Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Back on the runner’s path

For the first time since last October, I’m running with a plan.

There’s another Hal Higdon training schedule hanging next to my desk and another date circled on the calendar as I aim for the Akron Half-marathon on September 25.

My brother Adam and are making Akron our once-a-summer race for the second straight year, and while I’ve stepped back in terms of distance – unless there’s a truly irresistible race opportunity next year, the next 26.2-miler I run will probably be the inaugural Canton Marathon in 2012 – I’m going to work on increasing my speed a bit.

I’ve set an 8-minute-mile pace goal, which may be ambitious by my own standards, but I want to have a challenge on my hands. Here’s my thinking: My pace in last year’s Towpath Marathon (my first, remember) averaged to 9:01 per mile. At the other end of the spectrum, when Adam and I were doing our short “speed runs” on 3.65-mile Tuesdays, we topped out at a 7:16 pace. I think the only double-digit-distance run where I came close to the goal I’ve set this summer was a 10-miler I ran during my peak week last year, which I finished with an 8:09 average and a 7:11 final mile. When I made my 12-mile contribution to our Akron Marathon Team Relay last September, I managed an 8:20.

The most direct comparison I could offer, of course, would be the 13.35-miler I did last August 1. Unfortunately, I bumped the stopwatch or something during that run, so the best guess I have on record is that I did it in something just under nine minutes.

Given the time frame, I had to jump right into Week Three of the schedule, and I’ve also had to shift it by a day since the Akron race is on a Saturday as opposed to a traditional Sunday run.

The speed training days, where you run repeated quarter-mile stretches at your pace goal, are new to me, and this schedule also calls for 5 days a week of running instead of four.

I’m enjoying the step back into a running schedule – although my legs were really sore yesterday as I rested from my first three consecutive days of running in I don’t know how long. And when I attempted a 3.15-miler at race pace this morning, I clocked in at an 8:02 average and felt pretty beat afterward, so clearly I’ve got work to do.

And that feels good.

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July 23, 2010 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , , | 2 Comments

On the road again.

I actually had to search for one of my running shoes yesterday morning.

I’ve worn them once or twice since the marathon, but only in a “running errands” sense, and not for actual, you know – running. But with today marking four weeks beyond the finish line of my seventeen Saturdays, I felt like it was time to get out there again.

One shoe was in the closet – where it belonged – but the other had snuck under my side of the bed.

So just before 7:30 a.m., on a bright and clear morning with the air just over 40 degrees, I headed out the front door for my first run in a month.

And it felt kind of strange, going out with no stopwatch and no real goal in mind. Sunday, May 31 – more than five months ago – was the last day I went out for an unplanned run that wasn’t a number to be crossed out on a training chart.

I covered 3.56 miles on a well-worn loop through a nearby housing development, past some fields, and up a hill I really, really hated on more than one morning.

Most of the trees have gone bare since the last time I ran, although there were still a few stretches of maples with bright red leaves standing out in the muted morning. There are still a few unharvested cornfields, too, acres and acres of stalks and leaves the color of old book pages rattling over hilsides and along the woods’ edge.

I have trouble figuring out why I run.

I don’t think it’s the sport or the action itself, though the journey wouldn’t be the same if, say, I walked or biked. I could see the same sights, hear the same sounds, smell the same air, and though all of those are also part of why I do it, none of them are the reason, either. I love the way my mind wanders and refocuses and explores and, yes, gets bored, too, but again, it behaves similarly when I’m driving with the windows down or mowing the lawn or sitting in our back room listening to the rain. It’s never the same, though, as when I’m running.

There’s a quote I often use about writing that I sometimes think fits my running habits, too. It’s attributed to screenwriter Michael Kanin: “I don’t like to write, but I love to have written.”

It’s kind of like that: I haven’t enjoyed every run I’ve ever taken, but I have always been glad I put the shoes on and hit the road that day.

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

Seventeen Saturdays: The Towpath Marathon

Sunday, Oct. 11

Ninety minutes or so after the Towpath Marathon, I double-limped through our front door, desperate to take a shower and stretch out on our bed.

Standing in the family room, I have never looked at a half-dozen stairs with such trepidation. Maybe I can crawl up there using mostly my arm muscles…

My morning started at 5 a.m. I toasted a bagel, smeared it with not-too-much cream cheese, and sipped water. Jenn and Kelsey got up, and we left at 6:15.

About an hour later, we were pulling into the Boston Mills ski resort parking lot. I walked around to get my bearings and eat a banana.

I’d decided that with sun in the forecast but only a 50-degree high expected that I’d run in my shorts but wear my Akron Marathon shirt beneath a long-sleeved Hall of Fame race shirt. I brought gloves for the early part of the run. Jenn and Kelsey caught up with me, and we hung around in the lodge for a few minutes while I got my things in order, strapping on my belt and my mp3 player, making sure I knew how to work the stopwatch Keith gave me.

We headed out toward the starting line at 7:45.

This was more than 24 hours ago, and thinking about it still stirs the nervousness almost back into reality. I was jittery and chilly and even though I’d spent 71 of the last 125 days going through these same motions and doing the same thing – running – over and over, and even though, as my brother’s voice said in my head, “It’s just distance,” I was still doing my familiar race-day freakout.

The starting line was about halfway down a south-facing hill just north of the Boston Mills ski area. I said goodbye to Jenn and Kelsey at the bottom, and walked uphill toward the back of the pack, not wanting to start off too fast or get in the way of runners going for faster times.

It was a far smaller crowd than I’d ever raced with: fewer than 500 people. I’m sure it had to be someone else’s first marathon, but I felt like the only person there who wasn’t relaxed and ready and comfortable with what was coming.

They announced one minute to start time.

And then it was here.

Up toward the back, of course, we didn’t move right away, and even after I did start jogging a bit, we came to a mass of almost dead stoppage while the crowd bottlenecked over the timing sensors in the road. I held back and let things clear so I could cross the timers at a jog, and then I was over them, looking for Jenn and Kelsey one more time, waving at them off to the right, and looking south to the longest run of my life.

It stayed crowded, and though I felt like I was at a comfortable pace, if a little slow due to the cold and nerves, I was also aware that my speed was still basically being dictated by the people around me. I didn’t want to weave and dart through the field for fear of getting off to too hot a start, so I just went with the flow.

We crossed a bridge and then turned off the roads and onto the narrow towpath itself, thinning things out somewhat. And though I felt a little more comfortable passing people at this point, when we hit the first mile marker and I looked at my watch, it was a punch in the gut:

TEN MINUTES?!?! You are freaking KIDDING me!!! My admittedly ambitious 8:23 pace goal and its 3:40 total time suddenly seemed insurmountably distant. I was alread a minute and a half further back than I wanted to be, and my pace-marking temporary tattoo felt like a taunt and a mockery. So much for my visions of letting off some steam at the start and then being able to afford slow-downs in the late miles.

I tried to push a little harder to see what ground I could make up. It didn’t happen quickly or easily: I got faster – though I remained slower than my goal pace – over the first few miles, and by the five-mile mark, I was between four and five minutes off the pace that had once seemed so reachable.

“It’s a long way to go, ” I told myself. “Get back a few seconds here and there, when you can.”

It was a beautiful morning for a run, and the scenery in the Cuyahoga Valley was fantastic. Certain stretches, you’d hear the river rushing shallow over rocks, other places fields on the opposite bank spread out, dotted with flocks of Canada geese. Highway bridges towered far overhead. Marshes and swamps were still and misted.

I wasn’t listening to my mp3 player yet, wanting to save it for the later miles, when I’d really need the distraction.

The southern turnaround – the marathon started and ended at points near the middle of a single stretch of the towpath – came somewhere between miles seven and nine, I think, and I felt like I was hitting my stride.

In fact, in the tenth mile, I had the crazy thought that I was actually feeling pretty good. I’d been checking my progress at every mile, and by now, I’d run a few in the low-eight-minute range, a bit faster than my goal pace. When I saw the Mile 10 sign ahead, I realized that I’d be able to pass it before the 90-minute mark, making for a nine-minute average, and gaining back a big chunk of what I’d lost in those first few miles.

Nearing a tunnel beneath a railroad line at around twelve miles, I couldn’t help but grin when I heard a horn blast and saw the engine coming toward the crossing just as I was passing through. (Trains and bridges hold special places in my heart, as anyone who’s read Crossing Decembers knows.)

The miles started catching up to me around the race’s halfway point, though, so I cued up a couple recorded podcasts to pass the time. I wasn’t panting or exhausted or anything, but I started to kind of feel the weight of the race piling up on my knees and upper legs. And during this stretch, the run became a solitary experience. I passed – and was passed – infrequently, and slowly, like when you’re on the highway on cruise control and you come upon someone else who’s got their speed set at about one mile per hour faster or slower than you.

Here’s where I also lost total track of my time – while hitting the play button and selecting the tracks on the mp3 player, I had somehow inadvertently reset my wrist clock. So it was just me and the miles ahead.

I’d been warned about the dragging miles between 17 and 20 – seems like they were hitting me a little early, maybe, but nothing that made me doubt that I could finish.

Not long after I passed the finish line area, southbound runners began appearing on the left side of the path, nearing the end of their races. I was jealous.

I found myself taking note not only of the mileage signs on my side of the path, but noticing the north-facing ones on the other side, which all started with the number 2 and trying to think of Future Me passing those markers instead of those on my side, which still began with those infuriating 1s.

At 18 miles, though I was feeling pretty whipped, I was able to tell myself that I still felt better than that terrible day I ran my 18-miler in training.

At 20, I told myself that every step from here on out was a whole new frontier, and all I had to do was just keep going.

It was hard.

My lungs were fine, and I had no side stitches or other cramps, but my legs were turning into squish.

During this stretch, I’d finally started piping my musical (and other) inspirations into my right ear. (My left earpiece had gone dead during the start of those podcasts earlier.)

They ranged from a clip of a Spongebob Squarepants episode culminating with a genuinely stirring bit of triumphant pop-metal to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” to The Cyrkle’s “Red Rubber Ball” to U2’s “Desire.” Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” music was in there, as was Yellowcard (“Way Away” and “Ocean Avenue”) and the oh-so-1980s song “Runner” by Manfred Mann. I was saving “Through the Fire and Flames” for the last mile or so.

During training, and as I had assembled this playlist pre-race, these songs and soundbites had gotten my heart pumping and my adrenaline skyrocketing.

By the time I turned around and headed south for the final five miles, the best they could do was just take my mind off the remaining distance.

Five miles, which I’d run so often and with less and less effort, was all I had left, and I was struggling.

I started closing my eyes, opening them every few seconds only to keep myself on the path and make sure I wasn’t running into anyone.

Every time I came around a bend and didn’t see the next mile marker, I felt like screaming or crying, neither of which I could afford the energy to do.

Look, other people are walking, part of me said, and you’ve run more than twenty miles, which is something not a lot of people can say they did, so why don’t you call it a day here and –

-because I don’t freaking WANT to walk. I wanted to RUN a marathon and KEEP running it and FINISH it running, and Future Me, who’s already up there at the finish line somewhere even though I can’t see him, he’ll be awfully pissed off if I quit now.

You know what, though? I just didn’t care.

I couldn’t make my legs work any harder, go any faster, or take any longer strides. I couldn’t shake my head and clear it and think, “Hey, you’re still breathing, so you’re in good shape.”

I just wanted to be done. I just wanted to be finished. Outside of the pain in my knees and legs, I was numb to everything else, and stopping seemed like a good way to start healing.

But I didn’t.

At mile marker 22, I told myself, “All that’s left is one more run around the block,” and I tried to look around and replace the woods and the towpath and the river with my neighborhood and its landmarks.

At mile marker 23, I thought of the place where there used to be a big barn that my friends and I snuck into as kids, and which they tore down a few summers back – it’s three miles from my driveway, going the long way around the block.

With 2.2 miles left, I imagined the halfway point of my four-mile route at home, a spot at which you can look across a field and a horse pasture and see our cluster of houses.

Somewhere just before I saw the mile 25 marker, I finally let myself listen to Dragonforce and though I had no adrenaline left to rush, “Through the Fire and Flames” at least chewed up almost eight minutes of time. I decided to listen again, and halfway through the first verse, the black-and-white sign crept into view ahead: Mile 26.

Beyond it, I could see people lining either side of the path, faces turned in my direction, arms waving and hands clapping.

I knew I wouldn’t stop now. Not this close. For the first time in miles, I remembered that I could do this. I allowed myself to know, in fact, that I’d already done it, and I’d be catching up with Future Me in just a few more steps. Not stopping to walk during the last few miles had been probably the hardest physical thing I’d ever done, but it was behind me now, lost there in the woods down in the valley.

When I reached that mile marker, in my mind, I was at the end of my street, and the mailbox at my driveway seemed closer than ever.

I yanked the earphones free and tucked them in my left hand, and I heard people yelling encouragement.

I leaned forward, incapable at this point of the full-on pumping charges I used to manage on the final stretch at home, but enough to give me a little burst of speed.

When I saw people looking past me, north on the trail, I thought, “Someone behind me?” And I pushed a Little. Bit. More.

A white-gloved man ahead waved me to my right, and I veered off the course and saw the finish line right there with the clock above at 3:56-and-something-I-think, and I pushed once more and then I was there, and someone handed me a medal, and I saw a big bin of orange wedges, so I grabbed one and shoved it into my face and it was the Best Orange Ever so I had another one. And then Kelsey and Jenn had rushed into the finishing area and thrown their arms around me with ferocity and I’m pretty sure they were holding me up at that point, like they always are, and I am through and I’m finished.

I have a couple more orange quarters and then go sit on the grass, swigging from a big plastic bottle of Gatorade and eating the peanut butter crackers Jenn brought for me.

When I take my shoes off, I dump a few small pieces of gravel from the right one. There’s a blister on the ball of my right foot where one of these has been rolling around for awhile, but I never wanted to stop and take it out.

We grab fast food drive-through for lunch on the way home. As we get closer, I think of all the running I did on these roads, and the mailbox as viewed from the end of the street doesn’t look quite the same anymore.

I gingerly made my way up the stairs inside the house, leaning heavily on the railing. After a shower, I took a long nap.

Later, I looked up the final official results: I finished in 3:56:07.14 – sixteen minutes longer than I’d wanted to run, and 12 minutes behind my little brother’s first marathon time. My pace was nine minutes and one second per mile – only six seconds per mile slower than I’d done my 20-miler, and at any rate, almost a full minute faster per mile than that 18-mile slog back in September. Still, it was under four hours, and I placed 192nd out of 488 competitors – so, hey: top half, right? – and smack in the middle of my division, 21st out of 41 men age 35-39. (And just to make myself feel better, out of the 20 guys in my division who finished ahead of me, only six were my age or older. The rest of ’em? Whippersnappers.)

And I never stopped running.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, writing | , , , | 18 Comments

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XVII

Saturday, October 3

This was it: Saturday number 17. The last one before the race a week from tomorrow.

It was sunny and right around 50 degrees when I set out around 8 a.m. with eight miles on the calendar. First nice morning this week, so I wore my shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt from one of the the Hall of Fame races.

I wanted to get a feel for running with headphones, so I loaded up my mp3 player with a podcast for time-passing and a handful of songs to keep my adrenaline going over the last few miles.

Less than half a mile in, the podcast wasn’t coming through. I just bunched the earphones up in my right hand and kept going. I wasn’t surprised, really: The past 24 hours had been all about Stuff Not Working.

Friday morning, Jenn and I had noticed a huge drop in our water pressure. Some fluctuation isn’t uncommon from time to time – our house is 30-some years old, and we get our water from a well – but this was new. Yay. By lunchtime, we realized we were only drawing the water that was in our pipes, and we ran out just after noon.

Called a repair place. They managed to have someone out to our house by late afternoon, yanked our bad well pump, and showed us a massive repair estimate. What can you do? We needed water. They didn’t have everything necessary to get it done that night, so we arranged to spend tonight at mom’s.

I know you’re supposed to save money for rainy days like this, but damn, what do you do when it just never seems to stop raining?

And look, I know we’re blessed and fortunate in a ridiculous number of ways: We’re lucky to have a home about which I can complain when the well pump goes to hell. We’re lucky to have supportive and generous family and neighbors. None of us is facing a seriously life-threatening illness.

So, yeah, part of me feels really petty about whining over a massive water repair bill. Still, perspective alone doesn’t make a problem disappear.

Jenn got up and went to work this morning at 5:30, but I never went back to sleep. I just stayed there in bed thinking all this stuff and wondering how we were going to deal with it, and suddenly running in a marathon seemed awfully unimportant.

But I am out here this morning and it is clear and fall, and the leaves on the trees are fully into their changing, and it’s the time of year when the little white church about a mile from our house sits against the backdrop of the season shifting, gleaming in the rising sun, and just like every year, I realize it’s one of the many small slices of beauty I am fortunate enough to see in my life.

Just past the halfway point in my run, I started messing with the headphones again, to see if I could get the music files to work and help me maintain a good pace over the last few miles. The files played, but there’s a short in one of the earphone cords or something that either cuts out one of the sound channels completely or makes it sound like it’s coming from behind a tin wall.

The guitars and rhythms mostly came through, though, so I still felt like I could draw on the music’s energy, and in mile six, I hit “play.”

Music is a funny motivator. Some songs give me those great throat-clutch moments of wanting to scream even though in my heart, I know they’re bad songs that just happen to hit the right chords. One such song on the player was reserved for the final mile today. I have sung it in my head many times this summer, but never actually tried to run to it.

Before then, though, there was “Desire,” by U2. And then “Ocean Avenue” by Yellowcard.

Then I had to fight the urge to alternately wield an invisible lightsaber and a conductor’s baton: John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates,” from The Phantom Menace. (That chorus, with the vocals? Chills. Every. Time.)

Second-to-last on today’s set list, “Don’t Stop Believing.” I fall for it, as I always do. And I’m heading north now, and the sun is bright across the hills to the east, and there’s a deep thrum in my chest, and I can’t help smiling. I am seven-plus miles in and I am running and grinning. Journey fades.

I am looking at a climb.

And now the cheese, melted in blistering guitar rhythms, pours into my ears: I can’t help it. It’s the fastest song I’ve ever loved, and it’s ridiculous and irresistible to me at the same time. “Through the Fire and Flames,” by Dragonforce. It is almost eight minutes’ worth of utterly goofy lyrics and rapid-fire drums and guitars, but thanks to family video game time and Guitar Hero III, it has become my go-to tune for venting and adrenaline. (Hey, in fairness, at least it does include the line, “Running back through the midmorning light, there’s a burning in my heart…” – that’s appropriate, right?)

>Sigh.< Somewhere along the way this summer, “There is no try” and “It is not this day!” (Inspirational line from The Return of the King) have been joined by “Through the fire and the flames, we carry onnnnnnn!”

Of course, the beauty of it is that I find it impossible to do anything slowly or calmly when this song is playing.

Over my last few runs, I’ve tried a new visualization game: Having seen runners cross the finish line in Akron and getting goosebumps for them, seeing their tears and hearing their barbaric yawps, I’ve tried to imagine an actual finish line stretched over the street in front of my driveway. I live almost exactly two-tenths of a mile up our street, so it’s easy to make that turn and picture a Mile 26 marker standing at the corner, and I can look toward at my mailbox and think, “When I see that last mile marker on race day, that’s where the finish line will be – will I have the strength to fly there?

And on this morning, timing is on my side, and I am turning onto our street just as Dragonforce’s climactic guitar solos finish and the throw-the-rock-horns-and-scream last verse and chorus are unleashed.

In my imagination, my knees are coming chest-high and I’m pulling 40-foot strides and barely touching the pavement and the bead of sweat on my right temple can’t reach my jawline because it’s driven backward by my speed. In real life, Dragonforce is making my ears ring and I just may be lip-synching and trying not to laugh or slow down because I am just loving the moment.

When I reach the mailbox, I actually keep going full force for an extra half-dozen steps, because while my lungs are searing and my heart is racing, I kind of don’t want the run to end. I don’t want to have to look at my lawn that needs mowed but has a busted well pump and 75 feet of pipe snaked across it; I don’t want to have to take a shower at my brother’s house and haul laundry down to mom’s; I don’t want to have to think about all the things that need fixing.

I look at my stopwatch: 1:05:31. A seven-minute, 51-second pace for eight-and-a-third miles. My best time for this loop and the longest sub-eight-minute run I’ve ever done.

The morning stays sunny a little while longer.

October 5, 2009 Posted by | Current Affairs, Ohio, running, Sports | , , , | Leave a comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XVI

Saturday, Sept. 26

I ran in my first marathon today.

Being part of a relay team in the Akron Marathon isn’t the same thing as Running My First Marathon, of course, but still, it was a Race Day, and that meant pre-run adrenaline and excitement, no matter how much I kept telling myself, “This is just your regularly-scheduled 12-mile run; just the normal ‘X’ through today’s box on the calendar; a distance you’ve covered eight times already.”

Even so, I wanted to run well.

Adam and I left for Akron at 5:30 a.m. – an hour-and-a-half prior to the start time – when it was still dark. I’d had a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, which was more than I usually eat before a race, but pretty much standard for my long run Saturdays.

And I decided to run with my belt, carrying my own water and gels, figuring I’d rather be in total control of when I wanted to “eat” and drink rather than having to plan the consumption around the relief courses on the route. Also, I’ve gotten used to taking the gels and drinking on the run rather than stopping completely, and I’m pretty adamant about sticking to the rituals and patterns that seem to work for me.

We parked the car around 6:15 and met up with our fellow runners about 6:30, hanging out on the fringes of the mass of people at the starting line, pinning our numbers on and talking a little about the logistics of the thing.

After Dean, our leadoff runner for the first 3.5-mile loop, headed toward the starting line, Adam and Angie and I walked to the first relay point, where I’d take over for legs two and three – 5.7 miles and 6.3 miles – and then hand things off to Angie for her 2.8 miles. Adam’s 7.9-mile finish would bring him into Canal Park where we’d meet up.

Waiting with Adam and Angie at the relay – after all, once I took off, they’d have plenty of time to get to their own spots – I really started getting race nerves, especially when the first competitors started passing through: First the wheelchair marathoners, and then a few solo runners. As the relayers arrived, they’d announce the team number over loudspeakers so we could keep our eyes open and get ready.

One minute I was standing there joking with them about the anticipation and letdown of similar numbers being called out, and then we heard “8-6-5-4” blare from the amplifiers, and I was out at the edge of the waiting crowd looking for Dean.
And then, 28 minutes or so into the race, I was taking the bright yellow relay bracelet from him and jogging south and uphill.

Because I’ve only run one race a year, those first few moments of competing feel new to me every time: The sudden change in the surrounding sounds, as the crowd around me is suddenly making noise only with its feet and not its voices; the realization of my commitment to a particular run and passing the point of no return.

Although I considered loading up my MP3 player with songs or podcasts to listen to, I’d simply run out of time last night, and at any rate, I’ve run the vast majority of my mileage without that distraction. I figured that this being a totally new experience, I wanted to really soak it in and see how my mind and body reacted.

For the first mile or so, I regretted the decision: The dozens of racers around me made it extremely difficult for me to get my mind into that “running place” of personal calm and near-detachment, and of course, like trying to fall asleep, thinking about getting to that place only made it impossible to do. That the first two-and-a-half miles were a pretty straight stretch on single street probably didn’t help things, since I couldn’t think ahead to the turns and other landmarks.

Eventually, though, I forced myself to think about maintaining a comfortable-but-not-too-relaxed pace and reminded myself that if I weren’t here, I’d still be out running this same distance on this same cool, cloudy, hovering-on-the-edge-of-rainy morning, only I’d be alone and on familiar roads instead of here in new territory with a couple thousand strangers.

And then the discomfort sort of melted away, and I was just running.

We passed Firestone Stadium, and I thought for a minute or two about when I was a sports writer covered a couple regional high school softball tournament games there, one of them, I’m pretty  sure, with Kelsey in tow on a Saturday afternoon.

And several times I found myself glimpsing parts of Akron through my eyes as a 15-year-old, when I had my first girlfriend, and she lived up here. The course didn’t go near her neighborhood, but it took us past areas I remembered, and the houses and streets and trees had a familiar feel.

All along my first 5.7-mile leg, there were spectators. Not a constant crowd, of course, but there was never a stretch where there weren’t several clusters of people on either side clapping and hollering encouragement to both specific runners and all of us in general. This wasn’t a totally new thing, since parts of the Hall of Fame 2- and 5-mile races attracted a few watchers, but somehow, it felt different. (I was wearing a Lake Track & Field T-shirt my brother gave me, and three times along the way, I heard someone yell out “Go Lake!” to which I flashed thumbs-up.)

I was feeling energized as we got to the second relay point, especially knowing I was going to run right through it, not handing off my bracelet, but keeping it for another leg. I heard my team number called as I entered the hand-off zone, and I admit I was half-hoping a volunteer would ask if I needed help finding my teammate just so I could oh-so-casually say, “Nope: Running two.”

Also, I was a bit surprised to find myself suddenly back on familiar ground: We ran past the new University of Akron football stadium, and then onto the campus itself. “Hey,” I thought, “There’s the building where I met LeBron James -” (It was for about a minute, when I caught him for a brief, shallow interview about his marketing company and advertising deals.) “- and there’s the parking garage; and there’s E.J Thomas Hall…”

And then, with a quick right turn, I saw the starting line ahead and realized I was just a couple hundred feet from where I’d been fidgeting in anticipation just an hour or so ago.

I was on the second leg now, though I had honestly forgotten the specific lengths of each one, focused as I was only on the 12-mile total. I knew the longer part of this one, though, would be on the Towpath Trail, down in the woods along the Cuyahoga River. As I ran my last few city miles, I noticed a few more landmarks: “Hey, that’s where I had lunch a month or so ago! And hey, Luigi’s pizza place is right down there!”

Just past the 11-mile mark, realizing I had less than five miles to go, I got another burst of what I’ve come to think of as “calming energy.” It’s not like a new charge, but a wave of comprehension that I just feel good and maybe I can go a little faster, or at least not slow down. (A huge, steep downhill stretch at this point helped, I’m sure.)

My own toughest stretch was probably the one between Mile Markers 12 and 13. For one thing, I had to go to the bathroom, and, not to be too indelicate, not the kind of going to the bathroom that, say, kids figure they can do unnoticed in a pool. This has happened enough for me to know I can run through it and the urge will go away, but it makes for some discomfort.

We were also on the Towpath now – the same Towpath I’ll be running, further north, in just two weeks – and so frankly, there was less going on around me to take my mind off the run. Yes, it was new territory for me, but it was also fairly repetitive: Trees; glimpses of the river to the right, a near-constant hillside to the left; a few short bridges.

Awhile back, Keith and I were discussing the pros and cons of running part of the Towpath Marathon route ahead of time, and I decided against it, in favor of keeping it an unknown to be experienced. And though I still feel strongly about that, I think I probably will make sure I have my music player stocked for that run. Not that I see myself listening for the entire 26.2 miles, but it would have been nice today to have it ready for this stretch.

I distracted myself by mentally playing songs, recreating movie speeches and generally trying to, you know, Think Inspiring Thoughts.

And around this time, I passed a relief station sponsored and staffed by the Ohio State Association of Nurse Anesthetists, and it reminded me of Dad and put a lump in my throat. Just for a second or two. But it also made me smile, seeing them there in their scrubs and surgical caps, handing out cups of water. I didn’t take a drink, but when I passed them, I felt better.

At this point, withabout three miles to go, I started drawing parallels: “If I were at home, running our usual 10-mile loop, I’d be passing Giant Eagle.” Two-and-a-half: “I’m almost to the traffic light at Applegrove.”

When I reached Mile Marker 14, with a mile-and-a-half to go, I lengthened my strides and started to kick. It’s further out than I usually start at home, but then again, at home there’s usually one big climb in the final mile, and that wasn’t the case here. I started passing runners who had been in front of me awhile, or who had recently passed me, and though I knew it meant little overall – many were full marathoners and still had many miles to go – the burst felt good, like the charge up the hill at the end of the Hall of Fame race.

At Marker 15, with a half-mile remaining, I thought, “I’ve just come down the hill near our house: I’m almost there. Pour it on.” I never went into full-on-barrelling-huffing-and-puffing, but I tried to keep my strides strong, even as my mind went, “Hey – where’s the relay point?” I couldn’t see it like I figured I would have been able to. We climbed briefly from the riverbank to the intersection of several busy roads – blocked off, of course, for the run – and I realized I knew exactly where I was: Last month I drove up here to meet with some editors about work.

But more importantly, Where’s the frakking relay point?I’m going up hill now, in danger of losing steam, and I still don’t see it, and- ”

A quick turn to the right, and I’m there.

I can’t do a dead sprint into the crowded relay corral, but I keep things quick until I’m over the timing bar – I hear the announcer call my number – and then I’m looking for Angie, and then I’m trading the relay bracelet for my car keys, and I’m saying, “All right- Go!” and she’s off, and I have ducked into the crowd and am making my way off the course, hitting my stopwatch button: 1:40, almost on the dot.

For 12 miles, I later figure out, that’s an 8:20 pace. And while I do keep telling myself this was just a part of my training, I’m still proud of having run this far with a Race Day mentality.

The shuttle bus back to the finish line inside the Canal Park baseball stadium took longer than I thought it would, and when I get there and make my way inside, I realize that Adam and Angie and I – Dean had to leave after his leg for a football game – have made no plans for meeting up afterward. I figured it would be easy enough to watch Adam cross the finish line and then catch up with him.

I went to the bathroom, then decided to wait until Adam arrived to get my post-race food. I found a front-row seat on the first-base line, with the Finish Line just a few yards off, and settled in to watch.

It was chilly and starting to mist slightly, but having never been at a marathon, I got wrapped up in the joy of watching runners complete their races. I was a little jealous of Adam, in fact, since, as our final runner, he’d get to do the final hundred yards or so, coming in the center field gate and seeing the stadium rise around him, hearing the crowd. But I was also tremendously excited to be where I was, and every so often I’d get goosebumps watching finishers and thinking of how I was going to holler my fool head off when my baby brother came running into the stadium.

A funny thing, though: I missed it.

Somehow, I had missed his entrance, and as I watched the clock run, I got more and more uncomfortable and cold and hungry, and my seat was hard, and my muscles still wouldn’t relax because at any moment, I figured Adam would come into view and I could stand up and yell and clap.

The numbers on the clock got bigger. I struggled to do the mental math figuring out whether we, as a team of semi-experienced runners, could possibly have taken this long.

By 11:15, I knew I had to have simply missed his finish, and I got up to look for him.

We ran into each other about two minutes later.

He’d come in at the 3:32:49 mark, which baffled me, since I’d been sitting there watching since the three-hours-flat point. Or had I? I’d seen the women’s champion arrive at 2:51, but then I couldn’t remember if I’d been sitting down, or if that was before I’d gone to the bathroom and walked around for a little while. Could I somehow blame the people who insisted on squeezing past me to watch other runners finish? Or maybe those obnoxious few who came and sat on the wall in front of me to see their own friends and family come in?

Not likely: Even if someone had blocked me for a few seconds, it was a long enough run across the outfield that I should have seen Adam, and I was just pissed off at myself that I hadn’t.

So Adam had finished, collected our team medals, gotten his bag of free post-race food – by the time I got mine, the sandwiches were gone – and had been wandering around looking for me for the past 45 minutes or so. Angie had caught her ride home long before.

Walking to the car, my anger dissipated, and on the drive home, we talked about our race and the runners we’d seen and where we’d been.

I ate lunch, and then I took a nap – I still felt chilly and achy, more from having sat in that damn stadium seat shivering for an hour plus – but even after waking up and taking a shower, I still felt drained. Much more so than I figured I would have after a normal 12-mile run. Again, I blamed the post-race situation.

Later, when the marathon results were finalized and posted online, Adam and I learned we’d finished 81st overall in the 970-team relay field, and 40th in our “mixed” division of 682 teams comprised of both men and women. I thought this was pretty cool.

I’m glad I did it, and grateful to Adam for roping me into it.

Two weeks until I do one on my own.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | Current Affairs, Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XIII

Saturday, September 5

I swear, my hand cramped up just trying to put the ‘X’ through the box on the training schedule after today’s 18-mile run.

Today sucked. Hard.

I only had to go two miles farther than I ran a couple weeks ago, but it took me almost three freaking hours: 2:59:47. That’s a pace of 9:53 – almost TEN MINUTES – per mile. PER. MILE. I did my 16-miler in 2:18, for Pete’s sake.

Here’s the thing: I saw a tough run coming, but I didn’t know how bad it would be. Truth is, pretty much everything I could have done wrong in the 24 hours leading up to this new frontier, I did.

For months, I’ve known this one was going to require a rescheduling, since Friday night was my 20-year high school reunion at Salt Fork, and I didn’t anticipate being up for 18 miles through the park in the early morning and then driving home before noon.

So, not wanting to give up either my day of rest before or my two-day rest period after, I decided I’d just make this one an afternoon run, heading out at 4 p.m. when the day would at least be starting to cool off, but still giving me enough time to be home before sunset.

It seems a logical enough shift, but what I failed to do was adjust any of my pre-run preparation, and coupled with the reunion, at which I was up until nearly 4 a.m. and awake again at 7:30, these missteps added up to a horrible, horrible run.

Food Fail: Friday night’s dinner was excellent: Ribs and cookout fare. But I didn’t stuff myself, and other than a post-midnight slice of pizza, I really didn’t do anything to pack in a store of carbohydrates. My recent Fridays have all been about lots of pizza and pasta. Saturday’s breakfast and lunch weren’t incredibly substantial, either: A small-to-medium plate of two biscuits and sausage gravy before 9 a.m., and a stuffed pepper at around 1 p.m.

Sleep Fail: I was coming off a night of barely four hours of unsound sleep, and my post-lunch nap hoping to rest up for the run wasn’t a good one.

Basic Planning Fail: Even at 4 p.m., it was still 80 degrees, with not a cloud in the sky. Realizing I should be prepared for all sorts of weather and that’s not super hot, it’s obviously never been that warm when I’ve started a run, so I’ve never done real distance in that kind of heat.

I had a PowerBar just before heading out the door, and I took three gels and my 20 ounces of water in the belt bottles.

I could tell from the first few steps outside that I really, really didn’t want to do this, but once the running starts, stopping is essentially not an option: I have to look at it that way, and at any rate, on the occasions I feel like this, it usually passes after a mile or two.

Although the first two miles went by at normal pace, during number three, I had to fight off a slight side stitch, which I haven’t had in a long time. And this was the easiest thing I did for the next two and a half hours.

Halfway through mile six, I was actually wondering if I was going to be able to complete this run. Not even a third of the way in, and I felt just physically wiped out. I mean, I’ve been miserable on some stretches of these runs – the last mile of the first frontier back in week four comes to mind in particular – but questioning whether I had the ability to complete them hasn’t happened at all.

And I never really got a good second (or third, or fourth) wind: The whole run was just varying degrees of pain and suck, with long shadeless stretches.

I distracted myself in different ways: recalling the reunion and thinking about how to write about it; considering of what sort of tattoos I’d get if I were going to get post-marathon celebratory ink (Latin inscriptions of “It is not this day” and “time” or “memory” came to mind, as did “Look at the clock,” a line from Crossing Decembers.); staring ahead to the patches of shade and trying to soak in the slightly lower temperatures they offered on this afternoon of long, shadeless stretches.

The ten-mile mark (at which point I was already lagging, at a 9-minute pace) was near home, and running through it knowing I had another eight miles out-and-back to go actually put the thought of crying into my head.

Nothing about this second loop passed quickly. Every intersection or landmark lingered on the horizon, every hill got higher, every step felt weaker.

This was a run against doubt.

At one point, out on a narrow, isolated road between fields, I realized that while everything in my body was screaming to just stop running, where would that leave me? Still three or four miles from home, at least, and that’s a bad walk if you’re miserable, and it would only make the afternoon longer.

I wish I could say that these hours were mentally rewarding and helped me sort things out and clear the cobwebs the way they often do, but trying to draw my thoughts away from the agony was as exhausting for my brain as the run itself was for my body.

Eventually, I was a mile from home, and still jogging.

Everything hurt. Maybe even my eyelids.

Knowing I had about a two-tenths of a mile cushion, I considered pulling up short just after turning onto our street, but what would be the good? I’d still have to walk home, and I was, at this point, out of water, so I’d only be making it longer until I could get a drink.

I pushed my pace, just barely, the last 50 yards or so when I realizet that if I didn’t, I was going to actually take more than three hours on this run.

I made myself not stop completely once I hit the driveway, walking in circles for a minute, going inside and grabbing some water, then going back outside to stay upright just a bit longer.

After a bit, I tried to take my ice bath, but couldn’t stop shaking, so I just went for the hot shower, Motrin, orange juice to get my blood sugar up (I didn’t even want to freaking think about eating yet), pajamas and the couch for some Mythbusters.

Feeling just flattened and discouraged, I thought about the exchange my daughter and I had when I had half-staggered through the front door immediately after the run.

She was sitting on the couch, looked up and just said “Good job.”

“Ugh,” I replied. “It took me three hours and it was TERRIBLE.”

“Did you fall down?” she asked.

“No.”

“Did you stop running?”

“No.”

She repeated, with emphasis, “Good. Job.”

And I am reminded that some days, just finishing is enough.

September 7, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 4 Comments

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XII

Aug. 29

You know those mornings when I’ve been treated to glorious sunrises or clean breezes over the hills or quiet rivers of mist on the fields?

Today was not one of those mornings.

Even though it was dark outside, I could hear the rain while I was getting dressed.

And with a quick check online, I saw that the showers which were suppposed to have cleared up between 6 and 7 a.m. were now scheduled to hang around until 9 or 10.

This was going to be one soppy run.

By a mile in, my brother and I were soaked to the point where more rain didn’t matter: We couldn’t get any wetter.

At least it was warm enough that we weren’t cold, but cool enough that it asn’t muggy.

It rained through our entire shared 10-mile loop.

Oh, it never hit what I ‘d consider downpour staus, where it’s blattering and difficult to see and hear, but it didn’t stop entirely, either, fluctuating the whole time between spitting drizzle and full-on showers.

Not quite six miles in, Adam asked how I was feeling about the training process; specifically, if I’m looking forward to it being over, and that first Saturday after the marathon when I’m not looking at a long run to start the day.

I was kind of surprised to find that I hadn’t really given much thought to it.

I suppose, I conceded, that I’ll be glad not to wake up on a weekend morning thinking of ten-plus miles before breakfast, but at the same time, most days I’ve run, I haven’t laced up my shoes dreading it, or seen it as something I had to do. It’s just become, four days a week, part of my day that’s less an event, and more just a thing there in the hours, like a meal or coffee: I get up, it’s Tuesday (or Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday), I run.

Maybe part of it is the training, and the progress, and charting new runs and mixing it up. Just sitting here, I think it would be much harder for me to set my own regular weekly schedule of mileage and stick to it.

All of which is to say that I find myself not really ready for it to be over, I guess.

Adam started pulling away from me in the eighth mile,and he really went ahead in the last mile-and-a-quarter of his run, getting probably a couple tenths between us as I worked on keeping my pace but not going into my final push, since I had another couple to go.

The clouds let loose one final outburst as I climbed the last real hill of the route, and the rain slowed as I descended the other side.

As I ran alongside the cornfield next to our cul-de-sac, I heard this great, deep pattering off to my left, and I realized it was the sound of the rain landing on row after row after row of broad August corn leaves. It wasn’t that it was raining hard, and it wasn’t that it was particularly loud, really, but hearing it there at the edge of the field, the sound kind of rolling out of the ends of the rows, it hinted at the volume and the breadth of the field, kind of like the way even on a calm day, an ocean surf reminds you that there’s a vastness beyond.

Adam handed off the stopwatch when I caught up to him and said, “We’re right about 8-and-a-half pace, and you’ve got cakewalk from here.”

It was a different sort of finish than I’ve had in some time, because the loop through a nearby allotment didn’t include any big hills: Those were already behind me.

The last couple miles were quiet, and I realized just how drenched I was.

I felt the weight of my waterlogged shirt tugging at my shoulders.

I imagined I could actually feel water sloshing around in my saturated shoes, from which there came a distinct, sock-muffled squish with every step.

A comfortable breeze pushed against me in the last half-mile, which helped, and I was able to maintain a nice clip running up our street.

Final time and distance: 1:42:07 for 12.1 miles – a pace of 8:27. And though I didn’t look at the stopwatch until the end, Adam said later that at the time of the handoff, it was in the 1:25 range, which means I did the last 2.2 miles in 17 minutes, for about a 7:44 pace.

I took a warm shower.

Then I dried off.

August 30, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | Leave a comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XI

Seriously? I’m done with week ELEVEN?

I have run through a season. Oh, I know technically fall doesn’t start until late September, but with my brother back in Teaching Mode and my daughter starting school on Tuesday, this weekend sure feels like the end of summer.

I woke up this morning not looking forward to my scheduled 16-mile run, and with no good reason, other than that I was going to be running my least-favorite hill twice.

Adam and I ran the 10-mile loop into North Canton and back, and then I continued on for our old six-mile loop, with an extra hook thrown in to make up for the fact that I wasn’t’ running up our street and back.

The first seven miles went by pretty easily while we talked, but Adam built up a sizable lead on me in number eight. It didn’t’help that I got caught by a traffic light: I didn’t stop, but had to go about four car lengths down the intersecting street so I could cut across. He really got ahead of me after the hill climb, but I wasn’t interested in pouring it on since I was looking at another six miles to run.

After he broke off for home and passed me the stopwatch, I checked the time and saw that at 1:28:30, I was 10.28 miles in, so I was averaging about 8:37 per mile. Considering how I felt at the end of last week’s run, where I was totally drained and barely managed to keep my pace under nine minutes, I was encouraged by today’s progress. Of course, I did have six miles to go…

I wasn’t sure where the next few mile points fell, but I knew where the final three would be, since I was finishing up along the same stretch as the four-miler I did twice this week. I didn’t look at the stopwatch again until I finished up mile 13, and I was there at 1:53:03. I hit the 14-mile point at 2:01:21, making for an 8-minute, 19-second mile that I felt pretty good about.

It took me longer to do the next one, and though my lungs felt fine, this is where I really started noticing the aches and fatigue in my legs: a poke in the ankle here, a groan in my thigh there. Still, I kept it under nine minutes (8:54), and when I crossed into frontier territory, the clock read 2:10:16.

I’d already done the math: At nine minutes per mile, I would have taken 2 hours and 24 minutes. Here I was, a mile to go, and well ahead of that, and I have now run further than I ever have.

I rode this energy up that freaking hill and down the other side, and even thoubh my legs and feet were sore, I felt so much better than I did on Saturday No. 10, and my finishing stretch I felt like I was flying up our street without resorting to panting and grunting and hyperventilating.

I did my last mile in 7 minutes and 52 seconds (again, I’m pleasantly stunned, considering an 8-and-a-half fifteenth mile was beyond my reach seven days ago), finishing up at 2:18:08 – that’s 138.13 minutes, which is a pace of 8:35: That’s 24 seconds per mile better than last week!

In fact, looking back at last Saturday’s entry, I realize that even though I ran almost a mile farther today, I only added a minute and 39 seconds to my overall time – wait, can that be right? (I actually printed this out and showed it to Adam to make sure the numbers were solid – he’s the math teacher, after all.)

He backed up my calculations, and once again, I’m amazed at how these small progressions add up with the miles.

August 22, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | Leave a comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode X

Saturday, August 15

“It’s just distance.”

This is what my brother tells me when I admit that I’m nervous before we head out to run this morning.

But this is the 15-miler, and it’s one both he and my buddy Jeff have warned me as being a particularly trying run for first-time marathon trainees, even though, as per the training calendar pattern, it’s only two miles more than my previous frontier two weeks ago.

I’ve worked out a path which takes Adam and me over a familiar seven-mile loop, though we’re running it in the opposite direction for a couple reasons: First, it means when he veers off and heads home, I don’t have to turn around and double back over a mile I’ve just run. And second, it means I’m not doing two climbs of the hill which that mile includes.

The second loop of the run is a shortened version of our established 10-mile route into North Canton and back.

What I’m trying to do, of course, is fool myself. The first not-quite-half has now become a routine run for both of us, so that’s fine. And my thinking is that when I’m out there on the second half alone, I get to celebrate the small joy that I’ve excised two miles from the middle of it.

When I mentioned this to Adam on Thursday, he smiled. “It’s still going to suck, you know.”

It’s just distance.

It’s light but still a few minutes before sunup when we start out.

My goal is still to manage a nine-minute pace, and the first three miles pass quickly while Adam and I talk.

Around the outermost point of the loop, we’re running east and come around a bend into an absolutely jaw-dropping sunrise. There’s a haze to the sky, and just above the horizon is my favorite Red Rubber Ball sort of sun, just starting to brighten to the point where you can’t look at it and see the edges distinctly. And there’s a distant cloud bank positioned just so that from its upper reaches, high enough that they’re in a place where the sun is already yellow and bright, a ray of white light spreads and widens over our heads.

To our left are rolling, low expanses of tall, deep green corn. Bands of thick white mist stretch motionless across the fields.

“Now there’s a postcard,” Adam says, reading my mind, and we don’t speak much over the next few minutes.

At about the five-and-a-half-mile mark, I squeeze down the first of the two gels I packed for this run, and wash it down with water.

Oddly enough, I find that I don’t even remember running up the big hill that marks the beginning of mile seven, maybe because I’m already thinking ahead to the second half of the run. Adam hands off the stopwatch – I decide to just keep it in my left hand this week rather than trying to stuff it in my belt – at right around the one-hour mark, so I’m a little bit ahead of the pace I’m trying to set, but I know the next eight miles are going to be tougher.

They are.

I take my second gel just past 10 miles, and I’m feeling, well, if not spectacularly energized, then certainly at least okay with where I am. My knees and calves are starting to ache periodically, but the lungs are feeling good, and mentally I’m in the game.

In fact, I disappear into The Zone for a few minutes, and when I come out the other side, I realize I’m on a stretch of road I’ve never run before: This is the shorter route, remember? I was totally on autopilot there for a bit.

The change of scenery occupies me for another half-mile or so, and then I swing back east onto familiar paths. The sun is high and warm now, and I know the nightmare miles are coming up, so I try to make sure I’m cruising comfortably: not pushing for speed, but making sure that I’m not relaxing and slowing down too much, because I want to make good time while I still have the energy to do it.

The air is still now, and when I pass the grassy expanse between the shopping center and the drug store on the corner, I can hear the insect buzz rising like a sonic version of gentle heat waves.

Just after I hit the 12-mile mark and turn north, a couple things go through my head.

First is a familiar thought, looking at the traffic light at the next intersection: “That thing is a mile away.” (It is. We’ve checked.) This is followed by steeling myself for that mile to feel like four. (It usually does.)

Then, though, I realize that with a dozen miles behind me, I am at the same point where, two weeks ago, I was heading into the last mile of a half-marathon distance feeling utterly spent. I’m not wind-sprinting or anything here, but I know I feel better than I did a couple Saturdays back. (Later, I will wonder how much of this is actual reality and how much of it is mental, since there’s no way I can afford to feel, with three miles to go, like every step is a challenge.)

Passing that traffic light puts me over one more frontier, and with two miles to go, I start to consider how I’m doing time-wise. My goal of nine-minute miles means I’ll need to finish in two hours and fifteen minutes, and now I’m starting to think I might not make it. Although Adam and I have found that during the week we can get our final miles in well under eight minutes, I am now starting to feel these two new miles weighing on me. Time starts to pass in disturbingly large chunks for what I’m thinking should be short, quick segments from one street to another, and when I turn east and see the sun over that damn hill in the final mile, I look at the stopwatch and see 2:06:30.

I’ll have to do an eight-and-a-half minute fifteenth mile, and son, that’s just not happening.

I switch up my breathing a little just to distract myself from the climb, which is taking so much effort it actually feels like the air in front of me is pushing me back. Although I manage to keep my legs up and my strides decent, once I’m actually over the crest, I want nothing more than to just freaking stop, and this is the hardest part of the run.

And then sweat just starts to pour into my eyes, more than I’ve ever had happen before, stinging bad enough to distract me from the pain in my legs. While I’m taking my glasses off with one hand and trying to use my shirt sleeve to clear my eyes with the other, I’m still slogging along, and by the time I can blink my vision clear and get my glasses back in place, I have reached the top of the downhill stretch that ducks through a tree tunnel for few blessed moments, and the worst is behind me.

I get enough momentum for a nice little breeze and some long, freewheeling strides, but when I get to the end of our street, I look at the watch and see that 2:15 has just ticked past. My goal now is just to get up the road in an even 90 seconds.

I make it in 89.

Walking home, I finish up the last of my water and realize that there’s not much left of the 20 ounces I had with me when I set out. I drink another tall plastic mugfull as I’m filling the bathtub with the faucet on its coldest setting. I don’t know that I’m looking forward to this cold bath, but I’ve seen it recommended in training books, and Adam said he started icing his legs on runs of 15 miles or more.

I don’t have a big bag of ice on hand, so I empty our freezer’s ice bin into the tub, put on my swimsuit (come on, it’s cold) and step in.

I’m surprised at how good it actually feels on my feet, which I now realize are a little bit sore. Same thing when I ease down and get my legs stretched out. After about five minutes, as I’ve gotten used to the temperature and am, in fact, wondering if this is cold enough, my right hand dips into the water and it’s freezing. It feels like a totally different sensation than the soothing water on my knees and feet.

Later, after I’ve showered, I sit down to figure out my actual pace. Time: 2:16:29. Distance – checking again on the Gmaps Pedometer – 15.2 miles.

Fifteen point two. I’d forgotten about that little bit of distance padding, which means my actual fifteen-mile mark was somewhere at the end of our street and –

I pop open the calculator: 136.5 minutes divided by 15.2 miles.

My average works out to 8:59.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 4 Comments

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode IX

Saturday, August 8

Jenn left for work this morning at 5:30. I figured on getting up and checking my email or watching an episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” because even though that’s earlier than usual, I know that when I’m in that almost-awake state, if I go back to sleep, I will have really screwed-up dreams.

Today called for a 10-mile run: a step-back week in preparation for the jump to 15 miles next Saturday. Adam wanted to try and get a little earlier start than usual – say, by 6:15 instead of 6:30 – so again, getting up a little early seemed the way to go.

Of course, I didn’t. And as expected, I was treated to a dream of an unlrelenting, unconnected chain of events and tasks, none of which I was able to complete because new things kept popping up. I’d be trying to jot a note while interviewing someone, and we’d be interrupted; I’d try to reach a meeting and I’d have to stop to take a slow elevator ride carrying a traffic light. It was like a crazy hectic pummeling 12-hour day in which I managed to get NOTHING done.

The sound of my alarm going off was a mercy.

Power Bar and water, pull on the shorts, shirt and shoes, head over to Adam’s. It’s about 6:10. A stopwatch and note are taped to his mailbox: “Sorry – no sleep last night. Good luck!”

Okay, so now I’m looking at my longest solo run to date – and it’s not a bad thing.

I head back home figuring I’ll load up a nice long podcast to listen to, but when I start downloading, I get a “27 minutes remaining” note, and I’m kind of ready to run now. That’s cool: I could use the braintime.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have my brother along for the early-run chatter, but for the first couple miles, before my brain is sufficiently wandering and defragging and distracting me, I’m ultra-conscious of the physical effort it’s taking to run this morning. The slight creaks in my calves and the backs of my knees seem amplified for about the first two miles, but eventually either they quiet down or I just forget to pay attention to them.

Today is long run number nine, which means there are now fewer Saturdays ahead of me than there are behind. (The race itself is on a Sunday, preceded by a two-day rest period.) Counting the marathon, I have as many running days left as I’ve already done.

The training curve gets steep from here on out: I have just five more distance frontiers to cross. And next Tuesday is my final three-mile run until I start scaling back over the last three weeks.

Looking ahead in other ways I have my 20th high school reunion on a Friday night in September. The next morning I’m scheduled to run a frontier of 18 miles. I haven’t decided yet whether I’m rescheduling that run. I suppose it’ll depend on how that Friday goes.

It’s an overcast morning, with a slight breeze. They’ve been saying it’s supposed to broil today, but there’s none of that morning hint of oncoming heat.

I crossed paths with maybe ten other runners today – one of them twice, I think, and at opposite ends of my run. It reminds me of spring 1989, when Dad bought a used ’82 Corvette. I remember him telling me with a kind of conspiratorial yet childlike enthusiasm about the subtle wave of acknowledgement that Corvette owners give each other. I loved doing that. Loved trying to be nonchalant yet still expressing a shared joy.

The thing about the running encounter is that you can usually see it coming for a few minutes, and since I’m a dork, I start wondering early (like, say as soon as I see that our paths might cross, even if the other runner’s a couple tenths of a mile off) how to handle it. The short, quick nod? The casual not-too-high wave? When do I make eye contact? Are we greeting vocally or sticking to nonverbals?

I usually go with the nod, maybe a “Morning,” if it seems right. As when I was allowed to drive the Corvette, I’m slightly self-conscious of appearing too eager, to enthusiastic, and they’ll know I’m the new guy. (Yes, this is totally unreasonable and not likely to be remotely true, and even if it is, So Effing What, Right? Well, some people are scared of garter snakes, so there.)

The miles kind of passed, well, not quickly, exactly, but I find afterward that I can’t really remember feeling a particular stretch where the physical effort became a mental drain. I reached my driveway again 92 minutes and 16 seconds after leaving it, another 10.18 miles on the shoes, and the brain cells feeling kind of newly springy.

August 9, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | Leave a comment

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