Saturday, January 30, 2010

Long Run, Saturday January 30th

It's 12:38pm, and I am sitting, warm and comfortable, at my computer desk. A hot shower has rinsed away the last of my coldness, and a belly full of pancakes has ballasted out the high-energy but unsatisfying grub I downed during my run. I am feeling moderately pleased. Since you're already reading this, you're probably curious how things went. Well, let's go back to 4:30 this morning. I will sum up.

I wake up at 4:30, 5 minutes before my alarm. I am feeling just dandy, no pain anywhere. 30 minutes later, I am kitted out. My equipment load-out looks like this:
* the ordinary nylon pants, tech shirt, vest and hat.
* brand new mittens, with a chemical hand warmer in each one
* Petroleum Jelly, slathered over my nose and cheeks, as well as a few other spots.
* quart of gatorade in a 50oz bladder
* 3 energy bars, one already in my stomach
* bag full of gumdrops (poor man's gu)
* GPS watch.
* the Frees on my feet.

My nutrition plan will be to eat energy bars at hour intervals, starting at hour 0. I estimate it takes between 60 and 90 minutes for one of those bars to start kicking in, so it makes sense to start with one going. In particular, the bar at hour 1 will be crucial, because it should hit right around the 2.5 hour mark--where I got into trouble last week. The gumdrops and gatorade will be sprinkled in at various intervals as needed.

I step out the door. What a morning! The temperature and the hour are commensurate. The full moon is a stunning orb in the inky clarity of the sky, the snow-cover (no more than a dusting now), lit up with an ethereal brilliance. And cold, yes. Cold as advertised. Talk of your cold! Through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail. / If our eyes we'd close then the lashes froze, 'til sometimes we couldn't see. Cold enough to make me think of Robert Service, but only in a theatrical light, for the wind was low, and it would take that to transform this chilly day into a brutal one.

Feeling light and easy, I settle into my pace. It seems hardly any time has passed before I am approaching the hour mark. I try my gatorade. Despite running the straw down inside my shirt with the tip pressed against my abdomen, it has still managed to freeze with ice. Damn. My hands are doing all right--better than last week, despite the conditions--but I still don't think I can fumble out my hour-1 energy bar and eat it. Double-damn. At around 80 minutes I fumble out some gum-drops and have a few.

I have long since passed through Dover center where I exchange Walpole street for Dedham street. Now I am starting up the Summer Street hill, and it feels grand. I gust up it like a leaf. I've been running for an hour and a half and at last the sun is coming up. Birds start singing, the hardy fellows. I wonder at the dumb tenacity that lets them live through nights like this. Amazing what you can do when you don't have any alternative.

I reach the Vellos parking lot around 6:50, and head out for a short out-and-back, in which I run into Jeff W and a pack of other GNRCers (sorry I didn't know you right away Jeff, my eyes were really blurry!). Alas they are just finishing. I return to the shopping plaza and orbit it a few times, but head out again around 7:02. Ah well.

I have gone 13 miles by now, and decide to do another Westwood/Dover lap. If I was worried about doing a long run in 2 laps I needn't have; everything is different this time and it's not the least boring. Back at the shopping plaza I had managed a few more gumdrops, but had to slip off my left mitten to manage it. I really struggled getting it back on and decided I wasn't going to do that again. Too bad. I have had my last food for the run.

My vision starts to get pretty swimmy at this point. I'm not low on calories--it's the cold. My corneas have stiffened up, and then to top things off I feel like I've got standing tears in each eye. Eh, I can see the road and cars, at least.

I hit Dover center for the 2nd time around mile 18. Feeling great.

Around mile 20 I take right off Dedham street onto Summer Street. Hill time. I am starting to feel the miles, but this is exactly what I came out here for today. I find I am anticipating what is to come.

I do not float up the hill this time. This time I have to think about it. It's resistance, but it's strictly with a lower-case 'r'; nothing like the devastating enervation that capped my run last week. I think of breakfast. A hot shower, then pancakes with syrup. It surprises me how viscerally I can imagine putting a warm slice of pancake into my mouth. I finish off the hill at mile 22, and try to coax myself into loosening up again and finding some kind of flow.

Back to the shopping plaza for the third time, at mile 23. At this point I had entertained some heroic notion of doing an extra out-and-back, making this into a marathon. But I'm pretty close to home by now, and that thought dominates all my other intentions. All right, then. 1 more mile. Make this another distance PR.

There's some stiffer resistance this time, on the last of the last legs. I can't say if it's my brain, knowing I'm almost done and trying to trick me into stopping a little early, or the declined energy bars at hour 1 and hour 2. I think, if the chips were down I could do another two miles, but not today. A warm house and a good meal are too near.

The final score:
distance: 24.2 miles (d.PR)
pace: 8:06 min/mile.

Thoughts from the run:
* The LLBean hand-warmers really do work (I found they were still quite warm 7 hours after opening them, just as advertised). Next time I will put them straight in my mittens, and not in the warmer pockets on the outside. I think I can manage this without burning myself, and it should much increase their efficacy.
* I need to make a checklist for these early morning starts. Things like: pre-shuck energy bars; and, bring money! (with those long runs, you never know).
* I clearly still haven't figured out the whole trick for eating on long runs, at least runs this cold. I'm thinking of peeling my energy bars ahead of time and then keeping them loose in my outer vest pocket, instead of my zipper trowser pocket. This means I'll be able to get at them with my mittens, but it also means they'll be brick-solid, like eating them out of the freezer. If I break pieces off and hold them in my mouth for a bit, maybe it will work.
* The gumdrops are *almost* a great energy food--nice and discrete, easier to eat and more palatable than gu, and (I suspect), just as a fast a glucose delivery mechanism. But they do have one little problem:

Can you tell which ones ran 24 miles with me? All that jostling does something interesting. It transforms the outer crusting of sugar into something resembling confectioner's sugar, light and powdery, messy, and easy to choke on. I feel there is some clever culinary solution to this problem. Deep-fried gumdrops, maybe?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bracing for tomorrow

I'm bracing for another try at that 10K. You know the one...the one you have to run 20 miles to get to. Rather than running in fear of the opposing force--let's call it The Resistance--I'm going to go out looking for it. The goal will be to run until I find the Resistance (or, all right, mile 24), and then run another two miles, right into its teeth. My hope is to gain some insight into whether there is anything on the other side. Even if I don't find out, I'll be able to walk away with pride if I can wrestle the old bastard for two miles.

It's supposed to be about 5 degrees out when I start tomorrow morning. I'm going to try to pick up some chemical hand warmers tonight if possible, since that's the only part I really worry about. It's especially bad on a run since once my hands have gotten too cold it's tough to feed myself. For similar reasons I am a bit undecided about my route. I would love another crack at the loop I failed at last week, but another walk back from Walpole in single-digit temps would be brutal. Now that I think about it I'll probably keep it local and swing by Vello's at 7. Maybe see some GNRCers for a change!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Long Run, Sunday January 24th

6:15am: I am standing outside my front door, waiting for my watch to finish sync with the gps constellation. It is cold and dark; the moon has set; only a few stars peek out from behind the invisible banks of cloud. I am starting just early enough to fulfill my own rule: that any run measured in hours rather than minutes ought to be started in darkness.

Last night I worked out this route (endpoints somewhat obfuscated):

View Larger Map

Allowing for the extra distance to my house, it is tolerably close to a marathon. I stand up on tip-toe and feel the uncomfortable flair run up along the outer edge of my foot between my pinky-toe and ankle bone. But it is not sharp. I don't think I'm going to face another melt-down like last week.

I am kitted out; a bladder of gatorade rests between my shoulder-blades inside my vest. Two energy bars ride in my right pocket. I'm as ready as I'll be.

6:24: I check my watch; a slow start, but I have a way to go. This will be the last time I check my progress for the duration of the run.

6:30?: I am settling in, now, moving along in a tranquil rocking motion, smooth as I can make it. My foot feels OK and I am relieved.

6:40?: On Hartford St I look to the left and see the mackeral-striped clouds suddenly illumined in purple hues, hovering magically over the tenebrous snow-fields. Though these early runs have made this sight almost a common-place, it nonetheless never fails to move me.

7:00?: Early dawn has broken over me. I am on 109 now, and the cars are still driving with headlights, but they can see me and I can see them. Soon I pass through Medway. It is too early for pedestrians; Lords' red neon sign is lit, but the sidewalk outside is deserted. Minutes later I am past it, and onto the mostly deserted stretch of road that will take me to Millis.

7:20?: A few more miles. The sun is fully risen now, but it has yet to warm the chilly air. I am in Millis, just passing by 115. I will run a little further than turn around and double back on Spring Street, running by Tangerinis farm where in warmer days we go to buy our produce. Almost at my end-point on 109, I pass another runner, the first other pedestrian I've seen.

7:26?: Spring Street. I have caught up to a runner, and it turns out to be the same one I passed minutes ago. This time we exchange pleasantries. "You doubled back", she says. "Yeah," I answer, and then add inanely: "I'm going to Norfolk." "I thought you looked familiar..." she replies, and that seems so strange to me that I realize that the run has started to pull me into a weird mental space. I'm not sure how far I've gone, but I'm sure it's not all that far.

7:??: 115 South. Hitherto I have been in familiar territory, but this road is unknown to me. Telephone pole after pole after pole glide by me, webbed together with ribbons of sunlight. Everything feels a little strange. I know somewhere ahead there is a traffic circle, and I am supposed to turn left. Everything else is uncertain.

I remember thinking earlier how my foot hurt, only now that thought seems hilariously strange. Why say "my foot hurts", the way you'd say "my dog is acting up on me". What does it mean? I am all of a piece.

I pass a dead squirrel.

I clench my hands inside my gloves. They are cold, and that's the realest thing about this run right now.

7:55?: Norfolk. There is a traffic circle, and I know just what to do, which is to turn left. By this circle there is a Citgo station, and the Citgo station Has Diesel. This idea resounds in my mind like a bell.

8:20?: I am on Main St now, heading toward Walpole. Minutes ago I ate an energy bar, and the run's surreality is starting to fade (a moment of chagrin when I realized that I had forgotten to rip open the fail wrappers ahead of time, but fortunately my teeth did the trick). I am passing under and over and beside one of the commuter rail tracks, running straight as a ruler in the same general direction I am going.

8:40?: Walpole center, and 1A. I have started to think about finishing. When I get home it will be bacon and eggs for breakfast, I think. This road is not beautiful, but it has a good sidewalk. I think back regretfully on the quiet stretch of 115, eery otherworld though it seemed to me at the time. I am feeling a little spent, but basically all right.

9:00: More 1A. I run up a hill, and feel my muscles working, the first mild hint of complaint. I run down the other side, and everything loosens up again. Here is the next hill. I start up it, just a mild incline really, legs pulling me along and...wait...what? I am gasping. I feel like I've been teleported to 15,000 feet above sea level. My legs are suddenly leaden. My running form breaks apart like a tea cup dropped from a third story window. I fix on a red sign. Make it there, and I'll check my watch.

9:05: Only 20.15 miles?? Shit! Another 5-6 miles, at least! I battle momentarily with despair and then the despair wins. I am in Walpole, and it's going to be a bit of a hike home. But the thought of running suddenly seems unappetizing (Later, I will desultorily mix in some jogging, mainly to get home the quicker, but it does little to salvage the run). This is not the ending I anticipated.

That concluded my second attempt to run an approximate marathon distance, and while it went better than last week (3 miles, whee!), it left some things to be desired. It also left me with these thoughts:

* I like the single-loop format. It has disadvantages (in particular, it almost certainly means I need to do it solo), but it means there's a real cost of failure, and it also means I got to range farther afield than I usually do.

* My strategy of ignoring my watch was deliberate. Two weeks ago, when I ran 23, the miles were downright easy until the watch-check at 18. Then all of a sudden they started to get gradually harder, culminating in the last mile, which was really hard. I theorized that it was my brain that was making this so difficult--that if I didn't know where in the run I was, I wouldn't "know" to feel tired. Apparently my body is smarter than that. There appears to be a real physiological reaction around 20 miles. Not checking my watch had the disadvantage that I was completely unprepared for it, and it hit me that much harder.

It is trite to think of this as a "wall", but I do think of it as kind of resistance. There is something between me and mile 24 and it is pretty formidable. What I have yet to learn is: if I hit this thing head-on, grind against it for 1, 2 miles (and that is my optimistic estimate for how long I can fight against it), is there anything past it? Will it get better?

* In continuation of the previous thought: when I got to within a mile of my house, I decided hell with it and started running again. It was pretty jerky, but it surprised me by how not-horrorshow it was. What am I to make of that? Why did my body react so strongly earlier if it wasn't really played out? Maybe I gave up too quick? (answer, yes).

* I am feeling anticipation at the prospect of trying this same run again next week.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We botched it

This is a politics rant. You might want to stop reading now.

What can I say besides the title? We botched it. We messed it up. It's not, by itself, that we lost. It's that we lost with such a crummy turnout! Less than 50%! I don't care if it's a special election. 50% is rubbish. No, excuse me, it's shit. Now Mr. Brown is going off to Washington, prating about how he represents the will of the Massachusetts people, and his signature campaign issue to kill health care reform. The "will of the people" who moved to universalize health care in their own state, and who have the highest health insurance subscription percentage in the union. Bitter irony.

I feel like we could have done more. I feel like I could have done more. Truth to tell I, just like the Coakley campaign, was prey to the same complacency. I didn't think Mr. Brown could pull it off. I voted twice, once in the primary and once yesterday, and I told myself that was enough. Clearly I voted for somebody who wasn't much of a campaigner. Whether she would have been a good legislator is something we won't get to find out.

We let it be about health care reform, but we let our opponents define what that meant. We let it be about scary CBO finance estimates and the ugliness of the legislative process in DC. We stopped speaking in the language of social justice. Is that so scary? Right and wrong aren't always abstract concepts. Often they're very concrete. Providing health care for our elderly population is expensive and hard. But it's also right. The same rightness applies to extending coverage to other vulnerable groups. The health care bills are both ugly ducklings, no question about that. But it's a dangerous kind of nihilism to reject a bill that isn't all you had hoped--isn't what would have written if only you had the power--just because it falls short of your aspirations. No bill is ever going to be what you wanted. Sometimes you still have to recognize a bill is better than no bill--especially this one--because make no mistake, if we kill this health care reform effort it will not be taken up again for a whole generation.

I am writing so much about the health care legislation because I see Coakley vs Brown as a referendum on Obama's domestic agenda. You may not agree.

So we lost. But what a miserable way to lose! 50%! Where's the passion, Massachusetts?

(edit: but you really shouldn't have called Schilling a Yankee's fan, Martha. That was kind of a blunder).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Derry sold out? Damn!

That's what I get for waiting. For some reason when I looked at the site I fooled myself into thinking there was race-day registration, which usually implies a race that doesn't sell out. (for the non-local readers, this is apropos of the 16 mile road race in Derry, 10 days hence). I'm bummed about that--was absolutely planning on racing it--well, at least running it. I don't know if 7 minute miles (aka Marathon GP) would have felt like racing. I checked around for other similar-length races in the same time frame, but the New England racing calendar is actually a bit bare at this time of year (can't imagine why).

If anyone out there knows of a good 10-16 mile race in the next three weeks (and within a 100 miles or so of Boston, natch), post in comments. Otherwise I'll have to content myself with a long tempo run on my lonesome.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

resuming trajectory

Every training cycle I have ever embarked on eventually hits a patch of doldrums, where the estimated mileage I had scrawled out so nonchalantly in the beginning looms large, and my spirit for hitting those arbitrary numbers flickers. This is always the period to revise the end-target down to something reasonable--rather like with any project, you begin with grand hopes, but by half-way you can see the finish line well enough to adjust your expectations. For example, I had hopes of getting at least 2-3 good medium distance (aka 8-10 mile) runs in during each week. Instead it's been more like 1. It's easy to imagine racking up those runs in early October, when the trails are still open and the weather good. But in January my perspective changes. Part of it is needing to nail those 5am starts. "Rush hour" (if it can be plausibly called that), starts here at around 6am, so if I start an 8 mile run at 5:30 I'm going to be exposed at least to the rising edge of it. And morning commuters in the middle of winter are no joke. There's something about the way they drive--about the way they hug the shoulders, accelerate out of their right turns (usually while looking left for oncoming traffic), and tailgate their fellow-drivers that screams that they have other things to worry about than some runner by the side of the road. They've got kids to drop off, or a 7am meeting with a client, or a boss who's going to look over and see an empty seat and tut disapprovingly.

I have a somewhat antagonistic relationship with these people. I imagine them seeing me, and--if they think of me at all, which is not terribly likely, for all my visibility gear--thinking, why is that wacko running in the dark, in the middle of winter? Doesn't he know it's 20 degrees out? Go get a job and support a family like a responsible adult, ya hippy!

To which I answer, maybe if you stepped out of that car and felt the cold wind in your face you wouldn't need that coffee. Maybe if you stopped and turned your lights off and looked at Orion gleaming down at you, or turned your head and saw the snow-fields effulgent under the light of the moon, you wouldn't feel so depressed about where you're going this morning, wage slave!

Things usually deteriorate from there.

That was a long-winded way of saying that I don't always have the gumption to spar with traffic in the morning, or get up so early that I don't have to. On the bright side though, my long runs are progressing nicely. Two weeks ago I was supposed to run 22. I ran only 20.5 (albeit over a rather hilly route). Last week I got up early to see the snow and hear the plows grinding by, and found I didn't have it in me. I ended up cross-country skiing for an hour instead. But this weekend I was really looking forward to my long run. I got up early and went for a 3-part run, the first two legs with different GNRC-ers, the third solo. Until I actually looked at my watch to confirm I had hit mile 18, I didn't feel tired at all. (Indeed I half-way suspect that my suddenly heavy legs were a psychological reaction to knowing how far I had actually gone). In any event I toughed out to mile 23, pushing out my d.PR by another 2.5 miles.

25 miles next week? I think so!