Monday, March 31, 2014

Longest Run, March 28th: Peak Run

Although 21 miles really isn't significantly further than our previous 18s, there was a lot of build-up around this particular run. Probably because it is our peak run before the taper, and also because it serves as a dress rehearsal of sorts--actually being bussed out to the start, beginning earlier in the day, etc. Good practice for establishing the pre-race mental checklist. Did I remember my iPod? Can I fit all of these gels in this tiny pocket? Is my tape secure? We made a better effort to get to Joint Ventures early this time, which left time to foam roll and lube up (almost forgot to BodyGlide...dear God). At 7:15 we all piled onto the 3rd of the 4 buses that were carrying us out of Kenmore Square, although we probably should have picked one that wasn't already mostly full so that we weren't only left with the back seats that were repeatedly blasted by bad bathroom air every time the door swung open. The sun was out, it was already high 40s, and spirits were definitely up. I was saddened, however, when talking to Morgan who informed me that Katherine (my buddy on the BMC team) is currently not cleared to run, although she may just go for it anyway. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to be knocked out by injury this late in the game.

When we got to Framingham, the mass of runners headed out of the parking lot right onto route 135, about 6.5 miles from the official start in Hopkinton. I started out with Katy, Helene, and Natalie. After about a mile, it was clear that I was going to need to shed my long-sleeved layer, and I was so grateful that I had decided to put a short-sleeved shirt underneath. Our aid stations were set up about every 2 miles, so we were able to hand off unwanted clothing to John to bring back for us. I was itching to speed up, but past experience has taught me that starting out slow is definitely wise, so I held myself to around a 9:30 pace with the others as we finally got a glimpse of uncharted course. Framingham is not actually particularly gorgeous, although the variety was more than enough to satisfy me, and it was fun to see the occasional lake or patch of woods. We entered Natick very soon thereafter, and I immediately recognized the area. Back when I was jobless and staying with my Earlham friend Carolyn, I ran on these roads for a good month and it was fun to revisit them a year and a half later. Soon after passing the street where her parents live, I gave in to my desire to speed up, so I put in the earbuds and said goodbye to the others.

As I headed through Wellesley with the miles slowly ticking by, it was exhilarating to see how many runners and supporters were out. Given that this marks about 3 weeks until the race, a huge number of runners were also doing their peak run on the course. A whole plethora of charities had aid stations set up, often with a small cheering squad to go with. Shortly before the big downhill coming down Washington Street, I passed a tent for the Martin Richard memorial foundation, in honor of young boy who was killed during last year's marathon. His mother, who has been recovering from her own terrible injuries, was there handing out gatorade and the heaviness of their family's difficulties (many of whom suffered serious injury) welled in my throat. Passing each charity tent, I found myself struggling emotionally, thinking about how we were all undergoing this difficult physical journey for essentially the same reason--that we had been hurt by the loss of a loved one for whatever reason, and were now on a mission to spare other families from the same hardship. Although there were also some sports companies out to support us as athletes, such as the Saucony tent. The runner ahead of me received emphatic praise for wearing Saucony shoes, while my Brooks Adrenalines and I just got a stony nod. My running capris were Saucony brand, but apparently that wasn't worthy of acknowledgement. Heading down Washington Street, I passed our usual feeder road from all the Riverside runs, and knew I was about half way. John Furey passed by in his pickup on his way to the next water stop, and we had a brief conversation yelling through the open window as he checked in on how I was managing. He has really just been the best trainer.

As I turned onto Commonwealth Avenue from Washington Street, I passed the fire station right at the corner. With the recent loss of two Boston firefighters last week during a severe blaze in the Back Bay, the marathon seems to have gained one more layer of significance to many people. The firefighters out at the Newton firehouse have unfailingly set up a drink station each Saturday throughout the winter, and were out as usual to support the runners. Having just recently experienced a fire of my own, the recent blow to the Boston firefighter community has hit home a little harder than I would have anticipated. Tackling the first of the four hills to cheers from a group of sideline supporters, my emotions were all over the place and seemed to stay that way for the majority of Commonwealth Avenue (a "roller coaster" would be the most conventional metaphor for the state of my mood, but I think roller coasters are the best thing ever, so I am not sure if that phrase works as well for me). One second I was cheesing from ear to ear, and the next I felt like my chest was about to implode. I am beginning to suspect that these feelings will be amplified x1000 on race day, which might get messy. Running while crying is sort of like trying to talk while being tickled.

Body-wise, I had taken great care to tape both ankles this time, and I was so thankful that my usual PTT did not make much of an appearance. Although around halfway through, I began to get occasional shooting pains up my left achilles tendon, which slowly morphed into a steady burn by the time I reached the bottom of Heartbreak. This new and exciting phenomenon thankfully did not slow me down, but I was a bit concerned as the soreness increased with each mile. Going around 8 minutes per mile or maybe a bit under, I was beginning to feel a little tired but was able to climb the hill without much trouble. When I hit the crest adjacent to BC, the Prudential and John Hancock appeared on the horizon and I got all sorts of sentimental tinglies up and down my arms and legs. Slogging along the course, it almost felt like I was reliving the pain of the last three years in reverse, but physically this time. Coming up to Boston has been a major milestone in my life since Nathaniel died, and seeing the skyline burst into view as the endpoint to my longest run thus far in my life, I felt some semblance of gladness that I had been brought to this point in time. Obviously I wish things had gone differently, very differently, but it is unlikely that I would have moved up here and found myself taking part in this 117-year-old tradition had my life unfolded as planned. I am sure that Nathaniel had terrible associations with Boston, given his only times up here were sudden trips to McLean Hospital and MGH during his lowest moments, and I often wish he could just run with me and see the city and how beautiful she is. It is hard, being unable to share something so special.

When I got to Cleveland circle, I ate my final gel--the one with extra caffeine to put some pep back in my step. A lot of my teammates opt for the super all-natural, caffeine-free fuel made out of bee pollen or beet essence or whatever. I admire their health-consciousness, but I am personally a fan of the chemicals in these situations. My legs were beginning to feel a bit sticky and I could tell I was dehydrated, but with that final dose of stimulants plus a high-five from a random BU kid, I knew I was going to make it. I passed through Kenmore and finally found myself heading down Boylston Street and saw the newly-painted finish line glowing yellow and blue on the pavement. The sidewalk was clogged with totally oblivious shoppers just doing their thing, and as I stood next to the Public Library soaking in my accomplishment, I had to resist the urge to shake the nearest person by the shoulders and scream, "HOLY CRAP, I JUST RAN HERE FROM FRAMINGHAM!!!" So I instead just gave myself a pat on the back (weak), and then turned to run the final mile back to Joint Ventures via Beacon Street so I could satisfy my morbid curiosity and take a peek at the site of the awful fire. It was very sobering to see, and I lingered a while to talk to some others who were doing the same.

All in all, I would say that it went better than I could have expected. My left achilles was quite sore, but seems like it should recover with rest. I ran the 20 miles to the finish in 2 hours and 47 minutes, which includes all of my stopping for gatorade, at traffic lights, and for a few pictures. It is intimidating to think that had I not run the first few miles so slowly or gotten caught at lights, I would theoretically be able to beat the Boston qualifying time of 3 hours and 35 minutes. Seems unlikely that will happen (especially given the traffic-jam situation that will undoubtedly plague the first few miles during race day), but the idea that I could be capable is enough. I think Nathaniel would be proud.

Post-run picture of Nicole, me, and Nicole outside Joint Ventures in Kenmore Square

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Long Run, March 22nd: Steamboat Willie'ing It

Over the past week I have been trying to be gentle with my pulled booty muscle. I ended up having to skip the peak hill workout, which made me feel like a slacker and I didn't like it. But every time I got up from my chair at work I sort of staggered to the side and was walking like an 85 year old, so I figured I wasn't in great shape to do 9 reps up Beacon Hill. It felt better as the week wore on, and I tested it out with two shorter runs on Thursday and Friday and it seemed that as long as I maintained my normal range of motion, it did not worsen. I partially blame Carl for this occurrence; the Sunday before last, we were both getting really into the super uptempo live version of I'm So Excited by the Pointer Sisters, one of those songs that makes you want to bound along rocking a huge cheesy smile and give a thumbs-up to every passerby, and maybe even bust a sweet dance move or two in the crosswalk (ideally midair). Something about this image reminded us of Steamboat Willie as he speeds along, twirling the boat wheel. Minus all the borderline-inappropriate animal abuse that happens throughout that short (couple that with all the antisemitic stuff, and sometimes I really wonder about Walt Disney), the general vibe of the video totally fits the song. So I put it on my running playlist for Monday morning to rock out to as I ran a loop to Davis Square. I was still a bit stiff from the 19-miler, and in the end just got too jazzed up...I Steamboat Willie'd too hard and pulled my butt. When I sadly relayed this Carl, and he pointed out that no one has ever said that sentence before. Truth. At least now I know that I have to be careful with that song.

As I was walking down Norfolk Street to meet up at Nicole's on Saturday morning, it was dreary and cold out...there's a shocker. But then I passed by someone's unkempt flower plot and saw the tiniest crocus bud peeking out through the crusty mulch. I almost completely spazzed out at this sign of life, as I had been close to accepting that summer has maybe been canceled this year. My dumbphone does not have a very elite camera, so here is a grainy picture of the little guy. I should also point out, lest you think that Boston is about to burst into full spring bloom, that the adjacent photo is not to scale--I think the real deal was even smaller, so dinky. Spring is struggling this year.

Our 12-mile route had the same path as usual, actually identical to the absurdly cold run I did all alone back in early January when I had to smear all the vaseline on my face; out to Newton Centre and then right on Centre Street straight to the bottom of Heartbreak Hill. Katy was there, so we decided to run together. She's gotten so much faster compared to a few months ago, which is pretty awesome. I was pleased to find that while I could feel my bum muscle hurting a little, it did not seem to be aggravated by our pace or the miles. My ankles were more the issue, although they were also both having a good day. Yes, it is now a plural situation. The left practically hurts worse than the right. Boooooo. Still, we were able to maintain around an 8:30 and that felt pretty good. I would ideally like to run a similar pace for the actual race.

Going down Commonwealth Ave for what felt like the millionth time, I broached the subject of ice baths. 
I've never been too tempted to try, as I am a huge weenie about cold water. Our family cabin in the New Jersey Pine Barrens rests on a bend in the Rancocas River, which is awesome to swim in but definitely quite chilly. There are an embarrassing number of old pictures of my cousins all playing in the water and then there's me in the corner still clinging to the ladder on the dock, inching in at a glacial pace. Usually by the time I had tortured myself for half an hour and finally eased in, everyone else was ready to get out. Katy likened the ice bath process to that scene at the end of the 6th Harry Potter book, when Dumbledore instructs Harry to make him drink the toxic potion no matter how hard he protests. Because despite the discomfort, apparently ice  baths are quite good for you--constricting the vessels to force out lactic acid buildup, and reducing inflammation around all the mirco-tears. I decided that I would try the junior version when I got home; that is, coldest tap water but no actual ice. I could maybe attempt ice if I had someone to hold my hand, but all I had was my laptop and Center Stage to distract me for 10 minutes as I gingerly sat with my lower half submerged and my top half bundled up along with a neck warmer and hot tea.

Our next run is the much-anticipated 21 mile peak run, where we will actually be bussed out to Framingham and run to the finish. Thus far we haven't see any parts of the course beyond the Riverside area, although on Sunday my parents (who were in town for the weekend) and I drove out to Hopkinton and cruised the full marathon route. There was a moment on the way out when we had been speeding down 93 for about half an hour and I started to wonder if, as Gob so eloquently puts it, "I made a huge mistake." But once on the actual course, it was quite fun to get a feel for beginning part and I am hopeful that I can actually do this. Probably wont be able to Steamboat Willie-it the entire way, but as long as I can maintain some semblance of forward motion for 26.2 miles, I'll be pretty pumped.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Long Run, March 15th: The Ides of Smarch

Thus far, March is living up to its doodoo reputation with a whole lot of indecisive weather nonsense. Couple that with the transition to DST, and my runs over the past week have fallen all over the spectrum of awesome to suck. From waking up once more in the pitch dark and heading out into the low teens to see the sun rise over the city (what is it, early January?) to our hill run on Tuesday evening in 60 degree temps and actual daylight for the first time, the weather has been truly schizophrenic. I know that I tend to write a lot about the weather, but as I only run outside, it's hard to not be slightly obsessed. And now that it is know, there are a lot of people in the world that not only get off on pulling a fast one on you, but are also truly talented at it. While Comcast may have perfected the art, March can sure push the limits of human frustration with a very calculated formula. It'll start off with daily highs consistently 10 degrees below the annual average until we're actually about to lose our shit and believe that spring will never really come. And ONLY then maybe slip in a 50 degree day or two, just so we'll finally turn off our full-spectrum lamps and maybe even start weaning off our Seasonal Affective Disorder medication. And then once that spark of hope is lit, time to really just ham it up with an icy downpour followed by a flash freeze and a snowstorm. Like the perpetuator of any abusive relationship, March knows that we have all been emotionally weakened by January and February, and is so ready to dangle the warm weather bait and toy with our desperation because it knows that no matter how many 0-degree-windchill surprises it throws at us, we'll always come hopefully crawling back. So sick, really perverted. I may have run away with this one a bit, but I am sure any other New Englander will understand.

But anyways, on Friday it was practically in the single digits for my 5-miler and then on Saturday it was sort of Seattle-esque with a chilly drizzle, maybe high 30s to low 40s. Very tough to dress for, especially given the long distance (18 miles) and the tendency for the morning to warm up halfway through. I opted for all the wrong articles of clothing and didn't realize until it was too late, but there you go. When I got to Joint Ventures, I was pumped to see Morgan and company, as well as Katherine. Buddies are essential on the longer runs. Katherine pushed the pace at the beginning, and I was discouraged by how fast a mere 8:30 felt. My legs felt like they were fighting through glue. I chalked it up to the sheer amount of food that I ate the previous night to celebrate Pi Day, but was still struggling to feel comfortable and was therefore not much of a contributor to the conversation. After passing the reservoir by BC, I finally felt body settling into the rhythm with more ease.

When we hit Newton Centre, Morgan suddenly stopped and sadly admitted that his IT band was too aggravated to continue. I truly felt for him as he walked over to the T to ride back. This is the time when everyone's bodies are falling apart to some degree, and it is certainly a matter of playing it smart and calling it quits before more serious damage is done. But it is so discouraging to miss out on the peak runs, which are important for feeling mentally prepared. Katherine and I continued on without him into Waban. It was so damp out that my hands had gotten quite numb, but she was nice enough to lend me her mittens for a while to warm them up. As we neared Washington Street, she stopped to answer a call from her husband. When we started back up, she was instantly struck with intense hip pain, deep in her piriformis. She thought it would wear off after a little while, but as we turned onto Comm Ave she shook her head and fell to a walk. I tried to say encouraging things about how it will certainly feel better with a few days rest, but I could tell how upset she was. Overuse injuries are such monsters, both physically and mentally. I felt heavy as I continued on without her, also not particularly stoked on the idea of doing the remaining 9 miles alone.

With my companions dropping like flies, I assessed my own injury situation. Recently, my left ankle has finally decided to join in on the fun with its own posterior tibial tendonitis, and the downhills are always when it springs up. Both sides were beginning to ache, but not in a super debilitating way, so I decided to maintain pace. Thankfully, after the first hill I saw a chain of people that I recognized--Natalie, Katy, and Helene from my Samaritans team. They had headed out a bit earlier and were going slightly slower, but I was so happy to have company that I decided to continue with them. The sun had come out, and we began stripping our layers. At the base of Heartbreak Hill we decided to finally take a picture with the pump-up gorilla that always hangs out at the corner by the Heartbreak Hill Athletic Company.

As we passed BC and headed back onto Beacon Street, they had the idea of passing through Kenmore to the actual finish in Copley. Katy and I had talked previously about how we have become accustomed to pushing it out over Mt. Kenmore to finish right there in the square, and how it may be psychologically challenging on race day to continue for another mile. My energy levels were finally up and I was into the idea, but I was worried about my ankles--by Coolidge Corner, with each step it felt like the pavement was coming up to bash the underside of my foot. Everything ached. Still, I had John Hancock in eyesight and I wanted to take it in to Copley Square. So at Kenmore I said farewell to the group so I could finish at my own pace, and as soon as I bumped it back up to my normal speed my feet felt infinitely better. Going slower must somehow fatigue them in a way that my intrinsic muscles aren't quite as used to.

Right on Hereford, left on Boylston, and next thing I knew I could see the Public Library. I have run down Boylston Street so many times, but never with 19 miles behind me. As I finally reached the faded blue and yellow finish line that spans Boylston Street, I stood there waiting for the others and tried to imagine what it will feel like to stand here again in five weeks. I honestly have no idea. But for that moment, at least, I felt pretty awesome.

I cheered the others in, and we took our time walking back to Kenmore, grabbing coffee and water on the way. I think walking it out was actually very good to ward off stiffness later on, although I was still all chafed up in the usual spots. I took Sunday off to rest and sleep in, and felt great this morning on my run to Davis and back. However, I may have skimped on the stretching too much on Saturday because when pushing off extra hard to clear a curb, I felt a muscle deep in my right butt suddenly pull. I am sure the bitter cold was also a factor. Luckily I was only two blocks from home, and it didn't actually slow me down. But walking to work later on I found myself doing this weird Long John Silver peg leg gait, and it is hurting even when I sit. Hmm. I am hoping that a non-overuse type injury such as this will resolve itself within a week or so, but it is worrisome. I am learning more and more that the real challenge of this is not getting your endurance up--it is keeping injuries away. Way less fun.

Friday, March 14, 2014

This is how I felt when I went on my run this morning. Thank you, everyone, for helping me reach my $10,000 goal!!!!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Long Run, March 8th: Final Riverside Run

I actually don't have a lot to say about our run on Saturday. None of my usual running partners were present, so I did the headphones and picked a runner to try to keep in my sight for the way back from Riverside to challenge myself a little. I did go a little faster than usual, and my feet were all achy in various ways when I got back. Including the left foot. The good foot! Not OK. Luckily there were quite a few Samaritans and other runners to talk with on the train and back at the facility. It was sunny and pleasant out (maybe mid thirties), although later in the day it shot up past 50 and I saw runners in shorts, which made me realize that I really should have just slept in and run on my own time. Walking around the downtown later, I realize how much I have missed doing my own runs around the city. Oh well, it wont be too much longer now--only about another three weeks at peak. On the upside, there was a moment when I was caught in the island at the intersection after BC, waiting for the green line to train to pass and I was sort of jamming a little to my music and then I looked up and saw the conductor of the train nodding along so I started rocking out a little and he smiled and started really grooving. That made me happy.

In case you haven't looked over, check out how close I am to hitting my goal. Nice. I feel like at this point I can aim to shoot even a bit higher. I still plenty of cards left over that I am looking to sell, if anyone is interested! Click the tab above.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Long Run, March 1st: Rabbit Rabbit

Something about waking up and it not being February anymore put me in decent spirits on Saturday morning. February is the worst month anyway, but this particular one has been a struggle, needless to say. Not helped by my own inability to get my brain back online since the fire so I can succeed at doing simple things. Like going to Market Basket without losing my wallet, or park my roommate's car in one of the many spots where it wont get ticketed and towed, or properly remove those "damage-less" Command strips from my immaculate new walls without taking a chunk of paint and drywall with it. Yes, I moved into a new apartment last weekend with two of my roommates, just on the other side on Inman Square; moving is the least fun, but I have a home again. And as long as I manage to not sabotage the deal with my half-functioning brain, I should be here through August.

So on Saturday morning I was ready to finally take a stab at 18. Despite the fact that it was finally March and the sun was shining at 6:45 am, informed me that it was 13 degrees out. And to make things more complicated, was predicted to warm up to the high 20s by 11:00am. I have previously talked about my clothing formula and how I know what to wear for certain temps, but spanning a 15 degree differential is not something that I am equipped for. So I decided to dress for the cold and suffer later, and then walked to Nicole's and we headed downtown with Nicole #2. We rolled into Joint Ventures only a minute or two before the run began, and while stuffing a gel into my little pocket and quickly getting Nan's iPod ready, I scanned the crowd for one of my previous running buddies. I knew Katy was in New Orleans and Katherine was nowhere to be seen, but once outside I ran into Morgan from BMC, who was about to head off with 4 other runners and graciously invited me along. We began by heading in the opposite direction to tag Mass Ave before running back through Kenmore and down Beacon (I guess without doing that, the planned course would only be 17.4, and nobody wants that). 

The long trek out past Newton has become very familiar, but new company brought new conversation, including Morgan's story about an unexpectedly rough Thai massage. It felt good to laugh. As we circumvented the BC reservoir, we came up behind a pretty large guy who was trotting along and chatting with several people, who ended up being Tedy Bruschi. I don't often find myself in a situation where I feel physically on par with a former NFL player, and it was a rather nice feeling. Once through Newton and past Chestnut street, we were finally in new territory as we entered Waban. Waban is where Carolyn would sometimes pick me up from the T back in August and September of 2012, when I was trying to find work up in Boston but by the end of the summer was still jobless and then also homeless. Hence me living for some time at her parent's place in Natick, which was so nice of them. I thought about that as I passed through the village.

When we hit Washington Street, we were back on our usual Riverside Run course. For the record, I did do the 10-miler last Saturday right before I moved, but I was too busy to write about it. Although it is worth mentioning that I ran with Katy, who has FINALLY received the bib she deserves! Which means all of our alternates are now able to run, and I am so pumped for her. Anyways, Washington Street was out of control as usual with tons of cars and crappy sidewalks, although we did see Batwoman and Superman. By the time we turned onto Commonwealth Avenue, the sun was facing us and as the hills rose up under our feet, I was starting to get hot. When we hit our water stop, I decided to just go for it and strip my Underarmour layer. Which I knew meant taking my shirt fully off, but I thought that if I just got behind the car and did it quickly, it was all good. It would have gone better if I hadn't gotten both layers tangled around my neck after trying to sneakily remove the Underarmour without taking the top layer fully off, and then gotten stuck trying to put my damp outer layer back on, and if Captain America hadn't been coming down the hill to see the whole thing.

When we got to Heartbreak, we all popped in our music to get in the zone for the hill. I had just eaten a GU that had extra caffeine, so I was feeling pretty amped. I was making good time when suddenly  I came upon a guy hunched over the side of the hill, puking aggressively into the snowbank. Everyone was just running past him like we were in one of those hardcore "every man for himself" situations, as if Heartbreak Hill had suddenly become the freaking death zone on Mount Everest or something. So I stopped and asked if he was OK, and he just managed a weak "no" and I realized that he was clearly just a high schooler. A junior named Calvin, I learned once he straightened up a few minutes later, whose teammates had all left him behind. Morgan and the others passed by, but I felt bad leaving this kid all by himself, especially after he confessed that he really needed to run with someone. So we finished the hill slowly together and then headed down to Cleveland Circle, and he explained that about 100 students from his high school were training to run the Providence Marathon in May, which totally impressed me. I think in high school I could run about 3 miles. I told him about Samaritans and Nathaniel, and he opened up about a friend that he just lost to suicide. He mostly seemed too exhausted to speak, so I talked about struggling to find my passion and the fruitless job hunt and the recent fire, but then realized I was starting to freak him out about becoming an adult so I hastily switched it up and asked him about what he was interested in. Turns out that he is all about computer programming and hopes to go to MIT. About two miles from Kenmore, he had to take a turn to reach his destination, which was about a mile away. I felt really awful leaving him half-collapsed on a hedge, but I figured he could always just walk the rest of the way. Guess that's what happens when you start a 14-mile run at a low-7s pace.

I appreciated doing the last couple miles on my own, able to pick up the pace (I had to pee soooo bad!!) and listen to fun songs. No chafing this time, thanks to a liberal amount of Body Glide, and no wall. Guess I'll have to wait for 21 miles for that. And besides my ankle tendonitis being more present than usual (I've had to ditch the Mizunos and go back to the Adrenalines), everything went fine. We're getting close to the peak, and on top of it I only need $304 more dollars before I hit my goal. Let's hope that it's all a good sign that March will be better.