|Jim loved his job as a fire ladder inspector|
When I woke up Saturday morning, I waddled down stairs (calves sore from Thursdays Turkey trot), flipped on the computer, and stared at the course I had laid out earlier in the week for the mornings run. Fridays run was hard - not because of the effort, but because I was excited to finally be increasing my mileage. Normally, this run would not even register as anything special - eight miles is pretty tame for Saturday mileage put in the perspective of the years training. But, finally, the schedule called for building some mileage. "Let's get to it!" as my only thought all day Friday, and I even had a hard time getting to sleep that night.
The achy calves gave me some pause Saturday morning. Will I make it worse? Am I going to have to miss more time because of being too excited? Over-thinking is a running theme in my life. So I did what I do best, just turn off my brain and go through the routine.
Heart rate monitor, check. "Rain hat", check (always wear a hat in the rain, even over a stocking hat, keeps the water out of my eyes). Socks (temperature appropriate - 54 degrees at 7 am, temp dropping throughout the day), check. Garmin, already charged the day before, awesome. Nipples taped...you get the idea.
Stepping out the door, I was glad to see that the rain was only a light haze at the moment with only a few relatively larger drops here and there. OK, I can make this work.
I took off down my normal path. Living on the fringe of a suburb, my routes can go only a few ways, and all of them involve running on the crushed rock, and heavily crowned, shoulder for at least a half mile in traffic. Today's route would take about a full mile on the shoulder to start. Early Saturday and rainy, not many drivers out, and the handful of cars I encountered gave me plenty of room. The soft shoulder did not present much issue, either. By the time I made the turn into the first neighborhood I encountered, my pace was easy, almost too much so. I had to consciously rein myself in or I knew the tank would be dry the last few miles. Many a great run are lost in the first few miles.
The neighborhood is flat-to-downhill heading down to the running trail I like to run on. As long as my split is at least 30 seconds slower than marathon pace here I am happy. I start mile three after a minute or two on the trail, and it is here that my pace will slow to a good minute slower than marathon pace. I consciously made the decision to slow down and didn't even mind my Garmin. It felt like a much slower pace, and it felt very easy. I was shocked when I saw mile three clock in at 8:34. Marathon pace is 8:00 min/mi, so the chance of tapping mile seven and eight too early was real. But it felt so great, that I rolled with. What the hell, I wasn't going to get any stronger not pushing it on occasion.
Mile four was much the same story. Again, the decision was made to dial it back. If I pass halfway still feeling like the horses are in the stable, I'll let them out on a short leash, I thought, feeling "awesome". Again, favorite word.
Mile five is through an older neighborhood, one I have run about a hundred times. Before my wife and I moved to our current, we lived about two miles from here, and I had run these sidewalks (and hills) so many times I can run them in the dark and miss the sections buckled by tree roots without a problem. I picked up the pace slightly. Quietly promised myself that I would blast mile six if I could just hold back a little longer.
8:23 later, I dropped the hammer for a half mile, letting my legs stretch out. My stride felt perfect. I pictured my legs and knees moving like pistons in an engine, picking them up and putting them down, trying to minimize contact with the ground. 3:45 later, I took the foot off the pedal. My legs were ready to keep at it, but not today. There will be time for that this winter. Today is too soon. Just getting back into the swing of training.
Mile seven and eight were both well below 8:30, and my warmdown run and cooldown walk felt great. Not a thing wrong. Normally I take inventory of the little dings that accumulate through training, especially as I build mileage, but this winter will be different. I've promised myself that. Spring will be the time to press the edge. This winter will be all about stretching my legs out when it feels right and clocking lots of enjoyable miles.
Best of all, I hardly noticed that rain. Until I started walking down the sidewalk to our house and saw a few drops hang on, hang on, then fall off the visor of my hat, I had hardly noticed it. And it had picked up considerably by now. I wondered how long it had been like that. Somehow, I had tuned it out by focusing on my effort. It wasn't quite "in the zone," but it felt great. Can't wait to get back there again.
That brings me to an aside: I have a buddy that has tried and stopped running at least three times in the past four years, even sticking with it for a year and a half. He asked me the second time he picked it up how it was possible to get out there everyday and still enjoy it. I told him (to the best of my memory):
"I don't love every run. In fact, I bet nine out of ten runs aren't enjoyable. AT LEAST nine out of ten. It's the feeling I have all day after a morning run that makes it worth it. And when you have the one run out of ten where everything clicks, you can't wait for the next one,"
He didn't end up sticking with it, but he'll be back.
My takeaway is that the mental side of running is so much bigger than the physical side for us everyday runners. We don't have coaches dragging us out on the track to hit our workouts, or logging our splits or making sure we eat right. We are, for most of us, on our own. And today, I found a new side of myself, all over again. The side of myself that revels in the challenge. Funny, looking back, my cross country coach always complained that my PRs were always set on the hilly courses, and not the flat ones. The mind is an incredible muscle!
Hope you get out there next time inclement weather comes your way. Throw on an extra pair of socks if it is too cold, put on a hat if it is raining, and if it is snowing, well, it doesn't get much better than that.