Saturday, August 16, 2014

I Miss Mountains

This is the weekend of the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado. That is the one race that, for some reason, I can never get out of my head. I did it in 2012 and 2011 (race reports here, here, and here), and out of all of my race reports, those are the ones I reread the most, not Boston, not San Diego where I qualified for Boston after trying and failing to qualify 15 times, not either one of my two 50-mile races. There is something special about the Pikes Peak Marathon. My brain seems to have taken dozens of perfect-recall snapshots of that race (and then I also have this to remember it by). I remember how it felt standing at the start line looking up and up and up, at Pikes Peak all naked of trees and impossibly far away, and that brutal, breath-sucking climb out of town which I still think is the worst part of that course, and the moment when you break out above treeline and start picking through the boulder field, and the dizzying feeling of being on top and looking down and dimly thinking, if there's enough oxygen for your brain to think, that at least on the way down it will get easier to breathe with every step. That does not really sound like fun, and I admit it wasn't 100% fun while I was doing it, but even while I was suffering through it I knew I was doing something epic that I would never forget.

There are no mountains in Michigan. Where I live the elevation is around 600', and where I work it's between 800' and 900'. You can't even get to 2000' in the whole state of Michigan! There are nice hills where I work, lots of them, and I can get a nice roller coaster run just about anywhere I go around there. But I really, really miss mountains.

I grew up with mountains, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. I missed them while I lived in New York and New Jersey, but honestly, in both of those places there were so many trees everywhere that I felt like I was always in a green tunnel with limited views of the sky anyway, so I missed the feeling of open space more than I actually missed mountains. Tucson was a perfect combination of openness and mountains. Tucson was ringed by mountains on all sides, and one of my favorite things about it was that I could run up Mount Lemmon or Wasson Peak or Mount Wrightson or Rincon Peak and look down on the city from the north or the west or the south or the east. I didn't always love running in the mountains -- the heat! the rocks! the climbs! the snakes! -- but I always loved having run in the mountains. And those moments up on the peaks were glorious.

Michigan is better than New Jersey and New York in that there are not quite so many trees so close together, and it is still possible to see the horizon. I didn't run trails in New York, and I only ran one trail -- the Patriots Path -- in New Jersey (which always had kind of a Blair Witch-y feeling about it, to me, because of all the trees and how it was always darkish in the forest, even in mid-day). I have run a few trails here. The soft footing, the fact that trails nearly always seem to run along a lake or a river, and the ever-present cool breeze in summer are good things. But the absence of mountains makes trail running here seem almost pointless. In Tucson, you accomplished something with trail running. You climbed a big-ass mountain! I used to think of the difficulty of a trail run in Tucson in terms of how many thousands of feet of elevation gain there was. So, for example, a run where you gained less than 2,000 feet of elevation was no big deal, and a run where you gained 5,000 feet kind of was a big deal. A run like Pikes Peak, where you gain 8,000 feet, was a REALLY big deal. Out here, I guess you just have to go either super long (which I will never do; I don't have the time for that kind of training) or super cold (which I will also never do; I hate the cold too much) if you want to make yourself feel like a badass.

I miss mountains more than I hate winter, and that is saying a lot. One thing is for sure, if any part of my life in Michigan ever went south, I would be running back to a place with mountains as fast as I could.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

One More Marathon; I Can Do This

A few things I have figured out during the past six weeks of not officially training for anything:

1) If I'm not training for something specific, and don't have a paper schedule hanging up on the fridge, my training will be haphazard and I will skip a week at a time and justify it by saying that I'm not training for anything and am taking a relaxed approach to working out. If I am not faced with either doing the workouts so I can cross them off, or else having to live with the knowledge that I'm lazy and a slacker, I will not be accountable to myself and will do about 25% of what I should be doing. I need a paper schedule. If you don't, I'm impressed and jealous, but I do.

2) Despite my prior rationalizing of why I didn't need to be spending so much time doing something I didn't like, and should spend my time doing stuff I do like, the truth is that I do not like myself when I'm fat and lazy. Part of my identity is "athlete", and if I give that up, everything that I was trying to give more time to by cutting out workouts suffers. I think that even when I'm not enjoying training, it gives me the energy to enjoy everything else, in some weird way.

3) I can train for something without training obsessively. There is no reason at all that I need to do two to three hours of cardio every single day -- on top of this job where I do so much walking. No wonder I burned out.

I decided I will train for a fall marathon -- nothing crazy, just a regular marathon. Since 2005, I have done at least two marathons every year -- most years four -- and this year I haven't done any. I'm going to plan on the Indianapolis Marathon in October. Short drive, low entry fee, nothing terribly exciting or elaborate, but that's the kind of low-pressure race I want. At least it will be another state! Maybe this will get me more excited about getting back to trying to do 50 states.

I'm going to use one of Hal Higdon's schedules -- Marathon 3 -- which includes two days of cross-training (bike and elliptical for me -- no more swimming, EVER!) and three days of running, with a low total weekly running mileage. I totally believe high running mileage is unnecessary, considering  that I had my fastest marathon ever on less than 40 miles a week, and with all the time I spend on my feet at work, I really feel like I should be as nice to them as I can outside of work. I used one of Hal Higdon's schedules for my very first marathon, the Chicago Marathon in 2005, and following that schedule was a great beginning for all the years of running between then and now, so I figure there's no harm in going back to one of his schedules. (Of course, I also believe just about any schedule will work, given the variety of schedules I have followed over the years and the fact that I've done pretty well with all of them, so I just pick the schedule that matches most closely with the kind of training I'm in the mood to do.)

One thing about this schedule -- it is a 24-week schedule, and I started it at Week 13, so when I looked at the scheduled long run of 17 miles for this weekend, I was scared. I ran 21 miles last November and since then have not run more than 10 miles at any time. I know I ran 10 miles in Tucson in February, and also one day in June up at the lake, but I think that's it. It was shocking to realize that I'm not really a long-distance runner anymore! I have a theory, though, that when you've done as many marathons as I have, the body "remembers", even if you're not exactly ready for the distance. Happily, I was right, and today's 17 miles was perfectly fine. Well, it was slow, 9:30 pace, but I expect that, with as much extra weight as I have right now and as little practice as I've had lately with any kind of distance. Most importantly, I felt all right at the end and even felt like I could've gone ahead and done marathon-distance if I had to.

Even though I'm excited at the thought of having a race to train for again, I'm not going to register for this race until October when I know I've actually done the bulk of the training. I am too familiar with and resigned to my own flakiness to continue throwing money away on race entry fees until I'm sure I'm going to do them. I'd rather lose an extra $10 by registering late than lose $70 by registering early and then getting lazy or lame and deciding, Nah.