Running for It, Week 26: In which it is time to shake things up

Six weeks until Zero Hour, and you know what that means… Well, it means I have only six short weeks to train for what will most likely be the most difficult physical challenge of my life (even more challenging than that time in college when my roommate and I dared ourselves to down an entire giant bucket of KFC in one sitting–I was sweating grease for weeks afterwards).

And so, as this thing nears, I find myself wondering if I’m really doing everything I can to prepare myself. I mean, sure, I’ve been faithfully following my Higdon-prescribed training regimen, pretty much to the letter (with some minor exceptions here and there). I’ve kept up with my midweek runs. I’ve been dragging myself out of bed at 5 am on muggy Saturday mornings to run ungodly distances. But after I ran that hilly 18-miler last weekend in suburban St. Louis, and pulled it off pretty successfully, it set me to wondering: have I been coddling myself?

I mean, for quite a while now I’ve been doing my long runs at a park near my house, a park with a nice and shady and fairly flat course. Yes, the distances are still challenging, but the course itself is not. Plus, I have been taking those one-minute walking breaks every mile. I was checking the locations of the aid stations along the route of the marathon, and I realized that they are not exactly evenly spaced. (Seriously, what’s the deal with aid stations 3 and 4? They’re like half a mile apart. You can probably see 4 from 3. But I digress.) Yes, the course in Chicago is very flat, but I just couldn’t help but wonder if I have been spoiling myself, maybe taking the easy way out instead of pushing myself a little bit harder than I think I should.

So, to that end, I tried a little experiment on my long run. Now, I will say that this “long run” took place during my step-back weekend; that is, the weekend when I “step back” in distance a little to give myself time to recover from the 18-miler and to get ready for next week’s 19-miler. So I was only running 13 miles. (Who knew that I would ever find myself saying that I was only running a half-marathon?) Anyhoo, take a look at the fancy chart below and see if you can tell what I did differently:

charts are fun

One, it should be pretty obvious that I didn’t run on that easy running path at the park. Instead, I planned out a route that forced me to run some decent hills. And check the spacing of those blue spikes: for this run, I took walking breaks every 1.5 miles instead of every mile. And you know what? It went just fine. Yes, I was kind of tired at the end of it, but that was to be expected, I suppose. The way I figure it, if I can pull off these long runs with breaks at each 1.5-mile mark, that’s going to be much closer to the experience I’m actually going to face come October 9. Yes, I know, the aid stations aren’t exactly 1.5 miles apart in Chicago, and the course isn’t hilly at all, but still.

Of course, it’s one thing to sustain that pace over a measly half-marathon (!). Can I sustain it over next Saturday’s 19-miler? Here’s how you will know: if I do not post next week, it will be because I died in the attempt. But what a way to go!

Nothing else too interesting this week, except for one rare, puzzling technological glitch on Tuesday’s 5-mile run. I had run this route many times before, so I had a good idea of where each mile marker lay. So when RunKeeper whispered in my headphones that I had run three miles at a pace of like 8 minutes/mile, I knew something was up because experience told me it was more like 2.5 miles or so and there was no way I was running that fast. And sure enough, my pace and distance was off for the whole remainder of the run. At the end of the workout, I had logged over 6 miles on a 5-mile route. How on earth did that happen?

Well, apparently something went all pear-shaped with my GPS that morning, because the map of my route on RunKeeper has me all over the friggin’ place. Check this sample: not only am I weaving in and out of traffic, I’m doing loop-de-loops and repeatedly doubling back on myself.

look out, early morning commuters! comin’ through!

Later, I was drunkenly zig-zagging around a residential street and apparently running through people’s houses as they were getting ready for work.

me, running past a lady eating breakfast at her kitchen table: “on your left, ma’am”

I’m not exactly sure what happened, because I didn’t encounter the issue again. After I got home, I did find out that Google Maps was downloading and installing an automatic update during my run. Maybe that had something to do with it, I don’t know. Then again, maybe the map is accurate! Maybe that’s actually what happened and I’ve blocked out the horrifically traumatic memories of the experience.

Of course, it was probably much more traumatic for the people whose houses I supposedly entered. Watching me awkwardly stumble through your breakfast nook cannot be a good way to start your day.

Running for It, Week 25: In which OH CRAP I forgot to post this thing

What the heck? It’s Wednesday already? How did that even happen? Oh, right… that’s how time generally works.

Okay, yeah, I forgot to post anything about last week’s runs, but I’m pressed for time. So let’s just let these two words do the talkin’:

EIGHTEEN MILES, SUCKAS.

(Note: May contain more than two words.)

Here’s another thing I’ll let do the talkin’–a chart (courtesy of RunKeeper)!

I was told there would be no math

We were spending the weekend in the St. Louis area, visiting family, so I had to plan out a new route, sight unseen. I knew it might be tricky, since my typical long-run route is fairly flat. As you can see from those rolling green mountains, this was, shall we say, not. (I will freely admit that the last mile, as you can see, was all downhill and pretty much a cake-walk. Except I was running, not walking, and there was very little cake.)

The blue line is my pace, as you can see from the legend. You can totally see the short, minute-or-so walking breaks I took every mile or so. See those blue spikes? Yeah, that’s them. But look at the rest of that blue line: even going up and down some crazy hills, I maintained a pretty steady, even pace. Not too shabby, right?

I planned the route online, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but then Friday evening my father-in-law drove me around the route and gave me some tips on roads to avoid. There were a couple of roads we skipped over, as my father-in-law assured me they would be fine. Anyone want to guess where I had the problems?

Yep, right about mile 16 or so, I topped a hill to see a road ripped to shreds for resurfacing, and–of course!–no sidewalks. I didn’t know the neighborhood well enough to find my way around it, so I just plowed forward, literally running through people’s yards for almost a mile before I finally got back to civilization. But check my pace: it didn’t suffer at all for having to run through mud and grass.

Wet grass, I should point out. It rained steadily for the last four miles of the run.

Anyway, long story short, I ran 18 long miles in a hilly, unfamiliar setting, and I think I did pretty okay. Sure, it was a little slower than I typically run, but I’m not complaining and I’m certainly not disappointed in myself.

(My specialty, after all, is in disappointing others.)

Running for It, Week 24: In which my body is a LIAR

Or maybe it’s my mind that’s the liar, I can’t figure out which. I’ll explain what I mean by that later.

So this past week was good. Real good. It was probably the best batch of runs I’ve had since the half-marathon, and I owe it all to the fact that it hasn’t been 118 degrees outside. Yes, that horrendous Kansas City heat wave finally broke. We’re talking temperatures in the 60s/low 70s when I got up to run in the morning. No humidity, either, and brother, it was fan-freaking-tastic. I had great times on my midweek runs, probably my best pace since the half-marathon. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re not spending your entire run regretting you ever made the rash and ill-considered to do this thing in the first place because it will probably be the end of you. Without muggy tropical heat sapping every ounce of my energy, I was just sailin’. (And by sailin’, I mean runnin’. Very fast.)

Well, kind of very fast. I’m still not running as fast as I was running while training for Hospital Hill, but I’m running about as fast as I did during Hospital Hill, so I’m gonna chalk it up as a win.

And speaking of wins: 17 miles on Saturday. Heck yeah, I did. And it was great! No complaints. During past long runs, I have had all manner of petty annoyances to contend with, such as:

  • running in the dark
  • running through spider webs
  • a phone that kept getting phantom signals from my headphones and making random phone calls and skipping around to different songs
  • having to offload cargo mid-run (by which I mean I had to go Number Two)
  • Collapsing dead from exhaustion

(Okay, so I still had to run in the dark, and I still ran through a bunch of spider webs. This is the price you pay for getting up before sunrise to run in the woods. I think the City of Gladstone should reimburse me for my web-clearing services, but I digress.) But the rest of it hasn’t been a problem. I got an app for my phone that blocks phantom headset signals. I have successfully adjusted my gastrointestinal schedule such that I am taking care of business the night before. No kiddin’, 17 miles and I didn’t have to stop off at the bathroom even once. (Maybe it’s because the bathrooms are so convenient now? If I do a run when they’re inaccessible, perhaps I will have to face my old nemesis once again. Let’s not find out.)

And as far as the exhaustion goes, I did fine. Still taking short, one-minute walking breaks once per mile, and I ran faster on this long run than I have run on any so far. Now I’m not gonna lie to you: even with those breaks, during the last couple of miles I was getting pretty tired. During the last mile in particular, I could hear that voice in my head telling me to knock it the heck off already, this is getting stupid.

A while back, I listened to an episode of Radiolab called “Limits.” The episode dealt with, well, limits, including the limits of human endurance. The hosts talked to ultramarathoners and other endurance athletes, and they discovered that these folks have to eventually learn to actively ignore that little voice in their heads. They have to figure out little tricks to convince their bodies that they’re not exhausted, that they still have the energy to press on despite everything that’s screaming “NO! NO YOU DON’T!”

I’m not gonna say I got to that point last Saturday, but I could feel it creeping up on me. I was tired. My body told me that I wanted to stop and just walk the rest of the way. But I didn’t. I called my body a liar. It told me I couldn’t do it, and I called it a LIAR. I just put my head down and pushed on. It may not have been fun, but I did it anyway. And that felt good. It makes me think that I can do this thing. I know, from talking to other marathoners, that the last eight miles or so are a tough slog for just about everybody, but I think I’m starting to develop the mental discipline that will allow me to… if not ignore the pain, then at least to push it down–WAY DOWN–long enough to finish what I started.

I can do this.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. This is the part of the training schedule I have been dreading since Week 1. This is when the regimen gets interesting, and by “interesting,” I mean “terrifying.” My midweek runs finally bump up to five-eight-five, and the Saturday runs are gonna be just insane: 19, 20 miles? It’s gonna kill me. I’ll be running like 40 miles a week! Or so. If I do the calculations, it’s probably going to be less than 40, and that would be a crushing blow.

That’s why I’m not going to do the calculations. That’s one of the chief strategies I’ll have to deploy to get through this thing: ignorance.

Hey, it’s worked for me so far.

Running for It, Week 23: In which everything goes well and I unsurprisingly still complain

A couple of weeks ago, I hit the 14-mile mark, finally surpassing the distance I covered in the half-marathon. In that week’s blog post, I triumphantly declared that I had hit the halfway point in my marathon training. And I stood back and basked in the imagined glory that I imagined was justly mine to imagine.

Here’s the thing: apparently I do not know how to count, because that was week seven of an 18-week training regimen. For those of you playing at home, just so you know, seven is not halfway to 18. (I know some of my readers are from Arkansas, so I thought I’d better clarify.)

I just finished week 9, however, so now I can officially make my triumphal declaration that I am halfway there. Except that I’m not really in a mood to do so, for this reason: You mean to tell me that I’m only halfway done with marathon training?

Seriously, shouldn’t I be done with this stuff by now? All the sweat-soaked runs before work, rising at 5 a.m. on Saturdays for long runs, the obligatory blog posts that I have to write now because I promised I would despite the fact that I don’t really feel like it and nobody reads them anyway… enough, already! Can’t we just do this thing and get it over with?

A friend of mine told me the other day that I was probably ready for the marathon, that if you can run 13.1 miles, you can run 26.2. Is that even true? To be fair, I have heard that before, or at least something along those lines. I’ve done 15 miles, and that went pretty well. Could I do another 11ish without the training to get me there? Maybe, though I can’t imagine it would be pleasant. And I suppose I could take that line of thinking to its logical extreme: If the reasoning goes that if you can get halfway there, you can go the rest of the way… then clearly if I can run 6.55 miles, then I can run 13.1, then I can run 26.2. And if I can run 3.275 miles, then I can run 6.55, which means I can run 13.1 and therefore 26.2. And if I can run 1.6375 miles… well, you get the idea. Point is, I guess I better keep working.

All this to say, I’m starting to get a little tired of the training. It feels like it has gone on forever. Doesn’t it seem like I should be in Chicago by now? I wish I were. Training runs on the lakefront have got to be more enjoyable than these miserable slogs through the crippling heat of Kansas City. That said, this week did go pretty well. My four-seven-four midweek runs were almost fun, despite the sweat, and my 13.1-mile long run was almost–almost–approaching pleasant.

The best part of running a half-marathon on Saturday was noting that at the end of it, I felt pretty good. No excessive soreness and whatnot. My quads weren’t crying out for relief. Contrast that with my performance two months ago at Hospital Hill, after which I was basically wishing I was dead (which isn’t that big a deal, really, since I wish that several times a day). Anyway, it’s clear that I’m making progress. I’m a better runner than I was two months ago, and nine weeks from now, when I’m pushing along in a field of 44,999 other runners toward a finish line 26.2 miles distant, I’ll be an even better athlete than I am now.

Did you see that? I just referred to myself as an athlete, which sounds wicked awesome and may be the first time in history anyone has ever said such a thing about Price Horn. Of course, since I’m the one saying it, maybe I should not get the big head about it. After all, I’ve got nine more weeks to prove that I am a miserable failure.

(This is not, by the way, the first time in history that anyone has referred to me as a “miserable failure.” Nor will it be the last.)