Monday, February 09, 2009

Becoming a Runner Again

As Dave sent through my programme exactly three months out from the Rotorua Marathon I knew this was going to hurt. I went into this training knowing that I was going to be really stretching myself, that I was increasing my mileage more than was really advisable, that I was being really ambitious.

In a way, that attitude is going to stand in my favour. I am prepared to push my pain barrier in a way that I haven't for some time. Over the last year it's mostly been about the cycling, and somehow cycling doesn't induce the same kind of pain that running does. The running that I was doing was casual, leisurely almost, focussed on maintaining a minimal base. Having a training programme has given me focus and discipline. The discipline goes both ways. It makes me work hard when I have to work hard, and it stops me from going over the top when I should be resting.

Excitement got me through the first week of marathon training. Marathon training - even typing the two words sends shivers up my spine. Somehow those words make me feel like a real runner.

After my fast 5km run on Monday I was back in the gym early Tuesday morning for a customarily intense RPM. On Wednesday morning I was back at the gym in the morning for a leg workout. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I set out after work for a 45 minute hill run. I certainly wasn't expecting to have one of the dreamiest runs on record. Earlier in the day as the wind had threatened to knock me off my feet and the rain had poured down on me as I crossed the road to buy some lunch I had a What Would Steve Stenzel Do? moment. Steve is the guy who runs in temperatures so cold that vital bits of the male anatomy freeze up in a disturbing fashion. If Steve can risk his masculinity I can certainly run in a bit of rain!

Thankfully by the time I left the gym the rain had eased to a drizzle and the wind was in an almost kind frame of mind. I took off up Grant Rd, a nice, long and sufficiently challenging gradient, at a steady pace. To my surprise I held that pace the whole way up. Last time I'd run that way with Sarah I'd completely failed.

It was up, up and more up, all the way to Wadestown. The views out over the harbour were mesmerising, and they continued to flirt with me as I ran back down via Wadestown Rd. I fell into an an almost meditative state.

At the bottom of Wadestown Rd I turned right back onto Grant Rd, which undulates gently past a string of historic villas. At the bottom of Grant Rd I turned right onto Tinakori all the way up to Bowen, then it was a lovely smug downhill all the way back to the Terrace and the gym. I clocked that run up as a major success. It was enough of a success to carry me through a post-run Balance class with a smile.

I was up early again the next morning for another RPM, and it's fair to say that my legs were starting to feel the pain by Thursday afternoon as I stiffened up a bit. However I rested completely on Friday (other than a bit of dancing in the sun at the One Love concert) and I was good to go again by Saturday morning. B12 is a wonderful thing, and I certainly recover much faster these days now that I'm receiving monthly shots.

Saturday was down as a two to three hour ride, and I met up with some of the Gearshifters girls for a bit of a workout. I had a simple goal for today Frustrated by my Taranaki performance I decided it was time I finally started standing on my pedals to attack the smaller hills. The Pass of Branda provided a good opportunity, as did the climb up to Brooklyn. The strong northwest headwind provided the rest of the challenge. It wasn't the fastest or hardest of rides, but it was enough.

By Sunday there was a heatwave sweeping the country, kept company by that ever-present strong northerly, and I was down for a 90 minute run with a few hills thrown in. Against all reason I didn't get up early in the morning to get it out of the way while there was still a slight coolness in the air. I didn't leave until after 10am. I also ignored sage advice to take lots of fluid with me. I was only running 90 minutes. Why did I need to hydrate?

I'd mapped out a route in my head that enabled me to leave from home and, following on from some advice Kate gave me a long time ago, finished at a dairy at the bottom of the hill below our house. From the end of my street I turned left and ran downhill for around a kilometre, up another slight hill, down some more, and then I turned left and started running towards the city and the waterfront. By the time I got there I was starting to second-guess my planned route, wondering whether it was too ambitious. I made a pact with myself to run to 45 minutes and then, if I felt I hadn't gone far enough, to turn around and run back towards the city.

Wellington hosted the 7s over the weekend and as I ran down Kent Terrace and along Oriental Parade I dodged hoards of hungover sports fans disgorging from their hotels, blinking in the sunlight. I had to take evasive action more than once as slightly dazed individuals stopped dead in my path. I rolled my eyes and shook my head more than once.

I stuck to the shaded side of the road as much as possible, but by the time I reached Pt Jerningham there was no escaping the full force of the sun. 45 minutes in, however, I was well along my planned route, so decided I would keep going rather than turn around. I stopped at Balaena Bay for water, then plodded my way up over the saddle to Newtown. It was a very grateful Pip who took full advantage of the downhill to the shops. From the bottom of Constable Street I turned left and then the awful realisation hit. From here it was pretty much all uphill. Yes, I had planned my 90 minute run, the longest run I've done in months, so that the last half hour was almost completely uphill, without shade, and into a headwind. Yes, I am an idiot.

I ran to the end of the shops and then, at the base of the next hill, I started to crumble. I stopped and slumped against the side of a handy terrace house, looking up the slope that I normally tackled without issue, but which now seemed like a mountain. This would have been fine had a woman not emerged from the terrace house and flashed me one of those "yes, you really are an idiot" faces. Oh dear. Nothing much for it than to continue on. I shuffled up the hill, turned right, and enjoyed a very slight downhill to Adelaide Rd.

I wanted to weep as I turned right again onto Britomart Rd and faced yet another hill. By now the reserves were all used up. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that in a few short minutes I would be in the dairy buying a Fruju iceblock. I was obsessed with the thought of frozen orange-flavoured ice. I crawled to Liardet Street. Somehow my feet continued to follow one after the other past Macallister Park. As I got to the base of the next little incline, about 50 metres short of the dairy, my Garmin ticked over 90 minutes. I stopped.

I walked very slowly up the hill to the shop, picked up a newspaper, a cold drink and the lusted-after Fruju. I limped over to a seat outside the dairy in the shade. I started to gulp down the drink then realised I felt like I was about to vomit it back up again. I sat there for another five to ten minutes slowly sipping the rest of it. It didn't even taste appealing after all that and I had to force myself to finish it. As I did so the wind picked up and I started to feel chilled. Given that the temperature was still scorching I figured this was a bad sign. I realised that although I was caked with dry sweat I had stopped actually sweating some time ago. I realised this wasn't exactly a good sign either!

Not wanting to sit there on that bench any longer I picked myself up, started on the Fruju (which thankfully DID taste very good), and slowly walked my way back up the very steep hill to home. Before long I was covered in sticky melted iceblock juice as the thing melted faster than I could lick it.

At home I showered, ate blueberry and buckwheat pancakes, and then spent the rest of the day guzzling water like a maniac. Lesson learned. Hydration is essential if one is not to bonk in the most dismal manner when running in a heatwave.

Somehow, even with all the suffering, I managed to maintain Dave's target long run pace. I'm not quite sure how. Call it a miracle. What's even more of a miracle is that I didn't really even feel too sore afterwards, other than a little calf tightness. Sure, I wasn't keen on doing much more than sitting around on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon, but I was still in one piece. Worse things have happened.

So once again I really wasn't expecting to have a good run tonight. My legs were feeling fresher than they had a right to, sure, but yesterday's efforts would surely catch up with me. 7km at a fast pace? Hmm, maybe! The weather conditions weren't promising either, with that northerly threatening galeforce. This was going to have to be one of those suck-it-and-see runs again. Set off, see how the legs feel, push it as hard as possible. I wanted only to keep it honest.

Target pace was 5 to 5.15 minutes per km. To my surprise I managed that for the first couple of kilometres, in fact at times running at a 4.45 pace. I maintained that until I passed Carlton Gore Rd and hit the headwind. I fought that headwind all the way to the other side of Pt Jerningham, at which point it became a mammoth tailwind, which carried me all the way down the straight. I believe this may be where I recorded my fastest pace according to my Garmin - 4.07.

Right on 3.5km (thanks Garmin) I turned and headed back. The stretch of Pt Jerningham that I'd flown down seconds earlier became the stretch of path that at one point reduced me to 7 minutes per kilometre. Groan! I was running through mud!

The headwind was pretty dire the whole way back, and when it was bad I was struggling to hold 6 to 6.30. When it eased off a bit I could hold 5.30 to 5.40 without killing myself. When it disappeared I was back in the 5 to 5.15 money zone. With one kilometre to go I started really trying to kick it, and to my surprise there was some kick to be had.

All up my average pace was 5.35, so 20 seconds off but, given the winds it could have been worse. More importantly, my form was right up there. When I run slow I run lazy. When I run fast I push off more with each step and therefore my glutes actually fire. I actually lift my legs. I run more upright. The one thing I noticed tonight that I haven't noticed before was that I was running much more mid-foot than usual, even verging on running on my toes. It was helping me run fast though, so I wasn't going to analyse it too deeply.

The rest of the week is going to be a mad balance between trying to fit the workouts in and socialising. We're off North on Thursday for a civil union and if I thought running in Wellington heat was bad, running 110 minutes in a hilly area near Tutukaka is going to be torturous. Let alone the fact that I have to fit in a 2-3 hour bike ride and 20 minute run the day before! At least I will be able to catch up on some of that swimming I've been missing I guess.

I wonder how badly my legs are going to protest tomorrow morning in RPM? It will be fun finding out.

Note: Body Balance is one of the Les Mills stable of classes. It is a mix of Tai Chi, Yoga and Pilates. The warm-up track is based on Tai Chi, followed by a sun salutation track, a strength track (warrior poses etc), a balance track, a hip stretching track, core (pilates), back, twists, hamstring stretches and a relaxation track or two. It's yoga light really as the poses aren't held for long, but it's free and it's fun and it does help prevent my runner hips from seizing up all together!


Calyx Meredith said...

Oh that class sounds PERFECT! Thanks for explaining. (Have now googled Les Mills. Learn something new all the time!) :-D

Now about that dehydration - wow! Glad you got through that without longer lasting effects. I get dehydrated very easily - especially in the heat (due in part to an Irish/Scottish heritage) so I'm a FREAK about making sure I have water/electrolyte drink even for tiny runs.

Good luck getting all your workouts in with the upcoming logistical obstacles!

Sass said...

Speed demon! Go the Mad Dog:)