Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Learn With Me."


After a gluttonous day of eating anything and everything on Saturday, a fresh coating of snow and a biting wind greeted me for my first ever 17 mile run.  On a typical day, I won't *drive* 17 miles for anything.  I live 8 miles from work and just about everything I need can be acquired within a 10 mile radius.  Now I'm screwing hex-head bolts into my new Saucony's and [under]dressing for a two and a half hour run.

When I was in college at the University of Vermont in the 90s, there was a program on Public Access Channel 15 called "Learn With Me."  It was an instructional program designed to teach someone to play the guitar.  As I remember it, the teacher was a grizzled older guy who looked like he was just coming off of quite the night on the town and stumbled into the studio to sleep it off and ended up in front of the camera.  What made this program stick out in my mind was that I never really was quite sure how the "Learn With Me" title should be taken.  Was is, "I am a trained, skilled guitarist; you can learn while I teach you," or "I really don't have much of a clue what to do with this thing either and I'm just figuring this out myself, so let's learn this together!"

I see this blog as a little (lot) of "Learn With Me."  I learned a lot on this run.  Some things I already knew, such as, "It's colder when the sun isn't shining," "Wind makes it feel colder," "Perspiration is the body's natural cooling mechanism."  I also learned the combo, of "It's a LOT colder when when the sun isn't shining and you're sweating and the wind kicks up."  The reality of that one was still somewhat unexpected and made the run even less fun than whatever you might imagine running 17 miles in February in Vermont is like.

The biggest problem I ran into was that the Town had (as usual) done an exceptionally lousy job of clearing our development and the sidewalks out on the main street.  I learned that I could adapt my pace, posture, and stride on the crumbly, packed snow on the roads and run with very little slippage.  I basically made a conscious effort to pull my shoulders back, drop my pace, and shorten up stride and run with more of a flat-foot strike to engage as many of the cleats on my shoe as possible and push more up than forward to reduce the slipping when I pushed off.  

It worked great to alleviate that "running in sand" feeling, but the slower pace also required less energy which meant that body wasn't cranking out the heat when I got to these stretches in the development.  When I hit salted blacktop, I was able to increase the pace back up and settle into my normal rhythm.  The alternation between the paces effectively meant that I'd run fast on the blacktop to warm up (and sweat) and then slow down on the snow and experience the joy of running in the winter in one layer fewer than I should have had.

I learned that (or at least became aware of) at some point around 12 or more miles, my mind starts to lose focus.  The good thing is that it make running easier and more relaxed.  The bad thing is that running on roads in winter means being alert for and dodging puddles, snow drifts, slush, potholes, and those other things that seem to think they own the road called auto-mobiles.

I learned that the nipple on my Nathan water bottle contracts when it's really cold and can pull right out of the top (and that putting it back in while running is possible, but not exactly easy).

I learned that the sound my wind pants make while running sounds exactly like Tool's "Useless Idiot" and that it mixes very well with the entire Lateralus album (Parabol in particular).

I learned that Gu's Espresso Love gel isn't as bad of a match with Accelerade's Lemon Lime sports drink as you might think.  I still swear by Clif's Margarita Shot Bloks (and need to order more soon!)

Most importantly, I learned that I can run at least 17 miles and not be dead afterward.  I did my 25 jumping jacks & pushups after I was done, stretched, pounded a pint of chocolate milk, showered, and proceeded to shovel more food into my body to try to give back some of the 2100+ Kcal I burned from the run.  Remarkably, when I added up what I ate within a few hours of going out, the ~600 Kcal I had during the run, and what I had in the hour or so after I was done, I managed to eat back my workout (which was my goal).  I also approached consuming a gallon of water for the day!

My overall pace was well off the target for my plan, but considering the conditions, worrying about pace was the last thing on my mind.  I came so close to bailing on the last of the three 5.7 miles loops.  I was cold, hungry, and my foot was starting to hurt.  But what happens if that happens during the race?  Do I really want to have that thought of, "When this happened before, you quit and went home," or do I want to put my head down, suck it up, and spend 45 minutes to finish the damn run (or at least spend 20 minutes to run out to the far point of the loop where I would have to turn around & run home)?  

I signed up for this marathon knowing that the race itself as well as the training would be as much of a mental challenge as a physical one.  At this point, I'm not sure where my biggest challenges (and growth) will come from -- mental or physical.  Every week presents new physical and mental challenges to overcome.  So much of succeeding at ANYTHING in life is dependent on your brain and psyche telling you that you can (or can't) do it.  Every run I do builds more confidence in my ability to actually do this.  

The envelope continues to be pushed.  And it continues to bend.

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