Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Convergence at my feet

Over the last few days, in relatively quick succession:

1) I realized that my plans to run my first marathon in October mean my training starts in just three and a half weeks. At the recommendation of  my friend Keith, I’ll be using Hal Higdon’s 18-week schedule for novices, which my brother Adam successfully followed in running his first marathon last fall.

2) Out of nowhere, my friend Ivan recommends Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.” This makes me get up and go for my first run since April 17. (More on this to come.)

3) My friend and former colleague Jeff Stacklin reaches the final days of preparation for his own first marathon. (Go, Jeff, Go!)

So, yesterday afternoon, after seeing Ivan’s note about the Murakami book, I decide I’m going for a run. Immediately.

Having had three-and-a-half weeks pass since the last time I went out, I figure I’m not going for time, but I’ll shoot for a six-mile loop that my brother and I ran pretty regularly last year when I was keeping him company during his training.

It’s a gorgeous afternoon: Warm enough to wear shorts and a T-shirt, cool enough not to have sweat running into my eyes.

And less than a mile in, I get a side stitch.

Oh come on. SRSLY?

This is a no-brainer. One of the things I’ve learned in my limited experience as a runner is that on any day, I’m likely to be visited by any one (or more) of the Three Spirits: Side Stitch, Soreness Someplace, and Burning Lungs. The first two are generally combatable: Even if I have to slow to shambling zombie gait, I’ve been able to run through them. Burning Lungs I don’t screw with because I’ve got juuuuust enough asthma that it could make things interesting in the bad sort of way, and being married to a respiratory therapist, I know better than to mess around with breathing. It’s that important, kids! Fortunately, I don’t run into Burning Lungs very often, and when I do, it’s usually my own damn fault for missing a few doses of medication.

So Side Stitch has shown up awfully early in this run. This is not pleasing to me.

It becomes even less so when Soreness Someplace decides, barely halfway through mile two, that it needs to rattle its chains in my calves. Just a little ache; a bit of tightness. But again, I’m only in mile two here, which hurts mentally more than the pain itself.

Are you freaking kidding me? It’s only been three weeks! And Burning Lungs doesn’t even feel like he’s making an appearance in the neighborhood today!

All right. I keep going, thinking at this point that I’ll probably lop a couple miles off, depending on how I feel once I get past the monster hill that finishes the third mile.

Okay, so I get that hill behind me and think, yes, I’m going to shorten my run. But having just completed a climb, my mental state is positive (because, you know, the hill is back there), so I figure I’ll turn right on the road that would send me on the last half of the six-mile loop, climb the short, steep hill there, and turn around and run with the last three-quarters of a mile home. That would put me at a shade over three miles. Less than I wanted, but still a run nonetheless.

Up that short steep hill I go, and over a step or two, and again, I feel good enough for a moment that I think: I’ll go a little further before turning around.

And then I see something large and dead in my path. (Note: If you’re eating lunch or something, you might want to read the rest of this later.)

This isn’t uncommon, running where I do: Lots of groundhogs and squirrels and the like meet ugly ends out here.

But this one’s hovering in that really nasty zone – it’s fresh enough that it’s still got fur and bulk, but old enough that it’s darkening. And every step (’cause I’m not stopping) puts me a little closer to it.

Passing things like this in a car or on a bike, depending on the weather, can be a little queasifying if you catch a bad breeze.

Passing them on foot, when you’ve already run a couple miles? Blech-o.

And now I’m going back-and-forth: I’ve already decided to cut my run short, but right this second, I’m feeling pretty good and don’t want to enter a mental state of winding down. But to go further means to run past this thing – it’s a pretty narrow road – and honestly, I’m only going to want to do that once, which means committing to my full original six-mile plan.

I clamp my mouth shut, ball the collar of my T-shirt in my right fist and mash it against the right side of my face. I close my right eye entirely and focus my left on the weeds and treeline at the left side of the road, just making sure I stick to my course and don’t fall into the ditch or inadvertently drift right and into the path of an oncoming car or, maybe worse, put a foot into – don’teventhinkaboutit.

And then I’m passing it. I know this because my brain suddenly registers a surprisingly loud funny crackly-rustling-hiss sound, like rice falling onto tissue paper, and I twitch a little and then – don’tlookdon’tlookdon’tlookKEEPRUNNING – I realize I’m hearing flies.


I pick up the pace a bit. Then it’s behind me and gone. And I’m looking at another three miles.

It’s not as bad as I feared: Side Stitch has taken leave and Soreness Someplace has settled down for a slumber. The only other real “moment” came when I was heading down a hill and saw, at the bottom, something large and furry in the road.

I think I almost swore out loud.

And then the thing trundled off into the field. Whew.

May 13, 2009 - Posted by | Books, Current Affairs, geek, Ohio, running | , , , , , ,


  1. Sounds like if you have time that you should start laying down some mileage now!! That will get rid of Mr. Side Stitch! Your diaphragm is flipping out at this unexpected workload! (See below paste from some running website)

    Good luck–get out there, the weather is PERFECT now!

    In the May-June 1992 issue of Running Research News, Dr. Gordon Quick discussed this very topic. A “side stitch” is a sharp, intense pain under the lower edge of the ribcage caused by a muscle spasm of the diaphragm. Such pain can occur during vigorous exercise, such as running, and seems to occur more commonly in novice exercisers who have not yet established proper pacing and who tend to breathe more quickly and shallow. However, about 30% of all runners will experience stitches at some point. What exactly causes them? On inhalation, we take air into the lungs, pressing the diaphragm downward. When we exhale, the diaphragm moves up. If the body has some trapped air/gas below the diaphragm, if we’ve eaten too close to exercise, or if we start exercising too vigorously, the diaphragm may cramp, causing pain under the rib cage on the right side.

    Comment by Kink | May 13, 2009 | Reply

  2. I think you’re going to really dig the Murikami book.

    Did I mention that already?

    Did I tell you about the last time I ran? About 10 years ago?

    It was a half marathon…I did not train enough…

    Comment by Ivan | May 13, 2009 | Reply

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