Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lost in Suburbia

It went down in my log as a 14 mile long run.  The weather: 35 degrees and partly cloudy.  The effort: 6.5 out of 10.

What it won't say is what a mental battle it was from the first few awkward strides or the moment I realized how freaking lost I was.

Let me back up a couple days.  On Tuesday, I took on an ambitious nine mile tempo run, one I thought I could use as a measuring stick for just what level of fitness I was at.  The results: not too shabby.  The only problem was the next day.  Something just didn't feel right in my knee.  A little extra ice, a little more ibuprofen, and I forged on.

Then the snow came.

I flashed back to last year when snowmageddon buried the D.C. area.  Running was like groundhog day (bing!).  Every day.  The same loop. Again. And again.  And again.  The same hills, the same straights, the same declines, the same ice patches.  I'm getting twitchy just thinking about it.  

The only thing worse would have been trying to tackle 14 on a treadmill...which I briefly considered, until I determined that I didn't have the mental ilk to go through with it.  So I took to the neighborhood.

The first few steps proved agonizing.  I thought I would have to stop.  Sometime later (days later) I discovered I had some tendinitis going on.  But for the time being, I believed I could run through it.  So I did.  Once I got off the downhill portion, things loosened up.  I uncurled my toes and felt the rest of my leg, from achilles to quad, release.  I could run again.

At first, I headed down familiar streets and cul-de-sacs.  The downhills still proved particularly cruel and I learned to relish the uphills.  But what I truly came to appreciate was my GPS watch.  I had a pretty good idea what the mileage was in certain areas of my neighborhood, but the watch took the guess work away.  Instead of relying on a four mile loop over and over and over again, I could simply run.

After the usual haunts, I remembered that a good friend told me that at the edge of our neighborhood, where new construction had begun, there was a trail that broke off and led to one of the main roads in our area.  In other words, uncharted territory.

I headed that way.  There was something exciting and adventurous about it.  I crested one more hill that normally marked the turn around point when I decided to suffer through my neighborhood.  But I kept going beyond the light post.  

I followed the road around and I swear I turned into New Hampshire.  Houses were no longer stacked on top of one another.  The terrain rolled.  Steep uphills, long declines, no sidewalks.  Homes were set off from the main road.  At one point I made a right turn only discover that it was someone's driveway...200 meters later.  I half expected to see cows.

While I took in my new surroundings, a wide grin plastered across my face, it dawned on me that I had no idea where I was.  I can tell you I'd gone a total of eight miles at that point, but had been so transfixed by the scenery that I'd lost track of the turns and had left my breadcrumbs at home.  

I turned around and started looking for anything that might resemble, well, anything.  I took on steep hills and then even steeper hills.  Looked for street signs (another thing missing, which in turn reminded me of New Hampshire).  I almost stopped and did one of those movie poses where the character rotates 360, palms up, mouth agape.  Until finally I recognized an intersection I'd come through.  

I still wanted a couple more miles before heading down my four mile loop for the finale.  I got my bearings and pushed on.  Faced with another intersection, I headed left, crested another hill, and then saw the trail head.  

I forgot I'd even been looking for it.  

I gave the sign a tap then turned back and made my toward familiar ground and the rest of my run.

When I clicked my watch and returned to the house, I couldn't wait to download my run and check out the elevation profile.  If the route were a heart monitor, it was a massive heart attack.  Not bad for Boston prep...and a little adventure along the way.

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