Sunday, March 25, 2012

#399: Life After 20 (Miles)

Yep, ran 23 miles Saturday morning.  I wanted to hit the Run the Bluegrass half-marathon course one more time before the race next week. I also had a long run on my training schedule. I managed to do both, and along the way, I went someplaceI've never been before.

I AM UP EARLY anticipating getting on the road just after dawn. 7:30 is a good time to start a run here in the Bluegrass. The sun is just high enough that you don't need to wear flashing lights and reflective gear. The night before, I laid out my clothes and spent some time learning how my new Garmin 405 works. I got a great price on Amazon, and this would be my first time on the road using it. I feed the dogs, scoop the cat boxes, tape the nips, and kiss Mrs P good bye.

Just before walking out the door, I make one last bathroom stop. Once I'm out of town, there is no place but the cedars to hide should nature call. I'd rather not take a chance on messing up my good shoes.

The air is cool: 50° and the sun is just starting to glow in the east. I've decided to use the first half-hour of my run as a warm up, and have my watch set to go off at 30 second intervals. I want to get the blood pumping without using up the fuel I'll need on the hills to come. The beauty of this rhythm is that it makes it almost impossible to go too fast. I feel so good that I don't realize I've missed the first turn on my planned course. I'm only a few blocks away, so it's easy to get back on track.

Photo by Nick Weller
PARKER'S MILL ROAD is a beautiful stretch past neat little suburban ranch houses, a couple of million dollar mansions, and acres of horse farms. It is very narrow in places, and I have to step off into the wet grass a couple of time to give room to oncoming cars. I can feel my socks getting damp, and make a note to carry an extra pair on long runs from now on. Wet feet mean blisters, and I don't have time to recover from them before the half next weekend. I decide to get up on the rumble strip at the edge of the blacktop and hold my ground. I give a wave to drivers as they make way for me and most of them wave back, country-style.

The gates of Keeneland

KEENELAND looks fantastic this morning. The early spring has brought out bluegrass and redbud trees. Even a couple of dogwoods are blooming. By this time, my intervals have changed to 1:00 run/1:00 walk. I feel strong as I begin the half-marathon course. A few runners are out, testing the hills. Some zip past me, some just chug. I let them go. I have a bigger agenda this morning. I get to the back gate and realize that THIS is where I took LaDonna on our first long turn back when we ran out here a few weeks back. She's been razzing me lovingly ever since, and I make a mental note to think up a way to make this her fault.

THE HILLS are everything I remember: long, steep, and relentless. They are also breathtakingly beautiful. A flock of Canada Geese honks over a pond in the middle of a farm in a hollow to the left. A hawk soars above, looking for breakfast. It's the biggest one I've ever seen; so big I wonder if it is really an eagle. Eventually, I cross the railroad tracks for the third time, and make my way to "The Chicken House." It's a pretty little farm house in a copse of honeysuckle with a fierce sounding dog and an even fiercer sounding rooster in the yard. Woe to any trespasser here. I hang a left, and resume climbing.

THE LOWEST PART OF THE COURSE is just past the 6 mile point. That's where I turn right onto Old Frankfort Pike, and while there's lots of steep up and down, I'll be climbing the rest of the way. In my mind, this is where the race really starts.

In any season, the Pike is breathtaking
OLD FRANKFORT is as Kentucky as a road gets. White fences. Rolling hills. Stone walls with ornate iron gates. These are the farms I've heard about when I watch triple crown races. Oaks, Black Walnuts, and Red Buds line the way and there is no shoulder at all, only ditches or steep upward embankments. It's no place for headphones, and it's no place to zone out. I listen for cars in both directions, and stay as far to the left as I can, walking if I have to when someone comes barreling toward me over the crest of a rise. It could actually get a little stressful if it wasn't one of the most beautiful places on earth. Some of the views are breathtaking. I shout out greetings to two men in white straw cowboy hats who are spreading mulch around the landscaping at one of the farm gates. I also pass a dead skunk which is strangely not as horrible as it sounds.

JUST WHEN I FEEL LIKE I'VE CONQUERED THE WORST OF THE HILLS, there is a right turn off of Frankfort Pike and I'm heading some of the toughest terrain on the course. I climb about 100 feet in the last half of mile 9, up an S-curve that teases me 4 times with the impression that I'm almost to the top, only to reveal more slope. I pant out "YES" as I finally reach the true crest, and recognize the barn where LaDonna and I took our pictures the day we were lost. I finally know where we were! There is a merciful half-mile decent after "the curve" that leads to the last turn on the course. A creek. Shade trees. Twisting blacktop and farms, farms, farms. The hills continue, and I really feel them since I've now progressed to intervals of 3:00 run/1:00 walk. Galloway recommends 1/1 for the pace I want to run, and am seriously considering that he is right again. Then, between miles 11 and 12, I have a lucky accident.

With a check for an article and Mrs P's permission...
THE GARMIN 405 can do amazing things. It's tracking my heart rate. It's recording my course and elevation. It's beeping out my intervals. It's telling me how far ahead or behind my target pace I'm running. It even has a function that will tell me if I'm on course or not. You push a button and a little compass arrow points you toward the road you should take at any crossing. I get a little worried at a fork in the road and decide to push the button. I discover that I've made the right choice. Then I discover that I've stopped the workout I had designed. Now there's no way to know how far I've run since I started, and there's no way to get back to the intervals I was running. I have to start all over again. I'm back to running 30 seconds, then walking 30 seconds. And I'm feeling just what I'm supposed to feel. My legs are recovering. I'm getting stronger. My pace, which had been growing more and more slow with each run, is soon back on target. When I reach the finish line of the course, I'm feeling strong and confident. I've gone almost 18 miles, well past the point where I crashed on my last long run.

THIS WEATHER IS PERFECT for a run. It's probably in the high 50's by now, just cool enough. The sun is beaming as noon approaches, but there is a nice breeze to balance it's warmth. I notice a familiar pain on my chest and look down to see a growing spot of blood on my chest. The tape has come off and my left nip is bleeding. I am perversely proud of this development. It's as much a part of a real runner's life as black or missing toenails. I make a note to put a trial-size stick of Body Glide in the pouch with my dry socks when I run long again.

IT'S A HAPPY COINCIDENCE that I hit 19 miles at the same intersection where I had to stop and call for Mrs P to come pick me up two weeks ago. She happens to call to check on me as I approach the spot, and I tell her I feel fantastic. I really do.

AT 20 MILES, I smile. It doesn't matter what happens from here. I've gone farther than ever before in my life. Every stride is pushing the wall back another yard. I imagine I'm an offensive lineman, pushing my defender into the secondary. I don't have to bust the wall, I just have to push it back to 26.3 miles. For the first time, I really believe that I will be able to run a marathon. The last 3 miles are like a celebration. I'm approaching home, and remembering how big these mole-hills seemed to be a year ago. People are mowing, walking their dogs. I keep smiling and saying good morning, which is funny since it's almost 1:00 in the afternoon. I hope they can see my bloody shirt and know what it means. I take the last turn, and coast down hill to the stop sign where my run ends. There's no doubt in my mind that I could do another 3 miles if I had to. In about 5 weeks, theres gonna be a 26.2 sticker on the back of the Honda.

A STRETCH, A SMOOTHIE, AND A NAP are in order. I make my log entries, brag a little on Facebook, and post a tweet for LIVING STRONG AT THE YMCA:
23.39 miles today. What's it gonna take to get you to join my fundraiser for at the ?
A couple of friends give me a RT, (and later, another $25 comes in from a fellow survivor.) Late in the afternoon, Mrs P and I go out for some dinner at Ramsey's. I order the blackened catfish which seems wholesome enough. We indulge by sharing a piece of Key Lime Pie.Then it's home and early to bed.

Adding this movie to my "must see" list
LAST WEEK I TWEETED, "Make your goals outrageous!" I'm doing my best to follow my own advice. The Spirit of the Marathon is a jealous gal. She doesn't give those last miles up easily. She's there at every hill, waiting for you, testing you. You can't steal her kiss, you have to earn it. It is outrageous to think that a man like me could ever taste those lips, but that's just what I intend to do.

And then, I'm gonna take a very long nap. (Typical male...)


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