Monday, March 30, 2009

The Wrong Run

On March 17, in Sanibel, Florida, I made wrong decisions and I may pay for it on marathon day.

I thought my week of vacation a month ahead the Boston Marathon was perfect timing to log in a couple of long runs before starting to taper my weekly mileage. My initial plan was to run about 18 miles (29 km) in Sanibel, and another 20 miles two or three days after that in the Florida Keys. First mistake: given that I had run about 19 miles at home on March 14, the day before leaving, the plan was unrealistic. The most strenuous marathon plans for advanced runners -- the type I can't even follow entirely because it's too much mileage -- don't recommend three long runs within a week.

I found a run in Sanibel on that looked scenic; it included a path in a wildlife reserve. I started at 9 a.m. Too late. The weather was sunny and hot for the season, even for Florida, and the temperature was already in the 80s (more than 27 degrees Celsius). I wore a baseball hat and carried water, which proved insufficient to protect from the heat a body that had trained in the harsh winter of Pennsylvania.

After about 4 miles, I took a right on a road I mistook for the wildlife drive. A few minutes later, I arrived at a dead end: a leisure center. I was already dripping in sweat. I asked a barman about the wildlife drive -- resisting an urge to order a beer and sit down in the shade. ``Go back on the main road, after about 2 miles, it will be on your right.'' My heart sank: 2 miles before even starting on the path. I could have run back home for an 8 miler and cooled off by the pool for the rest of the day. I didn't. I wanted to see the wildlife drive…

So I was back on the straight bike path along the main road, with very little shade. After 2 miles that seemed like 5, I found the drive: it was $1 for pedestrians. I was over-heating but still lucid. I would not spend half of my cash to gain access to a path, no matter how wild. Here was another mistake: I usually carry at least $10 during long runs, in case of emergency. I stayed on the sunny bike path.

After 7 or 8 miles -- at this stage of my training it is called a ``short'' run -- I was miserable. I knew my pace was slow. I just kept going, hydrating more and more frequently, with my mind fixed on the place where the fancy wildlife drive -- I wonder what kind of wilderness I missed for $1 -- meets the free bike path again. I thought if I could reach that place, I could still accomplish roughly what I was set to do that day. I saw a few cyclists and then a runner! Tanned, no hat, no water. How did she do it? A few minutes later, I saw a water fountain and a little wooden shelter providing shade. I drank, soaked my hat and ran water through my hair and on my neck.

I decided to come back and was now facing the sun. I wasn't sure where I would find the courage and felt like a failure. On my iPod, Richard Thompson's ``You Can't Win.'' The song has a powerful pull on me: it's 9 minutes 13 seconds, the second half only instrumental, mind-blowing. I played the song again and again, and again and again: almost four times. That led me back to the place where I had taken the wrong turn. By now I was well aware that ``you can't win.''

Inexplicably, instead of going home via the straight road (4 miles), I took another one that probably added close to a mile to my ordeal. I can't remember what the thought process was: perhaps there was none and that's the problem. The last 4 miles were excruciating. I tried to remember other times when I suffered and made it through. I recalled words from the trainer Bob Glover, who said in ``The Competitive Runner's Handbook'' that difficult runs can be used on race day or during though times in life. I remember thinking: ``Here's one I'll be able to use!'' I had difficulty breathing, a sign of sheer exhaustion. I listened ``You can't win'' a couple more times and then I was too distressed to even hit the playback button. The next song says ``Waltzing's for dreamers and the losers in life.'' Very uplifting. About a mile away from the end, there was a big patch of shade. I stopped. My head started spinning and I felt even worse than while running, so I started running again. I was now in a wealthy residential area with a golf course. It was after 11 a.m. and there were a few runners: tanned, no hat, no water. How did they do it? The final mistake was to keep on running the last mile. I could have walked.

The wrong run: 16.4 miles in 2h25, at a pace of 8 min 49 sec/mile (about 10.9 km/h).
The run on the day after the wrong run: 4 miles in 40 minutes, at a pace of 10 min/mile (9.7 km/h).

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ice-Pack Woman

As I write these words, I wear two ice packs: one on my lower back and one on my left hip: 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off. On my neck and shoulders, I use both ice and heat pads. When I'm not icing or heating a body part, I'm sending electrical impulses via a portable Tens-unit, or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation unit, a device with electrodes that I apply to the parts that hurt.

While sitting at the computer, watching TV or at dinner, I roll a tennis ball under my feet to massage the plantar muscle inflamed by the running. After exercising, I use a foam roll to stretch the tired side muscles of my upper legs and my glutes.

I have a sports doctor and two chiropractors, one in the town where I work and one in New York, who are trying to heal a left hip pain and prevent my body from falling apart until the Boston Marathon on April 20. I have a husband who massages my feet, back and shoulders after long runs; patiently listens to the laundry list of my ailments and events that happened while I was on the road (I once ran past a man being handcuffed by two policemen); picks me up at the gym and folds the laundry while I am on long runs.

I am a high-maintenance ice-pack woman.

Delightful Daylight Savings Time

``Please remind me not to train for a spring marathon again while living in New York -- or anywhere in the Northeast. It's dark, cold and depressing.''

Those are the words of my colleague and friend M., who, like me, is training for the Boston Marathon on April 20. I am now almost two months into the training and on weekdays the winter forced me to run at the gym, an activity I view as last resort, because it's dark outside when I go to and come back from work.

A quick look at my MapMyRun Web site -- I keep a daily log of my activities both online and in an old-fashioned diary -- tells me I have spent 19 hours at the gym this year, either running or on the elliptical machine, for about 150 miles. It's a long time being forced to watch ``Extra!'' and other gossip shows on the gym's TV screens at 7 p.m. On the plus side, I'm up to date on news about the Octuplet mother and Jennifer Aniston. About 90 percent of the time, when I park in the dark and freezing cold, I am tempted to skip and go home. I force myself to get in, get changed and get on the treadmill. The trick is to avoid thinking about the more attractive ways I could spend the following hour or two (a glass of white wine, feet up on the couch) and follow a routine. I force my brain to view running at the gym as a necessary chore, like grocery shopping or doing the laundry. I have to do it. It's not so bad.
Once I warm up, in about 30 minutes, the adrenaline slowly kicks in. I almost forget I am on a dreadful treadmill in front of dreadful programs. I try to concentrate on the music, my breathing and my legs. The treadmill is particularly depressing to me because, unlike other runners I have talked to, I go much slower than outside. I start at about 10 1/2 minutes a mile, or 9 km/h, a pace so slow that when applied to a full marathon it would add almost 1 1/2 hour to my finish time. It takes me about 25 minutes to reach my marathon pace. Only then can I start the training session -- fancy words such as speedwork and tempo runs that mean accelerating over short or long periods of time. Among the various thoughts passing my mind: if only I could run outside!
This year will be the first time I complete a full marathon training in suburban Pennsylvania, where running in the dark is out of question. In New York City, I could still run in the streets or along Central Park in the morning or after work. I get to run outside for my long runs on weekends, when I ``share'' the road with drivers engaged in activities including talking on a cell phone, eating, applying making up or drinking. I enjoyed my first long runs back in January, before I started to get tired of running on my own for hours. I miss my running partners. I could find new ones: in fact, members of my local running club go for long runs on some Saturdays and Sundays. The catch: it's at 6.30 a.m. I am willing to train like a dog to get ready for that marathon, but I am not willing to wake up at 5 a.m. on weekends. So I go solo.

I suspect a lot of runners training for a spring marathon are like me right now: waiting for the change in time next weekend, so we get more daylight to run and torture our bodies even longer.

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