Sunday, October 16, 2011

"I Need A Break From This Running Crap" and Other Thoughts After Today's Trail Run

I just spent half an hour picking stickers out of my shoes, socks, and toes; my limbs look like I got in a serious fight with my two cats, and when I took off my shoes, I dumped a small mountain of dirt out of each one. Clearly I have just returned from a TTR run.

I have had no enthusiasm for any running at all since I returned from my two-marathon weekend, but the thought of today's run was especially unappealing. It's unseasonably hot here -- high of 97 today -- and there were many pre-run warnings making it obvious that today was a run where Things Would Go Wrong. Some of those warning signs included the following:

*a mysterious change of the distance of the run from 15 miles in the first email sent out about it to "more like 17 miles" in the most recent email.

*an endless set of extremely complicated directions (example: "When you get to the place where the trail disappears, there are three granite outcroppings, and if you cross over the first two of them and then kind of look to the left, there's a cairn there -- but don't mistake the first set of two granite outcroppings for the second set of three, or you can really go off course because there's a cairn there too but it leads to a cow path that goes a long way in the wrong direction", with about a hundred more warnings exactly that specific but impossible to A) remember or B) visualize when the trail is totally unfamiliar).

*an admission by the run director that he himself had gotten lost a few times when running/marking this trail yesterday

*warnings that the Baby Jesus trail was "overgrown" and "sparsely marked" (TTR trails usually are both of these things, but it's not usually considered newsworthy, which immediately raised suspicion)

*the absence of my Garmin due to the fact that it has a dead battery and I left the charger plugged in an outlet in my New Hampshire hotel

But I showed up for this run anyway for a few reasons: I wanted to burn large numbers of calories in order to properly enjoy the last day of Tucson Meet Yourself; I wasn't actually injured and felt obligated to do a long run this weekend (and felt like a long, leisurely trail run with no pavement was just what I need -- remember the "no pavement" clause later on in this report, hahahahaha), and I was curious to see just how badly people would get lost -- how many extra miles would be run; who would come staggering into the parking lot an hour late and out of water; that kind of thing. You know it's going to be somebody on a run like this and wonder if it will be you. That provides a sick kind of excitement -- enough to get me up there to the trailhead this morning even though the sound of the alarm clock at 4:30 a.m. made me want to cry from a sense of unfairness and I managed to drive all the way to Oro Valley before I fully woke up.

The start of the run was easy. The terrain was very gently rolling; whoever was in front of the group was sure of where they were going and did not get sidetracked on any of the numerous horse/cow paths that meandered off from the main trail; the fast people were going unusually slow which allowed everyone to mostly stay together; and the temperatures were perfect. I was still securely in the middle of the pack when we turned onto the Baby Jesus Trail. I was happy in the middle and was determined not to let myself slow down and get spit out the back, because I knew I would then get lost. As we had been warned, the trail was overgrown and my socks and shoes quickly filled up with annoying, itchy stickers. The trail also climbed, a lot. I had been deceived by the thought of this being a "foothills" trail as opposed to a "mountain" trail. Trails with lots of small but steep up- and downhills can be just as tiring as a steady slog up. Fortunately everyone, even the fast people, seemed content to walk the steep uphills.

Things began to go wrong at about Mile Five. I got a sharp, stabbing pain in my toe which could only mean that some kind of needle or thorn or something had gone straight in. I had to stop and take my shoe and sock off. Everyone else ran by happily while I looked for the culprit. This was the toe that blistered so badly in the double marathons, and then blistered again in the half-marathon, and now looks like a mutation of a toe, with all different colors and thicknesses of skin. There was nothing in my shoe or sock or toe, no thorn, no sticker. I had a drink and put the shoe and sock back on and started running again, only to be stopped by the same stabbing pain again immediately. I had no choice but to stop again and take the shoe and sock off again. I checked them thoroughly this time -- nothing. When I pressed on my toe it elicited the same pain, but there was absolutely nothing there. I put the shoe and sock back on and started running again only to have the pain start again right away. I took another drink and contemplated my options. At that point the run director, Doug, who was sweeping the course, came up behind me. I explained my situation and told him I would most likely just take the shortcut option, which cut off about 7 miles from the route. This seemed like a good plan and I figured I would just walk most of it because my toe hurt so much. I told Doug I was fine and he took off.

After he disappeared, I stopped one more time, and took the sock and shoe off again. I found it unbelievable that I could so clearly feel something in there but could not see or feel it to get it out. Finally I found it! It was a long thorn about the width of a strand of hair. Sure enough, it was jammed right under my toenail. I pulled it out and instantly had no more pain at all. My legs were feeling pretty good and there was no longer any reason to opt for the shortcut, except, of course, for the fact that I was now alone on an extremely confusing trail AND the run director was expecting me to take the shortcut back.

I got out my trail directions again and figured I could at least get through the next 3 or 4 miles before running into another problem. Maybe I could catch the group again? I ran those miles as fast as I could but never did catch the group. The trail spit me out in Catalina State Park. I drank about a gallon of water and went to the bathroom and thought about what to do. There were still 7 miles of trail left. I remembered the verbal instructions for this part of trail as being exceedingly complicated during the pre-run briefing, and I had ignored them, both because the end of my attention span had been reached a long time ago and because I had figured I would be with the group. I did have a map but couldn't make any sense out of it at all. So I decided the safest option would be to take the paved road out to Oracle Road and run the 5 or so miles back on Oracle Road to the parking area.

I had been to Catalina State Park before and remembered the restrooms and parking area, where I was now, as being right off of Oracle Road. But when I had been running for fifteen minutes I was still nowhere near Oracle Road. I got out my iPhone and used the Maps function to see that I still had about another mile to go before I reached Oracle Road, and, even worse, the road out to Oracle Road curved sharply to the south when I needed to go north on Oracle. Fortunately, Maps showed an unnamed road hooking off to the north and rejoining Oracle Road far north of where the paved road would spit me out. The unnamed road was just over a mile and was right there where I was, so I took it, ignoring the "No Unauthorized Individuals" and "No Trespassing" signs and the gate across the road.

I could actually hear the traffic on Oracle Road when I ran into the heavy-duty industrial fence stretched straight across "my" dirt road and running off into the distance on either side of the road. Obviously it would be unacceptable to take the dirt road back to the paved road and go the extra mile south on the paved road. There was only one thing to do -- climb the fence. It was about seven feet tall and had plenty of handholds, so I got over it easily enough and ran through the backyard of a big ranch house to get to Oracle Road. A pack of heelers, fortunately behind a fence, barked hysterically and ran the fence while I sprinted past. I hoped the owner of the house wasn't one of those cranky hermit types with a gun. Luckily I never saw the owner and made it out to Oracle Road safely.

Now I had 3 and a half miles on Oracle Road. It brought back dismal memories of the Tucson Marathon -- same road, only about 40 degrees hotter than it was during the marathon, and I was now running uphill instead of downhill. To be fair, there was a tailwind. So it wasn't all bad. There was still plenty to hate about it, though. Full sun, heavy traffic, endless climb. I consoled myself that at least I was not scrambling over rocks and forcing my way through the mesquite and cactus on the trail. But this didn't really help. My legs had no energy, nothing, despite plenty of GU and salt and fluids and everything else. I envisioned everyone else standing back at the cars, eating and drinking and wanting to leave but unable to because I wasn't back yet. I had texted Tom to let him know I was taking Oracle back but didn't know whether he had his phone or whether he was even back yet or was lost somewhere on the trail. Even the thought of everyone being inconvenienced by my absence wasn't enough to speed me up. I admit that I jog-walked the whole way on Oracle, while thinking how much I hate running (I do) and how much my feet hated this pavement (they did).

I still had a couple of miles to go once I got off Oracle. I still didn't manage to run hardly at all. It wasn't really physical, if I'm being honest. I wasn't injured and my legs weren't really dead. I just didn't want to run. Most people beat me back but a few people had gotten lost, so I wasn't the last one back. I refueled on healthy stuff like ice cream and chocolate and listened to everyone's stories. I was actually in pretty good shape, since the only thing on my clothes was melted chocolate ice cream as opposed to the blood that was on other people's clothes from falling.

So I finished today's run, but I hated it so much I feel like I should probably take a couple of weeks off of running. If I put that time into biking instead, I might actually be able to do El Tour de Tucson in a month. It's 109 miles and the longest ride I've done in two months is 50 miles, but it's doable... right?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Really Dumb Idea -- Get Moving Tucson 1/2 Marathon Report

Reopen barely healed blisters from last weekend? Check.

Re-experience the 20-Mile-Legs-At-Mile-One feeling from the Maine Marathon? Check.

Achieve personal worst half-marathon time of 1:59-something? Check.

Elevate long-lasting cold and low-grade cough to bronchitis? Check Check!

My work here is done.

Just kidding, because I still have to write a race report. But at least I have the whistling sounds in my chest to keep me from getting bored while I write it!

This is one of the few running-related things I've done that I actually think was stupid. Lots of OTHER people think I do stupid running things, but I can usually justify them somehow or other. For this half-marathon, I have no justification except that I was already registered and it was the third in a series of three -- the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown -- and I wasn't actually injured. (Blisters are not injuries.) Therefore, obviously, if you were me, you would have to do the half-marathon. But it was stupid because 1) it was a hard course because of the "A" Mountain climb, 2) that amazingly-like-a-stress-fracture-but-obviously-not-a-stress-fracture-because-no-one-could-run-53-miles-on-a-stress-fracture pain hasn't really gone away, 3) I had nothing really invested in this race other than the registration fee, which I already got my money's worth out of with the first two races in the series (not like it's an out-of-state marathon that cost me several hundred nonrefundable dollars), and 4) I have been sick with this stupid cold/allergies/flu/whatever it is for several weeks now, and it will not go away, so obviously the last thing I should be doing is administering another punishment to my already weakened immune system. To run a half-marathon the weekend after running back-to-back marathons is pointless. To risk injury, illness, and getting your worst half-marathon time ever is retarded. Now that that is established...

It was cold this morning, in the 40's. I stayed in my hoodie till the last possible minute. When I finally had to take the hoodie off and felt the cold wind blow straight through my tech shirt from the Maine Marathon, I knew this was going to be 13.1 miles of misery. My shirt sleeves were already soaked from being used as Kleenex for my incessantly running nose. My friends from WOG were lined up on the start line, all of them looking skinny, fast, and, most of all, ready to run this thing, in direct contrast to me. I saw them in the start line and then did not see most of them again until I finished. I know a lot of people ran really good times today, so congratulations to them!

I ran my first mile at 8:00 pace. This was a great idea considering that I can count the number of 8:00 miles I've run since April on the fingers of one hand and have fingers left over. My second mile was 8:35 and it went downhill from there. By Mile Two I was already feeling pretty bad. My feet didn't hurt, but my legs were both numb from the cold and dead tired. You wouldn't think legs could be that tired after a week of doing basically nothing, but they were. They felt just like they did at the beginning of the Maine Marathon and I knew that I was going to enjoy this half-marathon approximately as much as I enjoyed the Maine Marathon.

The long, grueling slog up "A" Mountain took whatever remaining energy I had right out of me. I have run "A" Mountain dozens of times but today, with the cold wind, was one of the hardest ones ever. I was passed by what felt like hundreds of people on the way up, and even more on the way down. I am pretty sure I'm the worst downhill runner in Tucson, at least today I was. I reached Mile 5, the bottom of the hill, exhausted and tapped out on energy, but with 8 miles yet to go.

The rest of the race was divided into lots of equally boring, difficult stretches that shouldn't have been difficult at all (Mission Road, many miles of the Santa Cruz path, Fourth Avenue, Congress Street). They aren't difficult when I run them on training runs. And I have run all of them on so many training runs it's no wonder I think they're boring. This race confirmed my long-held belief that, for me anyway, it is a waste of money to run local races. I just can't see spending my money to run places I can run for free any time I want. It would be easier just to donate money to SAR without needing to do a race, too. This three-race series was an exception but I am pretty sure this was my last in-town road race.

Even though I had said going into this race that I was going to treat it as a recovery run, naturally that was impossible once I saw everyone running fast. Even though I knew I would not run it fast, I also thought I really should be able to get under two hours. (Says the person with a half-marathon P.R. of 1:41:00.) I assumed that would be pretty easy to do. Then I realized around Mile Ten that it was going to be closer than I had thought. My time at Mile Ten was 1:30 exactly. Surely I could manage 10-minute miles no matter how bad I felt, right?

Just...barely. I did finish under 2 hours -- 1:59-something. That was a little too close for comfort. I did appreciate the Hot Nerd Tim Bentley announcing my finish and also announcing that I ran two marathons last weekend. It took a tiny bit of sting out of my personal worst half-marathon time ever since I got to bask in a trace of the glory from the past weekend on what was really a pretty crappy day in my running "career".

But now it's over and I have no firm running commitments until Ragnar in February. And I have this awesome candle for completing all three races in the series:

(Although I could have gotten this anyway without running the half-marathon, because it was pre-made. But I am not even going to think about that.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Let's Do Back-to-Back Marathons" -- Great Idea, Thomas!

Yup, this was my brother's idea. I was worried about not being ready for the HALF-marathon next weekend, and then Thomas came up with the idea of doing the New Hampshire Marathon on Saturday and the Maine Marathon on Sunday. While of course I knew this was not strictly a good idea, from a physical well-being point-of-view, I also thought it was probably possible. Even though I haven't run much since Pikes Peak, I WAS in marathon shape then, 5 weeks ago, and I HAVE been biking and/or swimming every day, even if I've barely been running. I couldn't resist the thought of knocking off 2 states for the cost of one plane fare, and also splitting costs with Thomas for hotel and car. (Completing marathons in 50 states is not an inexpensive goal.) What the heck! I was kind of curious anyway to see what would happen if... I mean, seriously! The way I feel after a regular marathon, when I feel like I've been hit by a truck for a couple of days afterwards, running a second marathon immediately would be unthinkable! So I had to see how much of that was in my head and how much was real.

For two weeks coming up to the marathons, the bottoms of both my feet were hurting right around the metatarsals, in a way that made me think I was on the verge of stress fractures in both of them. This is my most-familiar injury and it's always October when I get them, so I was due. But then again, I already had plane tickets and non-refundable race fees, so I figured I should at least be able to hobble through the first marathon and score one medal and one more state. If I couldn't do the second one, oh well. This would be a good time to get a stress fracture; I need time to clean up the yard and get Sunny ready for a November with obedience trials every weekend anyway. I was gimping around from the time I got on the plane in Tucson till I hobbled to the start line in the tiny town of Bristol, New Hampshire on Saturday.

The New Hampshire Marathon is a small, small-town marathon with a few hundred runners. About a third of these runners were also doing Maine the next day. There were huge numbers of Marathon Maniacs and 50 Staters. The race course went out from Bristol and looped around Newfound Lake. I knew nothing at all about the course other than that it went around a lake. I never even looked at the website and actually thought the race was in Manchester, where we flew in, and didn't find out it was in Bristol till I met Thomas in the Chicago airport. I also forgot both GU and my waist pack at home. Luckily I got some GU from Thomas, who, unlike me, prepared for this trip. I stuffed the GU in my sports bra since I had no waist pack.

I had been looking forward to fall foliage, but the leaves are still a couple weeks off-peak. Nevertheless, this was definitely a scenic course. I was not happy with the weather, though. Rain was predicted and, sure enough, the rain started at the start line. It didn't let up for the entire race, not once. This wasn't the worst kind of rain, though. It was a gentle drizzle and actually complemented the fog hanging over the lake and the orangey-red trees quite nicely. With temps in the low 60's and no wind, it was actually pretty perfect. I knew from my first step that my feet were going to be okay and I was, for sure, at least going to get through this first marathon. So I implemented my Plan B (Plan A, limp through the course at 6-hour pace, having been rendered unnecessary by my absence of foot pain) -- I wanted to run it slow, somewhere between 10:30 and 11:00 pace, so that I would have some left for the following day. I remember how I felt at the end of the 5-hour New Orleans Marathon I ran with Kris -- like I could have turned around at the finish and run the whole course again, or, the following day, like I hadn't run a marathon at all.

That wasn't quite what happened; I ran a little faster (9:50 pace) because my feet didn't hurt and it was pretty and most of the way I could run on a soft cushion of pine needles on the dirt shoulder. This really is a beautiful course if you like small-town New England, which I don't. There were a fair number of hills but nothing too difficult, just enough that I would describe the course as "hilly". I talked to a lot of people along the way and all of them were on their 30th marathon or more. Some of them were also planning on doing Maine the following day. They talked about back-to-back marathons like they were no big deal. Maybe they weren't. I finished in 4:22 and the rain was really coming down hard by then. Also, the wind had picked up, making it cold. Thomas was standing at the finish, having finished in 3:37. He was freezing but otherwise feeling good. I was moderately sore, which meant I should have gone easier. There was none of that "Whee, I could do this again!" feeling I had had in New Orleans.

We had a 3-hour drive to Portland, which gave me plenty of time to stiffen up nicely in the car. We found a running shop in Portland and replaced the GU I borrowed from Thomas. I thought about buying a waste pack but decided no since I have like four of them at home. Stuffing GU in my bra had worked okay; it just chafed a tiny bit, no big deal. We picked up our numbers at the Expo and then went to dinner. While we were at dinner, Thomas got an email from the Maine Marathon saying we had to wear our race numbers turned sideways because of some problem with reading the fancy new chips on the back of the bib. I never got that email; still haven't. At first I thought it might be a joke, but then later on that information went up on the website so I decided it wasn't.

Back in the hotel, I put K-tape on both my feet. The tops of my feet were actually swollen and worse-off than the previously painful metatarsals. Once I had the K-tape on, I tried to put on compression socks but couldn't get them on without pulling the K-tape off. I gave up on compression socks and just put regular socks on instead. Once I had the regular socks on, I remembered I was going to put a Band-Aid on that little, tiny blister on my fourth toe. But it seemed too hard to fight with the socks and K-tape again, so I decided I didn't need the Band-Aid. I went to sleep by 9:00 after enough Vitamin I to kill a horse. I woke up at 2:30, wide-awake and listening to rain pound on the roof. I mentally went over every sore spot on my body. There were lots of them. Not really sore, no; not Pikes Peak or Seattle or Missoula sore, or sore like I had been hit by a truck or beaten with hammers, but sore enough that I really didn't want to do another marathon in a few hours.

We were up at 6:00. On the news, the weatherman said cheerfully, "It's going to be wet ALL DAY, folks! Better save your outside activities for tomorrow! Unless you're running the Maine Marathon, of course!" Then the news cut to a shot of a reporter standing at the Maine Marathon start line in pouring rain. Behind him you could see the flags blowing straight out on their poles. "Windy, too!" the reporter said. "It's going to be a chilly day for these folks!" Then they interviewed some runner dude who said how much he loved running in the rain and how at least it wouldn't be too hot. Shut up, Mr. Sunshine, I thought, and stopped watching after they showed a radar map with the Portland area dark green and staying that way all day long.

At least we got to wait in a gymnasium in the University of Southern Maine till the very last minute. I walked to the start line shivering on legs that felt like they already had 20 miles in them. That feeling is fine when it comes at Mile 20, not so much when it comes at Mile 1. The cannon went off and the 20-mile feeling in my legs did not go away at Mile 1, or Mile 2. Or ever, really. I ran that entire marathon on legs that were so dead I couldn't feel them. Though I could also blame that on the cold. It was 48, windy, and pouring at the start. It was 55, windy, and pouring at the finish. It didn't rain from Mile 15 to Mile 17. That was nice. But then the rain came back again, harder, like it was trying to make up for its brief absence.

This course goes, I think, along the coast. It's an out-and-back. They say it is pretty and scenic but I could tell you only that the road was black asphalt with a white line. I grimly ticked off miles and idly entertained thoughts of quitting even though I knew I wouldn't. I'm too cheap to pay for another flight out to Maine and plus, I don't ever want to come back anyway. Who needs a cold, rainy state like Maine? Not me! I can't wait to be done with New England, forever! Make that the whole East Coast!

The course was pretty flat, only a few hills. We never got above 100 feet of elevation. The aid stations were numerous and very good. I kept running on my dead legs and told myself that when I got to the half, I could walk. That was a lie, but there are lots of lies I told myself to get through this marathon -- "You love running in the rain," "You didn't run a marathon yesterday," "The white line gives you magical powers of speed and endurance if you run on it," "That tiny blister and tiny chafe from yesterday are not turning into a huge, painful blister and huge, painful chafe," "It wasn't a mistake to forego bandaging the blister," "That is not your K-tape loosened by the rain and formed into a big, uncomfortable ball stuck between your first and second toes and causing another huge, painful blister." Et cetera.  They were lies but they worked. I got to the half in 2:07, believe it or not, my exact same half-time from the previous marathon. "Great," I thought, and prepared to fall apart in the second half. You can't possibly feel this bad and keep running.

Except that I did! Somehow, I did. I actually would have beat my time from the previous marathon by many minutes instead of one minute except that I bonked at Mile 23. One second I had energy, the next I had none. I mean NONE. So little that I had to stop walking to dig out my last GU and open it. It took too much energy to move and get my GU at the same time. Once I took it, after 5 minutes of shuffling I was able to jog again, and then run, sort of. When I saw the finishers chute I saw the time was 4:20:40, so hauled ass to get under 4:21 and beat my 4:22 from yesterday. I did it. I am pretty pleased with myself for that. I mean, true, those are pretty crappy times, but these two marathons were all about quantity, not quality. I actually think it's pretty cool to get almost the exact same times. I couldn't have done that if I tried! (Thomas finished with a 3:33, 4 minutes better than yesterday.)

So I got my two medals, but boy did it hurt. Time will tell whether I have any permanent injury. I am still mystified as to what happened to that metatarsal pain that has been dogging me for two weeks. I am seriously entertaining the theory that it is a mechanism of my subconscious brain, trying to convince me not to do stupid athletic things. This has happened before, too many times for it to be a coincidence. I can tell you, though, that I am in twice as much pain today as ever before. That feeling I said was absent last night -- the feeling of being hit by a truck/beaten with hammers over every inch of my body -- is here in full force now. Stepping off a down curb makes me scream. Turning over in bed is agony. Let's not even talk about stairs. Deep breaths hurt! I also have an oozing, raw open sore where I had the GU's stashed, where my cleavage would be if I had any. Bad idea. And my blistered toe is so disgusting it is barely recognizable as a toe. It looks more like a piece of sushi or something. And I have never seen a blister as big or purple/red as the one left behind when I finally extracted the wet, wrinkled ball of K-tape from my other sock. But it's worth it! Right? I guess so. I checked off 2 more states -- # 15 and 16 -- and got my medals, and now have 2 days of being a tourist to look forward to. Well, I would be looking forward to it if I liked New England, but I already told you I don't. Nevertheless, 2 days off work is ALWAYS a good thing.