Saturday, February 11, 2012

Livin Long After Midnight

My longtime running partner canceled on me. I was a runner without a weekend run.
I knew of one other group going out on a Saturday morning. When I thought about joining, I laughed it off.
There wasn't one in the group who wasn't a friend. I'd run with all of them before. I liked all of them. But many of the rest of my running peeps, including me, looked at them with a combination of bewilderment, awe and a little fear, the same way frat boys might look at the guy who can bong five beers in a minute. They were my friends, yes, but these peeps were hardcore. They were all kinds of crazy. They partied.
They were fast. They started their runs at 4:30 a.m. They wouldn't let anything in the weather stop them.
I could match them on the weather — I have not run on the treadmill once this winter, despite many single-digit or snowy days — but I wasn't sure about the pace, and 4:30 a.m.??? I'd get up that early for a trip up a  mountain, a baby or maybe a race.
And yet, I couldn't shake the thought. It was early, but it's fun to run different routes, with different people. And, to be honest, I wanted to see if I could do it.
So that's why I turned off my alarm clock at 3:55 a.m. I was already up, in anticipation of the extra-early wake-up that was going to jolt me out of happyland. I left the pillow and the warm sheets and my sleeping wife, and I looked out the bedroom window just before I started getting dressed.
Snow fell in chunks. The streets were white. Our clock inside the house said it was barely 10 degrees.
Last night, the wind was howling. I wasn't thrilled about the morning snow, the frost in the air or the fact that the sun wouldn't come up until we were done, but I'd take all that over a gusty gale.
I flipped on the coffee, spread peanut butter and honey over my toast and grabbed a couple Gatorades. I breathed deep. Time to go.
* * *
After the race in Vegas, I fell into a slump. It took almost as long to recover from the half as it did my full this year. I felt sluggish and shitty and not even remotely excited about running. My ass hurt on every run. I got the flu and after felt as if I was running with a knife in my chest thanks to an acid reflux flare-up. I skipped the traditional Super Bowl 5K.
I kept running because I am loathe to stop an activity for fear of losing what I've worked so hard to gain. And it was the only real way to see many of my closest peeps. And I still enjoyed it, even if it sucked. I'd been through bad stretches before, and I was encouraged because this snap started because I ran hard in Vegas, maybe harder than I'd ever ran before, and the result was proof: Seven minutes faster than last year's PR half in Denver.
But out of nowhere, almost, this week I felt great. I had a good tempo run, stomping all over the damn hill at mile 3. I ran 12 quarter-miles on Wednesday in 1:36 or less, with the last four the fastest. So I told myself I could hang with this crazy, wild crowd, at least this week, and the snow actually gave me even more confidence. It evened the playing field, throwing a layer of slick under the cheetahs' paws. And running in shitty weather was practically my speciality, a leftover from my days as a hardass mountain climber.
We got little reminders all through the first hour that this was, well, different. Flakes slapped at our eyelids and occasionally stung our pupils, but despite was Corey Hart said, we could not wear sunglasses, even if technically it was just really early in the morning. When we ran up hills, runners either begged for traction or, as in my case, wore spikes that gripped the road but beat up our feet. At least one runner fell, hard, and because of her scouting report, I barely dodged a pothole that would have thrown me to the snow as well. When I ate a gel, it was cold and hard, like choking down a slug.
Conversations were sparse even if they were frequent. The snow, the hazy cold and the dark felt like we were running down a dream, as if we were contained in our effort, in the ache and the breathing and the simpleness of it, and though I knew where we were at all times, it all felt different, too.
We picked up new partners an hour later, and when we stopped to gather them into the group, my mind left the zone for a moment and dreamed about the car and a shower and food. I put my head down and tried to focus on the run again. Thoughts like that are dangerous.
Even so, they are also delicious when you can feel the end. My watch was close to two hours, just under 13 miles, and so me and a couple others peeled off from the group of badasses and made our way back. Heat, a shower and my family were waiting at home. They probably weren't even up yet.
I got back in the car. I was so cold I left the face mask on the whole drive home, and the car never seemed to heat up. But I reached down and turned on Judas Priest's greatest hits on the CD player. One of my favorites, the band's biggest hit, "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," started blasting over the speakers.
Rob Halford sang the first line. "One life I'm gonna live it up." And as my car slid on the snow and I wiped frozen snot off my face, I sang with him.


Cindy Dallow, PhD, RD, CSSD said...

Good job, Dan! Wish I could keep up with you guys, miss seeing everyone. Glad you're running well.

Cindy Dallow, PhD, RD, CSSD said...

Good job, Dan! Wish I could keep up with you guys, miss running with you all.

Jeff Valliere said...

Nice job getting out Dan. I was sitting around late morning, ruminating over the fact that I would not get out today (the cold/snowy weather, combined with the fact that I am sick and the girls are getting over being sick was heavily swaying my decision). Then I got several paragraphs into your post, got up, got everyone dressed and was out the door. I only put in 2 miles (my hands went numb), but I probably would not have got out otherwise. Thanks for the inspiration. (I finished you post when I got home).

Drizztdj said...

You only get better by being pushed. As soon as school is done, I think running will fill a void for a challenge.

Can't wait to start.