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.

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