Monday, September 24, 2012

Uncharted Trails

Saturday morning meant another long run. My training plan called for ten miles, but I'd already accomplished that. It was time to go above and beyond. I was going back to the Airline Trail for a twelve mile run, longer than anything I've attempted.

Thankfully it was another perfect day. I brought a water bottle filled with Gatorade to carry with me. I resolved to stop for a swig every three miles. I found the starting mile mark at precisely noon and hit the trail.

The first miles were easy. I had no trouble knocking off the first three at a nine minute mile pace. I stopped for my first drink and felt fine.

The next three miles were on a part of the trail that was a little rougher: washed out and slightly uphill. I missed the five mile marker the week before. I had a pretty good idea of where it was this time, so I hit my stop watch as I passed it. It's a good thing I did, because thirteen minutes later I hadn't encountered the six mile marker. I stopped for a drink, turned around, and headed back where I came from.

I was experiencing some discomfort on the way back last week. My feet were sore and tired, and my right inner thigh hurt every time I picked up my foot. Not so this week. I felt strong and determined. My pace was slower, but I was still in the 10-10:30 per mile range. I still had some energy when I passed the ten mile mark. I finished twelve miles in 2 hours 5 minutes. Not bad! Best of all, I felt okay when I walked back to the car during the cool down.

My legs were tired for the rest of the day, but I was far from wrecked. When I woke up the next day I felt stiff, but not too bad. It was another gorgeous day. I could have followed my plan and done 30 minutes of easy running. I had gas in my tank, but I decided to spend it cutting my grass instead.

Next Saturday is the last long run before the race. The plan calls for twelve; I'll go above and beyond again and shoot for 14 miles. If I can do that, I know I'll finish this race in fine style. After that, I start tapering down for the race.

I'm going to hold at this level for a while. I'd like to try a few more half marathons and see how I feel before deciding on my next step. This has been a terrific ten weeks. I doubted whether I'd be able to do this when I started, but those doubts are almost gone.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Personal Best

I'm close to the end of week 10 in my training plan. My last entry hinted that my journey to the half marathon might be at a premature end, pending the outcome of a long run.

The results are in: all is well.

My training plan called for an eight mile run. The weather was exquisite last Saturday: sunny and cool as befits a late summer day on the cusp of autumn. I decided that long runs were best attempted on the Airline Trail, a rails-to-trails project that runs from East Hampton through Colchester, Hebron, and beyond. It's a straight shot, interrupted periodically by intersecting streets. I drove to a small parking lot off Route 85 and found the wooden post with the numeral ten on the left side of the trail. Miles are marked by numbered posts along the entire length, so keeping track of my progress was mindless and easy.

The surface is packed, dressed gravel that's easier on the feet than pavment. There's a canopy of leaves overhead. The trees seemed to act like a natural wind tunnel: there was an intermittent, comfortable breeze in my face for most of the run. Lots of other people had the same idea as me: to be out on foot, bike, or horse on a beautiful day. The traffic was still light compared to my usual routes on the road.

The first five miles felt easy. I was comfortable the whole time. I had trouble seeing the post with the five on it, because it was obscured by shrubs. I ran past it for a minute before turning back and correcting my error. The miles added up with each step. Soon I had matched my previous best of seven miles; then eight and nine went by. That last mile was a struggle mentally. My feet were tired. A muscle in my right inner thigh complained a little every time I lifted my foot. I kept waiting for "runner's high" to make an appearance and ease my suffering, but endorphins were in short supply. I only had two thoughts: to finish the run and to stop. I managed to accomplish both, finishing the run in 1:42. It was the longest run of my life. Now I know that I must have been hallucinating when I recalled a run of that distance when I was 21. There's no way I would have had the patience to run for that long a period of time.

I was dog tired for the rest of the day, but recovery was swift. I had a good yoga session at home on Sunday, and my regular ninety minute class on Monday night. I soon felt like myself again.

I've had two more runs since that personal best. I ran four miles inside on the track on Tuesday, because weather threatened to make running impossible after work. Conditions were delightful after work tonight. I ran the three miles that my plan called for. Dare I say it? The run felt easy. I experienced no pain anywhere. I could have done more. I had a lot of gas in the tank when I returned home.

Saturday will mean twelve miles on the Airline Trail. I'll be in uncharted waters again. My confidence is growing. I think I might succeed in this venture.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012


I had a setback this week in my preparations for the Hartford half marathon. I did a seven-mile run on Sat 1-Sep. The first two miles were run under threatening clouds; the middle three had steady rain the whole time; the last two were sun-lit. My feet were very tired when I was done, but everything else felt fine.

The following Monday was the Labor Day holiday from work. The remnants of Hurricane Issac threatened us with rain for most of the week, so I decided to forego the rest day and do a four-mile run. I felt okay, which was good considering the long mileage I'd logged just two days before. I can't recall now if I stepped on something and felt a twinge in my left foot. But I wasn't concerned when I done.

I woke up the next morning and felt a lot of pain between the balls of my left foot. It was sore enough and in a spot where I feared a stress fracture at first. I put the thought out of my mind, because there wasn't any swelling. But the pain was sufficient to persuade me to take a break and stay off the road.

I consulted with a number of people about it. I have two daughters who are familiar with such things. My oldest is preparing for her third marathon next month. She got ready last Saturday by running a half marathon in 1:35. The two girls ran 18 miles together a couple of weeks ago, so they know something about running and the injuries that go along with it. Both counseled patience; all I needed was rest and exercises. I got some suggestions for exercises that were sobering. I did calf raises with my heel hanging over a stair that showed my left foot to be dramatically weaker than my right. I have to pay more attention to those. I've done yoga for five years now, but I think I'll have to redouble my efforts. Hips, knees, calves, Achilles, feet - all are connected. My left side is markedly stiffer than my right. A daily morning yoga session before work is an order.

A co-worker steered me to Fleet Feet in West Hartford. I knew that my minimal shoes were due to be replaced; I bought them last year on 22-Oct. The soles are worn away. I picked up a beautiful new pair of blue shoes and a green "Rubz" ball to roll out the knots in my feet. Damn, but that thing hurts! My left arch is in agony when I start using it. The pain subsides after a few minutes, but I'm very tender there. I'll have to be diligent about using the ball, too.

Conditions outside are spectacular today, so I decided to hit the road for a three-mile jaunt in my new shoes to see how my feet would hold up. I warmed up with 30 minutes of yoga, rolling out the knots with the ball, and some strengthening exercises. My times weren't impressive - they haven't been all along - but my feet withstood the road without a problem. They're tired, but there's no pain - until I step on that damned ball.

I've lost a week, but I don't think that's the end of the journey. I'm still hoping to run the half in a month. I'll know better after my next long run on Saturday.

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