I'm ramping up from my hard effort at the Washington's Birthday Marathon 2 weeks ago. Today is 7 miles with Denise, then another 6 on my own. Next week, I plan to run 20 or so miles.
I have often paraphrased Dr. Ken Cooper's remark that if you're running more than 25 total miles a week, you're probably doing it for reasons other than health. I was interested by the study published in the March issue of "Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise". In it, Dr. Paul Williams found in a study of 62,000 men and 45, 000 women that decreases in high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol were associated with number of marathons run in a year:
"Paul Williams, Ph.D., author of the study, found that men who ran two or more marathons per year were 41 percent less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, 32 percent less likely to have high cholesterol, and 87 percent less likely to be diabetic than non-marathoners. Those who ran only one marathon every two to five years also had significantly lower risk for these conditions than non-marathoners."
These results were largely independent of average total number of miles run per week, suggesting that the act of running a "long run" in itself granted some benefit.
This gratifyingly justifies my training which includes 2-3 long runs longer than 20 miles each month.
Yesterday, I ran the 48-th running of the Washington's Birthday Marathon. I had a suspicion that the roads behind our home in the agricultural research station were the site of a marathon for years. The spray painted markings, "M" with an integer between 2 and 24, were clear evidence to me. Denise would dismiss my speculations as one of my usual running projective fantasies. I found the race web site this winter by Googling various combinations of the words "marathon", "Beltsville" and others. My running fantasies were vindicated. A marathon through the woods and fields of the research station on February 15 could only be hilly, cold, and desolate at best, brutal at worst. I had no desire to run it.
Sunday, I woke to a cold, clear dawn. The sky was clear blue, temperature in windy 30's. Driven by a homing-like instinct I stuffed down a large breakfast and made my way to the Greenbelt Youth Center to register. Denise and I found an amazing group of people there, roughly 250 runners, almost all seasoned marathoners and ultra runners. Many were routine veterans of the JFK 50-Miler. Whereas a Boston Marathon jacket is a rare sighting at most large races, they were a commonplace in Greenbelt that morning. During the pre-race wait and the occasional conversation during the subsequent, challenging 26 miles, I met no one with fewer than 7 marathons' experience.
The race was sunny, windy, cool, and hilly. I had planned to run it as a training run, but my excitement and the fitness of the field goaded me into racing it. It was a beautiful, brutal run. The first three quarter's mile was mostly up hill out of Greenbelt. Cresting a hill at the neighborhood boarder, the agricultural research facilities to the north opened up roughly 200 feet below us. A mile descent followed as I realized this would be at roughly 24.5 miles on the return. Upon reaching Beaver Dam Road, we began a seven-mile counterclockwise loop that we would run three times. We ran eastwards following the southern side of the tree line that protected us from the wind. On most of the route, the trees did not shade us and the sun warmed us to the point of perspiration. Beaver Dam is mostly a succession of small steep hills. We turned north along Springfield road, the hills lengthening with decreasing slope. Crossing fields, we got our first shots of the wind from the north-west again, drying our perspiration. The road entered copses that protected us from the wind only to re-expose us minutes later. At Powder Mill Road, we turned west, for two miles of running into the wind. Powder Mill is mostly long, smooth, ascents and descents. At the visitor center, we turned south briefly to re-join Beaver Dam. The loop had the interesting effect of giving the runner a inkling of what was coming up. He has a direct experience of waning strength as miles and laps go by. Future challenges melted into past obstacles. At my last pass by the visitor center, I knew it would be mostly downhill, to mile 24.5. I can easily admit I walked the last, steeper half of the ascent back into Greenbelt. I think I was walking faster than I could have run. After that, it was mostly a 0.2-mile downhill run to the finish line.
I do not remember actually seeing the finish line, just hearing Denise calling out my time. The voice I have known for over thirty years sounded particularly sweet as I numbly sprinted across the finish.
I do not think the Washington's Birthday Marathon is a particularly good place to come to try for a PR. However, an older oriental man minutes ahead of me qualified for Boston that day. I ran it 4 minutes off my marathon PR, without training specifically for this race. My thesis in running is that achieving a level of fitness that allows the individual to run 26.2 miles on any weekend and remain consistent with the responsibilities of a professional and personal life, and graduate school is possible, even desirable.
The hardship of racing a marathon being what it is, I am not training this morning. As I share this, I am sitting cross-legged on the floor in our home gym. Denise is on the treadmill in front of me doing her run while I keep her company. We have the Nova documentary on marathon training playing on the LCD TV.
This morning displayed a breathtakingly beautiful cold winter dawn after many days of gray. The eastern sky was ablaze in blues and pinks, punctuated by light gray clouds and mists. The sliver moon floated above in a dark blue sky. Our neighborhood was very quiet, the usual rush hour traffic completely missing. It seems that all of Washington DC is poised and paused for a massive celebration.
I ran 3 miles with Denise, then another 3 alone. In the cold, even the birds pass up their usual predawn chorus.
I'm not sure if it is my mind or reality, but my perceived exertion is much higher when the temperature drops below the low 20s.
I'm beginning his piece an hour before the 2008 winter solstice. As a morning runner, I can start looking forward to seeing dawn during my run.
I ran my long run yesterday in anticipation of the ugly winter's weather that has arrived this morning. I ran it at Lake Artemesia on the Paint Branch Trail through the University of Maryland campus and to the north. A 7.5 mile out-and-back, I ran it 3 times.
It was a grey day, grey clouds, grey trees, brown grass. Breezy and 35 F, the windchill must have been around 30 F.
Two days prior, on a treadmill in my home gym, I passed 1000 miles on the year on mile 4 of an 8 mile run. I don't think I've ever run 1000 miles in a year. This was despite 14 weeks' of no running do rest my plantar fascia. 1000 miles does not mean much in the pursuit of a Boston qualifying time, but in our numerically-focused civilization, one can't let it come and go without notice.
I'm used to shorter loops on my long runs. They are variously 1.25, 1.4 or 3.0 mile loops around lakeside strolling trails or my neighborhood. The mental experience of Paint Branch Trail is very different. Going north of campus, it gets much more isolated. A shorter look brings the psychological support of repeatedly seeing people out enjoying the park, working in their yards, or even driving to and from errands. On a 7.5 mile loop, repeated three times, you see no one twice. North of the campus, in the woods, the runner becomes completely, anonymously, alone. On my first loop this bothered me. On the second and third loops, celebrating the increasing awareness of just how strong I was running, my awareness of isolation vanished. Last quarter of the 3rd loop got pretty hard. I found myself asking rhetorically: "Why does it always have to get so hard?"
Truth of the matter is, if you get really tired on your long run, you're probably running too fast. Saturday was windy and cold. My pace was probably a bit fast for me, but comfortably fast. I held it for 20 or so miles with no problems, but then it caught up with me in the last mile or two. I no longer supplement during the run to train my metabolism to use more fat as a source of energy while running at higher speeds. I don't believe I've ever run quite that far without gels or Gatorade.
While in college as a zoology student, I became convinced that human physical and psychic health are greatly dependent on living a life style that most mimicked the conditions and habits that under which humans evolved. Medical, nutritional, and exercise science has largely confirmed this hunch. The current popular belief that "it takes a http://community.active.com/people/DaveVause/blog/2008/12/21/122108-milestones-and-a-solstice/primitive village" to provide the necessary emotional support for raising our young and caring for our elderly also argues in favor of this notion. Running not only provides the exercise for which humans are most optimized from an evolutionary stand point. It also re-introduces the runner to the daily and seasonal rhythm of nature. Some believe this external support for our own circadian rhythms is a necessary component of human psychological health.
I was able to catch glimpses of several of the more unusual local birds while running through the woods for such a long run. Along the streams, a large heron stalked fish in the cold shallow. There's a section of woods that were decimated in a tornado in 2001. One sees fully mature trees with all large branches ripped from them by the winds. There are also many insect-laden dead trees, still standing. Among these, two large red-headed wood peckers flitted about on each of my loops through that part of the woods. Finally, near Lake Artemesia, a large hawk screeched from a tree top as I finished the last lap. While a zoology student at Florida in 1974, I was consciously very close to the fauna on campus around me. That consciousness has receded greatly with the years. The hours I spend outdoors doing 35 to 45 miles per week are bringing this consciousness back. I think this is also an ingredient of psychological health.
Every 2 to 3 weeks, I cut my weekly miles in half. Given the challenge of last Sunday's 21-miler, I knew it was time to cut back.
I always feel indolent and fat in my "down" weeks. They're a relief mentally, but they are also stressful. I learned that you can't just add 10% every week in my first year of training for the marathon. As with the hard and easy day micro-cycle, runners need week, and perhaps quarterly cycles too.
Next week....back to the breach with 36 or 39 miles.......
Yesterday, Denise mentioned that she had never run while the snow was falling.
It was 30F with a 19F windchill when Denise and I set out this morning. The sky swung between snowy and stormy to bright blue sky. We got a period of heavy snow. I learned that snowflakes hitting your eyes in a strong wind can actually hurt.
I took Denise on her 3 mile neighborhood lap, then did six more laps. This rather pushed the envelope for me as my previous long run was 20 on a flat course in mild weather in Florida. Nonetheless, the run went fairly easily and left me with only mild plantar fascia stress which was gone the next day.
At several points in the run, the wind would gust up the leaves and they'd run with me like tiny wood spirits.
Challenging, blustery, emotionally cleansing run.
To me, the amazing thing is that 2 or 3 years ago, this run would have been unthinkable. The transformation of body as years of marathon training go by is itself amazing. The transformation of mind is more so.
Denise came home from monthly trip to Tampa last night. I'm coach to my wife and Quixotic marathoner to myself. When I run with Denise, I'm coach.
I took Denise to the western end of the Washington-Baltimore-Annapolis Trail for a 3 miler this morning at 8 AM. It was a "data collection point" for me. We were at 18 F, light breeze. Synthetic base layer and tights, synthetic jersey, light gloves and mitt shell were enough to keep me warm. We were chilly running into the breeze going east, and worked up a small sweat going west.
It snowed this evening. Its going to be a long winter.
I delivered Denise to the airport today, no run this morning.
So, this evening I came home after work, fed Sophie and Peanut and went straight down to the gym to run. I just didn't want to do 41 F and dark, so it was fluorescent lights, the treadmill, and a very special movie on the LCD TV in the gym.
Watching "The Spirit of the Marathon" made the time on the treadmill invisible. http://www.marathonmovie.com/home.html I've thought that only someone who has completed a marathon could connect with this movie. Yet, it can hold Denise in its thrall almost as much as me. Perhaps this because she has vicariously lived through marathon training by living with me; perhaps because it resonates with her own 13.1 mile efforts.
The vagaries of the world ensure that success is as much dependent on forces beyond our control as forces within our grasp. Success at the marathon is unusually dependent on the person making the effort. Injuries are errors in training - over ambitious errors. If you don't train enough, the distance will crush you. The long, slow, steady build up of distance and speed is an exercise in restraint as well as determination and enthusiasm. The resulting growth in strength is inescapable.
The individual can succeed in the marathon - never "match it" - by the due diligence of life spent in the single-minded pursuit of that goal.
I'm in Florida at our daughter's for Thanksgiving. After several mornings in the 30's, its 51F at 5:30 AM. I never bring enough colder weather gear here, expecting Florida to be warm. Today, it is.
Its not the marathon that changes you, its the pursuit of the marathon. I sit here in the dark, drinking coffee and eating my peanut butter sandwich. It seems like all the world sleeps.
Why am I here? I want to run marathons. I want 26.2 miles in training to be easy, if not routine. I want a sub-3:35 in 2009 to qualify for Boston.
In "Lawrence of Arabia", Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal dreams of the gardens of Cordoba in a moment of distraction. He brings himself back to the present by shrugging his shoulders and saying with a sigh: "Before the gardens must come the fighting."
The run went well. Running the flat Florida beachscape in 60 degree weather is much easier than hilly Maryland in the 30s.
The weekend after that last entry, I did a 19.25 mile run. Last weekend Johns Hopkins grad school took its pound of flesh and I did no long run.
This morning, it was 25F for my run with Denise. I did 3 miles outside with her, then another 3 miles on the treadmill in our home gym while she worked out.
I posted this to a distressed newbie runner's board entry:
After 3 years' training, running has finally become second nature to me. Eventually, it grows to become a part of who you are. The reason why so few people are fit is because they are unable to discipline themselves to train until the day when the discipline is no longer needed because its second nature.
Coming from South Florida, I hated the 5:30 AM runs in winter time Maryland. One quote, often attributed to Aristotle, got me through the first year: "You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."
When I was a neophyte, I read one of running's great coaches - Lydiard or Daniels - define "long run" as training runs at or over 17 miles. I thought this was an incredible vanity....and an impossibility.
I understand why he reserved the term "long" for runs in or above the high teens. Humans can store enough easily consumed carbohydrates to run 15 to 20 miles. Beyond, we need to consume a blend of carbohydrates and fat. By 17 miles, your body is either well into consuming that blend, or you've hit the wall.
I flirted with the wall today, consciously throttling back my pace to avoid it. Its my longest run since May. The faster you run, the greater the carb to fat consumption ratio becomes. So I trundled along.
I'm a minute a mile slower than I was this spring.
I run with the Prince Georges Road Runners when I can. I'm largely a solitary runner, quite comfortable logging 18 or 21 miles alone. PG Runners is my chance to be social. I run with the beginners to encourage them. Beginning running is hard. You have that non-stop mental chatter telling you can't do this. It magnifies the aches and pains, eventually making you think that if you don't stop, you'll die. If you don't stop, your mind synchronizes with your body. You begin to appreciate what your body can really do. You evolve to what your body was meant to be.
I was late and the groups had already set off on their runs. I ran alone, occasionally passing a group. In fall, at dawn, Greenbelt Park is a sea of red.
I came up on three does standing by the road. They did not bother to move as I floated by, staring at me. They were almost indistinguishable from their background, excepting their white tails.
I joined PG Runners afterward, having coffee. A young lady from Scotland, Eileen, and I traded impressions of Europe and the U.S. So was another day in the life of a distance runner.
The tiny mole lay on his right side on the neighborhood trail through the woods as I came upon him during my morning run. I wondered what caused him to leave the security of his burrow to cross the narrow, black, asphalt path. He only made it halfway across, before expiring in the middle of the trail. He lay in a small circle of dampness he exuded upon death.
I ran past in the darkness, the sad sight lingering in my mind. The end of a tiny life on such an unnatural surface just didn't seem right. I stopped and walked back to where he lay. Taking two small sticks, I picked up his body and placed it in the leaves of a bush on the side of the trail.
I continued my four mile run feeling the world was somehow a better place.
It is a failing of me as a runner that I undervalue my runs in single digit miles. The cumulative stress of those runs really does matter. That is one of the lessons from this spring.
The sun was just clearing the treetops when I arrived at Buddy Attic this morning. Its glare lit up the steam from the lake. The water was smoking in the chill night air. The scene was surreal. No details of lake and tree line were visible. The mist glowed and everything in it was a dark gray shadow. I began my run.
On the fourth lap of the 1.25 mile trail around the lake, I was joined by a young woman introduced by a mutual friend. I'd guess she's in her 30s now, but she retains that light, gliding, stride you see in talented high school and collegiate runners. She slowed significantly to chat with me in a thick Central or South American accent. I seldom run with others on my long runs, but it was truly pleasant to hear of her competitive running past, how she balances being a mother of 3 and running, and how she dislikes doing long runs alone. On the other hand, I was pretty quiet. She taxed me, inadvertently causing me to run just a little faster than I had planned.
Completing the eighth lap, I was done for the day. My slow, gentle, comeback to marathon training continues.
What I am about is making training for the marathon a lifestyle. Contemporary medical advice recommends 60 - 90 minutes a day of vigorous exercise. This is consistent with training for the marathon at the amateur level.