Another Post About Getting Back To It

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Seems like most of the posts I write recently have a common theme: I was out of it, now it’s time to get back into it. And so, this post is more of the same.

First, let me start with a Happy New Year. I finished out 2014 pretty much doing no kind of running – just some walking here and there and the NYRR Jingle Bell Jog at the beginning of December. That race was all kinds of festive. Check out the elf hat I got for my donation to their charity and the compression socks we got instead of a race shirt.

I couldn't even claim the award for "Most Ridiculously Dressed."

I couldn’t even claim the award for “Most Ridiculously Dressed.”

Later that month, I would volunteer at my first race: bag check at a Central Park 15K on a cold day. It was actually more fun than I anticipated. I fulfilled my requirements for guaranteed entry into this year’s NYC Marathon, got a shirt (even though it’s too big), and reaped the benefits of the runners’ appreciation.

The knee issue I developed in October’s half marathon lingers on, but thankfully, with time, it has become almost a thing of the past. I’ve been using the stairs more, and believe it or not, that seems to be helping. Most importantly, though, I’m again more conscious of how much I eat and I’m starting to work running back into my life.

Though I spent much of the early part of the day out with my sister and energetic toddler niece, I was inspired to get out for a run once I got home in the afternoon. It was certainly crisp outside, but the sunshine and blue sky were too much to pass up. I pulled on my candy cane compression socks, layered a couple of shirts, covered my bald dome and wrapped a bandana around my neck and headed out. It felt great to move. So great, in fact, that my tentatively planned two miles became three and became four. And since I ran straight out, I left myself no choice but to have to walk back.

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Out of the slowly dipping sun, it was quite cold walking back. I was torn about how direct a route I should take home, but the movements in my stomach that kept coming on sharply told me I better pick the quickest way back. On the way, between pangs, I was able to enjoy my sportstalk radio (and I don’t even care about hockey), as well as the unique scenery of the winter’s twilight hours.

photo 2-33By the time I got a bit past this picture, I was beginning to consider drastic measures with regards to my stomach issues, and none of them were, by my estimate, legal. Panic wouldn’t help my cause, but turning sooner than I planned and cutting through the park would.

photo 1-33I don’t know if the park’s bathroom was open, but with the frigid temperature, I’m not sure I would have availed myself of the opportunity to use it, either. Soon I was on the main (and final) street home, and, damn it, the walk wasn’t getting me there fast enough. I decided to go for it and wound up running the last .5 mile home, at which point I continued running – to the bathroom to take care of everything.

The 4+ miles ran today mark my most on a recreational run since who knows when. That’s a good thing. That I’m pain-free (no jinxes) is an even better thing. There is a lot on my running plan plate this year, starting with my goal of running at least 4 of NYRR’s borough races (Queens 10K, Bronx 10-Mile, Staten Island Half, and soonest on the calendar, Brooklyn Half). I’m also within the window of deciding whether to cash in my guaranteed entry to the NYC Marathon in November, a decision I must make by mid-February (can I get a “Yikes” from the congregation?).

Today’s run was a great one: crisp, comfortable, enjoyable, and relaxing. I have to aim for more of them if my 2015 is going to be as special as it can be.

My Running Log: Race Recap – NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K

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Well, that half marathon really took a lot out of me. I ran two miles once after it and before my next race (October 26). I’ve been dealing with knee soreness. I’m neither as young nor as fit as I was.

I didn’t recap the October 26 race, so here’s a condensed version. First off, it was touch and go whether I’d even be able to do compete in it. Since the half, my knee had really been barking. Since I work on the third floor of a school with no elevator, every time I was on the stairs was a reminder that something was off. Still, race day came, and I wanted to run. Even though I had originally intended to really push to finish in the top 3 of my age group, I knew that with my lack of training it wasn’t going to happen. Once the horn sounded, there was no knee issue at all. It was a gorgeous day to run, and rather than compete for a prize, I found myself competing with another runner with whom I traded places four times on the course. My plan all along was to lay in the grass until the final hill that charges into the finish. When we hit it, I took off ahead of him and passed another guy, too. But I gave too much too soon. Before I knew it, just yards from the finish, there he was taking position over me again. It was a sprint to the end, and the better runner – him – won. I went over to him right away to congratulate him, but in my head I said that next year would be different.

My knee felt great the rest of the day, but the next morning, it reminded me of my folly. Marginal improvements took place over the course of the week, and by yesterday, I felt rested and ready to roll again, just in time for one of my favorite races on the calendar, the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line.

Every race is a dash to the finish, you say. This one is unique. Held annually on the day before the NYC Marathon, it gives runners of all stripes – many of whom complete the Marathon the next day – the chance to run through midtown Manhattan and cross the Marathon finish line after 3.1 miles. It’s unique for it’s flavor and energy. There is truly nothing like running through Manhattan, passing the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, Radio City Music Hall, and ending in the park. Because of its proximity to the Marathon, it also draws runners from around the world. In the corrals prior to start, one meets runners from (and hears the mellifluous languages and accents of) Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Australia, New Zealand and more, along with those of us locals who love running our city.

photo 4-4Last year, it took quite a while to progress from the starting corrals to the start line. It was unexpected and annoying, but also manageable because, although chilly, it was a beautiful sunny day. There were fewer runners this year and I was in a higher seeded corral, so there was less waiting. This worked out well because, for the first time in my running career (probably about 40 races), it rained on race day.

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It was a cold and wet start, for sure. Only about 1/4 mile in, looking at the Chrysler Building, I felt the first twinge in my knee. Momentarily, I thought of stopping and walking, but I couldn’t. In the back of my mind, I figured the next day would bring me suffering, but I chose to focus on the enjoyment of running instead.

The rain was alternately light and steady, and it slicked the streets. Near Grand Central, I said, “Screw it,” and pulled off my hood to let the rain hit my face and head. I didn’t feel like I labored at all. I just ran.

The atmosphere was awesome. With the lights and runners reflected in the street, with the international flags waving, with the spectators cheering beneath the skyscrapers and autumn trees, it was a special sight.

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Two miles in, we entered Central Park. Last year, the street was so densely packed, it became difficult to move. This year, though, a considerably thinner group of runners allowed for a much more pleasurable experience. I had forgotten about the excitement I felt when I saw the first true indicator that I was running through the same final mile that the marathoners would one day later: a large banner overhead indicating mile 25 on the course.

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photo 1-5Soon, I removed my headphones here and let myself pretend I was a marathoner. Before long, the noise of the finish line came on as a steadily growing din. Soon thereafter it was crowd noise and distinguishable music. It’s a dramatic finish on this course, with all the international flags flapping in the breeze and a huge finish line with video screens and history looming.

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photo 1-4I finished about a minute off of last year’s mark. It’s no surprise. I’ve been running slower this year than last anyway. My knee felt okay and feels decent today.

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For two straight years now, I’ve crossed the NYC Marathon finish line. Only thing is, neither time did I do it as one of the 50,000 runners who compete in the legendary, iconic race.

So, now, having watched the event this morning and been reminded about how exciting it is to me every year, the question is renewed: Will I enter myself in the NYC Marathon in 2015?

It’s a tempting proposition. Right now, I am drunk with the glitz and glamour of having a perfect fall day in New York, seeing the city as I never have, taking part in the spiritual runner’s rite of a marathon, finishing my first right in my backyard. In the coming days, weeks, and months, I’ll more seriously consider the commitment necessary to achieving such an accomplishment, and, maybe I’ll seriously look into resources that can help me, like a coach, trainer, or running clubs.

I know there’s nothing like the sea of humanity streaming through the streets of New York, the runners owning the city for the day, and cementing memories for a lifetime. Perhaps it’s time I joined them.


Distance: 3.32 miles (official 5K)

Time: 27 minutes, 58 seconds (officially 27 minutes, 33 seconds)

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Looking ahead: Inspired by the Marathon, I went out for a 1 mile run this afternoon. It’s probably the first time in nearly two months I’ve run on consecutive days. I decided to keep the run brief so I can keep my knee feeling good. I iced it for a bit when I got back in and I’m hoping for the best. I have no races booked until December, but I want to get at least a couple in before then, so let’s see what I do.

My Running Log: Race Recap – NYRR Staten Island Half Marathon

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Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I last posted a blog on this site exactly one month ago. Wouldn’t you know that was also the last time I put on my running shoes and hit the pavement. Awful, isn’t it?

I have no acceptable excuses. I was perfectly healthy this last month, certainly capable of running. The weather was mild and runnable. The only thing lacking was my motivation. Having a half marathon looming on my calendar didn’t motivate me anymore. Instead, with being back at work and all the effort that goes into that, I found myself looking at running as a chore. And so, instead of running, I sat. That I was running purely for training purposes thoroughly sapped any momentum and joy I may have previously enjoyed. Days turned into weeks, which turned into a full month off from running.

Every now and then, I told myself I was setting myself up for an issue. I’d still be doing the half, sure, but what right did I have? My rationalization became this: My longest run in this training was 10 miles. Never mind that it was five weeks ago. I could manage another three for the half.

Cue LoL.

So today, that fateful date with my first half marathon arrived. I finished it all right. The day was not without significant folly, worry, sadness, and joy.

Here’s a three-part recap.

Part One: Getting to the Half is Half the Battle

There’s no convenient way to get from my home to Staten Island. You’re either shlepping over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge via the BQE or Belt Parkway, or you’re taking a train, subway, and ferry.

The parking situation sounds bleak, so the decision is made to go via public transportation. I’m up at 4:45 and my running partner arrives before 5:30 am so we can walk the mile to catch the 5:56 train. The ride will be followed by a half-hour subway ride to the ferry for a 25-minute ride across New York Harbor to the starting line.

It’s a comfortable early morning walk, sure. But 5:56 comes and goes, and the train doesn’t. The tickets are already purchased, and our research on the smartphone indicates the only trains around 5:56 either already came through at 5:26 or won’t return until 6:26. We won’t be able to make a ferry in time to get to the start, so we’re kind of screwed.

After a few minutes of discussing options – a taxi, chancing a late arrival, saying “Screw it” – we decide to hightail it back to my car. Of course, my car keys are upstairs, so I have to run the last of the distance to get upstairs and back down so we can go. Waze says it will take 40 minutes, which will leave us plenty of time to look for parking that NYRR warned us doesn’t exist.

Once in the vicinity of the race, it’s about 7:15, and I find an absolutely perfect spot with the packet pickup within spitting distance. “Huh,” I wonder, “Why wouldn’t anyone grab this spot?” Plenty of cars are parked on this street, which turns out to be part of the course. I exit the vehicle, and a cop pulls up and says I might want to move the car or I will be towed. I opt to move it.

Now the fun starts: there’s not a spot to be had. Of course, on every side street, spots are disappearing just as I get onto the blocks. One of the lots promoted by NYRR is already full, so we’re stuck sitting with no place to go. Finally, we get ourselves (after many wrong turns) to a parking garage. The $8 it will cost is worth the peace of mind, but it’s already 7:47.

One of us needs the bathroom and the line is long, so I rush to pick up bibs and shirts. By the time we’re ready to head toward the start line, it’s 8:15, and corrals are about to collapse for the 8:30 start.

I head up toward my corral and see the obscene pace marker displayed there: 1 hour 55 minutes. HA! Not a snowball’s chance. MAYBE if I kept up my training, breaking two hours would be a goal with a real possibility, but at this point I’ve reduced myself to setting the goal of just finishing. So I drop back about 3,000 numbers and tell myself to take my damn time and just get this thing done.

This was a nice view to start the race. I wouldn't see it again for over two hours.

This was a nice view to start the race. I wouldn’t see it again for over two hours.

I’m shaking in the cold before the start. Ten minutes after an FDNY fireboat launches the race, it’s finally time for my group to begin the walk and jog to the start line. There’s no turning back now, and not finishing is not an option.

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Part Two: From This Actually Isn’t So Bad” to “What the @#*& Was I Thinking?”

And I’m off. I haven’t planned any music so I’m listening to a playlist that I hope will make me feel warm. I’m just going to take it as it comes, count the miles down, and tell myself that once I get to 10 (my previous longest distance), it’s only a 5K away.

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The course isn’t that thrilling, but I always enjoy running in new places. When I was a child, Staten Island was the stinky place with the landfills in which I held my nose as we drove to summer vacations on the Jersey shore. Still, it’s part of NYC, and the thought of running my first half in my city was a major factor that led to choosing this one. How times have changed.

At three miles, I’m feeling good, going faster than I thought. There’s no plan time-wise or split-wise. I really don’t know what to expect from myself. I tell myself a 5K is done. Nice! I still have 10 miles to go. Damn!

Five miles in, I’m going strong. I can keep this up for another eight, can’t I?

Apparently not. I cross the 10K mat, and my next milestone is the 6.5-mile halfway point. Soon, I’ll be turning around and heading onto the back part of the out and back course. I do, and the Verrazano Bridge – symbol of the borough and the NYC Marathon – is on the horizon. It’s not a bad look.

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Unfortunately, I’m slowing down. The lack of training has reared it’s head (and rightfully so). Along the course, a number of runners on the sidelines stretching or punching their unwilling legs back to usefulness. Thankfully, I’m still mobile, but I’m adding significant time as I go on.

A little after seven miles, I notice what appears to be a group of runners trying to reconnoiter so they can run together. There’s a lot of waving from behind and in front. My music is on, but the closer I get to those ahead of me, the better I can hear. It’s not a group of friends trying to get together. It’s a group of frenzied strangers screaming, “HELP! HELP!”

Someone must be hurt, I think. But as I get even closer, I see that a man is collapsed on the course. I bolt onto the median to run for a cop, screaming for someone to come, and I’m relieved to see that one is running in my direction and to the troubled man.

What do I do now? I can’t help in any way, but is it disrespectful to run ahead? I’m fearing the worst and hoping for the best. I leave an earbud out and continue. I don’t know what else to do.

After what seems like a long time, emergency vehicles start heading in the direction opposite me to help this man. I’ll think about him the rest of the day. Only as I write this post do I finally find out some information about him. The poor man was without a pulse and wasn’t breathing. Thankfully, he was revived by an officer. He’s in critical condition at the hospital tonight.

It reminds me now, thinking back, about what I was thinking prior to even seeing this tragedy. Half marathons are not tests of speed, at least at my level. They are tests of endurance. The human body has an incredible capacity, but it can’t be forgotten how potentially dangerous the sport of running can be, no matter how healthy one is. This is not something one should roll out of bed and attempt. You have to respect the training process. I didn’t, and I was fortunate to be okay.

Feeling funny, I continue on my own personal journey to the finish line. I’m confused, though, about my role. I wonder if I’ll be able to smile when I cross the finish line. I wonder how NYRR will acknowledge this tragedy. I hope for the best and keep going.

I’ve been munching on dried bananas and dates since about mile four, washing them down with coconut water (just for flavor’s sake). But it’s not enough, and I start stopping at fluid stations. I don’t want to stop running, but I’m not going to risk it after what I witnessed. I suck down Gatorade and allow myself to walk while I drink it. Then it’s back to running. I’ll do this for 5 of the last 6 miles. Despite it all, when I finish, I notice salt streaks are caked on my face.

It’s such a gorgeous day, and I can’t ask for better weather to (I hope) get back to running.

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The second half of this race is considerably more taxing on me than the first. The slight incline at one stretch brings me to my slowest speed of the day. As the mileage on my legs increase, my lower body’s protests grow louder and more pointed. My left ankle issue has resurfaced after months away from me. My lower back is barking. My knees are creaking. My groin aches. My heels sting. I’m not the only one gritting my teeth at points, and plenty of people pass me by.

I don’t care, though. Failing to finish is not an option. At 12 miles, I stop for fluids one more time. It will be the last stop I make, and I slam the cup into the garbage and tell myself to get this done.

My mind at this point is blank. I just want to finish. I had been under the misguided impression that this race was mostly waterfront. Not so, in fact. But as I near the end, the water and Manhattan are back in view.

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Ahead of me, I can see people running down a ramp, and I momentarily think that’s where I’m heading. Turns out I’m half right: the 13-mile mark is down the second ramp. As I turn down, I can’t believe I’m on the verge of finishing a half marathon.

photo 5-11It’s time to better soak in the atmosphere, so I remove my earbuds. There are a lot of spectators cheering, and the public address announcers are enthusiastic despite having been bringing home finishers for close to 2 hours and 30 minutes.

The finish line is in sight. I momentarily think I might cry, but I don’t: too cliche. I put my arms up so I can finally get a picture taken of me actually looking at the camera.

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I’m surprised by my reaction as I cross the finish line. Thirteen-point-one miles are in the books, and I’ve never run more than 10.08 at a time. I pump my fist, leap up, and scream, “YEAH!” Next time I can do better, but it’s no insignificant accomplishment.

Part Three: Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Respect the Process

Now that my race is over, I’m gauging my ability to walk. I slowly move to the refreshments and down three cups of Gatorade, a cinnamon raisin bagel, and an apple. For the next 30 minutes I try to figure out how to bend my knees. I see others stretching and I’m envious. I can barely even think of it without the soreness overwhelming me. After trying some of my old high school P.E. class stretches, and failing, I decide to stand up and watch others come down the finishing chute. There is considerable pain in the backs of my knees. Eventually, I figure out that squatting down as low as I can go gives me some relief. The more I do this, the more nimble I feel. I climb onto the guard rail to do some calf raises. I’m returning to normal.

As the announcers spout on, they take an informal poll of who just completed their first half marathon. I’m proud to raise my hand to indicate I did.

photo 2-31Though the process leading up to today wasn’t respected and followed as properly as it should be, the fact remains that I’ve finished my first half marathon. Whether that makes me half crazy or fully crazy is hard to say at this point.

As I write and reflect this evening, I’m sorer than I’ve ever been from running, having trouble walking, and suffering from some GI distress. At the same time, plans are being discussed about when the next half marathon will be.

I told you the whole experience ranged in emotions. My number one concern remains with that man who collapsed on the course and I hope he recovers as fully as possible. Because of him, I feel blessed to have been able to finish.

I’m proud to have accomplished a goal I’ve had since last year. I enjoyed the race, despite the pain, because I didn’t put any pressure on myself other than to finish. Now that I know I can do it, I want to do it again – only better.

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Distance: 13.26 miles

Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, 46 seconds (unofficial) Officially: 2 hours, 15 minutes, 22 seconds

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Looking ahead: We’ll see when I can walk right again, let alone run!

My Running Log: 4.1 Deceptive Miles

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I love those early morning, pre-dawn runs. What a way to start the day. Today, I slept right up until my alarm, but I was still excited to get going before I headed to work.

With just a tinge of lingering stiffness and soreness still in my legs from the hills in last Sunday’s race, I set out for four miles this morning. It was cloudier than its been, and therefore darker than its been. This wound up working to my advantage in a surprising way.

It took a bit of time to get warmed up. Indeed it was gusty and chillier than it has been of late. It wasn’t until about a mile in that I really felt smooth (doubtful that I looked it, though). When I reached my normal turn onto the highway path, I decided to stay straight and head into the waterfront, hilly park. I had a safety light on my arm, but make no mistake, it was dark in there.

Why did I make this decision? My first race after the half marathon will be my local race. It happens right there in that park. Three years ago, it was my first race, and it’s become an annual tradition for me and my family.

But I’ve never placed in it, and I don’t like that. It’s a small enough race that I should really be able to concentrate my efforts enough to finish in the top three of my division. So I’ve decided, unlike my last race, for which I foolishly omitted hills from my training, that I need to make absolutely sure I’m really pounding the park pavement to get ready. That means a lot more running and familiarizing myself with the park, just like in the formative days of my running career when I trained for that first race like I was training for the Olympics.

So with all this playing into my decision, I headed into the park this early morning and charged up the first hill. In the back of the park, close to the water, I discovered a spooky surprise: lights were basically nonexistent. There was just barely enough sun winking through and cloud-covered moon above to help me along, but I was pretty much running in darkness. Eerie. The positive, though, is that I couldn’t SEE the hills. I could feel them a bit, but not having a visual sense of what I was facing meant I had lots of confidence on this run.

What a difference it made to see no hills, even though I knew they were there. I could just trust my legs (and hope I didn’t accidentally find any holes or big cracks). As a result, my splits improved significantly on each mile, and I had a truly spectacular run. I felt really strong, with firm strides and consistent cadence throughout.

The darkness led to a bright run, indeed.


Distance: 4.1 miles

Time: 36 minutes, 52 seconds

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Looking aheadShifting up the plans, considering the big picture of my long run schedule. I’ll be spontaneous tomorrow and look to complete a 4-6 mile run, followed by 6-8 on Sunday.

 

My Running Log: 5 Get Back to It Miles

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With the first full week of the school year has come my first real lull in my running routine. After Sunday’s race, I had Monday off. The plan was to run everyday Tuesday-Friday. Plan aborted.

Ah, the tiredness that comes from a long day’s work with my students. On Tuesday, I just didn’t go. On Wednesday, I planned to do my five miles after work, but when push came to shove, I had excuses aplenty to get myself out of it. Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing I’d like more than a nice evening or afternoon run after a long day. Others I’m like, “Way too much needs to be done today.” That’s where I went yesterday (plus I didn’t feel 100 percent).

I decided, then, that if I was to be serious and taken seriously, I’d have to go back to my bread and butter from the summer vacation: early morning runs. The half marathon will come regardless of what I do to prepare for it. So if it’s a 4:40 morning wakeup that makes me get my miles in, that’s what it’ll be.

I’m glad it was. I actually woke up about 20 minutes earlier than intended. I was eager (for the first time since Sunday) to run. I got outside at 4:45 and began my earliest run ever.

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Having planned to do five yesterday (which I didn’t) and four today, I told myself I needed to do at least four and no more than six (time constraints). When I hit my two-mile mark, I momentarily thought of turning around and calling it a morning, but I felt I needed to keep going. So I went to 2.5 miles and wound up with five. It was a perfect start to my day. With a shower and lots of water, I was able to get dressed and head off to work in a better mood than I’ve been in all year!


DIstance: 5.01 miles

Time: 46 minutes, 11 seconds

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Looking ahead: Tomorrow – 4 miles bright (or dark) and early. Saturday – another 4 (unless I switch my 11 to then).

My Running Log: Race Recap – Putnam County Fall Harvest 5K

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This was what you’d call “a race experience like no other.” Enjoy the details.

Yesterday, I figured I’d go over to my sister’s house and spend some time with her, my brother-in-law, and my niece. The little munchkin misses me tons. Now, time to time, I’m known to bring my laundry there and use their washing machine and dryer (or deck) at no cost to me. Doing so also enables me to not have to run up and down the stairs three times to deal with it. When I invited myself over, however, Sis informed me there were already going out plans in place for the day, but I was welcome to join. The laundry would indeed have to wait until I got home (after making a couple of stops, too).

By the time I got home, I was so busy putting away a lot of groceries, cooking dinner, and getting some work done before today’s race that I totally forgot to throw my laundry in. In fact, it was already after 9 by the time I realized, and a 5:30 wake up was looming. Okay, no problem. I figured I’d do the laundry after the race. It really couldn’t wait any longer. In thinking about my running for the week, it became pretty critical that I had running clothes (clean ones, at least) at the ready.

Only thing was, by the time I decided to wait with the laundry, I had also forgotten that I needed clothes for today. Hey, genius! It’s not an undie run!

Sigh. In the shirt department, I’m stocked. No issues there. In terms of shorts, though, I was out. So I had to get fancy – or at least creative. I found the driest pair in my hamper and filled the sink with warm water. Into the sink I dropped a splash of laundry detergent. I rolled up my sleeves. (Metaphorically, that is: I was wearing a short sleeved shirt). I placed the shorts in the sink and, just as our grandmas did the nights before their races so many years ago, hand washed my shorts so I could have something to wear.

The next issue became whether they would dry by the time I needed to put them on. I hung them in the tub and went to lay down. They’d have about eight hours to dry, and since they’re the wicking kind, I felt very confident.

In bed, chuckling to myself at the lunacy of this fiasco, I rubbed my head quizzically. OH DAMN! I forgot to shave my head! It’s a race eve tradition for me since the second race I ran (and the first in which I had no hair up there). I’ve done it in my shower dozens of times and I’ve done it on the road. It’s like, duh, one of the most important things I do to get myself ready the night before a race (other than lay out my clothes and pack my bag). Too tired, I said. I’ll buck tradition and do it in the morning. I switched the alarm to 5:15 and slipped off to sleep.

When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was check my shorts for dryness. The bottoms felt nice and dry, but as I worked my way up to the waist, I realized I had a problem: they were still pretty solidly damp everywhere else.

Honestly, who has time for this? I needed to think quickly. My first instinct told me to throw them in the oven. No, that could take too long and be too hot. My next instinct was to throw them in the microwave. A ha! That should work. I checked the drawstring for plastic and was relieved to find there was none. I laid them out in the microwave and turned it on for 30 seconds.

When the timer beeped and I opened the door, there was progress. They were still not wearable, though. Another 30 seconds, I figured. As the microwave whirred I thought I smelled something. Ah, probably some leftover something or other. Still not fully dry, I went with one minute more. And this time, I really smelled it. I pulled the shorts out – still damp – and immediately felt hard, melted plastic in the lining. Stellar.

My shorts were still not dry and time was beginning to wear thin. I was still without my pre-race head shave and try as I might, I could think of nothing in the house that would do the trick. The heaters are off, so they were out. It was 5:30 in the morning, so a sunny window was out. No amount of waving the shorts would have done anything, so calisthenics were out. I don’t have hair, so a hair dryer was out. I resigned myself to hanging them on a towel bar while I showered, hoping the 10 minutes would do something for the shorts or my imagination.

Shaving my head brought an idea to me. The shorts have water in them, and the water needs to be removed. DING DONG! Use your food dehydrator! Fruit and vegetables placed in it shrivel and shrink because the water is removed. That’s gotta be worth a try.

Once out of the shower, I laid the shorts out on the top tray, turned it to the highest available temperature, and set the appliance whirring. In a time faster than any fruit has ever dried (that usually takes a MINIMUM of 18 hours), I had dry shorts. And they were neither shrunk nor shriveled. What is it they say about necessity being the mother of invention? It’s also the mother of desperation.

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Race time. It’s a gorgeous morning up in Brewster, NY for the 21st running of the Fall Harvest 5K and Half Marathon. A smattering of us are tackling the rolling hills of the 5K. The rest of the suckers are going for the 13,000 elevation climb of the half marathon. Good luck with that.

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Brewster has a cute downtown area and, if you know anything about me and my races, I love the ones with the community feel. This one’s got it – and a great goody bag. I wound up with three travel sized deodorants and a surprisingly hip race shirt.

Last year at this race, I ran what was perhaps my best time for a 5K. Unofficially, I ran 3.12 miles in 24:54. It was, at the very least, the first time I clocked an average pace of under 8 minutes per mile. Indeed, I planned this year to do better. For months now, I have had my sights set on medaling in this race. I just barely missed out last year and didn’t want to again.

This race features what one of the volunteers calls “organic” scoring: no mats and no timing chips, just a clipboard and a pencil. As such, it’s incumbent upon me, with my goal of a medal in my division, to start the race on the starting line. I don’t realize, foolishly, and yet again, that I’ll be smoked out of the gate despite getting the fastest start I can.

By the time we hit the first hill, my legs actually feel a bit like jelly and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to stay on them up to the top. I’m passed by this one. I’m passed by that one. There goes the 16-year old girl. There goes the silver-haired man. There go people in my division. The 10-year old kid who bolted off at the horn won’t be seen until I’m at about mile 1.3 (which means he’s coming back and is at mile 2.6).

I’m in trouble, but I won’t give up. I’ve already decided that, given who flew off at the start and who has already passed me, I won’t be winning a medal this year. Okay, so let me at least try to beat last year’s time.

First, I need to get up that hill. Toward the top, I’ll pass a gorgeous, huge green building with an old-fashioned look to it. I decide to take a picture, and then realize it’s a funeral home. I decide to withhold photography. Soon past that, the course has flattened for a little. It’s a welcome reprieve though there are hills aplenty to follow.

photo 3-24At mile one, I’m ten seconds slower than I was last year. I’m pissed, but I do feel like I’m giving it my best race effort.

Before long, I remember what one of the biggest issues with this race was last year. It’s the same thing this year. THE ROADS AREN’T CLOSED! Cars gently weave and runners do the same. At a gas station I speed up to close the gap between me and the pack in front of me, hoping to dissuade a motorist from making the turn onto the street directly into me. Despite this, he’s not even looking as he rolls forward. I scream and flail my arms at this genius and ask him about a duck (maybe he heard truck). I guess the cops at the corner hear the commotion because on my return, I’ll discover them at the gas station policing traffic.

There’s a field of green to the right now. Selfie time.

photo 4-14If you look at my head above my ear, it looks like I’m really going fast, or I’m really struggling. Make your pick.

Continuing up and down the hills, I tell myself I really undertrained for this. Last summer, I just had a habit of running hills. I was training for my first 10K, and doing lots of shorter runs. This year, I’ve trained for endurance so I can complete a half marathon in October. I’m slower than last year and the hills are the worst I’ve had in a race since May (ironically the last time I placed in a race).

Now I come to the scenic highlight of this course. It’s a quick reward for the hills. It’s also the halfway point, so I prepare to turn around. Hey, I’m halfway done! Hey, those hills aren’t going anywhere!

photo 5-9I pass the gas station where the cops are now a little bit more proactive. There’s one final hill, and it just may be the longest of the course. I know the sweet relief that’ll come at the top: a nice downhill and flat finish. Last year I was astounded to finish the third mile of the race under 8 minutes. This year, with my hopes of a medal having dissipated and my next goal of beating last year’s time out of reach, I resolve to just finish fast. I charge down the hill, passing a 10-year old girl (no sympathies, sorry), and dash through the finishing chute. They take my picture, a lady writes down my bib number, and I stumble over for water. The guy asks me if I set a new Olympic record and I have to laugh but tell him, “I don’t think I set anything today.”

I am confident I ran a good race. I recovered from a tough beginning and finished with negative splits. The loss of time from last year wasn’t in the running of the race. It was in the training. Still, it’s a gorgeous day, and I have nothing to complain about. I decide, however, to mill around and relax a bit. You know, take in the scene.

photo 1-28Soon, they’re announcing the overall winners of the race. No times are given, just names. But since I’m standing right near where they are writing out the winners, I decide to wait and see. Who knows? It’s possible all those dudes are younger than me and just look older. Or they’re older than me and look younger. I’m not optimistic by any stretch, but when I picked up my bib, it looked like a small field in my division. At the very least, I was curious to know by how much I did miss a medal.

I check once, and the lady is going through a pile of papers and writing out names. She’s not even close to completing my division. I walk around a bit. I come back and look at the heading on the paper on which she’s writing: 5K Females. Still? I look again. It’s actually males. My eyes go down to my division, 20-29, and I look. There’s nothing there. The one division I need to see and she still hasn’t gotten to it. I’m not openly complaining about the manual scoring like the woman in front of me, but now it’s starting to be annoying.

As I’m thinking, I suddenly have an epiphany: I’M NOT EVEN IN THE 20-29 DIVISION ANYMORE! My eyes go to 30-39. If there’s any good news, it’s going to find me right now.

And it does. Scrawled next to 30-39, right after the number 3, is my name. Shockingly, having run a considerably slower race than I did last year, with so many seemingly strong runners smoking me, I’ve come away with the bronze. I claim my medal and receive hearty congratulations. This is one fulfilling victory, for sure.

photo 2-28Who would have thought it? I didn’t shave my head the night before, breaking a tradition that’s lasted almost two years. I dried my shorts in a food dehydrator. I nearly puttered out before I even got my legs going. And yet, somehow, I came away with a medal, just as I intended to all along. Maybe I got lucky with the runners in my division, but I can only run against those who are there. This is one medal I am quite proud to have attained.


Distance: 3.16 miles (officially a 5K)

Time: 25 minutes, 26 seconds

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Looking ahead: Back to work tomorrow, and back to rest, as well. Tuesday – four miles.

 

 

 

 

My Running Log: 4.06 Miles by the Light of the Silvery Moon

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Today, I give myself a break. I allow myself to sleep past 5. The break from a super early wake up has a caveat, however. I am skipping the run at dawn and opting instead to force myself to get through a day of work in my non-airconditioned room on one of the hottest, stickiest days we have had all summer.

It’s an exhausting day, though. By the time I get home, not only am I sticky and sloppy with my sweat*, I’m just exhausted. I tell myself it’s still too humid to run. Once the sun gets lower, I’ll be in better condition to go. Instead of running, I nap for close to an hour.

Once I wake up, I need to continue waking up. You wouldn’t know it if you never did it, but teaching is an exhausting job. Some days you literally do not get a chance to sit. And, while it’s true I “only” have 12 students, they are, as I say, “12 students going in 12 different directions.” I’m done with the soapbox spiel.

Now the issue becomes that I need to eat dinner, but not before I run. I’m also waiting to time my run so that it’s mostly dark by the time I get home. Dusk this time, rather than dawn.

Before I know it, I look out the window and it’s already getting dark. There are no more 8:30 sunsets this year. Chasing daylight, I hurriedly pull on my tank top, get my iPod, ID, and light, and head downstairs.

A gentle breeze greets me once I step outside. Ah, so I’ve timed it perfectly. It’s cooled off considerably. Well played, runner. Well played.

Only not quite. By the time I hit .15 miles, I realize I’m wrong. Though it’s almost dark, it’s still pretty darn humid. I hum along briskly enough, though, trying of course not to overdo it. By the time I get to 1.2 miles, I’m really slogging through. I’m starting to drip sweat (as I’m known to do). Two miles doesn’t seem to be coming as soon as I’d like. At least I pass a few other runners on the way out. That feels good. The sweat does, too. By my turn around, I’m doing nicely. I’ve loosened up the old cranky muscles and I’ll coast home from here.

Of course, I make that familiar trail of sweat drops through the lobby, into the elevator, down the hall, and into the kitchen, and eventually bathroom. My white tank top is now see-through. (Thankfully, I encounter no one to offend and am able to ride up alone). A shower is necessary, and immediately. A day’s worth of sweat goes down the drain.

After that, dinner, Mets game on the radio, and this post. Another run in the books, and I’ve got the miles I needed.

*I am a prodigious sweater. It really doesn’t take much at all. The amount of sweat I excrete is legendary in my family. When particularly drenched with sweat, family members have been known to say, “I’m sweating like Matthew!”


Distance: 4.06 miles

Time: 37 minutes, 33 seconds

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Looking ahead: Tomorrow – rest day. Or I’ll do an easy, slow 3 miles. Sunday – race day at the Putnam County Fall Classic 5K. Last year’s was one of the fastest races I’ve run and I’m hoping to improve this year.

 

My Running Log: 6 Slow, Clear Your Head Miles

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It’s 4:30 am. My alarm hasn’t done its job, but it also hasn’t yet had the chance. I’m up 15 minutes before I planned to be. All the better. That gives me time to get my run in without the risk of having a pre-work Sweat Fest like I did on Tuesday. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

The only question is if I’m going to do four or six today. I’m pretty sure it’ll be six. Yes, it will. Six it shall be.

It’s a perfect morning for a run. It’s also 4:57 when I start.

Things I love about running at that hour:

  • On a clear day the stars are dazzling. Hey there, Orion!
  • There is a stillness in the air. A lot of it.
  • I enjoy being part of the stillness beginning to stir as the day begins.
  • It’s nice and solitary out on the road.
  • I get back and feel like I’ve already moved a mountain for the day.

Things I’m not too crazy about:

  • It’s dark. When there are no street lamps, sidewalks can become perilous.
  • It’s a little desolate.

I don’t know how much of a difference there is between 5 am and 4:57, but apparently it’s big enough to make me rethink my planned route. Originally, I intended to run to the highway path, pretty much complete it, then turn back.

I changed my mind. When I hit that path for a short while (.5 mile – 1 mile), it’s one thing. I know those parts better and don’t really have to worry about dark spots. Further down, I don’t know what the ungodly 5 am hour looks like there, so I just wasn’t thinking it was the place for me to be.

Instead, I’ll stay on main streets. (That gets the parents’ approval). I’ll do the back way by my house, sure. That’s habit. But once I connect with the main street, I’ll stay there and only turn down other main streets.

I’m slow today, but I’m more than fine with it. It’s the first day students come to school, so there’s plenty to think about and a strong need to be relaxed heading to work. I’m not looking to stress my pace. I’m looking to log my miles and use the time to tumble thoughts in my crowded brain.

So I do. The thoughts range but by the end of the run, things are clearer. All that was heaped into my brain has been sorted. Problems have solutions. Issues don’t seem as big as they did. Words I want to use are more finely tuned.

As I sip water before the students arrive, I read the words my bottle displays: “Great runs make better days.”

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DIstance: 6.01 miles

Time: 1 hour, 1 minute, and 6 seconds

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Looking ahead: Tomorrow – 4 miles, but this time how about at a more normal hour? No early alarms for me: a post-work run it shall be. Saturday – rest day.

My Running Log: 4.14 Miles and 40 Minutes of Sweat

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For the first time since June, the alarm rings because it’s time to get up for work. I’ve set it especially early for this morning. Up at 4:45, I’ll be out the door by 5, get my run in, come back, shower, and get to work.

I bounce out of bed, not daring to give myself any snooze time. The run has to happen. It’s important to set the tone from day one. You will work. You will run.

Downstairs, I open the door to step outside, and GOOD LORD IT IS DISGUSTINGLY HUMID. How is it like this at 5 am? I just figured it’d be a bit chilly, so I wore a short sleeve shirt. No chill. No gentle breeze. No nothing. Just hot, thick, sticky, dense air.

I turn on my iPod. It asks me to please connect it to a power source. Great. I’ll do these four miles with silence (except for the chirping of the crickets, which is oh so pleasant).

I’m unnerved by the sound of my feet hitting the pavement. It’s so quiet outside that I can really hear them and the sound bothers me. I don’t have any options, though. One foot in front of another. I feel good. I feel like I’m drifting along nicely. I wonder how fast I’m going and whether the humidity is affecting my time. I check Runkeeper, and OH JEEZ LOUISE it’s all messed up. Instead of being at .10 miles, I’m at .30. No way.

Now, I have to do some math to figure out where the real mile markers are. When I pass the first one, Runkeeper is over by about .2. I’ll turn when it gets to 2.1 and make up the rest at the end.

By the turnaround point, I’m dripping. There’s no sun yet. In fact, there are barely the faintest wisps of sunlight thinking about emerging. I pass four people this morning – a walker, a biker, a dog walker, and another runner. Surprising, I think, because, for pete’s sake it’s not even 5:30. Either these people grew up on farms or they’re teachers going back to work.

Heading home now, and I’m drenched. It’s even difficult to breathe. I’m reminded of what I read in a book recently, how you can always tell the experienced runners because they’re breathing easy and not sucking wind the entire time. I don’t look too experienced then. To make up the GPS error, I have to add about .2 when I get home and by this point, I don’t know where the sweat starts or ends.

I get upstairs, make a path of sweat drops into the kitchen, and immediately crush two large glasses of water. I want to shower, but I need more water. After I down it, I head into the shower, where I sweat some more. Once done, I mop the water off my head and face and make an attempt to get dressed. But I’m still sweating, and profusely so. More water it is.

I know my body is being a pal and trying to cool me off, sure. Only thing is, now that it’s been about 20 minutes, I’m starting to wonder just when it’s going to realize the job is done. Water, water, water. I’m standing in a towel at this point so I can sop up all the sweat. Into the living room I go, and turn on the air conditioner. Sitting in a cold room while sweating may not be the wisest, but I need to cool off so I can get dressed and go to work. About 10 or 15 minutes pass, and sweat continues to bead. This ain’t right. I’m already moving onto a second pair of underwear after the first pair got soaked when I tried getting dressed. Will the sweat ever abate?

Finally, with more water and sitting in the air, I begin to dry up. My towel is soaked (and I hope there’s no sweat on the leather), and it’s time to make a second attempt at getting dressed. Ah, this time, everything comes on effortlessly. It’s time to go to work!


Distance: 4.14 miles

Time: 38 minutes, 54 seconds

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Looking ahead: I have so much to get done with work, that I think (even though the calendar says it) I have to skip tomorrow’s six miles. But I have Thursday and Saturday empty, so I’ll have to move it to one of those days. Gotta get those miles.

My Running Log: 10.08 Make it Happen Miles

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Make it happen. That’s one of my mantras. Don’t talk about it, don’t come up with excuses about it, just make it happen.

Tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of the first run I organized for my running club. Four of us headed to a local track and alternated running and walking. We supported each other and pushed each other. I was tougher than anyone on everyone else. I wanted them to make it happen.

Group runs continued for a while. Venues shifted a few time. Members joined, dropped off, and came back. Since then, only two of us have consistently been making it happen. Life intervenes at times, but running goes on. You make it happen.

And so, with a half marathon looming on the calendar, the long runs get longer, and the anxiety gets stronger. But, at all times, the mantra remains the same: Make. It. Happen.

I woke up this morning at 6:05, running clothes already on. I slept in one of my favorite race shirts, knowing I would want the happy, proud memories of that race from June on my mind as I ran today. My hydration belt was packed with coconut water (a treat), dried bananas, and raisins. Pre-run, I prepared a piece of toast and spread some grape All Fruit on it. Some water down the hatch, and it was time to make it happen.

Only thing was, man, was I nervous. My stomach was in knots. TEN MILES? Okay, last week I did nine, but come on, now. TEN?? I had a route planned in my head: run north to the park, loop around it, head onto the highway path and back, loop the park again, and head back home. It kept me local, but it meant hills. TEN HILLY MILES?

Make it happen.

And so, there I stood, outside my building. The sky was gray. The air felt fine. I took some deep breaths, thought about the monster that stood before me, switched on my Runkeeper, and began to make it happen.

Slowly, slowly, slowly I began. Figuring I needed all the energy I could muster, I went slowly, slowly, slowly. It felt awkward, but having never run such a distance before, I figured slow and steady will make it happen.

One mile in. Nine miles to go. NINE MILES TO GO? Nine miles to go. Suddenly, the hills of that park don’t seem like such a good idea. Rather than turn right, I turn left. I’ve run here so much lately, but today it is not THE run, it is just part me making THE run happen.

photo 1-26On to residential streets I turn. How far out will I go from here? I can run to three miles, turn around, run the park once, then do the length of the highway and back, and head home. That’s 10. Or, I can go to five, skip the park, hit the highway, and head home. I can do six, do the highway, finish at 10, and walk home. Or I can just keep going, figure it out, stop stressing it, and make it happen. Onward I go.

I know hills are coming. Here they are. They undulate beneath me. This first one wasn’t so bad, but it may be on the way back. I think it’s flat the rest of the – WHAT? What is this?! Why am I suddenly going downhill so sharply? You mean I have to come up this way on the way back? This may have been a mistake. Ugh.

Quit your crying. Just make it happen.

Around three miles in, I comment to myself, since there’s no one out, “Wow, there’s no one out.” A random car goes by, but mostly, it’s me, the road, and the austere buildings. It’s early Sunday, so I guess there isn’t much for people to make happen.

photo 2-26It’s around this point that I say, again to myself, “Okay. You’re just a 10K plus one mile away from finishing.” Then I chuckle. I’m “JUST” a 10K plus one mile away from finishing. But there’s no other option available: I’ll make it happen.

I enjoy the solitude. Talk radio plays in my ears. They’re talking about food allergies and the host is allowing the female guest in studio to speak much more than the male guest on the phone. They talk about schools and how much more needs to be done for kids with food allergies. I wonder, will my school or the city of New York ever allow spare epipens in the building if an undiagnosed child suffers an allergic reaction? It’s scary to think about the consequences of allergies. My mind is engaged. Legislators need to do a better job of making this happen.

I’m in a neighborhood where I’ve enjoyed plenty of long walks. There are lots of dead ends to turn down, and I promise to on the way back. But oh! Here are two streets that aren’t dead ends. I like that better. I’ll definitely hit those on the way back. I’m remembering a small park on this street that gives a beautiful view of one of the area’s other bridges. I hope it isn’t too far. Just as I think that, the park pops up. Can I go down that hill toward the bridge? Yes. Can I get back up the other side? Maybe. I’ll make it happen.

photo 3-22Up the hill I creep. It is short. It is steep. I’m in the shadow of the bridge (on days when there’s sun, that is). At 4.3 miles, I’m not even at the halfway point of this baby, but I’ve essentially gone as far out as I’m willing to. Time to turn back and make use of those side streets. The birds on the electric pole seem disinterested in me. Or maybe fascinated. I imagine they’re tweeting about me: “Whatever he’s doing or wherever he’s going, wouldn’t flying be a better way to make it happen? #birdchat”

photo 4-13They’re unaware, but I’m certainly not, that suddenly my stomach is killing me. Ah, the dreaded gastrointestinal issues. Ever since that time I ate yogurt before a run a long time ago, they haven’t been an issue. Today they are. Just get through it, damn it. Grit your teeth and makkkke itttt happennnn.

I do. It passes. Down the side streets I go. Can we get to five miles please? Okay, thank you. Five miles down, five miles to go. Well, at least that’s less than a 10K. Those hills loom, though. Before I hit them, I’m barked at ferociously by a tiny dog (get over yourself) and I pass some of my favorite waterfront houses in the neighborhood. I wonder how they made it happen.

photo 5-8Back home I must head. The steady downhill has become a steady uphill. It may slow me down, but how many times have I run in that hilly park before? This is, surprisingly, nothing. I make it happen.

Sooner than I expect, with fewer miles than I anticipate, I’m not far from the park in which I planned to run and the adjacent highway path. At seven miles, it’s time for a selfie. I take about nine shots on the run and at least one of them makes it happen. Barely.

photo 1-27

Man, I love that shirt. Queens knows how to make it happen.

I’m retracing my steps and I’m closing in on the highway path. I step on at 7.95 miles, and before long, I’ve passed eight, which seems like nothing when two more await. (Notice the rhyme I just made happen?)

Ugh, I really don’t want to turn around and run back up that hill back home. I really don’t. I’m feeling it now. It feels like I’m lumbering. Am I delirious yet? No. Am I bargaining? Big time. I’ll make this ten miles happen, but I’m making it happen the easiest way possible.

So I stay on the highway path, and at the first overpass I encounter, I head over the highway. I’ve already set a new personal best once I put my foot down on the opposite side. I’m at 9.15 miles. It’s all gravy, baby from here. I’m going to make this happen.

One last psychological barrier awaits. Damn, this stretch looks long and boring. Once I get to the end of it, though, I’ll turn right and be half a mile from making it happen.

photo 2-27At the light, I turn right. The finish line is in sight. (In my mental eye, at least). It’s all downhill from here, and that’s meant as a good thing. How many times have I finished a run coasting down this street? Many. But I’m not coasting now. I’m just trying to get home and celebrate by not moving. Right before my corner, another runner is heading in the opposite direction. He’s sweating. He’s charging up the hill. He’s flashing me the coveted thumbs up. He’s telling me to make it happen.

Thanks, dude.

Down my block I turn, begging Runkeeper to turn to 10.00. It won’t oblige, so I run around the dead end a little bit and finally, turn back into my complex at 10.01. Ah, yes! I’ve made it happen! I stop in front of my building, debate my options – collapse, sit, walk – and opt to walk. I send a screenshot to people who are interested and we revel in the accomplishment virtually. Their support has helped me make it happen, too.

Upstairs I go. Time to rehydrate (I weighed myself and see I’ve dropped five pounds on the run), shower, and share this story with anyone else who thinks they can’t make it happen for themselves.

Two years ago today, prior to the first meeting of my running club, I headed down to where the first leg of today’s run took place, by the bridge, and ran the short path. It was .7 miles, and at the end of it, I was sucking some serious wind. I walked back to the start and did it again. That was enough for me. I had a total of 1.4 miles of running over two runs, a walk permitted between them. Today, it was 10.08 non-stop miles.

Wherever you are in your running career, whatever goals you’re pursuing, let that anecdote show you that you, too, can make it all happen.

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Ten miles? Made it happen.


Distance: 10.08 miles

Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes, 44 seconds

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Looking ahead: Tomorrow – it’s Labor Day, so I shall not labor. Rest day for me, but I’ll do some stuff to get ready to head back to work. Tuesday – first official day back (no students yet). There’s no run scheduled for now, but on Wednesday, the challenge of balancing running with work begins with a six miler on the calendar.