Sunday, October 17, 2010
Some people need to be challenged. Count me among them. Without some ridiculous goal to achieve, I am at loose ends. Last year my goal was to ride my bicycle 1200 kilometers in less than 90 hours. I did it, and came close to killing myself in the process. I learned a couple of things from that experience. One, my capacity for enduring self-inflicted pain is almost limitless. Two, I need to do something other than just ride my bike.
Don't get me wrong, I love riding my bike, and cycling will always be my number one sport. But endurance cycling demands an extraordinary time commitment, and I am at a point in my life where the demands on my time are ever-increasing. So when my best friend Judy began posting on Facebook about running half marathons and, at around the same time, my friend Susan told me about this great half marathon she had run in Vancouver, I thought "Hmm. A half marathon--I wonder if I could do that?'
There was only one slight problem. I've never been much of a runner. There was that one semester of track my sophomore year of high school (I'd moved to a new town and was looking for ways to fit in - silly me) and a 5K charity "run" I've done the last few years, for which I'd start training a couple of weeks ahead of time, and limp around like Captain Ahab for a couple of weeks after, but none of that really counted as running with a capital "R."
So I knew that if I were going to get serious about running, I could not just tie on a pair of trainers and pound down the sidewalk. I needed a plan. Fortunately, in this era of the Interwebs, running plans are a dime a dozen. The plan I chose to follow was recommended to me by pal Susan, who swore by it. It is a "walk/run" program that was developed by a Canadian Sports Council, and it is designed to ease a body into the destructive sport of running without being, well, too destructive.
First step: get a new pair of running shoes. I went to a local running store that offers a hands-on (well, actually feet-on) approach to fitting shoes. While I ran barefoot on a treadmill, a sales associate videotaped my gait and foot strike and, based on what she saw, determined what kind of support (or nonsupport) I needed. She then brought out several pairs of shoes from different makers, and I test ran each pair up and down the block outside the store, finally settling on a pair of trainers that felt pretty good.
I had my shoes. I had my book. I had almost a year in which to train. It was time to take my first steps toward 13.1 miles worth of such steps.
The run/walk program is the athletic version of the frog in the frying pan. Each session is made up of intervals of walking and running (duh), with early workouts being comprised more of walking than of running. For instance, for the first session, I ran one minute and walked two minutes, repeated 12 times. The idea of the plan is that after 13 weeks, you'll be ready to run a 10K. With that base, you can then train for longer runs, such as a half marathon. Although Susan thought that I would find the first few weeks "too easy" (I think she thinks I am more athletic than I really am), I found the plan to be just right and thoroughly enjoyable, despite the fact that it was November and most of my runs were in the cold, damp dark. I will confess that some days were just TOO cold and damp for me to strap on the shoes, which meant backing up and starting some of the early weeks over, but that was okay, because it just gave me more time to get used to the idea of running on a regular basis. As the weeks passed, my walking intervals got shorter, my running intervals got longer, and the overall session time got longer.
When registration opened in January for the Girlfriends' Half, I was far enough into the program that I was confident (okay, sort of confident) that by October I could go the distance, and so I signed up. I also convinced Judy to come up from San Diego for the run. Biking partner in crime Lynne also decided to go for it. She's been running forever, but mostly short-distance stuff (5Ks, 10Ks). A half would be a new experience for her, too. Susan also signed up, along with her friend Jill. So there I was, 10 months to go to my first half, with plenty of time to prepare. Cue foreshadowing, because we all know what the Ploughman Poet had to say about best-laid schemes.
January and February were pretty cold and wet, and I missed a few sessions, and so by March I was still at week 11 in the program, even though I had started back in November. At the end of the first week in March, I began to feel some pain in my left ankle as I ran. I self-diagnosed an overuse injury of some sort; perhaps peroneal tendonitis. To go along with my self-diagnosis, I self-prescribed rest, ice, compression, elevation and lots of ibuprofen. After a week, it felt better, and I decided to try a short run on it. It was a very short run. About 30 seconds in, my ankle exploded.
Yeah, it felt just like that. I could barely make it back to the house. Time to call in the professionals. One MRI later, and I was advised that I was the proud parent of a fibular stress fracture. The cause? The smart money is on catastrophic running shoe failure. An examination revealed that my left shoe had lost almost all its heel rigidity. I later learned that the brand I'd been wearing has a rep for breaking down more quickly than comparable brands, and shoe breakdown can lead to bone breakdown.
The stress fracture had me hobbled for a good 12 weeks. And by "good," I mean, of course, "horrendous." Although the doctor had put me in a walking boot, I was instructed not to walk more than absolutely necessary (i.e. from office to bathroom) for the first 4 weeks. After that, I was allowed to swim, but only with a pull buoy; kicking was a no go. After 8 weeks, I was allowed to kick while swimming, walk short distances in the boot, and ride my bike as long as it did not hurt. Still no running, however. Finally, the first week of June I was cleared to start the walk/run program again, but I had to confine myself for the first few weeks at least to the forgiving surface local high school's running track.
So, there I was with just about 16 weeks to go before the half marathon, and I was just getting restarted on a plan designed to have me running a 10K in 13 weeks. Hmm. Oh well, in for a penny of pain, in for a pound.
First step, procure better running shoes. Said shoes procured, I devoted myself to getting back up to speed. Well, not so much speed as distance. For the first 10 weeks, I stuck to the plan religiously. I ran on the track, I was careful not to overshoot time or distance, and I babied my ankle. After 10 weeks, I continued to follow the set intervals, but I began to add a few more to each session, so as to get used to running for longer periods and longer distances. In August, I tested myself with a 10-mile trail run in Tillamook, and was pleased to find that I was able to run the entire distance and not be the last one to finish (my only goals). By September I was running between 20 and 24 miles a week, with one run of 10 to 12 miles each week. I no longer worried about being able to finish the half, and was starting to think about how quickly I might finish. On short runs, I averaged between 9.5 to 10 minutes per mile, but I was not sure I could keep that up for 13.1 miles. I decided I'd be happy with a 2.5 hour finish.
Flash forward, and it is the week before the race. Time to taper, a concept with which I am completely unfamiliar. Fortunately, I did not have to worry about forcing myself to take it easy, because my body decided to take matters into its own hands. Yup, six days before the longest run of my life, and my right hip decided it no longer wanted to cooperate. I have a chronic piriformis issues related to an injury from a few years back, and at first I assumed that was the culprit. But the pain was slightly different, and there seemed to be some sort of impingement going on in the joint. Shazbat!
Rest, ice, ibuprofen. Rummage through medicine cabinet for ancient muscle relaxants. More rest, more ice, more ibuprofen. By Wednesday, I could jog (plod) on without too much pain, but stopping was problematic. If I stopped, my hip would freeze and getting it to move again was excruciatingly painful. More rest, more ice, more ibuprofen. By Friday, I could start and stop and start again without (too much) pain, and figured I'd be okay for the race. But I was back to just hoping to finish, and not thinking about how quickly I might finish.
Sunday, race day, dawned clear and COLD. 35 degrees an hour before the start, and Judy and I were freezing, but excited. I busted out the wool arm warmers and warm gloves, but I knew that once I started running I would warm up.
There were 2300 women registered for the race, and many of them were walking the course. The organizers did a poor job of staging the runners and walkers, however, so the first few miles were a mosh pit. I ended up running what was for me a ridiculously fast first mile, bobbing and weaving around the pack, just to get away from all those people. Once I was clear of the main crowd, I was able to settle down and find a groove. I am one of those runners who likes to have a soundtrack, so I had my iPod with me, set to shuffle. I did not have it turned up so loudly that I could not hear what was going on around me, however, and so was able to hear the woman who ran up next to me to offer unsolicited advice about my breathing. Apparently it was not deep enough for her taste. I thanked her politely and proceeded to ignore her. I've had enough breathing problems over the years to be full aware of my lung capacity and when I've maxed it out. But, hey, she was only trying to help.
For the first eight or so miles, I averaged well under 10 minutes per mile. But around Mile 9, the course got a little more difficult. There were some (in retrospect) teeny tiny hills which didn't seem all that teeny tiny at the time, and I was definitely starting to tire. At the end of the tenth mile, there was a slightly longer, slightly steeper hill, and my left knee suddenly decided to complain loudly about its mistreatment (my hip, on the other hand, remained silent throughout. Go figure). But once I reached the top and the course flattened back out, my knee calmed down. Starting at about mile 5, I'd decided to walk for one minute every thirty minutes, in order to choke down an energy gel and some water. I'd trained both with and without gels and had not really noticed a difference in how I felt or performed, but I figured it couldn't hurt to have them this time, because I was putting so much more effort into the run than I had into my training. I also walked through each water station (every 2 miles) in order to get a drink. Between Mile 12 and Mile 13, the temptation to add more walking intervals became stronger and stronger, but I resisted the urge. At this point, despite slowing down significantly after 8 miles, I was on track for a 2 hour 15 minute finish if only I could hold on to my pace. I was not hurting anywhere, but my energy stores were clearly depleted. I began to get cold again, even though the sun was warm, and so I put on my gloves and pulled up my arm warmers. I was not lifting my feet as high as usual, and stubbed my toe a couple of times. But I kept going. I even had enough left for a sprint finish, even though because the course took an uphill turn at the very end my sprint became more of a stumble.
Official result: 2 hours, 14 minutes, 59 seconds. It took me a good 4 seconds to get my Garmin to shut of, so it had me pegged at 02:15:03. Whatever.
Was I happy with my result? Damn straight.
My friends were happy, too.
And in case you were wondering, this is the playlist that got me through it (but not necessarily in this order and some things may be missing - I am working from memory here):
Take Me To The River (cover) - Annie Lennox
Tu Mens - April March
London Calling - The Clash
She's Like Heroin to Me - Gun Club
Do it Better - Imperial Teen
Baby and The Band - Imperial Teen
Sick Organism - John Wesley Harding
Still Photo - John Wesley Harding
The People's Drug - John Wesley Harding
What a Life - Juliana Hatfield
OK OK - Juliana Hatfield
Annie - Elastica
Little Sister - Dwight Yoakum
Up the Bracket - The Libertines
What a Waster - The Libertines
Heaven & Back -The Mekons
Holy War -Matthew Sweet
Cosmic Jive - The Minus 5
Lies of the Living Dead - The Minus 5
Talk of the Town -The Pretenders
Let's Go Crazy (cover) - The Riverboat Gamblers
Sugar Cane - Sonic Youth
Youth Against Fascism - Sonic Youth
Me & Mia - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Walking to Do - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
The One Who Got Us OUt - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Teenage Kicks - The Undertones
Love Parade - The Undertones
Lawyers, Guns & Money - Warren Zevon
Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon
Mr. Suit - Wire
Act of the Apostle - Belle and Sebastian
Blues Are Still Blue -Belle and Sebastian
One Way or Another - Blondie
Armalite Rifle - Gang of Four
Man in The Sand - Gordon Gano & The Ryans
Johnny Feelgood - Liz Phair
Persuasion -Patti Smith
Do The Strand -Roxy Music
Books Are Burning - XTC
Heaven in a Black Leather Jacket - The 6ths
Pillow Fight - The 6ths
What wasn't on the playlist, but should have been, was this song, because, dammit, it's true.