Monday, March 7, 2011

The dumb stuff runners stress over

Make no mistake; the benefits of being a runner far outweigh the drawbacks a majority of the time. But there are times I wish I could turn off my neurotic runner’s brain and function like a normal human being, if just for a little while, in order take care of some normal person business. Like, say, during business trips.

I am in Denver (well, Westminster, Colorado to be exact) for a couple of days for a fairly important full-day briefing with one of my largest accounts. I have my contact center specialist with me from Boston, the Account Manager from our channel partner with several of her executives and engineers, key executives from my customer who’ve traveled from Boston and Dallas, and a whole lineup of really smart (not to mention expensive) subject matter experts from my company’s Denver labs lined up to deliver a kick-ass briefing that could position us to do great things with this customer over the next 6 to 18 months. And I’m stressing over what this week will do to my mileage now that I’ve actually managed to string together a few weeks of something resembling training for the first time since before Baystate, last October.

The last time I was in Westminster I stayed at the same hotel—the Westin. It’s a nice place with good facilities and a really nice running trail outside. But that was for a company event and the hotel was overrun by Type “A” nut-jobs like me, and so when I got up bright and early to run on the treadmill the fitness center was packed. I remember running back up to my room, putting on what scant outdoor running gear I had with me and heading out on the trail in single digit temps. This time, betting that without the same concentration of Type “A” nutjobs I’ll be able to get on a treadmill, and knowing the forecast is for snow and it will be pitch dark and probably snowy out on that trail at the hour I would have to run in order to get to the office early enough, I didn’t even bring outdoor running gear—just shorts and t-shirts. I was trying to outsmart myself, see, so I wouldn’t be tempted to do anything really dumb since I am here to do a job and whatever running I get in is just a bonus. And now I’m freaking out over it.

What if I can’t get on a treadmill tomorrow morning? Will there be time between the briefing and dinner? Maybe I should try and bang out some miles tonight just in case…I wonder what time the fitness center opens and closes? What if it’s under construction or flooded or out of order or there’s a power outage or something weird? OMG! I want to punch myself in the face, seriously.

But then that’s the thing about being a work-a-day hobbyjogger--you have to force yourself to keep your priorities in order. Because at the end of the day my boss, my customers, my mortgage company, my kids’ dance school, my oil heat dealer, the United States Department of the Treasury, and a whole host of other people couldn’t give a rat’s ass if I ever break 17 minutes for a 5k road race.

That will be just for me.

Patches of Tartan

The moment I woke up, I knew that yesterday’s little jaunt through Lynnfield and North Reading with Mark and Dan had been a little bit of an effort. There was that good, solid, whole body fatigue—the kind you know is doing the good work. I had to drag myself out of bed and get ready to run but there was never a doubt I’d get up and go. Since I would be traveling all day, it was either then or never.

It was still raining but not hard enough to shake the house, as it had been in the night when I woke up soaked in my own sweat with memory of whatever work-related dream that had caused my panic attack sitting just beyond the consciousness barrier where I couldn’t quite get to it. I would be leaving on flight to Denver for a big customer briefing in a few hours so I’m sure it had something to do with that customer, whatever it was.

Down in the kitchen I checked my phone to see the outside temp—55 and raining with winds from the southwest at 12, gusting to 30mph. Shorts weather. I put on my heaviest, clunkiest trainers for a slow jog in the rain.

Walking down my hill, the snow banks were noticeably smaller than yesterday and I even saw some bare patches of earth here and there. Spring is not far off and we will be able to finally close the books on this ridiculous winter. But damn it’s ugly out—the retreating gray snow banks reveal a whole winter’s worth of trash and sand and branches and muck.

After about two and a half miles, as I was loping past Birch Meadow Park and the YMCA noticing an awful lot of melting had happened on the open spaces of the fields, it appeared—a vague image the kind you’re not sure is real at first but you get closer it becomes real. Buds on the trees, flowers blooming and robins pulling worms out of the ground will all be nice signs of spring and I look forward to seeing them in due time. But for now, that beautiful red surface of the RMHS track was a sight for sore eyes.

One end of the track and infield is still snow covered but it won’t be for long. Sometime soon—possibly even this coming Thursday evening—the track will be open for business. And lane one will once again be for runners.

Later, as I was sitting in Terminal E at Logan Airport doing some work while waiting for my flight, my friend Marc—one of the founding members of the Reading Track Club and a Thirsty Thursday protagonist—sent out an email with the subject “Could it be spring?” including a picture of the track that he’d grabbed from his phone on his way to work. I’m not the only one.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Circles in the dark

The Thirsty Thursday crew (such as it was) took a field trip this week to Ipswich River Park in North Reading. We had heard rumors that the paths around the athletic fields were plowed all winter and I think all of us are getting a bit weary of dodging traffic.

It was a small crew this week, just Mark, Chris and me. I got up there about 6:15 to get in a couple of warmup miles before 6:30. When I pulled in there was only one care in the entire parking lot, a truck belonging to a guy who was throwing a plastic football around the parking lot for his German Shepard. Low and behold the paths were totally clear of snow and ice.

I jogged down the quarter mile path through the woods to the athletic fields. There was one light near the tennis courts where the half mile loop meets the little path to the parking lot but otherwise the entire park was dark. I could see some street lights on the road behind the houses that abutted the other side of the park, but they were basically just landmarks in the distance.

It took a few warmup laps all the way around to feel confident that there really was no ice or holes or anything because for the most part you could not see the surface of the path at all, just the outline of it framed by the snowbanks. After a bout 3 laps, I saw a shape jogging toward me and could tell it was Mark from his gait. We looped the fields a couple of more times before Chris jogged up.

For simplicity's sake we kept it easy and just tried to do something with some turnover. Four times half mile with a half mile easy seemed like the right level of commitment for a workout in the pitch dark in early March when it was 17 degrees out. It was kind of surreal to be running fast in the dark like that without being able to see what you were running on.

When we jogged back to the parking lot later our three cars were the only ones. We caravaned over to Grumpy's for some good beers, good food and some planning of the Trans Vermont Beer Run in July, when it will be just a tad warmer.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tuesday workout

I have been trying to establish a rhythm of doing hard-ish workouts on Tuesday and Thursday, then do a weekend longish run. Thursday is Thirsty Thursday workout with the boys and is intended to be on the track but high school track has been snowed in for three months and we've either been doing hills or just an easy run with some pickups at the end, although a few of those were done in the snow so we just jogged around trying not to get killed. For the past few weeks I've been trying to get into the pattern of going 10 miles or so with some kind of long intervals or a tempo run on Tuesdays.

I'm dragging myself kicking and screaming back to some semblance of running fitness, basically. March 1st is actually a pretty big wakeup call as the rough plan in my head calls for about 280+ miles in March so that in April I can start actually putting down some good workouts aimed at racing the 5k in May and June.

That being the plan, last night I hit the rack early in order to get out early enough to do 10 miles and be back in time to drive Allie to school for Wind Ensemble at 7am. I got up at 5:11 and turned off the alarm before it could go off, got dressed, put in the contacts (the worst thing about being a morning runner) and sneaked down the creaky wooden stairs. A check of the weather showed it was a little warmer than anticipated, about 30 degrees, but windy enough to rattle the windows throughout the old house.

I was out the door just after 5:30 and got my first big blast of icy wind in the face as I made my way down the walk and out the driveway. It was dark but the sky was already showing a little light on the horizon as we are over the hump of winter now. I tried to warm up easy but it's tough when it's that cold--I always end up running a little faster than I want during warm up.

In my head I had one of my staple workouts--I probably do this one every 3 weeks or so when I'm into my base building. It's a really simple formula: 3 miles or so of easy warm up, then 3 times 8 minutes on and 3 minutes off, where "on" is threshold pace or so and "off" is an easy jog. I never really know how fast I'm going on this one. You can really make it as hard or as easy as you want but invariably I wind up making it a tough workout. 8 minutes doesn't seem like much but it can be pretty long when you've started out a bit on the fast side, especially in the early morning when it's cold out side and your nose is running and all that.

The route I was running is about a 10 mile "lollipop" loop that goes out 3 miles, does a 4 mile loop on the north side of town, then retraces the same 3 miles back to home. I started the 8 on / 3 off business right about the 3 mile marker and it took me all the way around the 4 mile loop and a bit more to finish, so by the time I was done with the workout part of the run, I was just over 2 miles from home. I jogged pretty leisurely for a while, my recovery slowed a little bit by having to go up the longest hill on the whole route, until I was about a mile from home and hit a flat stretch. There I threw in 4 x 20 second strides nearly all out, with about a minute or so of easy jogging in between. That took me almost all the way home and I just had a few hundred yards to jog to the bottom of my hill. The nice thing about those on/off runs out on the roads is time flies--a seventy minute run was over before I knew it and I even had time to start the car and let it warm up for a few minutes before driving Allie over to the middle school.