Friday, September 21, 2012

Be Ferocious and Patient

Salvation Lies Within...the Training Log.
It was sort of perfect really. I turned the car on, plugged in my iPhone, and hit play. The soft beginnings of Death Cab for Cutie’s “Marching Bands of Manhattan” poured from my speakers, a song that always gives me the sensation of opening my eyes in the morning and conjures the memory of the New York Marathon. That race has been heavy on my mind lately, the 2011 one that is. The one where I dipped under three hours for the first time. The one I’ve romanticized for the past, oh, 11 months, particularly heading into my Marine Corps Marathon training.

The trouble with romanticizing, though, is that we tend to leave out the things we’d rather forget, which is why I can boil down seventh and eighth grade to about two seconds, both of which constitute walking out of those doors for the last time. But I digress.

I wouldn’t constitute the march toward Marine Corps as a particularly bad training experience, it’s simply that, with under six weeks to the gun, I’m still waiting for that one breakthrough run or tune up that lets you know.

In the meantime, I go about ticking off the boxes of my training calendar, trying to play it cool, trying not to force that breakthrough, trying to be breezy.

Then breezy wasn’t working, so I started stalking my 2011-self. Hey, if I’m going to keep that meticulous training log, I may as well as put it to good use. So, I started comparing workouts to last year to track my progress. Dangerous and unfair.  I looked at last week’s 17 miler + 5K, read the notes and scrutinized the times. I just shook my head, clicked the “x” and shut the computer.

But with a couple of good workouts under my belt this week, I returned to September 2011 and I looked at several days together and those forgotten memories that had been conveniently swept under the pile of sweaty running clothes started to emerge. Notes included: “Typical shitty Wednesday run,” “IT too stiff to go today,” “Legs didn’t have it today” and so on. Turns out, similar to Andy Dufresne, "salvation lies within."

Same weeks. Same feelings nearly one year later.

I had a glimpse of what could be at the 2012 Providence Rock and Roll Half Marathon in August, when I strung together a 1:19:29 PR, but it feels like a race too far. Since then, as the miles have piled up and some days I return to my front step awash in fatigue and doubt, I wonder when.

But last year, I wondered “when” as well. Am I doing enough? Are the speed workouts working? Did I waste my time with the base miles? The answer didn’t come until October 10, exactly four weeks out from the race. I had the Army Ten Miler penciled in for a tune up. The year before I ran sub-60 there and had no expectations for that again. Around mile 5, however, I started flirting with the idea and fully recognizing it at mile 7. I strode confidently to a 58:45.

Despite the breakthrough, I rattled off a couple more crappy workouts leading up to the race.

I opened the "notebook" in my iPad this week and came across the phrase that is this post's title. I don't know what runner to attribute it to but guessing it's probably Desi Davila or Shalane Flanagan. It's the mantra I've adopted for the remainder of my training, and it runs on repeat in my head when the darkness (or lactic acid) starts to seep in.

While I won’t have a race like the Army Ten Miler to test my mettle, I will have to trust in the work, put my faith in the miles, and be “ferocious and patient.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Kindness of Runners

When I emerged from the woods I started searching. I gave my water bottle a quick shake, frowned, and dropped an eff-bomb at no one in particular. The temperature hovered in the low 80s and hung there courtesy of the late summer humidity. Seven miles into a scheduled 12-miler, I hummed along at marathon pace but knew I still had work to do in the form of some serious climbs.

For the past two weeks, I detoured to the local pool, dodging the curious eyes of the lifeguards to duck into the bathroom to refill. But since Labor Day had come and gone, the pool closed and with it my refilling options.

With the knowledge of my depleted reserves, I became quite aware of my tongue and went to work expelling the white fluffs of spit that had built up at the backs of my cheeks and in my throat.

I hooked a left and started the first serious climb out of what Mrs. Onthebusrunning and I had cleverly dubbed “the pool neighborhood” (see paragraph 2 for explanation). I tried to focus on keeping my form neat, pumping my arms, and relaxing my shoulders…but all I could think was “WATER!” I scanned yards for sprinklers, kiddie pools, buckets of used car-washing water…anything!

I'd already given the "WTF" arms at one car, having to point to the "walk" sign, and didn't have much hope in my fellow man helping at this point. I let the thought of knocking on someones door quickly come and go.

Half way through the hill, with the false plateau in sight (the stretch that seems flat because of all the climbing, but really is just a less severe grade), I spotted him. A goateed man with a slight paunch and birkenstocks walking down his driveway, with…could it be…yes!...a garden hose in his hand!

The water seemed to spray from the nozzle in slow motion, like [insert summer beer commercial here].

“Excuse me!” I shouted to him. He looked up and smiled. “Would you mind refilling this for me?” I asked, trying to strike that balance between “I might pass out, you must help me” and “creepy desperation.”

He sprung to action. “Yeah, yeah! Of course. Hold on just a second,” he said. “I just turned it on, so let me get it cold for you.” He aimed the nozzle at the grass and let fly.

“How far you goin’ today?”
“Twelve,” I breathed at him. Sweat dripped from my arms and the back brim of my hat making small puddles on the ground. Had I seen it before, I may have tried to drink them. “Five to go,” I said.
“Nice! I was up to five every other day for a good while. Man, I miss it.”
“What happened?”
“Back surgery,” he said, shaking his head. “Now…” he trailed off and started patting the paunch. “I’ll get back to it soon, though.”

A fellow runner. Had to be given the gleam of excitement and exceptional willingness to help. It was so refreshing to *ah hem* run into one when lately it seems I’ve had to run more defensively, dodging cars not stopping at crosswalks, at lights before making right turns, or people simply walking three across the trail (can’t we share!?). And to finally have someone who gets it and not give me that, “I only run when I’m being chased,” line.

We traded a few more stories before he finally gave up on the hose. “Gimme a second,” he said, darting for the garage. He came back with a bottle of water, cloudy from the humidity. “Here we go,” he said dumping it into my bottle. “You want the rest?”

“Maybe just a sip,” I said playing it cool. I swished the cold water in my mouth and felt it travel the length of my torso after I swallowed. “Thanks,” I said. “Good luck. Hope you can get after it again soon.”

“Me too!” he said, as I turned and headed back to the task at hand, a smile on my face, a full water bottle, and a renewed faith in humanity.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Navy Federal 5K Redux (and 20 miler)

“I’m too tired to chew,” my friend Rohan said. His fork clanged onto the plate and he slid down in his chair.

“Shall I take your plate, sir?” the waiter asked. He balanced my plate in one hand, the one with lingering smears of chocolate chip left over from what used to be eggs and pancakes (the smears I couldn’t get up with my fork). With the other, he began to pick up Rohan’s.

“Whoa, whoa!” Ebo and I both said at the same time, leading with our forks.

Like vultures descending on carrion, I stabbed at the remaining sausage links while Ebo sopped up syrup with the waffle half left on Rohan’s plate. The waiter’s eyes widened, taking it all in as we took it all away.

“Now?” he said, eyebrows raised.

“Ok,” we said, mouths full, eyes inspecting the now empty plates for any last remnants.

That’s what 17 miles and a 5K will do to you.

Hours earlier, the sun began to peek up over the trees lining the W&OD trail. The three of us clicked along, Rohan and I running, Ebo acting as water Sherpa and official trip photographer (see above). I had high hopes for this run. I tried to mimic last year’s performance when my wife rode alongside me and the miles seemed to slip easily by. I switched into faster gears with ease and had plenty left in the tank to complete the “fast finish” portion of that 20-miler by running strong to a top 5 finish in a local 5K.

History, sadly, did not repeat itself. Ebo and Rohan chatted easily through the first four miles, while a storm raged in my head and I tried desperately to weather its passing by focusing on my form and assuring myself that if I could just make it to four miles, the switch would flip and I’d be fine the rest of the run. Rather than, you know, focusing on the 17 odd miles left.

At about 3.5 miles in, Rohan looked over at me. “How’re you feeling?”
“Shitty,” I breathed.
“I thought so, you’re pretty quiet.”
“I’ll be. Ok.” I hope.

But lo and behold, at four miles, the clouds cleared and the pace dropped. We ran mostly in silence, not because, we hurt, but because we were in the flow. We hit the turnaround point with an hour and twenty minutes to spare before the gun went off for the 5K.

In that blissful stretch where the miles flipped like calendar pages, I hadn’t accounted for the fact that a lot of it had been on a gradual decline. So as we turned to make our way back to the car, the path inclined ahead of us and we climbed. And climbed. And climbed.

Normally, I thrive on the uphills. It’s here that I shorten my stride, tap into the turnover drills, churn up those hills, and make moves in races. I had no reason to think otherwise that morning except that when we hit the uphills, all the power had gone from my legs. If you'll excuse the Star Wars reference, it's like I was the Millenium Falcon trying to make the jump to light speed but the Empire had dismantled it without my knowing. My legs felt totally sapped of energy and they had no pop or kickback off the ground. I felt hungry, tired, and just wanted to curl up on the side of the trail and fall asleep.

With just under three miles left, I sent Rohan ahead of me and grinded out the remaining miles, trying to block out the fact that I still had a 5K to run once we got back to the car.

Mercifully, I reached the car with 17 minutes to spare. I downed a gel and started doing some butt kicks, high knees, and hamstring swings to trick my legs into waking up. Each step seemed to pull on my calves.

Ebo switched out of his bike gear and Rohan and I looked on one another with near dead eyes, both seeking the strength to run this 5K, knowing how bad it would hurt.

When the gun went off, we bolted from the line. The pack thinned quickly. I found a steady rhythm and tried to lock in, not looking at my watch, but rather running by feel. When I hit the first mile marker, the timer called out 6:03 and I balked wondering where the hell that came from.

I locked in on Rohan’s back and let him carry me the rest of the way. The second mile went by in a blur, and soon I charged for the finish. With a half mile to go, I knew a downhill finish waited for me so I fought off one last runner and made for home, wanting (needing) a strong finish to salvage my confidence. I crossed the line in 19:12 and found Rohan. We ambled to the food station and began eating in line as we grabbed apples and bananas. Then, we collapsed into chairs to relish a morning hard earned.

Not long after, a primal roar came from the finish line and we saw Ebo howling across the line, high fiving the runners around him. The three of us padded back to the car, Ebo to celebrate a near PR, Rohan having run farther than he ever had in one jaunt, and me, well, for survival. It was one for the rolodex. And one to forget.

Even the bad ones go down a little easier when there are pancakes and eggs waiting at the end.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Back on the Blog

In the middle of many recent runs, in the latter miles of races, when the pace flowed or when the gears grinded, the words still came. The posts seemed to write themselves on the back wall of my brain but they never quite made it onto the page, err, screen. The blog simply became a casualty of that thing called real life. The words, however, piled up with the miles, and here’s what happened along the way: 

The accidental PR.
Providence Rock and Roll Half Marathon – With eight weeks of base building and three weeks of speed training on my legs, I toed the line at a half marathon I had signed up for months and months ago. I planned to run it as a workout but in one of those beautiful combinations of cool weather and low expectations, I crushed my previous PR by 2:17, running a 1:19:29.  Other than the PR, the highlight of the race came near mile 2 when, after cresting a fairly serious hill, a woman standing on the curb screamed, “What’s the point?! You’re all going to die like the rest of us!”

After summiting Old Rag - twice.
In the Footsteps of Quentin Cassidy – With Mrs. Onthebusrunning out of town for a weekend, my friend and I packed up the car and headed west for the Shenandoah Mountains. For three days, we ran, hiked, camped, and repeated “Once a Runner”-style. We pummeled our legs until they were sore to the touch, ice-bathed with a local high school x-country team, ran for the sunset, and ran from storms. When all was said and done, we’d covered 37 miles in 32 hours.

On top of Long's Peak - 14,255 ft

Heading WestFor the fourth year in a row, I traded running shoes for hiking boots and met up with a high school friend for yet another ultimate road trip through the American West to explore our national parks. This year took us to the tourist-thick Mt. Rushmore, the eerie and dry Badlands, the wildlife rich grasslands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a quick stop at Devil’s Tower, and finally an arduous climb to the top of Long’s Peak, 14,255 ft. up. I look forward to this trip every year for several reasons, but what I cherish most, beyond the camaraderie I share with my friend and the rich landscapes we pass through, is the sense of peace I find when I return home. My head feels clearer, my body recharged despite the miles of hiking, and I return to the roads with a fresh perspective and giddiness to resume training.

The Road Ahead – With seven weeks left on the training calendar, the march toward Marine Corps resumes. This weekend I’ll tackle the first of three 20-milers, though I’ll do it with two friends. The Program calls for the final six miles at near 10K pace so we’ll run 17 and time it so that we’re leaning toward the start line when the gun goes off at a local 5K…nothing like jumping into a race after 17 miles to ensure you run that last 5K fast. And this week, assuming spots still remain, I’ll look even farther ahead and enter my third Boston to get back on the bus to Hopkinton.
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