Saturday, January 22, 2011

Running amnesia

The last two weeks in Massachusetts have been perfect winter weather, if you are an avid sledder, snowboarder, plow driver, or own a ski lodge.  For those of us that run, our training plans have gotten thrown out the window.  My athletic gear over the last couple of weeks has gone from sneakers and tech shirts to snow shovels and ice cleats.  Twice I even packed my gym bag with hopes of a midday lunch run, only to see the parking lots covered with snow, the sidewalks un-shoveled, and the roads narrower than Giselle on an Atkins diet.  Times like this are the reason I have a gym membership so that I can at least continue running on the treadmill in the event of lousy road conditions.  Unfortunately over the last couple of weeks between major snow storms and a few evening appointments, even my backup plan got tossed out the window.  I’ve been so ashamed by my lack of running that I haven’t even been able to face looking at my running log.  Kind of like when I spend way too much money irresponsibly, then I can’t bear to look at my bank statement.  My total miles for December were nearly 70.  My total miles for January so far are just under 30, and most of those were all logged in the first week.
That brings us to tonight.  A Friday night, the day of another snow storm that dropped another 8” on us.  Nine days have passed since my last run, and this big gap in my training schedule was starting to make me very nervous.  My half marathon is five weeks away, and I should be logging 25-30 miles a week right now.  Instead, I’m averaging 0 miles per week over the last two weeks.  The snow had stopped in the afternoon, the plows had a chance to clean up the roads, and I was taking advantage of it.  Time to lace up and hit the belt. 
I’m a creature of habit.  I like my routines, which is why I run almost every day.  If I don’t run on my lunch break, I have anxiety because I don’t know what else to do.  If I don’t run outside on a Saturday and Sunday morning, my weekend routine is thrown off.  Now, after a nine day vacation from running, the opposite is true.  It felt like my first time going to the gym.  Dressing and packing for the gym were painfully slow events, and I nearly talked myself out of going altogether.  This is after only nine days.  I can’t imagine how people feel that are starting their first gym membership, where every action is foreign. 
I navigated the snowy streets to the gym and when entering the parking lot, I became aware of my first mistake.  I didn’t consider how sloppy the parking lot would be.  Foolishly I had worn my running sneakers, which meant carefully dodging the deepest bands of snow all the way across the parking lot.  Despite my careful plodding, by the time I reached the entrance to the gym, my feet were wet and very cold.  Add this to my list of running gear: snow boots.
The gym was very quiet because, a. it was a Friday night, and b. it was a snow storm.  Nearly the entire cardio end of the gym was empty except for a couple people on ellipticals.  Once again I had the whole row of treadmills to myself.  For convenience, I chose the one closest to the end.  I started up the treadmill at a walk and then… you know the annoying sound wet sneakers make when they walk across a tile floor?  Squeak, squeak.  Well, my sopping wet sneakers sounded like a squeaky metronome as I walked, and quickly the whole treadmill belt was shining with wet footprints.  The eerily quiet gym was suddenly disrupted by the high pitched repeated squeaks, and I’m guessing the people on the ellipticals were none too thrilled.  After a minute walking I cranked up the speed on the treadmill and the squeaks sped up to match the pace.  I quickly turned up the volume on the TV just to drown out the sound of my own squeaky footfalls.  I’m guessing everyone else did the same.  On the news, they were reporting how one area town hired a “snow cop” to monitor snow removal and diffuse tempers between plow drivers and residents.  You know the end of the world is near when we have snow cops patrolling the roads.  I hope the gym doesn’t follow suit or I might get bagged by the squeak police.
The good part about not running for nine days was that it gave my foot a chance to rest.  I was curious to see how it would hold up today.  For the first tenth of a mile, there was no pain.  Then, like an old familiar bill collector, the pain returned.  Every step of my run felt off for the first mile.  After a mile I walked to grab water and assess the pain.  It went away when I walked, and returned only slightly when I started running again.  After the second mile, the pain was completely gone.  Still, nothing felt right about my stride.  I felt like I was learning to run again.  Could it be that after only nine days, my body has a sudden case of running amnesia?  After the third mile it occurred to me that perhaps I was running at the wrong speed.  I cranked up the treadmill faster, and suddenly everything fell into place.  I’m finding that the slower pace is actually hurting my joints more, but when the pace speeds up a bit, my legs flow more smoothly. 
I’m happy to report that after my four mile run I was not in major foot pain, my legs were not tired or sore, my breathing was not labored.  My body had not, in fact, forgotten how to run.  Instead it appeared to be all systems go.  I’ll be testing this out again on the treadmill both Saturday and Sunday, hoping to collect some make-up miles.  At this point I’m becoming desperate for miles, and I will log them wherever and however I can.  You never know when the next snowstorm is going to thwart your best-laid training plan.  I heard another storm is on the docket for Tuesday, as much as 2 feet predicted to fall.  At the rate I’m going, my entire training plan might be conducted on a treadmill.  Or snowshoes.

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