The Reward System

The marathon is approaching fast, and the runs are getting long.

This week is a 36 mile week. Two 5 mile ‘short’ runs, an 8 mile run, and an 18 mile long run. Because of some brutal heat Thursday I rearranged my runs and ran 8 miles this morning, saving the 18 mile run for tomorrow morning in the park.

Wherever you are, you’ve probably heard that there was a heat wave blanketing the Midwest last week. Certainly it was nothing compared to the oppressive heat you find in places that are used to it, but conversely,we are not used to it at all. Evocatively, there were schools in the Midwest that closed due to heat, not being even equipped with air conditioning.

That doesn’t directly affect me, but that heat sure didn’t make me want to hop out onto the road Thursday night.

Storms rolled through Friday and yesterday, and started to break the wave, so I got up early this morning, fed the cats, ate an english muffin with peanut butter, drank a cup of coffee and rolled out for an 8 mile run. Since waking up early took quite a commitment for me, and I’ve got a slow day and wanted to blog, I packed up the netbook, and headed to Twisted rooster here in Belleville, to engage the reward side of all this hard work, and get a nice juicy Roo burger accompanied by a Faygo Rock and Rye float.

Getting ready for the 18 miler tomorrow is going to be mostly psychological. I haven’t had any problems with extending my runs week after week, so really it’s all about getting out early enough that I’m not deterred by heat. Tomorrow though, my reward won’t be a burger and a calorific beverage. Instead my reward will be that Steph will be home from her weekend trip.

The miles are piling up, and the marathon is getting close.

1 month, 18 days until the Detroit Marathon.

The Full

Somewhere back in the archives of this blog, if I look, I think I can find myself telling a story. Certainly, if I’ve talked to you about running in person, you’ve probably heard this story.

It’s the story of why I haven’t run a marathon yet.

When you talk about running, there are countless wonderful conversations you get into about it. With friends runners or not, with strangers who are runners, old runners, new runners. But when you talk to acquaintances, especially non runners, there are four fundamental observations people make. 

  1. “I would run, but running destroys your knees!”
  2. “I need to start exercising. I used to X but now I don’t.”
  3. “Oh, when are you going to do a marathon?”

That third one is the topic of today. Because they never ask, “Are you going to run a marathon?” No, it’s always when, looming large over your whole running career like I’m sure climbing Mount Everest looms over people who mountain climb, or hiking the appalachian trail looms over those who hike, or golfing at wherever golfers want to all golf. 

Maybe that description isn’t apt. The Boston Marathon maybe looms like all those things, and is, aside from a charity bib, the equal in exclusivity. But still, it’s frustrating to have everyone you meet think of every race as a marathon, when you know there’s only one precise distance that qualifies. A distance nearly perfectly designed for the human body to run out of energy before it manages to cover it.

So, inevitably, I have had that conversation with you, runner friend, or non-runner friend, or random stranger who notices my race shirt. And that’s where I tell the story of all the blogs I’ve read that start with, “I’m going to run a marathon” and end with “I ran a marathon!”.

Call it vanity, but I think a blog should have more than a single lifespan, it should have a purpose that transcends the completion of a single thing. So should a person, and I can’t imagine what would happen to me if I ran a marathon and never ran again. I waited until I knew running had me in its total and complete grip, before I signed up for one.

On January 1st of this year, I signed up for one. What can I say, there was a New Years discount! 

In a way, I knew it as soon as the price was a factor. Who runs more than 25 miles just because it’s cheap to do so? But really, I knew as soon as I ran my first race. That first 5k felt like a marathon. Hugging my wife. Lining up for a banana and a granola bar, as if one needed recovery food after a 38 minute 5k. Feeling slightly embarrassed that all this fuss is being made, but at the same time, grateful that all that fuss was being made.

The discount played it’s part, however, and I am signed up and registered for the 2013 Detroit Free Press Marathon. Not the mere Talmer Bank Half Marathon that I ran last year, but the whole damned thing. After this, I can finally tell people, that yes, I’ve run a marathon. After this, I won’t get any more questions of “when will you?” and can instead tell the story of when I did.

First I have to get there.

This was the first week of training, a 14 week plan I laid out based on Hal Higdon’s Novice plan, which commands a mere 4 days a week of running from me, but still creeps upward in mileage in a way that frightens my lizard brain. It tops out at 20 miles, which feels a hundred miles from where I am today, running brutal 11 mile slogs in the heat of the Michigan summer, but also a hundred miles short of 26.2 miles.

I started that training plan, like so many training plans before, with a rest day. Sure, the internet people are all agreed that rest days are important, to allow your body to reap the benefits of exercise, to knit together again those muscles you have pillaged by running far or running hard. It still feels very hard to wake up on Monday morning, first day of the first week of the first marathon training plan, and have your iPhone blinking at you with the reminder e-mail: “Daily Agenda for Donald Sullivan – Rest Day”. Yesterday, crawling my way out of the car after Steph picked me up from an 11 mile run that could easily be characterized as my worst run in months, I feel like I was paying for that rest day in arrears, borrowing from my past self for that care free Monday.

Here it is though, the announcement to the world that I will be running that ‘crowning’ event of road running. October 20th, Detroit. 

Mark your calendars.

3 months, 4 days until the Detroit Free Press Marathon.

Dropped Back

This was a drop back week.

I wasn’t planned to run much and I ran less than I planned. The last gasps of winter made me reconsider my run on Thursday night. It’s rare that I’d let weather beat me, but this week, just once, I did, in order to get the full ‘rest’ out of it.

As a result, I feel more tired than if I’d run the full week. More tired than if I had run intervals that night, and 10 miles today.

I ended last week with a race. A 10k, because this year is a year for distance running. I haven’t run a 10k since 2011, and so my PR was woefully out of date, so Sunday’s 51:15 was a PR by almost 9 minutes.

But that’s all there was this week. Bare facts. Stripped down basics. No poetics.

Day Off

From work, not running.

I had some time off available, and yesterday I noticed my calendar had no important items on it for today. So I took a much needed Mental Health Day. Woke up, had some eggs at Dimitri’s, and gave myself plenty of time to get my 4 mile tempo run in during the daylight hours.

A good day off is one where you don’t worry about the stress that caused you to need that day, and today was a good day off. Coincidentally, a good tempo run is one where you are running just fast enough to be unable to concentrate on rational thought, but not so hard that you can’t form words in your native language in your head. So today was a success on both counts.

My Garmin was out of juice before this run, so I went old school, timing my rough miles around the neighborhood with my sport watch. Over the recent years and months of running I’ve become less dependent on the Garmin (though I still like the record keeping aspect) I was able to keep a decent pace, my watch indicating splits of:

  1. 8:43:15
  2. 8:22:03
  3. 8:27:43
  4. 8:04:15

All things considered, with a target of 8:27 minutes/mile, that’s a pretty good approximation, well within the error one can expect.

The air was cold during the run, and I dressed as normal for a winter run, but with each mile I shed a bit more. Unzipped my jacket and half zip, tucked in my mittens, even shedding my tight running cap, which is very odd for a winter run. But the hard workout still had sweat pouring down my face.

It felt good.

Snow plowing

At work, and I’m sure at a lot of offices, we often refer to “snow plowing” work. Where everything for a project gets delayed because the first thing gets delayed, but the end point stays the same, so all the work ends up jammed up against the deadline.

That was my running last week. That was my blogging last week.

So this is the first of 5 posts about my last 5 runs. Snow plowed into the deadline.

Last Tuesday I was supposed to wake up early and run 5 miles. Only I made no plan to do so, so when my alarm went off at the normal time, I said to Steph, over the howl of the wind, “I was supposed to run.”

Now that howl of the wind I mention is important, because without that, I might have found a way. I might have headed into the office a little later, and worked later. I might have run at lunch, or tried to run between work and my wargaming Tuesday night.

But that was not to be. The wind was howling, and so I delayed Tuesdays run into Wednesday’s rest day. Thursday stayed the same, but Friday, slipped to Saturday. And it all caught up, and wrapped up, on time, with my 8 mile run on Sunday.

More on those three runs in the morning though, for now, I’ve got the first installment done, so let the snowplow begin.

Long Runs, Music, and remote start

Sunlight on a snowy day is something which, before I ran, I rarely got outside to appreciate. I remember it from my childhood, and from the occasional trip to do some winter sport, like skiing or snowboarding, but oddly, it doesn’t fix in my memory again until I began running. Now, the glare of sunlight off of snow is more than something that troubles me on a lunchtime drive. It’s one of the real pleasures of winter, my eyes shrouded behind sunglasses, the sun high above, the world bathed in light reflected off of every surface.

Sunday was such a run. The snow had fallen on Saturday, and had started to melt by Sunday noon, but the effect was still there in the undisturbed parts of the park where I ran.

While I am a fan of road running in general, and have no qualms about stacking up a long run on the roads that spider out from my home, the Lower Huron Metro park, a scant 2 miles from my house has  a 4.5 mile bike path that makes a nice place to do long runs on Sunday, and it’s quite a bit more tranquil to run on the bike path than to ratchet up my vigilance and run on the road. In fact, Sunday I did something unusual and ran with an iPod, music accompanying me through 8 miles in the brilliant sunlight. Interruptions are rare on the bike path; few walkers in the winter, and even fewer of them friendly enough to talk, and vanishingly few cyclists. Astonishingly though, there was one incident of each; a trio of cyclists who insisted on riding two abreast as they passed me (grrrr) and a dog walker who was quoting the song “Rocky Mountain High” at me when I came near. I suspect that Rocky Mountain or not, the last part applied to him. Or he was just a naturally spacey person, who quotes John Denver lyrics at random passers-by.

Then, to round up my run, I tried to take advantage of my car’s remote start, but the design of that system doesn’t account for frantically running by the car at mile 7 pushing the start button while trying not to slow down. As a result, I must have tripped some “don’t start the engine, this guy is clearly crazy” routine in the remote start, and instead of getting in a nice warm car after that last mile, I was greeted by the expected cold. So much for the march of technology, I guess.

Still, the eight mile run felt excellent, and I was done in the early afternoon, so I could enjoy the rest of my day with the satisfaction of a long run behind me.

Week 1 of 11 complete. 2 months, 8 days until the Glass City Half Marathon.

4 miles, easy

Friday night was an easy run. That phrase has a little bit of oxymoron to it. I set out on Friday evening for two laps of what I call “Little Bear”, my original 2 mile course through the neighborhood. I ran all bundled up (including a “Turtle Fur” neck gaiter I’ve become fond of this winter) because 4 miles at an easy pace hardly warms you up in 25-30 degree weather in the dark.

Despite the ‘easy pace’ of the run, the miles took it out of me. I was as zoned (not tired just… breathless) as I have been for much longer runs.

That said, I’m one run away from completing week 1 of my 10 week training plan, and Sunday long runs have always been more of a pleasure when I have the time to savor them. More about that after I run it: I’m sitting in the car finishing this post, ready to set off for 8 miles that promise to be as bright as Friday’s were dark, and as cold as Friday’s were, well, cold.

10 weeks to the Glass City Half Marathon.

Round and round

Last night was the first tempo run in more than 3 months. It seems weird when I put it that way, because I’ve made such efforts to keep running through winter, but there is running, and then there is RUNNING.

A tempo run of 3 miles at 8:22 is RUNNING. I headed out in the darkness after stopping by the gym for a valentines kiss from Stephanie. I ran a mile warmup, trying to psyche myself up for that run, without spilling over and burning too much valuable energy on the warmup.

By the time I reached my mile loop I felt ready, and in fact burned through the first mile at an 8 minute pace, faster than intended. That rush ‘out of the gate’ combined with me trying to eat dinner to fuel for the run meant that the next two were progressively slower. 8:20 and 8:37. My stomach hurt and my energy was at a low ebb by the time that final mile ended.

Not too slow, and I think on average my pace comes out about right, but the objective wasn’t quite achieved. I finished and had to slow to a walk, something I haven’t done in so long that I can’t recall the last time.

That said, the run felt good, and opening the door on my race training was a good enough result. I know that my next tempo run wi be better, and the next will be better than that.

2 months 12 days 12 hours until the Glass City Half.

Waking up

I never wake up early.

Once it was youthful lethargy, the late nights and late mornings of a child, given permission to grow in 4 years of college, and consciously cultivated in a 9-5 office job. I proudly told people that I was, no doubt, up later than they were. I slept until I woke to an alarm that for most of my colleagues would have been a last resort.

When I became a runner, most people had varying degrees of one reaction, that I remember most distinctly from my mother; “I didn’t ever think you’d ever be a runner; don’t you have to get up early?” Even still, I was right there with them, shunning the cliche of the dawn time runner. “It’s perfectly possible to just run during the day or at night after work. Races are early but that’s hardly most of being a runner!”

But near the end of my last training plan I had two things collide that eventually do for every runner. Life vs Training. Do I want to get in my weekly tempo run? Or do I want to have dinner on Friday night with my friends?

There was a third option, of course. And at the time, setting that alarm for the bleary hour of 4:30 seemed like something I could do once, just to get me through that Friday.

But a strange, perhaps predictable thing happened; I actually liked it.

I ran mile repeats out in a neighborhood across the road that by design or happy accident has an almost exactly 1 mile circular loop and is a almost exactly a mile away. Setting out in the predawn darkness, I felt silly wearing my sunglasses, but as the neighborhood and sun awoke at parallel rates I appreciated them. Suburban developments in the fall are lonely places, but in the morning hours as people bustle off for work and school they are a fraction more alive.

While I wasn’t entirely without reservations, I found myself scheduling the next few Friday runs for before work.

Here in the new year, the first run of my training plan for the Glass City half was a 4 mile run on Tuesday. And rather than give up on standing Tuesday plans. I woke up before the sun and set out to that other neighborhood, to watch them wake up, and wake up a little myself.

2 months, 15 days and 9 hours until the Glass City half.

Glass City Half Marathon Training Plan

Two weeks out from the surgery, and I’m really only now starting to feel like myself. Admittedly, most of the disturbance is just inconvenience, which is amazing. The “enucleation of the cyst in my upper maxillary sinus” was a complete success. Whatever the stupid blob on the x-ray was, we now know two things about it.

  1. It’s gone
  2. The biopsy indicates it’s the kind they weren’t worried about.

With it, also gone are three of my own personal teeth; my two wisdom teeth on the left side and the upper molar in front of those two. I can’t chew on one side of my mouth, and I cringe in fear at the idea of crispy, crunchy or crumbly food. There are suture in my mouth and some residual swelling. But I have been running. 2.5 miles last Saturday, 5 miles Sunday, 4.5 Wednesday and a 6 mile run last night. The only thing slowing me down on the road was the ice and snow that has covered Michigan slowly but steadily for the past few weeks. No dramatic multiple foot snowstorm for us, instead we’ve had repeated snow globe days, as picturesque as a Norman Rockwell painting. This last week was my last week of unplanned running. Monday morning I begin the training for my next half marathon, the Glass City Half Marathon in Toledo, OH. It will be my sixth half marathon, and my second in the state of Ohio. I’ve spread my running around the states I frequent here in the eastern side of the Midwest. I’ve run two in Pennsylvania, two in Michigan, and now it will be two in Ohio. My training plan for the Glass City half is from the Runner’s World Smart Coach app, which has been how I’ve planned for my last two races. It’s a reasonable plan, which is available to me for free at the press of a button. Until I find myself craving better results, I don’t see any reason to drive myself crazy looking for a better option.

The basic structure of the week is simple. One long run of steadily increasing distance. One ‘workout’ run on Thursday which alternates between mile intervals and a tempo run, also steadily increasing. The rest of the week is a scattering of easy miles intended to give me the weekly mileage volume appropriate to my goals, in this case about 23-27 mpw. Lastly, because its a 10 week training plan there is one drop back week planned with overall lower mileage and no hard runs around week 5.

I don’t take any credit for this structure; as I said it is lifted straight from the Smart Coach app.

Understandably the plan is intended to flex a bit to accommodate schedules, but I’ve found myself moving my schedule around to work with the plan. Being committed to a running plan and making it happen is enough of a priority to me right now that its worth it to wake up earlier or put off week right plans in favor of a consistent approach.

Today’s 6.5 mile run is my last unstructured run. Time to train.

11 weeks until the Glass City Half Marathon.