I had laid out the yellow brick road to success 8 weeks ago. I would run three times every week, gradually increasing the distance until I was more than comfortable tackling the 10 kilometers I was to cover come race day. As we all know, the best laid plans are usually just that. I have other commitments in my life and I also battle against laziness on occasion. The latter has been overcome for the most part as I make a concerted effort to get in shape. Well, with less than a month to go until race day, I fell off the proverbial wagon. I went a total of 12 days between runs, and quite frankly I was beginning to have doubts creep in. I wasn't entirely stagnant. I still went to the pool a number of times, walked with the kids a few times, played basketball once, and lifted weights 3 or 4 times every week like I usually do. But, it's no secret that long distance running requires something different than casual exercise or weight lifting does. For me, it's more about mental fitness and strength. These two things can overcome other obstacles if they are strong enough. My slump of inactivity ended last Wednesday when I had my first soccer game with my new team "Queensway Auto World". I had a blast chasing around the pitch, getting a good run in a game for the first time in 18 months. As I relaxed with a beer after the game, gaining some positive feedback from my new mates I told myself I had nothing to worry about. I had plenty of time to get my act together and prepare to race on Sunday June 2nd.
On Wednesday night I mapped out the next 11 days in my mind. I knew I would be in rough shape Thursday after walking 5 km then playing in the evening. The pace of the game was intense. These guys were all over 30 but that didn't mean much once the game got going. There was hardly a gut in sight, with both teams full of fit guys who didn't stop running. I held my own, playing about two thirds of the game. I had a handful of decent runs, including a few that I got hit on, and sent a few solid crosses in. I was particularly proud of a ball I sent hard across the middle of the pitch while we were transitioning to offense. It wasn't something either team expected, as I sent the ball 30 yards along the ground into the path of my opposite winger who was dashing up the field. He ended up playing a give and go with one of the strikers, getting the ball back in the corner and sending it into the box. Our striker and I had both made the run, and the ball was played so either of us could have got there. The goalie was unsure of who to play, and the ball ended up falling to our striker who side footed into the onion bag. We beat the defending league champions 5-2 and all the boys were pretty excited about the 4 new guys. Our next game is Friday night, and my family should be in attendance. I am excited to show them what I can do.
So Wednesday was soccer, and that night I decided that I would get my first run in on Saturday morning. Jasmine's soccer was at noon, so I figured I could go for a nice casual run before that. I decided to keep it short, and I didn't turn the stopwatch on, wanting to just get through it. The weather was nice, and it was a pretty solid effort. Easing back into had been successful, but as soon as I got back to the house, my thoughts turned to Monday. I told myself I had to complete the full distance at least once before race day, and not wanting to do it too close to the real thing, I had chosen Monday. The mind started racing early Monday morning.
I woke up for my morning shift having fallen asleep early Sunday evening. I was fully rested for a Monday shift, something that happens very rarely. As it turned out, I would need all the energy I could muster. I work with special needs adults, and usually I have pretty relaxing job. I help the guys to accomplish daily life tasks that most would find routine. I do chores around their home as a housekeeper would. For the most part the guys are relaxed, down to earth people who don't need me to tell them how to behave. On occasion my patience is tested, and like anyone else, a bad day occurs. I was frazzled, plain and simple. For confidentiality reasons, I won't get into any of it. I thought it interesting, that the day that I planned to run further than I had in 6 years, one of the guys would have a miserable day. When someone can't speak, or communicate in any way really, you find yourself at a loss as to how to help. There were a few things to try, but I was unsuccessful. I made a nice breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast and coffee. This was the only time during the shift when we were all able to relax. I made sure to have a relatively healthy day with my food as I knew the run was coming. Lunch consisted of a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of mushroom soup. I skipped the traditional cookie after the meal. I made it to 230, and got home with Asher about 3. I still had more than 3 hours to go before Sheila would arrive home, and I would be able to go. I checked out my fantasy baseball teams some more. I brewed some coffee. I took a shower to "wake me up". I felt lethargic, and really felt like there was no way I would actually complete the run. Around 5 I started making dinner. I was planning to have dinner ready for the time Sheila came home. She and the kids could eat, and I would go running. I baked the squash, sauteed the other vegetables, and it was ready to eat when Sheila arrived. I already had my shorts and shirt on. I greeted Sheila, and I stepped out the door. I didn't want to be tempted to eat, as this would make it impossible to run. I grabbed an energy bar on the way out to tide me over.
Random Observations From My Run:
-A few times during my run I remembered that come Sunday I would have no ipod as they are banned for insurance reasons. I never run without an ipod, and I am a little worried that this may effect my performance. Hopefully, the desire to chase down other runners and finish with a solid time will over come this.
-I have been quite happy with my newish lightweight running shoes. Unfortunately, the last few times I have put them on, they have felt uncomfortably tight. Even weirder, is that only the left shoe is noticeably uncomfortable. If I tie the shoes while sitting down, I end up tightening them to much. In the end, I tied and retied my shoes about 8 times yesterday before I finally just left them. It was a subconscious stalling tactic most likely, one more obstacle to overcome.
-I always have a smoke before I run. Judge me if you like, but I feel like cannabis enhances my mental strength, and it takes little away from me physically. When you have the amount of time inside your own head that a long run provides, all sorts fo mental hurdles can pop into that space.
-Something quite exciting took place during my run, that I shared with Sheila immediately after. I passed approximately 12 people or couples out walking on my route. Oddly, there was a number of women, by themselves, all of them with two dogs each. It seems no one has just one dog anymore. Every time I ran by, I said a big hello, and as I was having a great time, flashed a big smile that rarely left my face throughout the run. Every single time I got a greeting in return. When I passed a woman and her dogs for the second time, we said hello and laughed a little. Even as I finished the tenth kilometer, I said hello to a couple of girls and got a big one back. This really does pick up the mood while I run, I'm not entirely sure why. Sheila was impressed that not only could I still talk at the end of the run, I wasn't breathing heavily. Jasmine thought I wasn't sweating either, but as she came closer she could see that Dad was indeed glistening, having just burnt approximately 800 calories.
-Breathing techniques. It was something I wanted to work on before the big day. I am relatively inexperienced when it comes to running, and I breath with an open gaping mouth. I've heard that breathing through your nose is better, but I have never heard why exactly. I believe it keeps your breathing more relaxed, and it obviously stops you from gasping for air. I have tried at times to breath through my nose while mid-run, and it does work. The added bonus is that I have to focus my thoughts on each breath, taking my mind away from other issues such as leg pains, cramps or whatever else I might be thinking about. I didn't nose breathe once during my run yesterday, but I hope to use the technique at times on Sunday to relax and refocus.
-Short underwear is a bad idea when one is running ten kilometers. Chafing. That is all.
-Caterpillars are harmless, but pretty revolting. I spent time looking ahead during my run, paying attention to which trees would have hanging critters, and crossing streets when possible to avoid the worst ones. Of course, I only started doing this after I ran through a battlefield while rounding a corner. I didn't have a chance to see the tree in advance, and managed to get clobbered pretty good. I could feel a silky thread hanging off my arm the rest of the way. Funny thing was, in the middle of the night, while Sheila tried to get Asher back to sleep, he pointed out a caterpillar that had found a home in our bed. Sheila grabbed it a tossed it in the bathroom sink, and flushed it away with a little water. For you humanitarians out there, please don't fret about a dead caterpillar, there must be about 50 million of them in Prince George alone right now. One nice thing about having only evergreens in the yard. I heard the caterpillar story in the morning, when I asked Sheila about the still living caterpillar in the sink. Turns out the flush had missed him in the early morning and he had survived.
-I don't usually deal with a lot of soreness in my legs or feet while running. Yesterday was a different story. I had to rely on all of my mental toughness to ignore pains that at times were in my quads, my hamstrings, my calves (shin splints), my arches, and a new one, my ankles. When I was nearing the end of the run, the pains had all run their course, and I was feeling the best I had the whole run. Perhaps I could run further?
-An odd happening that I have been acutely aware of this spring is that I don't seem to have a go to style for swinging my arms. I feel like I could be doing more with my arms to build momentum. The range over which they travel is quite short. My hands always feel very awkward. Do I run with them in tight fists? Open and loose? Sometimes, I point my one finger out and extended my thumb as if I was indicating "this guy". Just another of the odd things to enter my brain while slapping the pavement.
-It is very cool to be able to check one's running posture while out on the road. If the sun is parallel to you, and you have a fence or pavement on the other side, you can see your shadow clearly. I like to check my posture this way, and it often amuses me. I run in a very straight up posture, at times it even looks like I am leaning back. I look like I am very relaxed in this stance. It makes me feel like I could put out more effort. I then remind myself that putting out as little excess energy as possible is the ideal, and likely my running style is a benefit to me. I covered 10,000 meters on my run yesterday. If I was going to say a stride is 1 meter ( I really have no clue) that means I put in 10,000 paces. Let's not mess with the posture at this point.
-I didn't let myself check my watch until I was nearing the end of the first lap. I had checked my posture a few kilometers earlier, and I was expecting to see that my pace was a little slower than it had been the last time I ran the 7 km loop. I have been just off a 5 minute pace per km all spring. Whether I run 3 km, 5 km, 7 km my pace stays pretty steady. I was happy to see that my casual posture had not led to a slower time. I was going to complete the 7 km in just over 35 minutes.
-I set my route intentionally so that I would have a few obstacles to deal with. The route is flat for the first 1.5 km, but then has a decent sized upslope. 6 or 7% grade, followed by a long 2 or 3 % grade. You are climbing for probably 500 meters. I like that this battle is early in the run, and once I complete it, I feel like the tough part is already over. I knew yesterday that the real battle would be later on. I don't have a 10 km route mapped out online, but I do have a 7 km route and a 3 km route. This means that in order to complete the full distance, I would have to pass by my house, and continue on. Remember, 7 km is the furthest I have run previously. I had a number of voices in my head telling me that it would be okay to quit. Inspired by the time I had just seen on my watch, I picked the pace up slightly and powered past the house to complete the second, shorter loop. I would be running on some of the same roads I had already gone down, and I would have no more hills to tackle.
-As I started the second loop I found myself asking the ultimate question. Do I feel any different then I did when I ran down this street the first time? I actually felt better. While obviously a little fatigued, the pain that had started almost immediately upon beginning had subsided. I laughed in my head at the thought. How many people would believe that one? No, no. Really. If you run 7 km, then continue to run, you will actually feel better than you did when you started. Yeah right, funny man.
- I rounded our corner to complete the crescent and reach home. I even managed to pick up the pace for a short end of run sprint. I checked the watch, happy enough to see that my pace had hardly fallen off. I punched the button on the ipod at 51 minutes and 22 seconds. As I sat down outside to rest for a second, the impact of my accomplishment hit me. Not only was I going to be just fine on Sunday, I am going to compete. Let's not get carried away. I won't be chesting the ribbon at the finish line. If I run the same time on Sunday, I will be competitive. If I use last year's race results as a gauge, my time would have put me in 15th out of 30 runners in the 19-49 men's division. It would have put me at 35th out of 135 runners overall for the distance. I would be more than pleased if I could come close to the 50 minute threshold, and with the competitive juices flowing, I don't see this as unrealistic.
-I felt weird last night after completing my run. I got greeted by Asher like I always do when I come through the door. Whether I have been out for an hour or a few days, he always hollers: "Daddy back!!" He then sprints to the door to bear hug me. I will never grow tired of this. I sat in bed and ate dinner. Asher and I laid down together and watched wrestling. He moved away from me and promptly fell asleep, propped up against a bunch of pillows. I went to the kitchen, mixed up some juice and proceed to go downstairs and work out. With the adrenaline going from the run, I lifted heavier than normal during my chest workout. Sheila and Jasmine had gone out the swimming pool and then the grocery store. They came home, and Sheila and I watched a movie together. Robin Williams made an obscure film a few years ago called "World's Greatest Dad", and we put it on. I had heard of it for the first time yesterday, quite surprised that Robin Williams made a movie with so little fanfare. As is usual for Sheila and I we didn't finish it, but the hour that we did see was great. I am excited to finish it tonight.
I have a busy week ahead of me, in terms of preparing myself for Sunday. Tonight, Jasmine has soccer. Tomorrow Asher and I have Strong Start, and we are going to the park. Believe me, this might be the most strenuous thing I do all week. He ran non-stop at this very same park on Saturday afternoon. I chased him for an hour, then went to work. I was spent. Wednesday we swim after school. I have a 7 km run planned for that day as well. Thursday I coach Jasmine's soccer again, as a practice is scheduled. Friday night I have soccer at 630. I was hoping to take it easy for a couple of days before the race, but soccer isn't cooperating. I am none to upset about this. I'll take it easy Saturday, or at least try to. Then it will be race day. Wish me luck!