Monday, September 17, 2012

Oh, the Humanity!

Last night I had to do the unthinkable.  I had to do my long run all alone.  I've gotten spoiled rotten by running with a group of friends every week, so the thought of running for a couple hours all by myself seemed like such a drag.  Not to mention that I was already pretty tired from spending the day riding in a horse competition, and pretty demoralized from watching the Patriots lose.  If we're being honest, all I wanted to do was open a beer and sack out in the recliner.  I thought about taking the day off and moving the long run to today, but since I'm only technically on Week 2 of marathon training, it seemed a little early to be wimping out. 

Reluctantly I threw the cat off me, got dressed, and made a last minute decision to bring an iPod.  I haven't run with an iPod in years, but I figured I might need a little extra motivation since I didn't have anyone to talk to.  Up the steep hill I went, holding the iPod while I struggled to keep the ear buds stuffed into my ears.  Every once in a while I would swing my arm a little too much and yank one back out.  A half mile into the run I remembered how much I hated iPods and thought about stashing it on the side of the road, but tried to stick it out a little longer.

Less than a mile into the run I realized it was going to be one of "those days".  As I was approaching a driveway on my street, a car backed out onto the street without even looking.  Now I'm not one to think that it's "all about me", but if my toes are already in the driveway, it's probably worth letting me pass.  A short time later, not one but several cars veered so close to me I had to jump into a lawn to avoid losing my knees.  And then there were the classic "I don't think runners should run in the road when there's a sidewalk" drivers that wouldn't move over at all even though no cars were coming towards them, just to send a message.  Finally as I was approaching the parking lot exit of a school, a car came up behind me and turned left into the exit, cutting me off in the process.  Arm motions were made and I distinctly remember calling him a "stupid blah-bitty-blah!"  The joke was on him though because he then drove around and caught me again as he was trying to exit through the entrance, where I suddenly felt the need to run reeeaallly slowwww so he had to wait for me.  After this encounter I broke into my "I hate people" mood and started getting pretty aggravated.  In my country towns it's unusual to run into such a string of angry drivers, so I'm going to chaulk this up to the Patriots loss.  I'll make a note of that in the future so I don't schedule runs immediately following football games.

Shortly after passing the school, I reached the breaking point of the iPod.  I absolutely hated having music directly streaming into my ear drums and the cords felt constricting.  I stopped on the side of the road, in an area I call the "creepy section".  My friends know where I mean.  It's a road where there are virtually no houses and it gives off a major creep factor.  While keeping an eye out for kidnappers, I stuffed the iPod into my fuel belt and got a good gulp of water.  Just as I was getting ready to go again, a woman on a bicycle passed by, asking if I was okay.  I said I was fine, thanks, and thought to myself, what a nice lady!  I bet she didn't watch the Patriots game.  I started down the road again and order was restored.  My head felt better without the music invading it, and I just let loose.  It was one of those runs where I felt like I switched bodies with a good runner.  I busted a move for miles, and aside from the occasional crack of body parts slapping together or knees cracking, it was a very peaceful run.  Every time I checked my watch I found myself going even faster than the last mile.  I don't really know what got into me and I know I was supposed to be doing a long slow run, but I felt good so I just went with it. 

Something tells me that my body language showed the way I felt.  I can't help but feel that the dog walkers and bicyclists I passed gave me a more enthusiastic wave, and one lady walking two dogs actually clapped and said, "great job!"  Okay that was actually a little weird.

I barreled towards the finish of my route, which was going to end at a trail and then I was going to walk the trail back for a cool down.  I got to the trail and stopped, checked my watch, and realized the route was a little shorter than I wanted.  So I took a few sips of water, regrouped, and just as I was starting to run again I saw a woman on a bicycle coming.  No, it's not possibly the same lady that passed me four miles ago.  Yes, yes it was.  I made sure I looked strong and in need of no assistance as she passed me, and she gave me a big smile and thumbs up.  I can't help but wonder what she was thinking as she saw me again.  Why is that lady always standing on the side of the road?  How did she get here so fast if she's always just standing on the side of the road?  I chuckled and continued on. 

The last 1.5 miles of the run I did through the woods and just did a slow cooldown jog.  This too is a creepy area because at 6:30 at night it was getting dark and I didn't want to spend any more time in the woods than necessary.  About a half mile from my house I spotted two questionable looking men loitering in the trail.  Covered in tattoos and moving slowly, they were enough to make my skin crawl.  I kept calm, heading towards them but thinking of ways around them and preparing myself for the possibility that I may need to do some sprinting in the next 30 seconds.  (Finally, a practical application for track workouts!)  When they heard me coming they turned around and motioned for me to stop.  I slowed, weighing my options, and they yelled out that there was a giant bee's nest up ahead and I should stay away from it.  I stopped and chatted with them for a few minutes, checking out (but keeping a very safe distance from) the bee's nest.  Turns out they were looking for a pair of sunglasses that they had lost a couple hours earlier when they were being attacked by the bees.  I felt a little foolish for thinking the worst of them, and grateful that they warned me about the bees.  I started getting really cold really fast so I left them to look for the glasses and I ran the rest of the way home. 

So, all in all a great run.  I lost faith in humanity after repeated near-roadkill episodes, but faith was restored with my bicycle angel, my cheering spectators, and the beekeepers!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Breaking all kinds of track records!

Throughout the last few months I've been attending my club's weekly track sessions.  If you recall in my first track session ever back in May, I had committed to going every week in hopes of seeing speed and fitness improvements.  There have definitely been up's and down's from week to week, and sometimes even just within the hour.  For the most part I think I've been improving, although sometimes it's hard to judge because the workouts seem to keep getting harder.  Last week I hit a new "Jill world record" by completing a 400 meter run in 1:35!  After that high, I sunk to a new low by walking part of the 600 and then cutting the 800's into 400's.  I had all the characteristics of a failing Red Sox season.

One aspect of track that's been a steady "up" is the friendships I've built with the "track girls".  They've been so motivational to me, have pulled me along through some tough intervals, and we get to chit chat during the recoveries.  This camaraderie has spilled over into our weekends, where we've been getting together for early morning long runs!

Kerri, Julia, Marie, Coleen, Jackie and I heading out for a 12 miler
Over the last week I've reassessed my track strategy and decided that I really need to run my own pace, not get pulled into the faster paces, and not start off too fast.  I wanted to complete the workout, no matter what.  Even if that meant running a little slow.  So that's the approach I was ready to take last night.

On my long drive home from work last night I felt a headache coming on, and by the time I got home it was pounding.  I quickly changed into running clothes, downed a couple of Motrin, and headed out to track.  I can't say I was really looking forward to the workout, but I was looking forward to the peacefulness of the track.  When I got to track and hopped out of the car, I heard a repetitive drumming noise.  Oh HELL no, it couldn't be... As I got closer to the track, my fear was confirmed.  The entire Milford High School marching band was practicing on the infield of the track.  The drum beat was in sync with the pounding in my head, so I was thankful that our warm up mile was off the track.

Our coach Rich wasn't there last night so Jay was in charge, enforcing the workout that Rich had created.  I announced that I wouldn't be attaining any "Jill world records" tonight, and that I was running slower so that I could finish the workout this time.  With overwhelming understanding and compassion, Jay jokingly responded, "Interesting strategy, I don't think it will be very beneficial".  We can joke around before and after the workout, but on the track he is all business and no amount of our whining could elicit any sympathy from him.  

The workout Rich created (and was conveniently absent for) was 400, 800, 800, 800, 800, 400.  The first 400 was fairly painless, all of us holding back considerably knowing what we had ahead of us.  My time was 1:41, and I was okay with that.  We settled into the 800's and that's where it started to hurt.  Jackie and Coleen surged ahead and I tucked in behind Paul, which proved to be a good strategy for the rest of the workout.  The first 800 was a 3:44, and Jay told me to get a 3:42 next time.  As if I have any idea how to "make that happen".  I have zero sense of pace.  I run as well as I can, and hope it's a respectable time when I cross the finish.  The second 800 was a little screwy because Paul confused me by staying behind me.  I think he was trying to conserve energy and it really made me wonder if I was going out too fast.  We finished that one in 3:39, and I was shocked that I went a full five seconds faster.  The third 800 we resumed the Paul-Jill order, an again we shaved another five seconds off and finished in 3:34 (a new Jill world record!).  At this point I felt like I was unraveling a bit.  I was dying for this last 800 to be over.  I may have mentioned that at the start line.  Jay may have responded with, "this is the last one, so you have to push harder this time".  If I could have formed words at that moment I may have given him a piece of my mind, but instead he said "Go!" and we went!  Once again Jackie and Coleen surged ahead and I tried to stick with Paul, but he started pulling away after 600 meters.  In the final stretch I closed in on him and felt a terrible queasiness in my stomach.  Don't think about it, just run.  Push.  Do it.  Don't suck.  As we barreled down the straightaway I amused myself by noting the band practicing on the infield, playing some motivating music.  While my legs churned I observed the darkness settling in around the track, the perfect orange lanes illuminated with ultra-strong lights on the field.  I felt athletic.  I felt like a bona-fide athlete under the bright lights, with the band playing just for me.  I pushed through the nausea and about ten feet before I crossed the finish line, I watched Coleen veer into the infield, double over, and hurl blue Gatorade all over the field.  In a feat of impressive multi-tasking, I started gagging but managed to cross the finish line, press the lap button on the Garmin, veer off to the outside of the track, brace against the chain link fence, and hurl my own water all over the grass.  I remained doubled over for about 20 or so seconds until I felt somewhat sure I was done, and looked up to see Coleen and Jackie checking on me.  I laughed and gave them a thumbs up, and trotted up to them.  The whole throwing up thing was completely overshadowed by the fact that my finishing time was 3:31!!  Totally shattering the previous Jill world record!  We jogged about 3/4 around the track for our recovery, and then started walking in the straightaway.  It was at that moment that I remembered that all 75 members of the marching band (playing just for me, the amazing track star) were faced in our direction, most likely perplexed and disturbed by the old ladies that just threw up all over their brand new track in front of them.  As we started giggling about that, we spotted Jay at the start line, throwing his arms up in a "what the hell are you guys doing" motion.  We yelled to him that we both just threw up.  His sympathetic response was, "So?  You're not throwing up right now! Move it!"  We grumbled, and I announced that this final 400 was going to be untimed for me.  I was cooked.  Coleen responded, "C'mon, it's just one more.  You can do it!".  So, we lined up and took off.  (Wisely I opted not to drink before this last interval).  In the first turn Coleen blew past us and Jackie said, "She's going to make herself puke again.  Oh it's going to happen".  We laughed and finished strong, and as I was approaching the finish line I again spotted Coleen hurling onto the grass.  I stopped my watch and blew past the finish line, trying to avoid my own repeat performance.  I was excited to see my final 400 was a 1:35, tying the Jill world record from last week!  What a strong way to finish!

We all met back up on the track and then headed out for our cool down mile.  In an effort to display a zero-mercy policy, Jay took us on an extended cool down, up a big hill and through a neighborhood.  Despite all the puking, somehow we all managed to have a great time and shared some good laughs.  

As for the puking, for me it was a proud moment!  It wasn't the result of a bad meal, one beer too many, or anxiety.  It was the outcome of giving everything I had in a sport that I love.  When I hopped back into my car to head home, headache gone, stomach still unsettled, the first thing I did was text someone who would understand: Scott!  The text said simply, "I did it!! I puked at track!!"  His response was, "that's awesome, congrats!  That's a rite of passage!".  He gets it!  And while I'm proud of this bizarre accomplishment, it's a record that I'm hoping I don't get in the habit of breaking.

*Everything I said about Jay was only half true.