Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hungry for Heaven

As I was swimming through mile 16, I looked up into the trees, desperate for anything to take my mind off the agony of de feet, and I saw a bird.
It was a big bird, and it peered down at us, with an expression that was hard to read. I glanced at my dog and looked back at the bird. For a moment, I thought it was sizing up my companion. But I decided against that after a bit. The bird wasn't looking at my dog. It was looking at me.
Well, that was appropriate, I thought. My face was probably red, and I was moving like a wounded coyote and moaning like a kicked cat. The energy chew in my cheek had turned to sandpaper.
As I got closer, preparing to shuffle underneath the branches where it perched, I still couldn't tell if it was an eagle or a hawk. As the sun baked my pride, my thoughts turned darker. I guessed it was a vulture.
It knew, as they always do, that it probably wouldn't be long now.
• • •
I had the day off, and I figured it was the perfect time to get my 21-mile run out of the way. That's honestly how I approached it. Let's just get this little training run out of the way, I thought, like it was an errand.
I knew it would be a little warmer than usual, as I had to drop off my son at school before I started, which would force me to start at 9 a.m., about three hours after my usual time. Which is why I filled an extra two 8-ounce bottles. For my dog. I'd be fine, I thought. I was a lot more worried about her. She didn't do well in warm weather.
When I started, I didn't expect to feel great. It was my sixth day of running, and I'd pushed it hard on many of them. There was a 12-miler in there, a couple aggressive pace runs, an 800s interval workout and a tempo run. This would be my biggest week, as I'd planned on running nearly 60 miles. Training for a marathon is never easy, and I had some special goals planned for this one.
Even so, I'd yet to have a bad training run. They're fairly common, but I felt great throughout this whole  cycle. Two weeks ago, my last mile on my 21-miler was fast. So, sure, I thought of this 21-miler as just another run, something I needed to do before I'd come home and enjoy the rest of the day.
I still don't know if I got cocky, or if the fact that all my other runs had gone well simply tricked me into thinking that all I needed to do was strap on my shoes and the magic would happen.
I didn't even consider that 9 a.m. was considerably different than 6 a.m. I didn't consider that maybe I should make sure I drank before I left. I had a cup of coffee, my usual, and a couple swallows of Gatorade before I headed out. When it's 6 a.m., and the temperature was 45 degrees, where 90 percent of my runs took place, you can do that. When it's 9 a.m. and already 75 degrees?
I knew I was in trouble before mile 6.
I didn't want to acknowledge it. There are dark periods in many runs. But this time it felt different.
It felt like I was swimming. Treading water is more like it.
I knew a water fountain was waiting for me at mile 14, and so, I kept going. I needed the miles. You can't cheat your long run and hope to do well in a marathon. I decided to suck it up. It'll pass, I thought.
I'd be miserable for more than two hours, and at one point, underneath that bird, I honestly did wonder if I'd make it home. If I start shivering, I thought, I'll call 9-1-1.
• • •
I lined up Saturday at the starting line of the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Denver with a plan that'd I'd never had before in a race: To back off when it hurt too much.
I don't want to sound like a hard-nosed, egotistical badass, but almost always, when it hurts in a race, I know I'm doing my job. Races are really fun, but they are supposed to be hard, too. Races are times when you blow out your engine. It's a chance to look under the hood and see what you can do.
But the schedule, the advanced plan by Hal Higdon, called for a pace run. A pace run is a run at your planned marathon pace. They're supposed to be hard, but not too hard. They're not tempo runs, intervals or fartleks, and they're certainly not races.
Thursday left me warn out. But truth be told, I was a little shaken by it too. It took me four hours to finish those 21 miles, and I had to walk several times, and I was grateful to be home, almost to the point of crying. I guzzled a large cup of chocolate milk and went to bed for an hour, uncaring that my sheets were sticking to my skin, and then I rose, like a vampire at midnight, and drank many cups of water. Despite the almost constant intake, I didn't pee until 7 p.m. that night.
The run made me feel like a rookie and an old man at the same time.
So at the urging of my running partners, I decided to run a little easier. I'd pace it, sure, but when it got a little too hard - race hard - I would back off.
The race went quickly, and I felt great most of the time. I ran a Colorado PR (altitude), at 1:39, with plenty left in the tank.
There are times even a veteran like me will doubt the training, your body and your will to do great things.
The little pick-me-ups like Saturday's race are a good reminder of that. I'll try to remember those gifts every time I have a good run. Those dark times are always lurking if you don't recognize them, respect them and, sometimes, run a little faster under their shadows as they gaze down upon you and wonder when you'll give up for good.


Run2Live said...

Awesome Dan. Thanks for the reminder and the inspiration.

Run2Live said...

Awesome Dan. Thank you for the reminder and the inspiration.

Otis said...

Best in a long time, Dan. Thanks for it.

Owen Graham said...

Great post...sometimes those brutal training runs provide the best mental training.