Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mileage Challenge

"Just run miles," my dad and uncle said to me.  "Let's pick a number," they continued.  "Let's say 400 miles in two months.  It's time to build the sword.  We can add the edge to it later."

I doubt all the crushed paper cups had been swept away, the clocks barely stopped, and the roads simply roads again, their mile markers long since packed away, before I'd started planning.

The pain from Boston still lingered, but I was already in an empire state of mind.

I did the math in my head: 200 miles a month, roughly 50 miles a week or some combination therein, 45s, 55s, *gulp* 60s.  Broken down, those 5s and 6s run every other day that I did to just simply get to the line at Boston weren't going to cut it anymore....

"You've got to start by resting," they said.  "It's a rest for your body and a mental rest"  So...I rested.  I ran when I felt like it.  When it was hot, I took the bike out instead and discovered the joy of covering mileage in half the time, but also the torture your quads can feel on the steep (or gradual) climbs.  I went to the gym and started lifting legs, realizing that the snarky answer I gave to my orthopedist when he asked if I did any weights for my lower body ("I run hills," I snickered) was naive.  I slept on weekends. I drank beer.  I ditched the watch.

I used to be hungry for food, now I'm hungry to run again.

I feel fresh, antsy, and remember what it's like to go out for a run without any nagging pains or lingering stiffness.

Suddenly, 400 miles, well, it doesn't sound easy, but it sounds more doable.  It sounds like I could start from my house and run to Detroit, MI according to www.timeanddate.com

I'm a Greg McMillan junkie, the self-proclaimed Arthur Lydiard aficionado.  What does that mean?  It essentially means an eight week prescription of pure mileage. THEN you hone that foundation with the speed work as the marathon draws near.  I'm hoping to be a mileage monster by the time I hop in the car to drive down to the ZAP Fitness mini-marathon camp in Blowing Rock, NC the first week of August.

The Challenge
400 miles between June 1 and July 31

The Plan
  • Steadily building mileage in June before cranking it in July
  • 3 up weeks with 1 down week
  • 5 days of running with one to two doubles thrown in
  • Strides to end 2 runs each week
  • 2-3 days in the gym
  • Daily general strength sessions to conclude each run for flexibility and strength
At the conclusion of the base phase, I'll add in the speed workouts that we've come to love (and hate) during marathon training: mile repeats, long tempo runs, 20-milers....

I hope to be a stronger, smarter runner come Nov. 6 when I toe the line at the NYC Marathon.

Until then, the mileage count reads: 0/400.

Confucius said, "Every journey of [400] miles begins with a single step." The first steps start tomorrow.  Who's with me?

Are you up for the challenge?  Pick a mileage number to hit by July 31 and come along for the journey (and challenge) with me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On Runners and the Pregnant Women Who Feed Them

When you’re training for a marathon, or logging major miles for that matter, put yourself next to a pregnant woman. Chances are, there’s going to be food nearby.

Let me explain.

A good friend of mine at work is pregnant with her second child. We’ve developed somewhat of a mutual respect for one another’s appetite; however, I know reading this she’ll say, “Right, except that I pack on the pounds and you look manorexic.  Eat a Cheeto.” And I’ll go ahead and correct her here, saying that “I look ‘fit’ and that in the words of Quentin Cassidy, 'Gaunt is beautiful.'  I'm not eating a Cheeto.”
One runner's Boston jacket is a pregnant woman's "push present"
"Eat it!" she demands, "You're too skinny."  I choke it down. Anyway….

Almost every morning, I can count on her to plop herself down in my office with a Styrofoam container and say, “I’m gonna eat with you,” which is fine as long as she’s sure to put the word “with” in there.

She opens that container and out wafts the smell of fried eggs, sausage patties, and French toast. Excuse me while I dab at the corners of my mouth. As I sat there and watched her shovel eat, it reminded me of when I first started training for the Vermont Marathon back in 2009. I’d entered new mileage levels and all I wanted the day after my long run was a sausage and egg sandwich on an English muffin with a little ketchup. Had to have it. No questions asked.

When it comes time to ramp up the mileage, the one thing I can count on is unending hunger, that and a trail of bodies if I’m not fed every two hours.

This got me thinking about the similarities between long distance runners and pregnant women. After all, isn’t pregnancy really the marathon of the human condition?

Combine the tiredness, the mood swings, the vomiting?, with the insatiable hunger and cravings, I'd argue you might not know the difference.

The old adage goes: Give your body what it wants. For me, it was the sausage, egg, and cheese, a brownie fudge sundae, and, lately, yes, beef jerky. For her, we’re riding in the car to go get Starbucks when she says, “I’m hungry, but I want something healthy.” So, we drive around the parking lot, when she saw it… “Pizza!” she blurted out.
“That’s healthy?” I asked.
“That’s what my baby wants, that’s what she’s getting.”

Replace “pizza,” with Chipotle, Baja Fresh, Five Guys, carrots, Subway, blueberries, Hot Fries (remember Hot Fries?), and...you get the idea. The woman is a culinary mad libs.

And, me? I like to think of myself on most days as her partner in crime, right there with her during my 40/50/60 mile weeks, fork and knife in hand, ready at a moment’s notice to chow down, elbow deep in whatever plat du jour is served up.

But realistically, I am the hyena waiting for the lion to finish. I’m the fish hanging off the side of the shark waiting for scraps. I hover. And I admit it. We’ll talk and I’ll alternate between glancing at her food and up to her eyes as if to put it in her head, “I’ll finish that if you can’t.” Last week it was Subway, “I’m getting a footlong," she said.  "I'll give you a quarter of it."  My eyes (and stomach) lit up.  By meal's end, I sat happily licking the mayo off my fingers, satisfied that I'd managed to get twice as much as she promised, PLUS, I still had my own lunch waiting for me in the fridge at the office.

On the pizza day, we returned to the office with my coffee and her two slices; however, the place ran out of small boxes and had to put both pieces in the “large pizza box.” One of our co-workers walked by and said, “Are you both going to eat that whole pizza?” her eyes as wide as pepperonis.
“It’s only two pieces for her. They ran out of boxes.” I said, dejectedly.
“Whew…the way you two eat, I’d have believed it.”

While I churned out the miles toward Boston and she grew a human inside her, we happily consumed our calories, and...hey, are you gonna eat that?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

American Odyssey Redux - Part II - Everyone Needs Beef Jerky

“My car feels like an empty mansion when I drive it alone now,” my friend e-mailed me. “Needs 4 or 5 people and a bunch of bags of random food.”

How true it is.

There’s a scene in Michael Crichton’s book Travels when he encounters a family who’d just come down from Kilimanjaro, the same hike he’d planned to make the next day.  "Why don't you ask them about it?" his girlfriend says.

So he does.  As the conversation struggles forward he notes, "As they spoke, the dull look never left their eyes.  I couldn't tell if they were tired, or disappointed, or if something odd had happened that they weren't talking about...I was disturbed by the flat intonation, the inward manner....Finally the wife said, 'It was good. It was a good climb.'"

That’s how Mrs. Onthebusrunning and I felt at our local Mexican restaurant just hours after ending our 200ish mile journey from Gettysburg to D.C. So many combating appetites battling: sleep, thirst, hunger, hygiene.
Tired, bearded, happy to be done.

Of course, it didn’t start this way.

Full of life and full of real food, we huddled around the crowded starting line in the parking lot of the Wyndham Gettysburg. Our team shivered with the scores of other runners as the wind blew ominous clouds overhead, the kind that had you not known any better, you’d swear it was fall.

We cheered the countdown on in our olive green shirts with the shadowy figure of our inspiration stenciled on the front: The Most Interesting Man in the World for the Most Interesting Team in the World.

The vans were stacked thanks to a generous donation from MOM’s grocery store and everyone’s favorite running Jamaican, Rohan. We had enough apples, oranges and bananas to feed a small country let alone a van of hungry runners.

The seconds ticked down and the race director with a microphone bellowed, "Goooooo!"  And the first steps of our journey began.  Here's what happened along the way:
Rohan makes us the Most Interesting Team

- Van 2 had six hours to kill before they ran so they scoured Gettysburg for beards to look like The Most Interesting Man in the World...what they got were Abraham Lincoln beards.

- The Rohan Show - Rohan getting on top of the car.  Rohan getting yelled at for being on top of the car.  Rohan running away from the van. Rohan interviewing with the local press. Rohan riding an aluminum horse. Rohan crowing out the window about "Alien sex." Rohan tearing it up on the course!

- Tagging other vans with our Most Interesting Man in the World quotes...even though the grammar was questionable.

- Ebo taking his shirt off.

- Fantasizing about beef jerky.  Eating beef jerky at 6:00 in the morning.  Eating beef jerky all the time.
Ride it...my pony!

- Rachel getting hollered at as she passed through her first of back-to-back night legs.  BA!

- Rachel realizing that she and coconut water do not mix.

- Karen gutting out her last leg in the dawn on the C&O canal after falling twice before reaching the half way point.

- Finding out that @Sarahfindingfit ran down Bloody Lane with a burned out headlamp

- Rachel and Rohan walking into a coffee shop by the MARC train station in Maryland and getting asked if they were, "Part of the doins' down at the station."

- When given the choice between salami sandwiches and peanut butter, salami is the first to go.

Sound asleep at the finish.
- Ebo ran 30 miles collectively instead of 20; 26 of them without a shirt.

- It's easy to fall asleep in the sun along the D.C. waterfront after two beers, two hot dogs, a polish sausage, a chicken breast, and one hour of sleep in the last 33.

Trying to explain these "fun" experiences to non-runners at work, it usually gets met with a blank stare.  And when I know I've lost them, I stop.

“How was it?” I get asked.

"It was good.  It was a good run."

Monday, May 9, 2011

American Odyssey Relay Redux - Part I - The Night Run

 "They" say the second leg of a relay is your best one.  The first is tolerable, and the third is pure guts.  It was with this in mind that I rolled from foot-to-foot at around midnight and bounced on my toes in short-shorts and a tank top trying to stay warm, trying to will Mrs. Onthebusrunning over the crest of the final hill to the quiet parking lot that marked exchange point 16.  The time ticked close to midnight.

Trying (unsuccessfully) to sleep 
I'd tried in vein to get a powernap in after our first exchange.  But even though I felt exhausted, there's something about trying to will your body to sleep at 5:30 p.m. where it just doesn't want to cooperate.  The problem is of course compounded by train whistles, the tapping of rain on your sleeping bag, and the loudest flagpole the world has ever seen (or heard).  I checked my Facebook page and saw I had a message from a friend that said, "Hope the race went well."  I snorted.  I posted back from inside my sleeping bag, "We still have 23 hours to go...but thanks!"

As the sky darkened behind ominous clouds and night settled, the temperature may have dropped but the energy in our van was palpable.  Whatever rest we'd managed kicked in and it was time to take on the night.

And so, while I fidgeted at the handoff, I ran through the turns in my head in case the signs had disappeared.  I worried that the 6:20 pace I'd surprised myself with during the first leg might come back to haunt me here...I was still less than 10 days past running Boston.

Ready to own the night!
"This is her, I think," Paul said. 

"Team 82!" someone called out.

"Time to go," I said to no one in particular.  "Nice job, babe!" She slapped the bracelet on my wrist and I took off, leaving what seemed like the whole of civilization behind me.

Running at night makes you feel like you're flying.  I kept my handlamp trained on the road ahead of me and picked my way into the steady 1.75 mi incline I knew waited for me.  There was no shoulder on the road and every 30 seconds or so, another van would zoom by, forcing me into a neighbor's lawn.  Once they past, the night was still except for the steady plodding of my footstrikes. 

I had flashbacks to this time during the Ragnar Relay from September.  The fuse caught and I burned up the dark roads.  I carried that memory with me as I ate those hills up and kept repeating, "Strong legs, strong legs, strong legs" over and over in my head.  I wondered if I'd catch anyone on this 5.7 mi leg, but to this point, I was alone.  Two hundred meters ahead, I could see the flashing blue light marking the end of the uphills and my first left turn. 

I took a swig of water then hung a left.  I traded tall, tree-lined streets for the black Pennsylvania fields unrolling in front of me.  I started to pull back to save myself for that third leg, then decided, "Screw it.  I feel good.  Let's go."  My stride opened up, big ground eaters that sent me barreling down hills like a madman.  I felt invincible.

Off in the distance two red lights blinked.  I was confused at first because I knew there were no right turns on this loop.  Then it hit me that they were fellow runners.  I fought the urge to speed up and go after them, instead knowing that in time, they'd come back to me.

"Nice job," I offered, going by the first.  The second held up a hand of acknowledgement.

The last left turn emerged and dropped me onto the highway.  I stared up at the steep climbs that waited for me and popped a power gel for good measure.  "It's not Heartbreak," I told myself and continued pushing forward.  The searing came to my quads just as I hit the final hill and saw the bright lights of the Boonsboro high school football field.  Waved on by volunteers I threw down my finishing kick and added a couple more "kills" to my night's tally.  Paul trotted next to me to the exchange and I slapped the bracelet on him.  My work for the night was done.  Paul would loop back to the same finish area before handing off to Rohan to complete Van 1's night duty.  We secretly urged them on so that we could get to the next exchange as quickly as possible and get some much needed sleep.  Even a couple hours would do.

Ninety minutes later, I found myself unrolling a sleeping bag somewhere around 1:30 a.m. in the middle of a field in West Virginia.  I didn't care where it was or what I was sleeping on.  I pulled the cover over my head and as closed my eyes, I smiled, thinking, "they" were right.

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