Monday, May 30, 2011

A Good Run With a Good Friend

I ran nine miles with my friend, Michelle, on Sunday morning. She's several years younger than me and not currently training for a marathon. She also can glide along at a much better pace than I can, but still she agreed to go on a run with me and I was glad to have the company.

The eighteen-week marathon training plan I use totals about 640 miles. Times three over the past two years comes to just about two thousand miles. And that doesn't count the distance I do when I'm not training for a specific event so let's add another thousand or so to the total.

In all of that time and distance I think I have been alone for all of the miles but.... nine.

Okay, maybe that's a tiny stretch. I actually ran with Michelle for a few miles when we happened to meet each other on the local trail once by accident. I also ran with another friend in a group training run, but she quickly outpaced me to catch a faster group. And once I fell in with a guy in that training group who had a pace similar to mine, but he dropped out after that one run never to return.

And so, with little exaggeration, about 99.7% of the time I run alone. I actually don't mind doing so. There has been a lot to think about: some of it complicated, some of it exciting, some of it sad. And I listen to music or books most of the time so I'm not totally absorbed in the sound of my feet slapping the pavement. I also like the mental challenge that running alone and testing my limits brings.

But, man was it nice to have someone to talk to. And, man, did the miles go by a lot faster. Years ago, when I was cycling for fitness, I rode with my good friend, Tom, who was perfectly compatible with me. Our hours in the saddle just flew by whether we were talking or had nothing to say. I forgot how much I enjoyed that rhythm and I realize how hard it is to find someone that  you feel that connected to.

For a few miles I was that connected again. Thanks, Michelle.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

It’s Back

I wondered why my marathon training was going so well and so easily.

The humidity hadn’t hit yet.

It has now.

As is typical of the seasonal change in the Washington, DC, area, our winters are long and cold (not freezing) and our summers are hot and humid. We get a few brief weeks of beautiful spring weather and then, wham, right into summer. Pretty much, that’s the way it goes.

So, I’m about halfway through my 18-week San Francisco Marathon training program. The mornings have been cool, which makes for excellent runs. I would also say that those mornings have been “misty,” which also makes for excellent runs. In fact, I wish for both when I toe the starting line with 26 miles ahead of me.

planet_mercuryEven as recently as ten days ago I had the best long run (16 miles) I have ever experienced. No kidding. But on Sunday I went just one mile further, and I felt like I was on a different planet. I think it was Mercury. My trademark shuffle—which had been absent since last fall-—returned with a vengeance as I slogged through the last couple of miles. My growing confidence shattered as I realized that the cool weather had given me a false perception of just how ready and fit I am at this point. Pretty fit, but not ready.

And, today when I ran my four hill repeats at 6:30am—and was dripping wet at the base of the first hill—I started to wonder whether I actually should be doing this marathon thing again.

But perhaps this weather has been the reality check I needed but didn’t know I needed. The worst thing to do is start a marathon overconfident. Confident, yes, Slightly under-confident, okay. Overconfident, not a good idea.

I didn’t run that 17-miler well, but I did finish. I cursed those hills today, but they did not defeat me. I will forego my normal rest day tomorrow—due to a busy weekend schedule—and I will run twelve more hot miles. Despite the humidity, I am confident of that.

Thank you, accu-weather. Bring it on.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It’s better to feel good than to look good

Contrary to Billy Crystal in the old Saturday Night Live skit, “Fernando’s Hideaway,” I’m convinced that looking “mah-velous” is not that important.

uglyI have evidence to prove it. This picture was taken of me near the START of the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon. Now, granted, most of the blame for this disturbing image must go to the photographer, and I am positive that I didn’t really look that bad. Bad, yes, but not that bad. This imposter has no neck or chin and a cone-shaped head, apparently… [Note: I’ll never know who took this shot since it came from the race photography company.]

Anyway, most of the time when I’m running I have a feeling I look pretty darn nasty. Especially toward the end of a long training run—like the 16-miler I did last weekend—well, you get the picture. Or, maybe you don’t so here are some key features of me at my running best and my photographic worst:

  • A fuel-belt wrapped around my waist carrying four bottles of water and the remnants of sticky calories in goo form. An emergency napkin or paper towel sticks out randomly, too.
  • Shirt and shorts soaked to the skin due to 2+ hours of profuse, but oddly soothing sweat. Even on a cool day, I sweat.
  • Shirt tucked in on one side to keep the itchy part of the fuel belt away from my delicate skin.
  • Shirt un-tucked on the other side so that I look partially stylish. I’m not kidding about this. No one tucks their shirt in anymore. No one.
  • A ball cap on my head--to protect my scalp from the sun--which soaks up sweat and then drains drip-by-annoying-drip about four inches in front of my eyes. Like mosquitos I can’t swat away.
  • A drooping lower lip that makes me look like I’m beaten, but actually indicates the complete opposite. When my lip falls I know I’m in a good zone (or at the dentist).
  • Lower legs built like tree trunks due to poor circulation and sporting a few choice bulging veins. Wouldn’t it be nice if those bulging veins were muscular and not varicose?

And having revealed this reality to you, I have one more.

I. Don’t. Feel. Bad. At. All.

I can do this. I’ll do it as long as I can, and I don’t really care how I look. I feel just fine, thank you.

And it’s better this way.

Friday, May 13, 2011

3-4 Thursday .2

Don’t look too closely. This 3-4T was actually written on a Friday morning. Okay, but I thought about all this yesterday.

1: It Can’t Be, But It Is

My nephew graduates from high school in a few weeks. This is not possible. He is still two and wearing a denim blue hat, matching jeans, a white turtleneck, and a red Christmas sweater (on Easter Sunday). I’m sure of it. When he walks across the stage to get his diploma I know I’m going to see him reaching for Tata-Head.

2: Last Dance

Almost exactly a year ago I sent my brothers an email describing a day I had spent at the hospital with my parents. The day had been difficult, but as Mom and I readied to leave late in the evening Dad rallied, rose from the bed amidst a tangle of wires and lines, and offered his embrace to his wife who quietly accepted. Without moving, they stood together as if in a private and forever dance. No words were spoken. It was the sweetest thing I have ever seen.

3: The Second Time Is the Hardest

hill_runningYesterday, I ran up a 1/2 mile hill four times. This is what I do once a week to get ready for the hills of San Francisco in July. I will work up to five repeats in a couple of weeks and then stay at that level the for the rest of my training.

That’s not me in the picture, but it is a cool picture, don’t you think?

I can tell I’m getting stronger because when I’m not running on hills I feel better. Great. But, here’s the thing. The first time up the hill is fine, the second time kind of sucks bad, and the third and fourth times are okay. Why is that?

Seems to me that the last one should be the worst, but it never is. Wait, I kind of get that because the last one is THE LAST ONE, but why isn’t the third one harder than the second one. I know there is a simple answer somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet. I have an idea, though. I’m going to run them in reverse order next time to see what happens….

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Plastic Potato and a Purple Pony

My nephew, Grant, will graduate from high school in a few weeks. When he was a toddler we used our fancy new 8mm video camera to capture some of the key moments of his childhood. A Christmas; some birthdays; an Easter visit at our house.

After a few years of watching (and taping) as all seven of our nieces and nephews grew up, we stopped using that camera. It either broke or we gave it away so we still have the tapes, but no mechanism to watch them. And that technology has long since come and gone.

But, then, there’s eBay. A week ago, I “won” an old camera that will not only play the 8mm tapes, but lets me import them to my computer and convert them to a digital format.

mr-potato-headAnyway, two nights ago (and sixteen years later) there on our Mac was two-year old Grant carefully opening packages, singing “Rudolph,” and gleefully enjoying Christmas Day, 1995. The big moment, though, came when he opened one of the gifts that Sally and I had for him. “Tata-head,” he shouted, “Tata-head, Tata-heeeaaad! Tata-head, Dad. Tata-head, Annie!” He stood on the couch on his tip-toes and with all his heart, “Tata-heeeaaaadddd!”

It’s a plastic potato, after all.

And that episode reminded me of the time a few years prior when we gave Bridget, our oldest niece, a miniature (also plastic) “My Little Pony” of an unnatural, bold, dark purple shade, a shiny light purple mane, eyes two big for its head, and stars and sequins on its back. That gift, quite literally, forced the breath to escape from Bridget’s little body. She was speechless (unlike Grant) and momentarily unable to breathe as she held her precious friend tight to her chest.

Would that we could carry that unabashed joy throughout our lives. It’s hard to celebrate so easily and so simply when combined with our happiness we face challenges, and sickness, and sadness, and pain. My sweet young loved ones had not yet witnessed those things so their pleasure was uncomplicated by anything other than the moment itself. It’s a shame that they have and will experience times of sorrow, but such is life for all of us.

I’m pretty good at seeing light through darkness, but today (thanks to Grant and Bridget) I am going to try a new mantra when the clouds roll in. It goes like this: