Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Way to Get from Here to There

A few years ago I was an avid bicycle commuter. Conveniently, the ten miles between home and work are paved by the historic Washington & Old Dominion trail, which traces the path of the old railroad system. It goes much further in either direction, of course, but a segment of the trail is perfectly suited for my needs, and safe, too. Only 4-5 roads to cross the whole time.

As I gradually rounded into shape (a quite precise choice of words) each summer, I reached a point of transition from a guy out getting exercise to one who was traveling to and from work. The difference is this: in the former it’s an accomplishment just to complete the ride; in the latter you don’t even think about the ride itself, you just go.

Unless you habitually run low on gas, you probably never bother to think about whether you will make it to work or not, right? Your car just gets you there, right?. Sort of the same thing.

rainbowI have now run the distance to work 7-8 times. And, until yesterday, doing so was a huge achievement. Before that, I could never quite get the run to feel like a commute. No gears to shift, no power steering, no automatic transmission, no coasting. Just me and my clunky legs.

The path is 70% uphill, which is something you don’t really notice on a bike with multiple gears. So for most of those attempts, it was all I could do just to make it the whole way. Although I can run much further than ten miles, somehow these particular ten miles always seem extra hard and a bit daunting.

Of course, that may have something to do with the destination. On the weekend I know I’m headed to a nice/long rest and I can take the time I need. On the weekday, I’m bound to be behind my desk by a certain time. Not that my work is something I don’t enjoy; it’s just not as good as a shower and a nap...

So yesterday—for the first time ever—my legs became just a way to get there. Maybe I just got in the right frame of mind. I’m not sure, but instead of thinking about the possibility of not making it I was able to reflect on all kinds of other stuff while my legs and feet just kept churning along.

My first steps were directly into the face of a west side rainbow—something I can’t ever remember seeing since most of our rain comes in the afternoon making rainbows appear in the eastern sky. “This must be the sign telling me it is going to be a good run and a good day,” I thought, “and I’ll gladly take it.” After that signal, I quickly decided that whenever I got tired I would straighten up my back, tighten up my stomach, look a little further forward, and think positive.

You know what? It worked. It really did. And for a while I felt like the “me” part—my heart and mind—were just along for the ride.

Pretty cool.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Angel On the Hill

The day promised to be warm and would get warmer so I was well on my way before the sun had risen Sunday morning. The cloud cover would keep me from overheating, and I started my 20-mile trek with 20 ounces of water, 20 ounces of Gatorade, and three packs of goo-trition.

[ defines “gootrition” as the process of obtaining food necessary for bad health and obesity. Goo-trition is my term for those little packs of gel that provide quick energy for endurance events.]

The first ten miles went great. Felt great. Looked great. Even the four miles after that were solid. My pace dipped a bit, but then picked up again slightly.

As I neared the 15-mile mark my rations were getting low, but I thought I had reserved enough to make it through. My feet were hurting a bit, but not too bad. My attitude was good and not too shaky. I had this one. Almost.

The last quarter of this route—and there’s no getting around it—are steadily uphill and into the sun. Neither thing is too bad by itself, but together they are completely draining. As I came out of that last bit of shade the sun was bright and hot and four miles left felt like forty miles to go. And by the last mile, I had nothing left. No energy, no water, no nothing.

I’ve learned many times over that one foot down, one foot up gets the job done. Next foot down, next foot up. Drink a little here, drink a little there, and arrive home safe and sound. I knew I would—and I did—but something special happened in the last mile.

As I turned the corner to the home stretch, my pace had slowed to a shuffle, and I was hot, tired, dry and thirsty. To make matters seem worse, I had to pass right by a 7-Eleven where there was ice, Slurpees, gulps, water, juice, soda, refrigerators, cold cuts, kool-aid, squirt guns, water balloons, popsicles, freeze pops, ice cream, fudgesicles, well, anything that was or sounded cold or wet (or both). I dreamed of climbing into the icebox and sleeping on the icebag mountain, and that didn’t make my mental state any less fragile.

Angel%20with%20ButterfliesRight in front of the store there is a little grassy hill, not more than 4-5 feet above street level. Normally I just run on by, but there, on the very top, was a beautiful golden angel smiling and waving at me. I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t tell who it was or even if she was real. I stared at her, and she wouldn’t look away. I thought the stare-down might work if she had mistaken me for someone else, but she kept right on smiling at me as the sun made her blonde hair glow from behind. Was this angel there for me?

Turns out she was.

My angel was one of my soccer girls whose family had seen me on the road and had stopped to wave me on. If you’ve ever run a long race and you’ve seen a friendly face in the crowd then you know sort of what this felt like. But in the race you’re looking for that face, and you know it should be there. This time I found one quite by happenstance. Or, rather, she found me.

And she carried me home. Not literally, of course, but spiritually. I honestly don’t remember my feet touching the ground over that last half mile.

Thank you, Holly. You made my day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Try not to look up

To get through my longer runs, I have developed the habit of focusing on the space about three yards in front of me. Then I just kind of zone out and plod along, step-by-step. It’s not flashy or exciting, and I know it’s not really very good form, but it gets the job done. And it’s safe as long as I’m not going against traffic.

This is clearly not me...Quite frequently I’m tempted to look up to see where I am. There are 1/2 mile markers on the bike trail I use so if and when I raise my head I try to find the next one. Lately, for some unknown reason, I’m right at a marker almost every time.

Emerging from the relatively boring world of distance training, I let myself get excited about that trend. The miles aren’t any shorter, that’s for sure, but perhaps I’m getting faster. Perhaps I’m getting more fit. Maybe more confident, calm, and patient.

Nah! That trend ended two days ago.

At this point in my preparation for San Francisco, my mid-week runs are getting longer. The ten-miler on the schedule for Wednesday was exactly the distance from my house to work. Convenient? Yes! Easy? No way. 70% of that route is uphill. Maybe not Bay Area uphill, but almost non-stop. It’s 10 miles, but it felt like 20. It was 75, but it felt like 100. Hot. Muggy. Degrees.

Some time after the eight-mile mark I was slowing down and feeling exhausted in the hot, thick air. I was ready for this run to end and ready to step into a bracing cold shower. Dare I look up? Sure. I should be right at the… Where is it? Oh my gosh, it’s that little tiny dark spot at the far end of my range of vision. And, it’s moving away from me.

[Well, it wasn’t really moving away from me, but that was a nice dramatic effect don’t you think?]

And that’s why I try not to do it. When I’m guessing right it’s a great feeling. When I’m wrong—and I’m tired—it kind of stinks. I’ll try to be more patient, and if you come within ten feet of me, I’ll see you there.