Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Two Hundred Miles

A bit over a year ago, we had a re-org at work. One person working for me got laid off, and two others who had been with another related team were added to mine. I got a new boss and a lot less oversight and a larger team, though a bit more responsibility. Overall, it was a good, if difficult, transition. The new team fit together very well, in part because all three ladies now working for me were training for the city's marathon or half marathon in the fall. Since I was the non-runner on the team, they immediately set about converting me.

I'm one of these people who is always meaning to be more fit, but who seldom devotes the necessary time to make a lot of progress. For a couple years, I'd put some work into strength training (and in the process lowered my cholesterol and my weight a little) but we'd moved and become busy and I let it drop. The last time I'd run a race had been a 5k that I ran when I was perhaps eight or nine. (My uncle was an organizer and I heard there was a participation medal for being the youngest runner, but my six months younger cousin signed up too and beat me in that category.) When they started telling me to join them in the half marathon I took a look at the amount of training required to do it and quickly decided I didn't have time. But I did start running, and I ran a 10k last November.

This year the guilt trip worked. One of the women on the team had run the half marathon last year at fifteen weeks pregnant, and before heading out on maternity leave she signed up for the 2015 race when she would be six months postpartum. It was a little hard to respond, in the face of that, that I didn't have time to train for a race. So I signed up, and a week ago I ran 13.1 miles in temperatures hovering around freezing.

I'm enough of a writer that when I have some new experience I immediately start thinking about what I should write about it, yet so far running has eluded my pen. I keep feeling as if I should have some insight into what it's been like to develop this ability, but there's something very non-verbal about the minutes and then hours following the white line on the asphalt which marks the shoulder of our country roads. My body ran. My mind would get restless. I quickly took to listening to books on my iphone while running so that my mind wouldn't spend the whole time trying to come up with rationales for cutting that day's run short.

You can run maybe 5-6 miles on sidewalks here in town without repeating yourself, but if you want to go further, stretches of your run have to be out on the road. There's not much traffic, but what there is tends to be moving fast, so I try to be on the left side of the road. It's less disconcerting when you can see the car coming before it passes you.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the last 14 month process of becoming a runner was getting up to where I could reliably run 3-4 miles without dropping down to a walk at any point. There must be some part of your body which has to reformulate itself. At first, I'd go a mile or two and then breathing would become hard. I'd be gasping for breath and then have to drop down to a walk. Going slower helped a little, but more than that the process simply involved getting my body used to the idea. I'd try to run a quarter mile further each time. As I passed four it seemed to work a little better. Then I could increase by a half mile each week. In the end, I made my goal last year: I ran the 6.2 miles of a 10k without ever dropping out of a run.

I suppose some people run in the winter around here, using treadmills indoors or risking slips on ice, but I don't. In the spring I started running again in a desultory sort of way. I hadn't completely backslid. I could run three miles at a moderate pace (about nine and a half minutes per mile) without dropping out of a run, but going further than that took work -- work that I wasn't able to make myself do until I ran out of time and had to put myself on a training schedule so I wouldn't disgrace myself on the half marathon.

With fourteen weeks to go, in mid July I googled around until I found a training program I thought I could do: run four days a week. Two short runs (3-4 miles), one long run (started at 3.5 and worked up to a final long run of 12 miles) and one slow recovery run the day after the long run (another 2-3 miles.) I put together a spreadsheet and assigned every run to a day. If I had to miss a run, I moved it to another day.

There's something about tracking an activity. I'd been having difficulty finding time to run even once a week reliably. Once I started my self-directed program I knocked out my four runs a week reliably for two months. I hit the rocks when we went on a week long road trip. I skipped short runs, and did a ten miler on hills which left me with sore knees that never really went away. Worried I'd injured my knees, I pulled back on the training for the last month and ran a lot less miles, but I kept up a few practice runs a week and did my longest practice run at twelve miles.

So I ran my 13.1 miles. It was cold before we got moving. It was hot while we ran. It was cold again once I stopped moving. Other times I'd had the feeling that I could have done more, could have gone faster, could have gone further. I had nothing left after the half marathon. I'd run it in two hours, forty-four seconds and I don't know how I could have taken off even the forty-four seconds. Throughout the last mile, I kept arguing with myself over whether my time was good enough already that I could just drop down an walk for a minute. In the end, when I checked my times, I realized that the last mile was the fastest I'd run. I don't know how.

The runners I know at work -- there seem to be a lot of them -- have all been asking me if I'll do it again next year. "Now you know you can do it, and next time you can make a better time!" I'm not sure if I'll do it again. In some ways, I enjoyed discovering that I could do this. But writing a novel and training for a marathon are both major time commitments, and I'm not sure I can impose both of those on the family at once again.

You hear a lot about how exercise makes you feel great. In moderation it does, but as the miles pile up it seems that everyone gets hurt one way or another. Maybe not seriously hurt, but a gathering of runners in the company cafeteria sounds a bit like a gathering of senior citizens: "How was your knee this weekend?" "Well, I'm feeling it, but I'm still moving. I take the stairs slowly. How's your hip?" "It's hurting, but I can take it. Did you hear about Emily's shin splints?"

The week after the marathon I had my team in San Francisco for a conference. We had a car drop us off at the far side of the Golden Gate Bridge and then ran back to our hotel. Since they'd got me into it, it seemed like a good team building event to close out the running season.

Several of us were still sore from the race, hoping not to turn aches into injuries, so we took it slow. However, it added 8.2 miles to the total. I added those and the race into my training spreadsheet and see that since mid July I've run a total of 201.76 miles. That's a ways.


Unknown said...

Not quite a Proclaimer yet... But impressive!

Emily J. said...

A two hour half marathon is nothing to scoff at - nice job! Did you ever read that Haruki Murakami book, "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running?" The answer is he thinks mostly about ... running - and writing.