Still Running Long

running until i can't


Training Update: Week Eleven [Or: 21 miles @ 11 degrees]

You know those deep winter days when you are thankful for the sun…even though it doesn’t really warm you at all?

This is all about one run.

There are two weeks to write about, but it really comes down to one run.

As we’ve headed into late winter, our family schedule has begun to get complicated. Without going into tedious detail, there are several weekends on the calendar when I simply can’t do a long run.

The windows for running on a few of these weekends aren’t much longer than an hour, unless I go late, late at night. Which isn’t going to to happen; the roads are barely safe during the day with all the accumulated snow and ice.

So as my plan for long runs reached toward my twenty one miler, I realized that it fell on one of our no-go weekends. Which meant shifting that Saturday run to a Friday. This isn’t really an issue for work, since I work for the greatest company on the planet to work for.

But as I watched the ten day forecast in this winter of never ending snow and cold, I knew I’d be locked into whatever nature brought. Normally, if one day doesn’t look good, I can shift by a day. This way, it was Friday or bust.

When Friday first appeared on the ten day forecast, it looked decent. Cold, but decent, with highs forecast in the low 20’s. Then, as each day passed, the forecast high got lower and lower. Twenty. Then eighteen, then fifteen, then thirteen degrees. As the forecast temperature dropped, warnings of high winds started to creep in.

By the time it was Thursday, the forecast was for 14 degrees Fahrenheit with sustained winds of 15 mph and gusts to 25 mph. The one thing keeping from losing my mind even before heading out the door was the forecast for bright sunshine.


just plain cold

When I walked out the door Friday at noon, it was 9 degrees. I had resisted the temptation to put on too many layers (which, in a perverse way, can actually make you colder when running outdoors–it’s a fine line), though I switched out to a warmer hat, slipped hand warmers into my gloves, and covered my exposed face in vaseline. I filled my hydration pack and planned to drink every two minutes or so to keep it from freezing.

The preventing of my hydration from freezing was an epic failure, as the tube went solid two miles into the run.

Just about everything else was amazing.

Not that I wasn’t cold, that the story in my mind was worse than reality. In fact, the high temperature ended up being 11 degrees. It was, as my son would say, epic cold. Heading south down the east side of lake Whitehall, the wind, roaring out of the west, had nothing to impede it as it came across the lake. I felt a long way from home.

But there was something about it, too, that felt quite real, like I wasn’t separated at all from the world. The cold was perfectly present, and I was moving through it, experiencing it completely.

When I got home a little more than three hours later, my wife had a cup of hot coffee just ground and brewed. It was an amazing gift. I sipped it slowly as my face began to tingle.

Weeks Ten and Eleven: It was really all about that one run. The other thing of any note was that, on the previous weekend, I ran a 13 miler followed by a 10, a low-level try at a B2B. It felt great; I’m looking forward to a more substantial one to come.

Screenshot 2015-02-27 20.44.30

Eats & Drinks: It was tough having nothing to drink on the 21 miler, cold as it was. Other than confirming that, I stuck with Honey Stinger gels…and probably will.

Milestones: (all post-April 2011 hip surgery)

  • Highest mileage week: 47.4 miles
  • Longest single run: 21.2 miles
  • Fastest pace for a 12+ mile run: 8:36 min/mile
  • No, this wasn’t my coldest run…only my coldest/longest…

Next Week’s Targets: A low intensity week. Running when it feels good, with a long of 14 and total mileage in the thirties.


Training Update: Week Nine

Week Nine. Or, the week I broke down. No, not physically. My body is fine, taking on the miles better than I could have possibly imagined.

I ran on a treadmill.

joined a gym and ran on a treadmill.

I began the winter confident that I could run through whatever might be thrown at me. It felt like part of the adventure, braving the cold and the snow. But then it became a battle. It became an agitation. And it became downright dangerous.

For a few weeks, I had done okay by shifting a run here or there to accommodate a bad storm. I didn’t like it, because it threw me off my regular schedule. But, I thought, that’s part of it, right? Zen taught me a long time ago that there is very little (euphemism for nothing) that I am in control of, and the weather was just reaffirming that truth for me.

Yet I couldn’t quite sit with it–or run with it. During week nine, I looked at the snow piling up outside, the forecast of so much more and of below zero (fahrenheit) temperatures, and I broke down.

I wondered if I would feel somehow like less of a runner, like I had failed in some way. I managed, actually, to let go of that; it bothered me less than I had expected. I also worried that I simply wouldn’t enjoy those treadmill sessions the same way I do outdoor runs.

I could not have been more correct. It is awful.

And that’s Zen, too. Recognizing how I receive the experience, and not trying to correct that receiving. Just running in place, step after step.

Week Nine: The week began with ten miles of hills in Tuesday. We had just had some snow and so a fair amount of the ten miles was searching for bare patches on which to land my foot, but I enjoyed the day. In adding a couple of miles to my standard Tuesday hills, I added a few more hills and an extra 300 feet of vertical. I’d been waiting for this bump up in my training as I approached a new three week uptick in intensity and mileage, and was feeling like that phase was off to a good start.

Screenshot 2015-02-18 20.16.52

Wednesday was the usual five miles of recovery run, and then anxious eyes on the forecast. Thursday looked like snow, and indeed it was. This was the day I broke, signing up online for a not-quite-local-enough gym where I planned to head on Friday.

Friday came and I made the drive over. Knowing I had an 18 planned for Saturday, I did the math as I ran and knew I had to churn out about 7 on the treadmill to be on track for my weekly target. I hoped to enjoy it by listening to a little bit of music and focusing on the relative novelty of the experience. That ran out by mile three or so. So I covered the treadmill display with a towel and just kept going.

I don’t know why I find the experience so different, I said to my wife when I got home.

Well, she said, you’re just running in place.

But Saturday would be another day. I planned to head out relatively early, as I would have the kids on my own starting Saturday at noon, and 18 would take me a while. I headed out at 8:30 when the thermometer read about 9 degrees, and tackled the same 18 loop as I had two weeks before. It was a wonderful run. Even my heart rate monitor being on the fritz and giving me bad readings through the first seven miles couldn’t spoil it.

Two weeks earlier, there had been no snow on the ground. This time, there was probably three feet. I thought how remarkable it was, really, that the day before had been my first treadmill run in that span, and that here I was under a pale gray sky, breathing deep winter air.

Sunday recovery was back on the treadmill, since, well, it was snowing again and I had to run at 7:00 am to make our family schedule work. It sure didn’t compare to the outdoor 18. But tomorrow is a rest day, I thought as I put one foot in front of the other.

Eats & Drinks: I’ve really settled into Tailwind and Honey Stinger chews for the long runs. I can’t see why I would every drink anything else.

Milestones: (all post-April 2011 hip surgery)

  • Highest mileage week: 45.8 miles
  • Longest single run [tied]: 18.2 miles
  • Most elevation gain in a single run: 1,227 feet

Next Week’s Targets: Maintaining the mileage while introducing a mini back-to-back. Long runs have always been followed by a five-mile recovery run. In the next weekend, I’ll have a relative short long run on Saturday, then follow with a ten-mile recovery on Sunday.

P.S. I know I’m behind a week, but I try to write them like it was real time. Adds to the drama, you know…?


Training Update: Weeks Seven & Eight

At the beginning of week seven, the ground was still largely uncovered by snow. There were a few patches here and there from some scattered small storms we had had, but nothing significant. This isn’t to say that winter hadn’t arrived. Most days in January had been cold, some of them bitterly. But the ground was bare.

By the end of week eight, I was running closer into the center of the streets, pushed there by three feet of snow that lay on the ground. Piles at corners and intersections had reached 8 and 10 feet, making it difficult to see and be seen. And it seemed like new snow was coming down just about every day, slowing down my pace, raising my heart rate, and making footing unsure.

I run for that feeling of flow that comes about during some, but not all runs, when everything seems to meshing perfectly together. My entire body–feet legs, arms, back–along with my breath and all of the outside world. Seamless. One. It’s more difficult to get there when the drivers are brushing just past you on the much narrower road (half of them exasperated to see you there to begin with). But it still happens, every once in a while, if you just keep running.

Week Seven & Eight: I won’t try to go day-by-day through two weeks. I began week seven anticipating the long run that was to conclude it. Eighteen miles, my longest since hip surgery, and probably even since my 2003 knee surgery. I started the week with my usual 8 miles on Tuesday, but took a much flatter route. In part, this was to make sure my heart rate was all the way settled back after my elevated runs a few weeks back. And it was. The other reason was to prepare for this 18, to make sure there was something in the tank by the end of the week.

By the time the week got too far, it became clear that Saturday would not be a good day for 18. The forecast for snow started looking more and more menacing, so I moved the my long run to Friday. This meant two days of running after that run, instead of my usual recovery run and then rest day. But the Friday was beautiful and it felt like a good move.

Screenshot 2015-02-07 20.54.27

By the time Monday and Week Eight rolled around, though, it became clear that Tuesday of that week would be lost to an even bigger storm. So that meant a fourth consecutive day. Which all felt fine. Until the middle of Week Eight, when it was clear that stretch had dipped a bit too far into my reserves. But Week Eight was a low-intensity week, which allowed me to get my 36 miles in over four days instead of five, and build in a double rest day.

A few months ago, I would have felt like a double-rest day was cheating. Now I know what it means to my body, how my body uses that rest to get stronger. So I loved it… And finished the week with a just about 15 miler.

Where I did something pretty dumb. I wore a brand new pair of shoes. Exact same model, but still a brand new pair. I know. I know. I really do. But I couldn’t help myself (separate shoe post to come…). And ended up with a decent amount of soreness on my right foot, at the end of a week when I should have been feeling re-charged and ready. I know.

Eats & Drinks: Tailwind! I finally got over to our local running & triathlon store and picked up some Tailwind, which I had used a few times in Costa Rica. I love this stuff. It tastes good, it has a nice high sodium content, and it just, for lack of a better explanation, feels simple in my body. I used it on my 18 miler. Even though part of their pitch is that it is all you need, I also took along some Honey Stinger Chews. I feel like every once in a while, I need something to actually chew. Plus if all I do is drink? I mean, I have to pull over on the side of the road often enough as it is…The combination was fantastic.

Milestones (All post-hip surgery, April 2011):

  • Longest run: 18.2 miles
  • Highest mileage week: 44.2 miles
  • Fastest pace on a 12+ mile run: 8:45 min/mile

Next Week’s Targets: Run the same 18 mile loop, but in a higher mileage week. I’ll kick the Tuesday hills up to 10 miles and hope to top 45 miles.

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Training Update: Week Six

I started week six mostly worried, yet anxious to get going after two consecutive days without running. I had taken those two days after my heart rate had been spiked (well, hovering too high, anyway) during my aborted long run the Saturday before.

It was a tough two days. Just waiting, essentially, to see what would happen when I hit the pavement again. When I reached the end of my street and looked down at my watch, what would I see? Would I see the same elevated number as Saturday? Or something more normal?

Sometimes I catch myself thinking that, as a Zen student, I shouldn’t worry so much about this. My heart rate is my heart rate. Zen isn’t about always being calm, as is the popular conception; it’s about a basic friendliness with whatever arises. It’s about accepting anxiety when it is present, and not looking for it when it isn’t there.

There’s a sign on the wall just outside the zendo in our Temple that says (in Japanese), No Merit. And yet much of my fear about my heart rate last week was connected to achievement. I want to see things unfold in a certain way. And, for a time, they were unfolding in decidedly the opposite direction. Which made the basic friendliness difficult. But that, too, is something I can accept, something I can sit with. Or run with.

Week Six: I’m kind of surprised, in retrospect, that I didn’t begin the week with something easier, but I went out Tuesday for 8 miles of hills, and ramped up to my lactate threshold on repeats of the last one. It was bitterly cold and the streets were icy. But it was good to be out. And, yes, my heart rate was lower than Saturday. Not glance-at-my-watch-and-laugh low, but it felt like it was moving in the right direction.

Screenshot 2015-01-21 20.05.28

Wednesday was my typical recovery run. I wrote in my training log when I finished, Mostly meh. There was nothing wrong with the run, but I still had to stay fairly slow to keep my heart at a recovery rate. I kept thinking to myself, well, it’s better, but it isn’t all the way better.

I decided not to do any speed work on Thursday and just have an easy six. It was incrementally better. But I found myself anxious for my rest day, hopeful that it could move me another step closer to being back.

As the weekend approached, I watched the weather closely. The forecast high for Saturday was 13 degrees, while Sunday was supposed to be 33 and raining. Which would I rather run sixteen miles in?

I went for Saturday, and was so glad I did. The temperature managed to climb to 16, and the sun was bright, the air clear and dry. I left my hydration pack behind (it would just freeze anyway), layered up, and headed out. It was a this-is-why-I-run type of run. I felt like my performance wasn’t quite where I wanted still, but it was quiet on the streets, and the air felt, well, pure.

I wrapped up the week, as usual with a Sunday recovery run. I really had trouble getting going the first few miles, and ended up even slower than my Wednesday run. It was just about as slow as my all-time low-point when I had a dark and horrible morning recovery run in December. I could have been terribly discouraged, based on everything since the aborted long run, but somehow I wasn’t. It’s just the effects of yesterday’s sixteen, I told myself. And a rest day to follow.

Eats & Drinks: As I noted above, this week’s experiment was with not eating and drinking on my sixteen-miler. I made it fine and was well hydrated, but I could feel the lack of energy in my legs for the last couple of miles. It felt like a good learning experience that didn’t do me any harm.


  • Tied longest post-hip surgery (April 2011) run: 16.2 miles

Next Week’s Targets: Finding out if I really am all the way back. Oh, and a new longest run (post-hip surgery) of eighteen miles, wrapped into what should also be my highest mileage week (p.h.s., and perhaps even post-knee surgery (April 2003).

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Sunday Long: Double Dose

No, not a double dose of running on Sunday; two Sundays to write about, each very different on the outside, maybe not so much at heart.

It takes a lot for me to miss my Sunday long run. Two Sundays ago was just such a day. I didn’t run at all. I hadn’t run on Saturday. Instead, I just sat. All day. It was sesshin at the Zen Temple, a word for retreat meaning touching the heart mind.

My shoes were with me the three days, sitting in a bag I brought just in case there was time for a short run after the close of day ceremony, which comes after a good sixteen hours of zazen. I never used them.

So it was a Sunday long, but not on my feet.

This past Sunday was different. I usually run in the late morning on Sundays, as opposed to my pre-6:00 am routine on weekdays. This week I couldn’t sleep in the early morning, so headed out shortly after 6:00. The weather was just about my favorite running weather – cold enough for arm sleeves, gloves, and a hat, but still able to wear shorts. It was a morning when I could just about see my breath.

I set out for a 12 mile route I hadn’t done before, excited about the prospect of some good time on my feet. The route itself had just about as much flat as can be found around here, probably more than is useful as I look forward to running a hilly trail ultra or two next summer.

Do you ever have one of those runs where it all just feels right? Where it feels…clean? The first half of this run was that way. Effortless no matter whether I was headed up or down. Easy to keep my cadence up  even when the effort was easy. It even seemed like, for long stretches, no cars drove by to spoil the sense of being out all alone. I had a couple of moments when (and when I know I’m having a good run) when I simply laughed to myself. Laughed at the good fortune of being out on a beautiful morning, healthy, thoughts cleared, breathing deeply.

The run changed about halfway through as I came through an area of wide corn and hay fields that straddle a long uphill section of the road. Every step I rose in elevation, the wind seemed to strengthen as I ran straight into it. I caught myself reaching with my stride, trying to push through the wind with my strength, rather than quickening my tempo and leaning gently from my ankles.

The breakdown in my form stuck with me for a few miles, long after the terrain had leveled back out. In contrast to the thoughtless flow I had experienced in the first six miles, I had to think, think, think about my form as I went. I noticed soreness in my knees and my hip abductor muscles that won’t quite come unstuck.

But none of that is a complaint. Because I kept going. I was out running, early on a Sunday. Sometimes that feels perfect. Sometimes it feels all wrong. Both of those are just right.

I had taken the first eleven miles at an easy, low heart rate pace, intending to hold that for the full twelve. But the biggest climb on the loop covered most of the last mile, and as I hit the bottom I switched off my heart rate monitor and decided to take it tempo. Touching the heart at that moment meant forgetting all about it, and simply running.

The only downside was that my Sunday Long run was just a few seconds shorter that way.