9 days and counting…

My 4th half-marathon is 9 days away. I have one more long run planned and maybe three 5K’s. I’m starting to look ahead at the weather forecast, and right now it looks like it’s going to be warmer than I like it, but also breezy. I’m not letting myself get flustered over the weather. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll have to run in the same weather everyone else runs in. If I can successfully complete the half-marathon — and my confidence is rising — I will permanently change the way I train for half-marathons, since I was forced to alter my strategy after injuring myself three months ago. I’ll do a write-up on my new training plan after next Saturday.

Injury update

Yesterday morning, I ran my first 10K since tearing my right calf muscle two months ago. It was slow and difficult, but it helped me meet a goal. My time was 58 minutes. My usual 10K time is 54-56 minutes. But I’m not disappointed. I deliberately slowed my pace in order to get the miles. And I was quite pleased with the miles.

I am running in the Rock-and-Roll Marathon in Nashville on April 29 (participating in the half-marathon). I am nowhere close to being in half-marathon shape. Recovering from an injury is tough. It doesn’t take long to get out of shape. I’ve been back to running for about 2 1/2 weeks now. It’s just now starting to come back to me. I’m going to run the half-marathon knowing I won’t be fully prepared. I’ll be mostly prepared, but probably not fully.

I am limiting my number of weekly miles this training season. It may seem counter-productive, but I cannot afford to re-injure myself at this point. So I’m taking precautions and trying to find a balance. I’m running two or three 5K’s a week, plus one “long run.” The long run will (Lord willing) increase a little very week. Last week’s long run was 5 miles. This week’s was 10K. Next week I’m aiming for 7 miles, and so on. I’d love to get in one training run of 11 miles. I’d feel a great deal better going into the half-marathon with an 11-miler under my belt.

So far, my injury hasn’t bothered me. I’m running with a compression sleeve (and will be long-term), avoiding running back-to-back days, and keeping my weekly miles under 20, since I believe I did myself in by running too many miles in too short a period (nearly 25 miles in a 7-day period when the injury originally occurred). At any rate, that’s where I am. I’ve got 5 1/2 weeks to prepare for my 4th half-marathon. It’s always a challenge, but more so this year.

Injured

I’ve been blessed as a runner. I’ve been running for many years, more so during the last 4 years or so than ever before as I’ve been running half-marathons. Although I’ve had to fight through various occasional ailments (soreness, cramps, tendinitis), I’ve never actually injured myself…until now.

The Friday before last, I went for a typical 5-mile run and noticed some soreness in my right calf. It seemed like no big deal at the time. I’ve had soreness in various places before. Two days later — nine days ago — I went for another run. It was going to be my last run for a few days. I was trying to make the most of a prolonged warm spell and getting in as many miles as I could. My goal was 6.55 miles — half of a half-marathon — in under an hour. Sometime after reaching five miles, the soreness returned and became progressively worse until the pain sharpened and forced me to stop at 6.35 miles. I was planning on taking a few days off, anyway, so I figured the cramp would fix itself during the time off.

It didn’t. The cramp, as it turned out wasn’t a cramp. Yesterday was my first run in 8 days. It started off well, but once I passed the two mile mark, the nagging discomfort came back until I was forced to stop at 3.75 miles. I was quite a ways from home and had to literally limp back. That’s when I realized I had probably partially torn my right calf muscle — the same one I tore 9 years ago playing basketball.

When it happened before, it felt as though I had been shot in the back of the leg. The pain was sudden. This time it came on gradually, and it certainly isn’t as serious as before. Later my wife felt around and confirmed that it felt like a muscle tear. It sure feels the same.

So now I can’t run. It’s the first time I’ve been sidelined like this since becoming a half-marathoner. Again, at 47 years of age, I’ve been lucky. I’ve watched two co-workers, also runners, go down with injuries the last couple of years. It’s frustrating, but it was bound to happen sooner or later. Each of the last two years I’ve logged in excess of 800 miles. The year before that, I exceeded 700 miles, so that’s 2,300+ miles in 3 years, and six pairs of running shoes.

The last time this happened, as I recall, it took me about six weeks to recover. Although the muscle tear isn’t as serious, I am 9 years older, so I’m going to start taking walks in maybe 1-2 weeks once I can do it without a limp. Hopefully by mid-March I can start running again and be in half-marathon shape by the end of April. Normally, I begin training on March 1, so I’ll have less time to prepare than usual. And there is a chance I won’t be able to do the half-marathon at all if my recovery takes longer this time (or I reinjure it).

I’m sure the temptation will be there to start running before mid-March. I’m going to do my best to not give in so I can give it proper time to heal. If it doesn’t happen for me, then there’s not much I can do about it. There’s nothing you can really do for a torn calf muscle other than let it heal on its own. If the Nashville half-marathon proves impossible, there’s always the Memphis half-marathon in December. I’ve been wanting to do that one, anyway.

Trails & treadmills

I keep seeing an advertisement on TV for an expensive-looking treadmill with a video screen that lets you choose your “scenery.”

No thanks.

I used to run on a treadmill. I did so for years, so I’m not putting down treadmills or treadmill runners. Running on a treadmill is far better than not exercising at all.

We owned a treadmill for years, and when I got tired of maintaining it, I drove to the gym and ran on a treadmill there. But at some point I began asking myself why I was paying for a gym membership when I could literally step out my front door and start running outside.

Why not give it a try? It was August, 2012. The idea of running a half-marathon had not yet been hatched. The one sticking point had been what to do in winter. What if I can’t run outside in cold weather?

My first few runs in the summer heat outside were disappointing compared to the miles I was getting on a treadmill. I literally had to get in shape all over again.

It turns out my concern over running in the cold was much ado about nothing. My ideal running temperature is 40-45 degrees, as long as there’s no wind. I can even run in short sleeves at 45 degrees if it’s sunny and windless.

I don’t write these things in order to impress anyone. It’s just that running on a treadmill doesn’t do it for me any longer. I’ve run on a treadmill exactly once since I gave up the gym membership. It was in a hotel while we were traveling. I ran a 5K and it was so boring it was insufferable. You can show me scenery on a screen, but it’s just scenery on a screen.

Give me the scenery of the out-of-doors, the trails, the pavement, houses and families and people outside. Give me the clouds and the sun and the rain and the wind.

Running during the heat of summer is the hardest. During summer I do primarily 5K’s. I can rarely do more. The heat and humidity just wear me down. My shirt will be so soaked with sweat that I have to wring it out in the bathtub so it won’t drip on the floor when I drape it over the shower rod. But I still get my miles in even during the hottest part of summer.

Likewise, twice this past winter I ran when there was snow on the ground. I had to wear gloves and a toboggan, running pants and two layers of Under Armour. But even during the coldest part of winter I get my miles. Winter means fewer runs, but more miles per run than during summer, so at least my miles remain amazingly consistent throughout the year.

The elements often provide difficulty, but the out-of-doors are also quite pleasant during the autumn and spring. Likewise, the pavement can be very unforgiving. Running in Middle Tennessee means running on hills. It sometimes means getting caught in a shower. It means the wind is sometimes in your face and sometimes at your back. It means alternating shade and sunshine. It means wet streets and puddles. It means meeting other runners and walkers, too. It means constantly moving scenery. It means going ever wherever you will yourself to go. It means autonomy, because you are your own engine. It means that you have to get yourself back home when you wander off.

I have run three half-marathons to date. There’s no way I could have prepared for a half-marathon running on a treadmill. The half-marathon is run outside, on pavement, with hills, rain or shine, and the only way to prepare your body and your mind is to run outside, on pavement, with hills, rain or shine.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My own sports

I was a huge sports fan not that long ago. I still am a sports fan, although not nearly to the degree I once was. I have attended just one MLB game since 2013 and just one NFL game since 2011. I did attend an NBA game in January of this year (Memphis Grizzlies), as the NBA has become my major league sport of choice.

I do attend University of Memphis football and (hopefully this year) basketball games because that’s my alma mater. The U of M has my unconditional support.

With the exception of one Nashville Sounds game in late June, I haven’t watched any sporting events since the end of the NBA playoffs nearly two months ago. I have a hard time sitting glued to a TV, and rarely watch anything other than the occasional movie anymore. That may change some during football and basketball seasons, but I find that I’d rather be doing other things.

I have a few theories as to my waning interest in sports. First, sports has become a god. I am disillusioned by the way we elevate professional athletes to larger-than-life figures. We worship them. I have no problem with professional athletes earning millions of dollars to perform and endorse products. I’m a capitalist and believe in the free market. I don’t appreciate the fact that attending a single major league sporting event can cost a family several hundred dollars. It’s just not worth it anymore. I’d rather spend my money elsewhere.

Granted, I do enjoy watching professional athletes perform, because so few can perform at their level. Individuals who are the best at what they do fascinate me, and I like watching hard work pay off that way. So I don’t resent them. I just don’t worship them.

Second, watching grown adults reduce themselves to adolescents at sporting events is a turn off. I cheer for my team, too, but I’m not going to make a fool of myself in the process. I’m joyful when my team wins, and a bit disappointed when they lose, but I’m not going to sacrifice my dignity by living and dying with my team.

Also, I no longer wear team jerseys. I simply refuse to wear another man’s name on my back. I’ll wear a shirt or jacket with a team logo, but I’ve become more conscious these last few years about dressing like a grown man and there are some ways grown men ought not dress.

Finally, and I apologize if I come across a bit conceited, but there’s no other way to put it. Since I started running half-marathons back in 2014, I have created my own sports. The thrill of finishing a 13.1-mile race has partially replaced the thrill of watching other athletes celebrate their victories. Granted, I’m no threat to actually win one of those races, but just finishing a half-marathon and accepting a finisher’s medal has become my own sort of championship. Running 13.1 miles is incredibly difficult for me, as I never was a gifted athlete, and I don’t derive the same sort of thrill by watching others. I have my own sports now.

I’ll never perform in front of a large crowd or on TV. But joining thousands of other runners on race day and hitting the pavement as part of a crowd gives me a rush I can’t achieve any other way. So rather than relish other people’s glory, I now have my own accomplishments to build upon.

It was the hardest one

Yesterday I ran my third half-marathon in the Rock-and-Roll Marathon Nashville. It was definitely my hardest one due to a couple of factors. First, the start of the race was delayed by half-an-hour due to the weather. Standing around an extra 30 minutes does not help runners, believe me. Second, it was much warmer than I prefer. When I got there before dawn, it was already 65 degrees. (I never do long runs when it’s in the 60’s. I like it about 20 degrees cooler.) A long morning shower cooled it off, but it rained very little during the actual run, and by the time I made it back to my car it was up to 68 degrees. Had it not been cloudy, I would not have finished. As it was, I barely finished. The temptation to stop and walk was very present. My unofficial time was 2:15:58, which actually puts me ahead of last year’s time by less than a minute. I have no idea how I accomplished this. The final three miles were extremely difficult — the hardest three miles I’ve ever run, in fact — and my pace suffered as a result.

I felt really good through about mile 7, but the eighth mile saw me start to wear down, and by the time I reached the tenth mile marker I was wondering how I was going to finish. But I finished anyway. I am pleased with the effort. And I also took advantage of a steep discount by going ahead and signing up for next year’s half-marathon. In the meantime, I’ve put myself through a lot the last two months (189 miles since March 1), and now I am taking several days off from running.

It’s time to run it again

Tomorrow morning, Lord willing, I’ll run in my third half-marathon. April 30 is the day of the annual Rock-and-Roll Marathon in Nashville. I have trained harder for this one than either of my previous two races, having averaged approximately 21 miles a week since March 1. It’s literally as much running as I can physically stand.

If for some reason I cannot finish, it won’t be from a lack of training. I never assume I am going to be able to finish. I’m 46 years old. You don’t take anything for granted at 46. Yes, there will be runners older than me who will finish ahead of me. But we’re all made different. It does not get easier as you get older, believe me.

I am very excited about the race tomorrow. I cannot describe what it’s like to be among the 24,000 or so runners packed onto Broadway Avenue early on the last Saturday morning of April. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

But there is also an element of fear. There always is. I am confident I can finish — and by finish, I mean run the entire 13.1 miles without having to stop or walk — but the fear of failure is always there.

I am concerned about the weather. There is a strong likelihood that it will rain during part or all of the race. That doesn’t bother me. In fact, I hope it does rain. What worries me is that the temperature is going to be in the low 60’s at the start of the race. Fortunately, it will at least be cloudy. Otherwise, I’d be in real trouble.

We have had a warm April. I have not adapted well to the heat this spring. It seems to affect me more than it used to. When I ran my first half-marathon two years ago we started off in the upper 40’s, which is close to my ideal running temperature. Last year it was 59 degrees and humid, but it was cloudy, and I was still able to finish, albeit three minutes slower than the year before. This year’s half-marathon will be my warmest one. That’s why I hope it rains. I sweat profusely, so being wet doesn’t bother me. The cooling effect of a constant shower would actually help me out.

I’ll probably set my alarm for 4:45 a.m. The race doesn’t start until 7:15 (fifteen minutes later than usual), but they offer parking at Nissan Stadium. It’s first come, first serve, so there will be a traffic jam even as early as 5:30. This will put me in downtown Nashville well before the start time, but downtown Nashville is an exciting place to be on race day. Plus, it will give me a lot of time to stretch out.

Normally, I like to snap a few photos before and during the race. If it’s raining, though, I’ll leave my iPhone in the car, so no photos. I won’t mind it too much. The half-marathon is literally the only time I don’t listen to music while running. Some do. I don’t because I’d miss a lot of what goes on around me: live bands along the way, runners chattering amongst each other, the sounds of the spectators. I feed off the energy of the race and I’d miss that if I were plugged in.

I can honestly say I don’t care what my finish time is. I do, but I don’t. As long as I can finish, I can say I accomplished my one goal, and my finish time is of secondary importance. My normal running pace is between 8:45 and 9 minutes per mile. But your typical half-marathoner will run 1 to 2 minutes per mile slower than his/her normal pace. So I shoot for 10 minutes per mile. Anything faster would put me at risk of flaming out too soon. I can’t imagine putting myself under the pressure of trying to finish within a certain time. So I only set one goal for myself: finish the race.

Running 13.1 miles has never come easy to me. No matter how much I train, it does not come easy. There are a few elite athletes out there for whom running long miles comes relatively easy. For most of us, it’s rather laborious. Some of the training leading up to the race, I have to admit, is not fun. As much as I am looking forward to tomorrow, I’m also looking forward to a brief respite from running after tomorrow, and then just running for the fun of it with no goal looming.

Tomorrow, I’ll become noticeably tired around mile 7 or 8, and maybe sooner. So I’ll have to run the last few miles while tired. That’s how it is. That’s why you train so hard — not so you won’t get tired, but so you can will yourself to run several miles while tired. At least once during the race, probably around that 7th or 8th mile, I’ll wonder if I’ll be able to finish. That’s when you tell yourself to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and enjoy the scenery. (The scenery along the course really is wonderful, as you run through several different parts of Nashville.)

My last run was Wednesday (a simple 5K). I always allow myself two days off before the half-marathon. Today is day two. I’ll head downtown this morning to the Expo to get my packet. Tomorrow I’ll get up before dawn and drive to Nissan Stadium. I’ll get this done. I just hope it rains.

Dreaming about running

The Rock-and-Roll Nashville marathon & half-marathon is in 27 days. This will be my 3rd half-marathon in as many years. I am so excited I can hardly stand it, but I still find myself a bit daunted by the task of running 13.1 miles in a 46-year-old body. I dedicate the 8 weeks leading up to the race for serious half-marathon training. I run year-round, but starting March 1 of every year I get really serious about it. Typically, I’ll average about 15 miles a week, but in March and April I increase that to 20 miles or more. (Last month I covered 93.5 miles in 17 runs, which is more miles than I’d ever run in a single month.)

This is also the time of year I also dream about running. The dreams are never good. Last night I had one of those dreams. I ran from my house to Providence and back, covering several side roads — I have never run this route, by the way — and my running app said I had covered something like 33 miles. My first reaction was “Great! I’ve never run 33 miles at once. That’s more than a marathon!” But then I realized my GPS had malfunctioned and I had really only covered about one-third of that distance. Also, part of the run found me hardly able to move at all. My legs were barely working and I was moving incredibly slow. This is one of my common dreams about running. I’m moving in slow motion and can’t overcome it. The other dream I have about running is that I know I need to go for a run to maintain my training, but I can’t actually get dressed and out the door. Distractions keep arising that keep me from running and I cannot physically carry out the act because something is preventing me.

It sounds obsessive, I know.

Slump

Baseball hitters get into slumps, basketball players get into slumps, and so do runners. Occasionally I get into one. It doesn’t happen often, but I’m in one now. My last 4 runs have been a real struggle. I love running but running when you’re not 100% isn’t nearly as much fun. I think I know why this is.

1. Because of a long spell of cold, rainy weather, I went though an 11-day stretch recently during which I ran only once. You can get a little out of shape during a week-and-a-half of dormancy. (Now it’s warmer but my performance is still suffering.)

2. As a result, I am up on the scale about 5 or 6 pounds. Granted, it’s only a 2-3% increase in body weight, but it does make a difference. Normally my weight changes very little, as regular running and a regular diet keeps my weight very stable. But try running with a 5-pound weight tied around your waist and you’ll see.

3. The weather the last few days has been considerably warmer. I am still acclimated to running when it’s in the 40’s, so when it gets into the 60’s in February, it slows me down and affects my breathing. Granted, it hasn’t been hot, but when you’re running in the 60’s and there’s full sun when you’re not yet used to it, your body heats up quickly. (This cold to warm stuff is for the birds.)

4. I was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection more than a month ago, and have been fighting illness ever since. February is the time of year when I have to fight off illness. Last year it was my worst month for running, too. I can tell my respiratory function isn’t what it normally is, as I sometimes have a hard time getting a good deep breath while running. This affects a runner’s stamina tremendously.

My only solution is to keep running but not overdo it. I’ve been through periods like this before and have always bounced back. I didn’t suddenly forget how to run. My next half-marathon is the last Saturday in April. And so I always set March 1 as the start of half-marathon training. For those 8 weeks, I’ll increase my weekly running from my normal 15 miles to around 20 miles. This is not something I can sustain year-round, but for 8 weeks I push myself as hard as I can.

Winter blues

Now we get to that part of year I do not enjoy. It is the dead of winter. We managed to dodge it for this long. There have been a few cold days here and there, but they have been broken up by warm spells. This evening a strong cold front moved through Nashville. I was sure to get in a run today, even though I didn’t want to. The sole motivating factor was the prospect that running days are going to be hard to come by for a while. I can run when it’s cold, even sub-freezing, but I need sunshine and no wind. Thursday may be the only day during the next week that I get to lace up. But even when I’m not running, I don’t function well in the cold. And the older I get, the more difficult it becomes. Summer doesn’t bother me so much. It’s this part of winter that torments me.