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.

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