Friday, October 31, 2014

As I finish training

Marathon training is complete - Now there are only 8 days and 26.2 miles until I am a marathon finisher.

Spreading Halloween cheer in the first mile
Today I ran my last long training run. I expected it to be awesome like my last long run, and I was humbled. It was tough. I thought I had my act together, but I really did not fuel the right way the night before, so I felt like I was dragging through the entire 17 mile run.  The upshot is that I know I can make it through when I feel like there isn't anything in the tank, which I suspect will be the final 6 miles or so.

Today's run felt like what I was expecting with my previous 17 miler - tired, achy, and pushing to get through. But that's not what I experienced last time, so I know that if I prepare properly, it doesn't have to be like that. And I don't expect that it will. I know to fuel properly in the days preceding the race, and I will be pumped up by the energy of the event and running with others, so I am not worried.

I wish that today's run had been more exhilarating, but it was a fresh, cool day, and as I traveled to and from the park where I ran, I was moved by the fading fall scenery. The variations between the brown stark trees high on the hills and the deep yellow leaves still clinging to trees at lower elevations were dramatic. The ridges themselves loomed up so impressively that as I drove by farms in the valley, I wanted to pull over and take a picture. And at one point, on a high hill driving north, I was shocked to see tall mountain peaks rising in layers on the horizon. I've looked at a topography map, and although they seem impossibly far away, I can only conclude that those peaks were the Catskills (which, as the crow flies, are much closer than I thought).

And so, even though it wasn't the best run of my training cycle, I changed, ate, stretched, and smiled. I'm almost there!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Just run

I'd been worried about my ability to finish the upcoming Stone Cat Trail Marathon. My left knee had been hurting for 3 months, and most of that time had been spent cycling instead of running. 26.2 was very daunting, especially when I knew that I'd have to let go of the goals I had envisioned when I first signed up for the race.

I set out for a 17-mile trail run last Sunday knowing how important it was to get some long miles in, and I intended to do them whether my knee hurt or not. I knew the route I was going to take, and I just went out and ran.

What happened out there was the restoration of my confidence. I had a rough half hour or so with cramps and nausea, during which I slowed down and walked a bit, but that did not greatly affect the rest of the run. I kept going, and my knees did not hurt. I wasn't thinking about pace and route and whether or not I'd come across any bears. I was just running, and that was so comfortable.

The farthest I had ever run thus far had been 13 miles, and the farthest I had hiked was 15. The 15-mile mark in this run was on a dirt road lined with trees that still held onto some brightly colored leaves. It was late in the afternoon, and the sun was shining through the leaves illuminating the colors. And then I did it - I crossed an imaginary line representing the farthest distance I had ever traveled, and it was an exhilarated jaunt back to the parking lot from there for a total of 17 miles in 3 hours and 23 minutes.

Feeling good after 15 miles!
After this run, I know that I will be able to finish the marathon. It may not be as comfortable as this run was, but I know that there's a rhythm that my legs will fall into, and I just have to run, and it will be good.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spots of Time

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence--depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse--our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen
~William Wordsworth 

 One of the most valuable takeaways so far from my marathon training is all of the times when I found myself completely immersed in the moment. When, cycling up a hill on a foggy morning, I'd look up and see the yellow-gold soybean fields stretch down in neat rows into a foggy cloud where barn roofs and a silo rise up out of the mist in front of a backdrop of green hills. Or hiking through the woods I'd feel myself moving through a bright cathedral of leaves, the overhead branches arching above the trail, and nothing else exists but the sound of my breath and the steady footsteps through the sanctuary. At those times, mundane or weighty thoughts are far away, and I can be fully present. And those times stick with me. Those are the spots of time that Wordsworth mentions in "The Prelude", the memories of which come back and lift us up when we are feeling troubled.

The MRI results for my knee showed signs of tendonitis. Now a couple of weeks after that diagnosis, I'll be starting physical therapy today, and hopefully I will be on my way to an injury-free marathon next month. Still, I feel that this is all a little too late. I expected to have been much farther along in my training by now, and even though I'll most likely be able to finish the marathon, I will not be able to pull off the performance I had imagined I could.

I will see what the physical therapist has to say about it. No matter what, I am so grateful to feel so fit and strong. I want to always feel so healthy. And when I think back to all of those amazing experiences I've had along the way, the fears about this one race seem pretty trivial, and I feel better about the situation, because it really is passing, but those experiences stick.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses

I'm going to Chicago! 

On October 12th, my running buddy will be toeing the line at the Chicago Marathon, and I'll be there to cheer her on.
She's had a rough training cycle because last winter she tore her meniscus. She was originally going to try and BQ, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if she did, but surgery mid-training set her back a lot.

No matter what time the clock reads when she crosses the finish, it's going to be pretty amazing. I've visited Chicago once before, and as far as cities go, I liked it. I can't wait to be there spectating with all of the crowds and taking in the experience.

I just have to think of some good posters to carry along the route...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pathetic Fallacy

Whatever images or mood your mind conjures up when it hears "Wuthering Heights" is pretty much how I felt on  my run/hike last week.

Anna the adventure dog runs ahead on the trail
My schedule called for 2 hours of hiking and one hour of running on trails. I look forward to these long workouts every week, because they feel like good benchmarks for progress in making it to 26 miles, which is still a hard distance for me to fathom, considering the longest I've ever traveled by foot is 15 miles. 

Anyway, the weather forecast called for PM rain, so I figured I'd get it out of the way in the morning. I didn't, so it started raining on the way there.

The rain was on and off as I started hiking. I wore a short-sleeve shirt under a windbreaker, which was comfortable enough. I think it would be a good idea to get a light-weight, vented rain jacket for running and hiking, though.

I hiked on the Appalachian Trail along the Kittatinny ridge, which was like walking through a cloud, in a misty, gloomy kind of way.

Think "Wuthering Heights."

I tried to hike as quickly as possible, but the rain had made everything so slippery that I couldn't keep up a consistent pace. When the rain fell harder, it became more difficult, so I just went along as fast as I could. I figured that being on my feet moving forward is helping prepare for the marathon, so it was progress. After almost 2 hours, I made it to Sunfish Pond, a natural pond sitting at the top of the ridge and skirted around by the AT. One part of the shore is covered in rock fragments that hikers have stacked into hundreds of cairns. I avoided the rocky section that day to give my ankles and knees a rest, but it's an amazing spot to visit.  Here's a view from a previous trip:

After reaching the pond, I stopped for a wardrobe change to prepare for the run back. I took off both shirt layers and put on a dry long-sleeve technical tee that I had stashed in a plastic bag inside my pack. How glorious it was to be dry! (Temporarily dry, but still, it was wonderful.)

I put my pack on again and started running back along the AT. Unfortunately, the rain kept coming down, making the exposed rocks so slippery. I normally feel confident running on technical trails, but I didn't have any traction and was slipping and sliding and yelling a lot in frustration. Luckily, every time I start to twist an ankle, I unconsciously slacken the twisted leg, bending the knee and absorbing it with the whole leg. So no major injuries, although my knees did not feel great afterwards. I saw two other trail runners out there, as well as several groups of backpackers. I couldn't believe how many people were out and about. 

I ran back in half the time it took to hike there, berating myself for the poor choice of location the whole time. Was the gloomy weather reflective of my mood and experience? An English teacher would probably say so. The literary term for giving human emotions to nature like that is "pathetic fallacy." I guess that the real problem of this run wasn't the emotion factor, but rather the planning. Although I put a lot of thought into my route/location for this hike, I didn't take the right factors into consideration. Single track bike trails would have been a much better choice in the rain. I think that I could have really enjoyed all of the gloom and mist on a different trail if the footing were better.

Luckily, when I got back to the car, there was a bag full of dry clothes waiting for me, which was the most welcome sight, and the next week, under full sun and a blue sky, I had a perfect retribution hike.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Marathon Training

Back in July I entered and won the lottery! The lottery for a race, that is: the Stone Cat Trail Marathon.

A Stone Cat finisher's sweatshirt posted by
I signed up because I thought that after all of these years of running, I am finally ready to take on the challenge of a marathon.

For the past 11 months, I've been training with a corrective exercise trainer/kick-ass ultra runner to even out muscle imbalances and get past all of the obstacles that have been holding me back. I've noticed improvements in my gait, posture, heart rate, and race times. And all throughout this year, I've been inspired and motivated by my trainer, her trail running team members, and other clients. Check out Mountain Peak Fitness to see what I'm talking about. Race reports about utlra races like Wasatch, Badwater, and Western States have stuck with me on my own runs and give a totally different perspective to things.

Of course, there are always little setbacks that pop up. Mine came days after I found out that I was picked for the marathon. An area under the inner knee started hurting after I overextended the knee while jogging on a hiking trail while wearing heavy hiking boots (I couldn't help it - I love running!) and then ran a 5 k later that week. After that I scaled down mileage and intensity, iced it, and replaced a lot of running with cycling, and it got a little better. Not completely, though. Two months later I am still taking things one step at a time, cautiously seeing how the knee feels, and tailoring my workouts to it. I went to the doctor this week and will be getting an MRI for more info. Whatever it is, I don't think that it's very serious. With cycling, elliptical training, and hiking to prepare me, I'll be crossing the finish line on November 8th.

So this is it - I'm getting ready to go 26.2 for the first time!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Turkey Trot 4-mile Trail Run

After warming up before this race in Carolina Beach State Park in North Carolina, I hopped onto a picnic table to stretch, and I felt the weirdest clash between being pumped up and very peaceful and relaxed.  Sunlight was filtering through tall pines on a clear, chilly morning by the inter-coastal waterway. I leaned into the stretches and felt very good and very ready for a run through the woods.

I ran this race 5 years before, when it had 100 fewer participants and when I won my first age group award. I expected to be faster now, but I didn't know by how much, and part of me just wanted to run it again for the experience of a trail that is so different than those I run on in the northeast.

I was excited and pumped up for this race, and I felt great during the warm up. I hopped onto a picnic table to stretch, and when the race started, I felt well prepared.

After the gun went off, I started with a pack very close to the front and was swept up in the speed. I went a couple of steps and accidentally stepped on the heel of someone in front of me, which could have been a major fail, but it only caused one or two faltering steps before I got back into my rhythm and continued at a fast pace down the road before turning onto the trail.

I knew that I was going faster than I should have. I was too fast in my warm up, too. But at a quarter mile, my phone read out that my pace was over 12 minutes per mile. Was I already slowing and didn't even notice it? I kept pace with the people around me and felt the distance pass by with each step.

When we turned onto the trail, there was a little bit of a bottleneck. I noticed that the race directors tried to mark the roots on the ground with orange ribbon, which was unexpected, but nice. I noticed that I slowed down a lot, though. I haven't been trail running lately, and I didn't have the nimbleness that you need.

The surface of the trail was sand and pine needles. The roots thinned out, and some sections were completely sand, dry, lumpy, and uneven from the feet of every runner before me. I remembered the sand from when I ran this race before, but I had pushed a lot of it from my memory. My phone kept reporting a pace of over 10 minutes per mile. How could that be? The last time, I averaged 9:28 per mile. Surely I was in better shape now!

I kept thinking about what was making me so much slower this time. I was breathing heavily, and I felt bad because it must have been annoying to the people around me. As my phone ticked off the miles and read off my slow pace, I felt discouraged. What did I accomplish in the 5 years of running since I had run this race before? How could I be so much slower?

When my phone read off 3.5 miles, I heard cheering and music playing at the finish line. I remembered that from last time - I thought I was at the end because of the cheering, but the course snaked its way much longer than I thought. Except this time, it wasn't really that long. All of a sudden I saw the people ahead of me step onto a bridge - the bridge that drops you off at the finish line. Then I could see the finish. I pushed as hard as I could and crossed the finish line in 34:34 - 3 minutes and 15 seconds faster than my first time and good for second in my age group.

My phone, it seems, was off by quite a lot, and I am disappointed that I let that discourage me like it did. I should have enjoyed the race for what it was and not for how fast I could run it. The park was so pretty and unlike the scenery I am used to. I wish I had remembered to take some pictures!

I'll take this as a lesson to enjoy running for the experience and not to be so concerned with the clock. It's always good to set goals and to try and make improvements, but in a sport that has such a strong mental component, truly having a good time and enjoying the experience can be more important.