Running for It, Week 22: In which I wait for the other (running) shoe to drop

Okay, I’m clearly doing something wrong. How do I come to this conclusion? It’s not that difficult. For one thing, I’m just about always doing something wrong. It is, quite simply, my nature.

But the main reason I am all but certain that I’m screwing something up is that despite the crippling, debilitating heat and humidity, despite my post-vacation lethargy and depression, and despite the fact that I ran farther this week than I have ever run in a single week before… it went really well. So well, in fact, that I fully expect something to go horribly wrong during next week’s runs. (Maybe I will be hit by a meteorite, or my leg-bones will spontaneously shatter into dust for no good reason? Frankly, that’s the best-case scenario.)

That’s not to say it was pleasant, really. I know I’ve been totally whaling on this Zombie Horse, but can I just say–for the eight-zillionth time–that running in the summer absolutely sucks? It’s not enjoyable by any stretch of the imagination, unless you count the insane, exhausted relief I feel when I’m done. (I myself do not). These midweek runs–shortish though they may be at four, seven, and another four miles–are exercises in sheer misery. Every breath is a labor, every stride like pushing through thick, damp cloth. I know you’re supposed to hold your head high and watch the horizon as you run, but more often than not I find myself plodding through every step, eyes focused on the asphalt at my feet as though I’m not worthy to even attempt this monumental task. Hubris, it is! Man was not meant to run such distances! 

All that said, I don’t really have much to complain about. Yes, it was hot, but I had good running times, right at the pace I’m hoping for. And that 15-miler on Saturday? I can’t even process how well it went. Yeah, I was tired at the end of it, as you might expect, but I wasn’t just drained of energy and unable to walk. I actually think I might’ve been able to squeeze another mile or two out of it. (I didn’t try such a thing, though. I may be a weirdo, but I’m not stupid. Well, actually…)

I think the reason it went so according-to-plan is that I finally heeded the advice of Hal Higdon in regards to walking breaks. He’s all for them, urging his runners to walk through aid stations (or, in training runs, stopping every mile or so to take a drink and walk for a minute or so). What I’ve done in the past is run for as long as I possibly could, only falling into a walking break towards the end when I was too tired to go any further. My last couple of miles would always be so slow that it would drag my overall pace down. So, I thought: why not actually try it the way you’re supposed to do it?

And that’s what I did: At every mile marker (provided by my phone’s Runkeeper app) I would slow to a walk for about a minute, take a drink from my Camelbak, and once in a while have a few bites of dried fruit. And what do you know… even with the walking breaks, I had better time for my long run than I’ve had since Hospital Hill. Why, it seems that Mr. Higdon knows what he’s talking about, by gum! I was just sailing through those 15 miles, despite the sweat, despite a brief rainshower. It felt fantastic.

Probably around mile 13 or so is when I suspected that I had to be doing something wrong. Because not only did I do 15 miles–the farthest I have ever run at one time ever–but I did so without stopping to take a dump. Not even once.

Yeah. I’m scared, too.

Running for It, Weeks 20 and 21: In which I am kind of all over the place

Yes, I am cramming two weeks’ worth of running news into one post. Why? Because I aim to disappoint, and brother, I disappoint in spades.

We just got back from a week’s vacation in Colorado (the end of week 20 and the vast majority of week 21), so I think you should cut me a tiny bit of slack for not updating the whole four of you who read this thing in a more timely fashion. The last thing I wanted to do was to waste valuable vacation time typing. And who could blame me? We were deep in the Rockies, staying in a fantastic log home with a fantasticker view of Lake Dillon and the mountains beyond. With that vying for my attention, obligatory blog posts kind of lose their allure, you know?

But that’s not to say that I didn’t keep up with my running routine. Because I did. (Mostly.) Week 20 went just fine, despite the insane heat that has afflicted the Midwest for the last several weeks, but I had so many other things on my mind–getting ready to leave, finishing everything up at work, actively hating life, etc.–that frankly, the details of that running week escape me. I mean, I vaguely recall a six-mile midweek run that went pretty well. It was a “pace” run: that is, one in which I’m actually supposed to run at the pace I want to run in the marathon. According to maestro Higdon, I’m not supposed to run that fast every time. In fact, for long runs I’m actually supposed to go 45-90 seconds a mile slower than that pace.

When the temps climb toward the three-digit mark, this is not, as you might imagine, a problem.

When, however, I was running by the cool, placid waters of Lake Dillon, I had to force myself to slow down. That’s right, I tried to keep to my training regimen as much as possible, despite the fact that I was on vacation and was therefore loathe to attempt anything that smacked of work. But it hardly seemed like work at all, really. Summit County, Colorado has nicely paved running paths that, um… run… through the whole county, around the bases of mountains, through city streets and fragrant stands of pine, and around the lake. A few hills here and there, as you might expect, but generally fairly even and pretty flat. After the hills and heat and humidity of Kansas City, it was a clichéd breath of clichéd air. (Even better: there were bathrooms along the route! And you better believe I used them. Oh, did I use them.)

But I didn’t want to overdo it; after all, even though the path was easy, I was still at almost 9,000 feet above sea level, and I had only been there for about a day. (I never really noticed any problems with the thinner air–I am, of course, an astonishing physical specimen–though other people in our party had a headache here and there.) And so, even though I slowed myself down, it was a great run, one that made me want to move to Colorado for training full-time.

That is, until I tried a seven-mile run in the middle of the next week. It went, shall we say, poorly. The grown-ups in the party decided to check out the Cataract Lake Trail, which we had heard was a nice, scenic trail that was advertised–via the Internet!–as being good for running. I had never really done a trail run before, but I felt like I was up to it. It was a 2.4-mile loop, so I thought I’d run it three times and get my seven miles in, no problem.

Then we actually started running it. To be fair, it is a great path for running, as long as you don’t mind the following:

  • a dirt path less than a foot wide, surrounded by a waist-high thicket
  • getting behind walkers who cannot let you pass them because they are on a dirt path less than a foot wide, surrounded by a waist-high thicket
  • fallen trees that you have to either climb over or crawl under
  • steep, rocky hills
  • mud
  • bees
  • snakes (yes, I almost stepped on a quick, slithery snake and it nearly scared the crap out of me, though to be fair when I’m running it doesn’t usually take much to get crap out of me)
  • tears

So after one loop of this thing I decided: “Never again, sir.” So I just ended up running down the dirt road a few miles and then coming back. The first couple of miles were wicked easy, which gave me some confidence, but then I realized the reason it was so easy: it was all downhill. When I turned around to go back, it would all be uphill, and wicked steep to boot. So the last couple of miles of that run were distinctly unpleasant. I had to take numerous walking breaks just to finish it. Disheartening.

I skipped the rest of my short runs that week. Come on, man… that seven-mile trail run just took it out of me, and I was on vacation! Don’t make me explain to you how vacation works.

Plus, I was saving myself for the weekend, in which I would face a daunting challenge: a 14-mile run–the longest I had ever attempted–after driving for what seemed like weeks through the flat, dry, hot wastelands of Kansas. We finally pulled into the garage at 4:30 Saturday morning.

Note: I normally do my long runs on Saturdays.

Another note: I did not do my long run on that particular Saturday. No energy, no sleep, and by the time I finally rousted myself out of bed, it was already pushing 100 degrees outside. No thanks! So I pushed it off until Sunday (today!) to give myself plenty of time to rest up.

Was it enough? Probably not. 14 miles is a long way to run, especially when it’s miserably hot and muggy outside. I got up wicked early to try to get it in before the heat of the day arrived to oppress and cower all under its influence, but even then… as soon as I stepped outside, it was like stepping into a city-sized steam room. Undaunted, I started running. And you know? It wasn’t all that bad. I tried out a new (new to me, anyway) running path in a park a couple of miles from my house. And I gotta say… not too shabby. It’s not all that long, so I have to loop it a bunch of times to get my distance in, but it’s nicely paved, quiet, pretty, and there are even bathrooms and water fountains along the route! (And you better believe I used them. Oh, did I use them.)

So I got my fourteen-miler done. Done and done. Yes, I was pretty beat at the end of it, even with incorporating some walking breaks, and I was so disgustingly drenched with disgusting sweat that I looked like I had run through a fire hose–a fire hose that sprays sweat. (If your house is on fire and they put it out with sweat, you might as well move elsewhere. You can never rebuild. That property will reek forever of B.O.)

Nonetheless, I did it. 14 long, arduous miles. I’m past the halfway point for the marathon now. I still have a long way to go, sure–I gotta do 15 miles next weekend, and my workweek runs just bumped up, as well–but I think I can do this. Chicago will be flatter, and cooler (probably), and there will be thousands of people of cheering me on. I can do this.

As long as they don’t have sweat-spraying fire hoses in Chicago. They don’t, do they? It doesn’t seem like something they would advertise.

Running for It, Week 19: In which I suck

English is an awesome language. It’s confusing, sure, and it doesn’t make much sense because it’s cobbled together from multitudinous influences, and its grammatical rules and pronunciation are so complex and full of ridiculous exceptions that its a wonder anyone speaks it at all. Wait, I guess English maybe isn’t so awesome as a language? For example, there are no words–not one!–in this language to effectively describe the sheer horror of my long run last Saturday.

I could say it was horrific, but that would fail to capture how terrifyingly awful it was. It was, hands down, the worst run I have ever undertaken since I started doing this thing. It was hot. It was muggy. My clothes were so drenched with sweat that I looked like I had jumped into a pool. A pool of sweat. And at some point, I’m pretty sure I forgot how to run. Seriously, I think the basics of bipedal locomotion completely escaped me around mile 8. I’m not even sure how I got home. Magic, probably?

I could say it was embarrassing, but it wouldn’t approach the sheer heights of humiliation I was experiencing. It was like I told my body, “Hey, we gonna do this thing today!” and my body replied, “No, sir, we are not. Not today.” Towards the end of the run, I had to keep taking walking breaks, and yes, right toward the end I had to go to the bathroom when there was–of course–no bathroom. (I actually briefly considered either going in my britches or walking up to a stranger’s house and begging to use their facilities.) I have figured out a formula for this:

For every long run of n miles, where n>5, Price will experience an irresistible urge to defecate at mile (n-1), if available bathrooms=0.

I could say it was puzzling, but that word doesn’t really express the magnitude of the confusion I felt throughout the run. What the #*@% is happening out here? Why aren’t my legs working? Why am I so tired? How could I have done 11 miles last weekend with no problem, and adding one more mile to it suddenly makes it impossible? I realize that I was doing a few things differently, but I can’t imagine they would account for all the problems I was having. For instance, I was trying out a new Camelbak that I just got last week, but it only added two or three pounds, at the most. I also was using a new interactive running app on my phone, one that would track my distance and give audible alerts about my pace and distance and such. Something was all wonky with it or my phone or something, because the podcasts I was listening to kept stopping and starting and jumping around. I think I finally figured out what was causing the problem, but I had to keep stopping to futz with it (without pausing my workout, so that screwed up my time and my momentum a little), and a couple of times the app crashed and I had to stop to restart it. (Note: probably not going to use that app again.) Still, those technological issues can’t account for all my issues (and oh, do I have issues).

I could say it was disheartening, but that would barely scratch the surface of how depressed I was when it was all said and done. I felt like a failure. It took me longer to run 12 miles on Saturday than it took me to run 13.1 miles back at the beginning of June. I ran almost two minutes a mile slower than I did that day. I know, I know, some of that can be accounted for by that screwy app, but still… way too slow. It made me think that I was making a huge mistake in thinking I could do this thing. If I can’t do 12 miles without collapsing like a wee baby, how on earth am I supposed to do 26? Then again, a flat course in Chicago in October is a whole different animal than a hilly course in Kansas City in July. Still, though… not the high point of my weekend.

At best, I hope I can just say that it was a fluke, but even then English fails me because while I could be saying that the run was a one-time deal that was a unique combination of multiple miserable factors that came together to collectively give me a boot to the head, the vagaries of my native tongue could also mean that my long run was some kind of parasitic intestinal flatworm.

Now that I think about it, that makes about at much sense as anything else I’ve written here today. Or ever.

Running for It, Week 18: In which I excrete copious quantities of sweat (among other things)

Here’s the thing: I knew going into this that the heart of my marathon training would be taking place in the middle of the summer.

Here is another thing: summer is hot.

Kansas City was hit with a mini heat wave this past week, with temperatures soaring to around 100 degrees (atypical for late June ’round these parts). And muggy… I’m pretty sure the humidity was around 648 percent (I may be rounding up a little). Long story short, it was a remarkably unpleasant week to be training for a marathon, even though I was running in the early morning when it was still only, like, 85 degrees, which seemed fairly arctic considering how miserable it would get in the late afternoon.

That said, I am generally not regretting switching to that slightly more aggressive training plan. I want to get home after a run and feel like I’ve done something. And oh, I did something, brother. I sweated. A lot. Even on the comparatively short and easy 3-milers that I do a couple of times a week, it was like running through clam chowder outside. On Thursday in particular, I was running my same-ol’, same-ol’ route and thought I would never get to the end of it. Even after I got home and showered and dressed for work and whatnot, I think I kept sweating for approximately a fortnight (again, I may be rounding up). And if June is like this, what can I expect from August?!

And so it was that I was kind of dreading my 11-mile long run (pushed off to Sunday instead of Saturday, since I spent all of Friday getting eaten alive by mosquitoes at our church’s fireworks tent, then got home in the heat of the day and was in no mood to add to my misery). But all in all, it went fine. I planned multiple loops that ran me back by the house several times, where I had cold water and some dried fruit waiting on the front step. It did the trick, and I completed the run without a hitch, despite my legs being kind of sore from a slightly 0ver-intense workout on my cross-training day. And by “kind of sore,” I mean “sore enough that I had a little trouble walking.” And by “a little trouble,” I mean…oh, forget it. You get the picture. But anyway, a few miles of running got my leg muscles all loose and limber-like, so no problem there. But, despite being drenched in my own perspiration, it felt good to be back in the game, doing double-digits again.

Well, it felt good for most of the run. I’ve dealt with this before, but I’ll say it again: I have got to get my gastrointestinal system on a better schedule. Not once, but twice this week I have spent the last mile of a long run with a package in the staging area, ready to be delivered. Aching to be delivered. If there were some way I could alter my delivery schedule so that the package could be dropped off the night before, or even in the morning just prior to a run, it would be so awesome.

(Just so you know, the previous paragraph was about dropping a deuce. You… probably figured that out already?)