Into each life some rain must fall

Last night, the weather report declared a 100% chance of rain on Saturday, so it wasn’t a huge shock when we woke this morning to the sound of water dripping off the roof. At packet pickup the race organizers had said it would go on rain or shine, so even though it was still dark and dreary, my family and I headed out for the 8am start.

This race is a fundraiser for a local animal shelter and their facility is somewhat rural, with a dirt road and unpaved parking. The road was already muddy by the time we arrived; it would only get worse, and at least one car would get stuck, as more people showed up. Even though it’s a road race, I didn’t want to drown my half-marathon Mizunos in the rain, so I had elected to wear my older Asics, and after after walking only a few feet along the sloppy track, I knew that had been a good decision.

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It drizzled, it rained, it dried up, and it drizzled again. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to keep my windbreaker and my (brand-spanking new, only-had-it-for-18 hours) iPhone 5 with me. In the end, I kept the jacket but left the phone in the truck.

It turns out I could have left the jacket too–it was completely useless in the downpour that hit right as the starting horn blared. I was glad I’d not risked the phone, but I knew having no music or podcast would make the run a greater challenge.

My plan was to set a fast-for-me pace for as long as I could sustain it, take a breather, and go again. My half-marathon training runs had been slow, but I thought I could step it up a bit for the 5K distance today. After the first mile, I slowed a couple of times before speeding up again. I wasn’t really thirsty (and it was still raining) but I used the water stops as an excuse to walk a few steps. I didn’t walk much though–every so often I wiped the rain off my Garmin to see that I was holding a far quicker pace than I ever expected for this thing.

Around Mile Two, I calculated that while the leaders were in no danger from me, I had a good chance to finish with not just a good-for-me time, but a significant PR. I passed a woman who had slowed to walk. The rain let up. The water stop volunteers cheered. Then it was quiet again. I could really only hear my breathing, the squishing of water in my shoes, and the voice in my head. Only a mile, only .75, only .5, step on it, suck it up, GO.

As I turned the last corner, I could see the finish line .25 away. I didn’t have much left, but a glance at my Garmin and the sound of footsteps behind me helped me find another gear. My family, both of whom had finished several minutes ahead of me, cheered as I crossed the finish line: PR. A volunteer handed me a little paw-shaped medal and I sat on the curb trying to catch my breath.

Epilogue:

The 2011 edition of this race, in retrospect, represented the beginning of the disaster that was last fall. For months I’d been working on improving my pace and race times until this damn hip injury derailed everything. Yet today, in the rain and with no iPod, not only did I not hurt, my PR came in under that time I’d been trying to beat a year ago.

As we got up off the curb and headed to the truck, a race volunteer stopped us, looked at my nine-year-old, and hinted that we should stay for the awards. With almost no training, he had finished second in the <10 boys’ age group and was recognized with a medal and a gift card to the running store where I train.

Yes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously said “Into each life some rain must fall,” but another line in that poem applies here too: “Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”

Bazinga

My family is running a charity 5K on Saturday, so I used tonight’s three-miler as a tuneup to see if all this training has improved my pace at all.

Last year, before my injury, I ran a handful of 5K races and shaved a little off my time with each finish. But then I lost a couple of months and regressed quite a bit. I went from running a slow 5K to running and walking an even slower 5K. Then I started training with my running group, and over the last ten weeks I’ve been increasing my distance and endurance. Yet that (mild) recurrence of my hip injury back in August has been problematic. On a physical level, the pain limited my running for a week or two. But the bigger impact has been in my head–I walk more than I should, and I don’t push myself like I could because in the back of my head I worry that it’s going to start hurting on the next step, the next block, the next mile. And when that happens, I can’t shut my brain up. “How much further? When are we gonna get there? OMG I still have so far to go. When are we gonna get there?” (yeah, sometimes I am five inside my own head). So while I can eventually finish six or eight or ten miles, I get through it ridiculously slowly, with trepidation and walking breaks. And even though I can do ten, I still end up walking some of the shorter distances–since my injury a year ago, I don’t think I’ve run a 5K without slowing down to walk a bit, anything from a few steps to a few minutes.

So tonight, my running buddy and I set out to run three miles at the best possible pace. We had a deadline: the new season of “The Big Bang Theory” premiered tonight, so there was no time to lose. Must be back by seven! Unfortunately, that meant running while it was still sunny and warm–daytime temperatures here are still in the 90s. Better than 102, but not cool either.

We started out at an ambitious pace, one I knew I couldn’t sustain, but I wanted to see how it went. After half a mile, I slowed and drank some water. I walked a bit, tried to hit that pace again, walked a bit more, and kept going that way. My running partner had his own pattern: he ran ahead, then waited for me, then ran ahead again. The final quarter-mile I poured everything I had into it. I am no sub-30 minute 5Ker, but tonight I finished 3.1 miles at a faster overall pace than I’ve managed since my injury last year. I’m not breaking any land-speed records here–my nine-year-old, among other people, will blow me out of the water on Saturday–but all things considered, it was a low-grade, semi-interesting achievement.

I still don’t know why I can’t run it all the way through without walking, whether it’s a mental block or a physical one, or both. And perhaps this isn’t the race to prove it one way or another–I was training for this one when I hurt my hip last year. My goal is to use it as motivation–prove I can do it and the injury didn’t beat me–but I’ll have to push myself physically and mentally, and keep that self-doubt out of my brain.

Athletic supporter

I have a lot of little tricks to keep my mind occupied when I run. I posted a while back about my love for the Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me podcast, but it only comes out on Saturday afternoons. And with my training mileage up to 20+ miles per week, I need a lot more than just one 50-minute distraction. Thank goodness for college football season, though, because the ESPN-U College Football podcast posts four or five 30-minute episodes per week. I’ve also enjoyed random episodes from the Stuff You Should Know podcast, once I got past the NPR News-like voices of the hosts. I shuffle through my running audio playlist too: 200 favorite songs like 50 Ways to Say Goodbye, Some Nights, and old school Danger Zone and Dreams.

Today I had some help from my nine-year old. I skipped the 7am run with my training group because I’d had another exhausting week and could not face the alarm clock one.more.day. Plus I didn’t have a huge 10-miler ahead of me–just five.  I can do that around my neighborhood pretty easily. I’d tested a five-mile route the other night, so today we went that same way. This time, I had a pacer: he rode ahead on his bike and I tried to keep up.

Parts of our neighborhood aren’t bike- or run-friendly. There are no sidewalks, and a couple of places the road gets narrow and curvy. There’s a lot of traffic at the front part of the neighborhood because people use it as a shortcut to somewhere else. On our way out, as we approached the very first stop sign, someone ran it. But once we crossed the highway, there were bike lanes and sidewalks, lots of people running, biking, and walking.

He’s pretty responsible on a bike–he stopped at stop signs, crossed at crosswalks, stayed in the bike lane, and occasionally walked his bike next to me on the sidewalk. He chattered about the books he’s reading, shared his water bottle when mine ran dry, and provided cheerful moral support.

We made the 2.5-mile turnaround and headed back. Returning into our neighborhood, it’s a slight downhill grade which made it easier. We turned onto our street–just under a mile to go. This part of the neighborhood has a lot less traffic, mostly just people who live there and watch out for kids. He’s allowed free-range here , so when he asked if he could sprint ahead, I agreed. I turned up Kid Rock and ran on into the Purple Sky.

I’m generally a solitary runner–just me and my ipod. But it was  nice to  have companionship today. Quite a Good Time.

Ten again

Since I started training ten weeks ago, I’ve followed the training schedule religiously–on vacation, in the heat, after going back to work. I’ve prioritized my 3-4 weekday runs and dragged my butt out of bed early on Saturday mornings to make sure I stayed on-track. Until this week.

After my ten-miler last Saturday, I ran three on Sunday evening. Tuesday was Back-to-School Night at work, so I was at school from 7am until 8:45pm. I ran about four on Wednesday night, but it rained all day Thursday, plus I had a late meeting and didn’t get home until 7:30pm. Friday night I crashed early, completely exhausted from 50+ hours at work. Instead of putting in 10ish miles during the week, I managed only four.

After all that, the last thing I wanted to do Saturday morning was get up at 6am. But for me, it’s too easy to fall back into laziness, so I set my alarm. It was still dark as I drove to meet my group. But the rain had brought lower temperatures–it was 64* when I left my house–so at least the weather wasn’t a factor for once!

Today’s course was new to me–much of it followed a gravel trail that wound around the lake instead of on sidewalks and streets. Through the park, over the dam, into another park. The coach’s map/directions cracked  me up:

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I found no reason to curse the dam–that part was concrete and relatively easy to run. I mostly cursed the gravel trails on either side of the lake, which were a little muddy and didn’t have great traction, so they were harder on my hip. But I plodded along and it wasn’t too bad.

When my Garmin read 4.85, I encountered one of my teammates who had stopped to stretch. Her GPS watch said she’d reached the 5-mile turnaround. The map instructed us to turn around at a “large rustic metal bridge” but no bridge was in sight. She went with her watch, and I went with mine. So I ran on. When my Garmin beeped .15 miles later, I thought maybe the bridge lurked a little further ahead, so I continued a bit longer. At 5.08, I reached a small, concrete, decidedly non-rustic bridge and turned around.

As I made my way back, I realized there was some kind of race happening through the park. Lots of families in matching race t-shirts crossed the finish line to resounding cheers. Something about this made  me laugh. I generally believe races begin too damn early–getting somewhere for an 8am start is hard for a non-morning person. Yet here I was, seven miles and probably two hours into my run, passing a morning race that hadn’t started when I’d come through the park on my way out. I felt a little better about my training and my ability to stick with it.

The last three miles, my legs and hips felt sore. I moved slowly. But because I had gone a little further than five miles when I turned around, I ended up finishing with 10.25. Clearly I could have turned around at the same place my teammate did. But considering last week I had to loop around the parking lot to get to an even 10, I gladly notched that extra quarter-mile today.

When I started, I could plod out a slow 5K. And now, with eight weeks to go, I’m just a 5K away from the half-marathon distance. Incentive to stick with my training schedule!

Upon further review…

… the ruling on the field is overturned.

Ten miles is a pretty big deal.

I re-read my posts here–back at the end of July, my personal best was five miles. Just five weeks later, my personal best is double that. And yeah, yesterday’s ten was kind of ugly, slow, and unglamorous. But it was ten miles, all at once, propelled by my own feet. Considering my history as a couch potato and armchair quarterback, I’ve come a long way.

My run was in the morning, and in the late afternoon I went to a college football game. Lots of walking to get to the stadium. Standing, sitting, standing, up and down stadium stairs. And I didn’t hurt. Not at all. I finished ten miles in the morning, and six hours later it was like I’d walked through the park or something.

So yeah. Go me.

Double digits

I know this should feel like some kind of accomplishment–ten miles. All at once.

But for some reason, it doesn’t. My hip flexor started feeling funky pretty early on, and the course had several hilly sections, so altogether  I’d say I walked probably four miles of the ten. And the ones I ran were at a pace so slow, my Garmin probably thought I was still walking. Hell, those ultrarunners at mile 98 of a 100-miler across the Mojave or through the Himalayas don’t run as slowly as I ran today.

My cheering section said “Way to go!” and “Congrats on your longest run ever!” but it feels kind of like I’m cheating to accept that praise. I didn’t run it all. And if I run the half marathon at the pace I set today, it will be a pretty embarrassing finish. I know, I know, finishing IS winning. Still, I have two months to work at it, and I intend to. My schedule for the next four weeks shows long runs of 10, 5, 10. and 12, so I’ll have multiple opportunities to improve.

So yeah. I completed ten miles this morning. Running ten miles? Perhaps next time.

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A comedy in three acts

Scene: Central Texas, early September, 103 degrees

Act I: Monday
I took Labor Day off, trying to give my hip flexor an extra day of rest after Saturday’s successful 5-mile run–which you don’t know about since WordPress ate my post for lunch. So Act I is really just me sitting around being lazy, enjoying a holiday weekend.

Act II: Tuesday, 6:30 P.M.
After nine hours at work and maybe one of those hours sitting down, I headed out–battling rush hour drivers and poorly-timed traffic lights–to meet my training group, only to discover that today was Another Day at the Track. Oh yay. The last Track Day had nearly killed me, so this was not exciting news. But I reeeeaaaaaalllllly didn’t want to brave the streets again, so I stuck it out. That tells you how much I detest traffic–I’d rather run four or five miles in 103 degrees, at a track with little shade, faster than I ever wanted to propel myself, than get back in the car.

Act III: Tuesday, 6:45 P.M.
The first 1.25 wasn’t bad at all. Most of it, from the running store to the high school track, was in the shade. I took it easy, knowing everyone else was way ahead of me, but not wanting to risk further hip issues. It seemed to hold up just fine.

Track training was Straights and Curves. Run the straights, jog or walk the curves, for six to eight laps for the half-marathoners and 10-12 for the marathoners. In an attempt at self-preservation, I chose six. And it actually wasn’t too bad. The straights were about 100 yards, roughly the length of the (nicer-than-some-college-facilities) football field inside the track. I didn’t all-out sprint or anything, but I managed a decently quick pace, then slowed around the curves. I listened to my ESPN college football podcast recap the weekend’s games, and really the six laps weren’t too painful. Of course, one guy in the marathon group ran 12 in the time it took me to finish six, but hey, I’m just glad I got through it without bursting into flames, suffering hip pain, or keeling over dead. Clearly my goals are different.

I watched the others as I ran, trying to learn from their form, strides, and pace. There are some fantastic runners in these two groups–they’re in a different league, really, but I can still get something out of it. Start where you are, finish where you can, hopefully better off than the last time.

But really, this sort of sums up my training day:

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