered the speed that got me to hallowed ground. I remembered what it felt to run without babying my right heel. Over the last 30-plus days, I had no way to get below 5 minute kilometres without having injury stalk.

Over the past month, I had been afraid I had lost the pace and running form that I built up to over so many years. That is, until today. Today, unleashed, I felt like there was nothing but open road ahead of me, many miles to keep.

6.22 miles in 49:08

Monday, September 19, 2011

Good news, it's the taper

The last time I flew out of Chicago, a day after running my first marathon in 2006, I envisioned revenge. In the years that followed, I understood the beast that is the marathon. I got faster, a little wiser that I started clicking off marathons at a rate that, I believe, would set me up for a triumphant return.

Chicago 2011, I thought earlier this year, would have me not hitting a wall, hitting instead my splits, and the final chip time would be faster (I didn't care by how much) than my first.

The bad news, I'm still what I would call 'slightly injured.'

The good news is that it's the taper.

Yesterday, still babying my right heel, I got my 22 miler in. Last week, a 20 miler. In theory, I have the fitness and endurance. What I don't have is the confidence to find that natural pace I've known for all these years.

Since waking up to the fact that my heel issues would not just go away, I've been icing, stretching and rolling. It's made a difference, like the achilles problem I had a few years go. Eight days ago, my 20 miler didn't leave me limping, but I was clearly avoiding a full foot strike on the my leg. So my body's been adjusting. My left leg's been taking the load, my right's been striking the front of my foot. Yesterday's long run felt better. My heel held up a lot better.

So while the mileage decreases, I have a great chance over the next 20 days to rest up, stretch and ice that heel so I'm ready for Chicago.

It's been years in the making. I'll take the next three weeks.

Revenge, they say, is best served cold.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cold comfort

On days when the first chills nip at the edge of the summer's rear end, the conversation goes like this:

Non runner: "Oh, crap, I can't believe I had to wear a jacket this morning"

Runner: "Yeah, I'm going to have to put away the singlet..."

NR: "I mean, now I can't wear sandals, and my summer dress!"

R: "But shorts, I'll keep them on until it's maybe below 6C..."

NR: "I'm so sad that summer is all but over"

R: "May need gloves soon, my hands get cold easily"

NR: "Wait, you run outside when it's cold?"

R: "Best time of the year. Best time of the year"

I was walking to work in the early morning, my jacket on, and I could feel the chills. I smiled. It was just the the chilly walks I remember from countless early Sunday mornings when I and thousands of others start prepping for a marathon start. The chill means that racing season is here. It means that suffering through the summer has had your body paid if full, its dues. Like emerging from a sauna, you get a sense of relief. Cold air at the beginning of a run, combined with the right sparse amount of clothing that leaves you desperately cold in the first few minutes, means you've dressed for perfection. When you start ramping up your pace, and the heat rises, you're in a perfect place.

And you know when the weather's perfect that after the run, it's still cold out, and you need a shiny cape to keep you warm.

Superhero warm.

What's your favourite weather?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Heal the heel

A few weeks ago, we rented a car to go outlet mall shopping. Yes, this is what you do in America. Anyways, as R. was speeding up on one of the interstates, the car was making a huge buzzing noise. From 20 miles an hour to 55, the engine didn't sound right, only when she popped above 55 did the engine settle into the next gear.

That's what's going through my running routine lately. Stuck in a gear, my feet's been making noises. Not happy, it is, with my effort. My right heel, at the back, is sore, fairly pronounced. Do I have the beginnings of plantar fascitis?

On the roads, it means I can't quite ramp up the pace. My legs will only let me run up to a certain point of discomfort. Just today, after a night of streching and icing, I went out for my 20 miler, wondering how the heel would hold. It responded okay, but my pace would only top out at a point that I was comfortable with. At the end of 20 miles, I decided to pick up but my heel was complaining.

I've thought about the reasons why i've developed this pain, and so far, I can narrow it down to this. Recently, I've been doing a lot of downhill running. My new workplace is, well, uptown and that means my commutes home has me encountering downhills. I'm used to training on flat flat waterfront land. Also, my stretching has been, well, lax. That has to change. Finally, I had a bad run in my Vibrams a few months ago on sidewalk where I pounded out a quick pace. I think I put too much pressure on my heel on that run. That run? It was in May.

I've gone through mini setbacks like this. A few years ago, I had an inflamed <a href="">achilles tendon</a> in the late summer that had me do a DNS. A month later, I toed the line at the Toronto Marathon and qualified for Boston.

I'm going to focus on icing, stretching and rest. I have one more week of heavy training this week, then taper. Lets see how this go. Worse case, I may have to scratch one marathon this fall. Even if not, a pace adjustment may be in order. But that's too soon.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Lets go streaking!

Runners, I've concluded, are a little bit of the driven, obsessive type. I think I knew that, but in the early days, I thought it was just me.

Not just me, as I was making my way through the latest Runner's World, about a 54-year-old woman who'd run 30 editions of the Twin Cities Marathon. She'd book the day off six months in advance, had run through a marathon with an arm in a cast and a fractured pelvis. Her aim, she says, would be to run her 50th when she's 75!

We've heard about running streakers, the types of guys who run every day, screw rest days. Some have quite amazing streaks that count the number of days that stretch into the thousands. I thought that was a little extreme until one of my friends, on a drunken night, told me while we were drinking at a bar that a colleague of his was drinking at the same bar, and realized that he had to fulfill his 'run at least a mile every day for a year' streak. So he ran around the block in his work clothes and resumed drinking. I think this person is a reader of this blog and would love confirmation!

This type of obsessiveness, striving to reach some sort of record that you can really only boast to yourself (or to a magazine if you reach a significant milestone) is a little crazy. Who other than another runner would really appreciate the streak? I forced myself on runs to hit a streak, and they tend to sneak up on you, like this summer when I realized I racked up 18 days in a row of running. Quite a streak, but I decided to end that one quickly and quietly (I like rest.)

In the last few days, I've been getting emails from the Boston, London, Chicago, Toronto and Marine Corps Marathons. Register. Remember to pick up your E-Card. The lottery is coming. Blah blah blah, then I realized that maybe I'm a little obsessive. Yes, I'm running three marathons in October, even thought about adding a fourth so I could hit another running streak. The Marathon Maniacs are official record keepers of long-distance streakers, yes.

The Marine Corps Marathon is famous for many reasons, but they also have a select group of veteran runners who've run every edition of the the race. They're called Ground Pounders

My own mini streaks are starting. There are quite a few races I've done over and over again. MCM is one of them, I'm going to run my fifth this October. I won't lie, the streak is an allure.

Plus, I like the hats

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Hay and fever

What does it take, and can I get there?

I took a look at how many days were left until the Chicago Marathon in October. Less than 40 at this point. There was a time, not more than five years ago, that I was going through this exact same marathon preparation. Every day, a run was to be done, or a rest day was to rein in my enthusiasm. Every week marked a major milestone - one more week to go until Chicago 2006.

Difference is, that was my first, and Chicago 2011 isn't. Yes, a big city marathon. Yes, thousands of us are doing it. Yes, the route is the same, the conditions, unknown. Something is different. My approach, while sound, is different, and my preparation, while tried, has evolved.

Backing up, after writing my last post, the night of my 30K, something was amiss. Nothing bad, but that allergy turned out to dog me for the coming week. I had gone a good nine months without a week's vacation, and my body, in the way all bodies do, decided to shut down. Add a 30K race to depress my immune system, and you've got a perfect conditions for sickness. In other words, a full-blown cold.

Fine, but on Monday as we were flying off to Quebec for five days that I envisioned running, hiking, canoeing, relaxing, my hopes were dashed for one of those activities.

Running, I decided, needed a break. The cold took over, the symptoms flared, the Tylenol, the cold medication and the lack of coffee/caffeine (yes, that was probably why I needed the Tylenol) got me feeling a big blah. Congestion, no fun at the best of times, does very little for running mojo. Give it a rest I thought, as my 2006 self would have stressed through each missed day.

Funnily, while 'recovering', I hiked a mini mountain, did a 10 mile canoe trip, and stayed active. Meanwhile, the running days and mileage added up to a big fat zero, stopped in its tracks by fever.

Fast forward to a few days ago, I'm looking at the number of weeks until the taper. Three weekends. Three long runs. Three more weeks and attempts to stack things in my favour. A long-distance runner's mojo can't be flattened by a four-day delay, but a marathon's work needs to be done. Hay, as it were, needs to be taken, and put in the barn. Step by step.

So I'm setting out, just like we all do, looking in the face of a few 30K runs and a 32K. Piling on the mileage, 8 miles, 6 miles, 4 miles, 10 miles in the weekdays. Fighting the symptoms, clearing the chest of congestion (yes, it's yucky) and regaining focus.

I've been lucky to face all my marathon days feeling ready. My nerves are typically cool even if the weather isn't. My chest breathes easy. My legs are rested. The road between here and there? Just focus on the daily run, and I'll get there.

Picture taken after a little hike at Mont Tremblant.