Cornfield Meet

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Canton Marathon 2012: The Journey Begins

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As of 6:30 this morning, that Feb. 14 square is marked with an X, since my first official training run for the 2012 Canton Marathon is in the books.

It was not enjoyable. The schedule only calls for three miles, but I wound up doing them on the treadmill. And since I don’t trust the treadmill’s distance gauge, I figured I’d be safe going for 31 minutes. It didn’t help that I haven’t run in awhile.

Tomorrow calls for a five mile pace run. My brother Adam and I are shooting to beat his first marathon time of 3:40, so we’ll be going for an 8:23 pace.

February 14, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running | , , , | 3 Comments

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 XV

Saturday, Sept. 19

When I went outside this morning, it was still dark.

And not that “pre-dawn blue” kind of dark: Night dark.

It was just before 5:30, and just a shade over 50 degrees.

I’d been more or less awake since 3:45, having gone to bed just after nine p.m. in anticipation of this morning’s run: The 20-miler. My longest training run. The last frontier before race day.

Adam was running the first 10 with me, and he needed to be back home as early as possible, so he suggested the super-early start.

I had some peanut butter toast and a Power Bar while I filled up my water bottles, and actually walked out the door before Jenn, which is saying something since her day shifts start at 6 a.m.

Walking out into the street, I looked up and saw a magnificently clear, moonless sky.

Orion wheeled high – the first time I’ve seen him. I mentally marked the official end of summer.

Waiting on Adam’s front sidewalk, I looked straight up at the Pleiades, and as I did so, a yellow-orange shooting star fled west to east just past the Seven Sisters.

I think I actually said “Yesss!” out loud, and gave a mental fist-pump.

To the east, just over the treeline, Venus was startlingly bright. Brighter than I think I’ve ever seen it, maybe.

And suddenly, I was strangely psyched and excited for this run, like when I’d done the In Like A Lion midnight run with Keith back on March 1.

Adam came out put on his reflective vest and grabbed a flashlight to carry. I clipped a blinking red light to the back of my belt, and without preamble, we set off.

Except for a quarter-mile stretch of well-lit sidewalk along a nearby housing development, we ran that first mile in real darkness, between woods, then along cornfields and horse pastures, and there was a newness to it; a “sneaking out” feel, like camping in the backyard and going for a walk in the middle of the night.

It took a couple whiles for my calves to warm up: They were slightly sore after just a couple miles, but it went away, as I’ve come to expect.

In the fourth mile, we came to a traffic signal and turned left. With no cars or streetlights around, we noticed just how bright a green light really is, casting our shadows long ahead of us.

In mile six, past the well-illuminated parking lot of a shopping center and back into darkness, we passed a trio of runners heading the opposite direction on our sidewalk. After they passed, I said to Adam, “Crazy people.”

It started to get light not long after that. By the time we were at mile seven, most of the sky was pale blue and it was glowing peach on the eastern horizon.

More than a third of the way through, I thought, and it’s not even dawn yet.

Of course, I also realized I was closing in on the last of my shared miles: Just shy of the halfway point, I was going to turn north and begin another 10-mile loop, while Adam headed home.

He offered me pointers, counterbalancing my optimism with his experience.

I broke down my remaining loop for him: 4 miles north, then head east a bit, and then I’m picking up a road we’ve run regularly, and at that point, there are just four miles left. It breaks up nicely, and mentally, I’m ready – there is no longer any doubt in my mind that I can do this.

“Just remember to keep walking that fine line,” he said, “between that attitude and knowing that it’s going to suck. When you get to mile 18, it gets better because you know you’re almost there, but watch out for the ones before that.”

And then he’s off, heading home, and I’m jogging north.

It’s still a gorgeous, cloudless morning. I’m more than 12 miles into my run before the sun is high enough that I’m running in its full light, sending a shadow several dozen yards in to the field off to my left.

The route takes me past the high school I attended, and the attached middle school, where Kelsey goes. There’s a row of trees on the south side of the middle school, and they reach almost to the top of the building, blocking the third-floor classroom windows.

I remember being in those classrooms and looking down on those trees.

Turning east, I’m on a road where one of my friends was in a bad bicycle accident as a kid. Flew over his handlebars and wound up with his jaw wired shut for awhile. I wasn’t there, but our dads took us to a preseason Browns game around that time, and I remember him cheering, teeth stuck together.

And then south again, on a road that runs along the backyard of another friend’s childhood home. His parents still live there. I snuck one of my first beers – stashed behind a tree by an older brother – in that backyard.

Around this point, I was 15 miles in. Three-fourths of the way there, and feeling pretty good. Nowhere near the agony of that 18-mile run two weeks ago.

Still, Adam was right: The next couple miles weren’t painful or a real struggle, exactly, but they just seemed to pass awfully slowly.

And then, after cresting what I knew to be the next-to-last sizable climb of the morning, I realized that the next few minutes were my Frontier Zone. Somewhere between the top of that hill and the intersection I could see ahead, I would pass my long-distance mark and be in new territory, two miles from completing Saturday Number Fifteen.

When I got to that stop sign, I felt like cheering.

At this point, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve climbed the hill that marks the start of the final mile from this direction. But the climb itself differs a bit each time. There have been days when it vanished because my mind was elsewhere, and there have been days when every step felt like nine. I’ve done it with my eyes shut or glued to the roadside stripe because I didn’t want to see how far off the top was, and I’ve run at it head-on without taking my gaze from the house that sits up there.

Today, I was just plain excited, and if the hill didn’t exactly glide effortlessly beneath my shoes, neither did it leave a painful muscle memory. It was just another stretch of pavement, and then it was behind me.

Final time: 2:58:48. Distance: 20.07 miles. Pace: 8:55 per mile.

That’s slower than I want to run the marathon, but a full minute per mile – and a minute faster overall – better than the 18-miler, and enough for me to feel like I’ve finally buried that one.

I’ll spend the next couple weeks on shorter runs and working on picking up the pace. But until race day, every distance on the calendar has already been done.

One frontier to go.

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , | 1 Comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XIV

Sept. 12

It’s bounceback Saturday. A 14-miler was on the calendar, and I’d run this distance twice before, so I knew I could do it.

I was still nervous.

I had three pretty good weekday runs in the wake of last weekend’s three-hour slog, but I still wondered if that was really a result of all the things I did wrong, or whether it was just a signal that I’d hit my body’s limit and this was the start of a downslide.

At any rate, I got back in to my preparation zone: Last night I made sure to load up on the choo-choo wheel noodles at dinner, and when I needed a little bedtime snack after 10 p.m., I had some more, just in case. (Bonus: Isn’t it fun saying “choo-choo wheels?”) I got a good night’s sleep. And when I got up in the dark this morning just after six, it wasn’t quite sixty degrees outside, so the heat wouldn’t be in the mix this time, either.

Walking across the street to Adam’s house, I was still a little uncertain about the run, though.

Fortunately, running with Adam always means we’ve got to get moving, because he needs to be home before my nephews get up and start their day. Once I’m over in his driveway, there’s not a lot of time to worry – we just start running.

It was a nice morning, too: Warm enough for short sleeves, and a little breeze. It got light pretty quickly, and the sky was blotched with clouds without being low and overcast.

I only checked the split times at miles one and two, and we were right about the eight-and-a-half minute mark on both.

Adam and I kept a conversation going through about seven miles, and even though in number eight I felt a little ache in my legs, it was nothing like last week when, at the same point, I was feeling awful and only halfway through my run.

I did have a minor first in mile ten: While opening a gel pack to eat, I dropped it and stopped to pick it up. It was only a second, but all summer, I’ve managed not to stop moving my feet on any of my runs. If I hit a traffic light or a line of cars, I’ll go off-course for a bit until I can cross; and twice I’ve had to jog in place – once while someone asked me directions, and again for just a second or two at a crosswalk near a parking lot.

The funny thing is, almost that entire thought went through my head in the second it took me to pick up the gel and start running again, but more than 24 hours later, I can still recall that peculiar sensation of stopping mid-run.

When Adam turned for home just before the ten-mile mark, I realized how different I felt compared with my 18-mile day: I was only doing four miles fewer this week, but that was a huge difference mentally, because my four-mile loop isn’t a high hurdle anymore, and when I passed the end of our street, I knew that’s all I had left to do, as opposed to last week, when I realized I had eight more miles and I was already in bad shape.

I felt better, in fact, after 12 miles this week than I did last Saturday after six.

Final numbers for Saturday Number Fourteen: 14.36 miles in 2:01:46, for a pace of 8:29, which is back in my target zone and slightly faster than the 16-mile pace I reached two weeks ago.

And while I’m glad to feel like this particular mental battle is behind me, last week is staying in my head as a reminder.

I’ve got two days off, and then the highest-mileage week  of my training gets under way: 40 miles total, in runs of 5, 10, 5 and, a week from today, 20 miles.

The Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday runs aren’t in my head.

Saturday? I already feel it out there, waiting.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , | Leave a 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

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode VIII

Saturday August 1.

I calculated my July mileage after Thursday’s run: 96.94, will all my extra tenths added in. And you know, for a moment, I actually considered going out yesterday and doing 3.1 just to make my first hundred-mile month.

Just for a moment, though. I needed that day off because this morning I was scheduled for a 13-miler, which I padded out to 13.35 because, well, if I’m running 13 miles, I’m at least going to push it to where I can say I ran my first half-marathon.

Adam had plans for mid-morning, so he and I started off with our usual six-miles-and-change loop, just trying to keep things faster than a nine-minute pace. Not long in, we started talking about mall food and resaurants and the stores at Belden Village where we went and ate when we were kids. We talked about the menu at York Steak House and the arcade next door and how there used to be TWO toy stores and now there are NONE.

We were a little stunned, frankly, when this conversation wound down, to find ousrelves more than three miles in. And then we started talking about other stuff – how the Indians are back to being the crappy basement -dwellers we grew up on, how the Browns are to hope what RoundUp is to weeds, and how who could’ve imagined when we were little that one day, we’d be thinking, “Hey, the NBA preseason starts in two months or so.”

As we neared the end of our shared route, just shy of the six-mile mark, since I wasn’t going up our street and back – I only like to run the true “home stretch” once per day: It’s a mental thing. I’m afraid that if I run up to my driveway, I ‘m not going to want to turn around and head out again – Adam handed off the stopwatch he carries when we run. It was somewhere around the 52-minute mark when he turned left and I kept going straight.

Wihtout stopping, I squeezed down a power gel, drank some water, and tucked the watch in my belt.

When I’m out running, I generally avoid routes that take me over long stretches more than once. The starts and finishes are exceptions, obviously, and I’m extremely familiar by now with just about every inch of the two-mile stretch of road which our dead-end street intersects. But my ten-mile routes, for instance, are long loops rather than a pair of five-mile routes. Because Adam wanted to run with me, though, I did this week’s half-marathon as a six and a seven, of which about 2.5 miles overlapped.

I started my solo seven feeling pretty good: Swinging back close to the finish line wasn’t hitting me as hard mentally as I thought it would, and I was looking forward to this second part of the run, which had a completely different feel to it. Our six-mile loop is compact and mostly winds through neighborhoods. This seven-miler was an out-and-back with long stretches and wide open spaces of fields and hills and the occasional cool, deep woods alongside.

About eight or nine miles in, I spotted a bright yellow hot air balloon off to the west and remembered that the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival had gotten underway. During the rest of my run, a couple dozen balloons took off and clustered in the cloudless, pale sky.

I also realized at this point that I was still feeling okay, and I remembered just four weeks earlier when that nine-mile run had beaten the stuffing out of me. Not that I’m feeling cocky: I know the tough, tough distances are yet to come, but I also know that last fall, a former co-worker was rying to talk me into doing a half-marathon and I couldn’t even wrap my head around the notion of taking my five-mile run and more than doubling it.

Maybe that’s why this run felt a little like that 10-miler did: not anticlimactic, exactly, but well, I knew I could do it because I’d just done 12 miles last week, just like I knew I could do 10 having done nine the week before that.

A little ways after mile 10, Adam actually drove past me as he went out to meet his friends.

I finished in something just under the two-hour mark, I think. I don’t know exactly: I must have bumped the stopwatch along the way because when I pulled it out and hit the button in my driveway it said 1:27:38, which would have been 15 minutes less than last week’s 12-miler. At any rate, two hours for 13.35 miles is still just under a nine-minute pace.

And though I didn’t feel as sore this week as I did after last Saturday’s dozen, I will say that the final three-quarters of a mile were seriously rubber-legged: When I tried to lean into the last downhill and lengthen my stride, I really struggled to lift my legs higher than a jogging pace.

When I noticed this, I looked down at my feet, and watched them in a sort of detached way, listening to the sound of my sneakers on the blacktop, seeing and hearing and sensing every step but not really feeling them. I used to stare at my shoes, or the patch of pavement just in front of them, when I was struggling with a climb, or to get through a long, slogging stretch where the next bend doesn’t seem to get any closer.

I realized this was the first time I’d looked at my feet since tying my shoes that morning.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 2 Comments

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