Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Memorable 20-Mile Run

I have the Myrtle Beach marathon coming up in 4 weeks from today. To hedge my bets--and since I hate running--I signed up back in October for both the marathon on February 18th and the Metric Century (63mi) bike ride the following day. That way if I had a running injury I'd still have the bike ride to train for. I never had any intention of participating in both but I figured $30 was a smart hedge bet.

My plan was to take things easy for a couple weeks following St. George and then ramp up for Myrtle. I actually did more running in October than I had planned, but less running in November and December than I should have. A LOT less, in fact, to the tune of 12.5 miles during the last 6 weeks of the year. So by the end of December I had pretty much decided that I would focus on the bike ride and be an "unofficial" runner of the half marathon since we already have a room reserved and since my sister-in-law will be running the half. Except I hadn't done any biking to speak of either.

So on January 1st I participated in the annual Kick Off The New Year bike ride sponsored by a local shop and frankly the only kicking being done was to my butt. Man what a brutal and humbling way to start the new year. In two months I had apparently managed to sell out my body for a couple gallons of ice cream and several batches of peanut brittle. Yet the slow burn of humiliation helped fuel my recommitment to fitness and the next day I went out for a 10 mile run. And a slow and miserable run it was, littered with compulsory walking breaks and enough teeth grinding to actually cause one of my crowns to pop loose.

Still, I figured if I could ride 45 miles one day and run 10 the next during training efforts (as miserable as it felt), I could certainly run a plodding 13 and ride a deliberate 63 on successive days a month and a half later. I ran three times and biked twice that week, finishing with 23 miles running, 58 miles biking, a pair of really sore legs, and a wounded ego. I also lost five pounds. Apparently peanut brittle takes a few days to make its way through the intestines.

By the end of the week I had decided that a really slow agonizing marathon was better than none at all and that I'd keep my options open. If (a big IF given how hard that first 10-miler was) I was able to stretch out my long-run distance over the next 6 weeks without over-doing it I would run the full marathon. And then when I heard that my next door neighbor was also planning to run it, that pretty much sealed the deal: I was going to shoot for the marathon or, frankly, get hurt trying. There would always be the bike ride as a backup.

Fast forward a few weeks. I ran a couple of times last week with a long run of 16 miles. I was tired but recovered OK. The weather has been really nice lately and, in fact, on one late evening run this week it was warm enough that I had to take my shirt off. I decided that the ideal would be to run a 20-miler today, another 20-miler in two weeks, and then the marathon four weeks from now.

Equipped with a BP gas card and four commercial-free hours of the Jim Rome show on my iPod, I headed out the door this morning in a pair of shorts and my St. George marathon shirt. The weather was cool but not cold so I left my cotton gloves and baseball cap at home. I pride myself in doing a good job of anticipating how warm it will be at the end of a run as compared to the start so I thought I had it all figured out, especially since I was smart enough to run today rather than tomorrow based on the prediction of late weekend rain.

Except that the rain came this morning instead of tomorrow. Six miles into the run I was feeling good, my legs were a little bit tired but I had no aches and pains. I started feeling a few droplet and the temperature was clearly down about 5-10 degrees from the start of the run but that was actually a good thing because I had been feeling a bit too warm. It was at that point that I realized I was--for the first time in my meager running career--going to have to make what I'll to call a "Cougar Stop." If you don't know what a Cougar Stop is I'm not going to tell you. Suffice it to say that for most normal people, certain digestive functions shut down during a run but not Cougar's (aka my father). Apparently I was given a late-onset strain of this particular gene (I would have much preferred the curling-the-tongue gene but I realize one does not get to choose the ingredients that go into his genetic cocktail). Fortunately, there are few gas stations up and down my running route and disaster was narrowly averted at about mile 13.

Then it started to really rain. In retrospect I should have known it was coming when the temperature dropped to the point that I could see my breath. And rain it did. Not the refreshing little dew droplets that can brighten an otherwise uneventful run--I'm talking huge why-in-the-hell-am-I-out-here globules of cold water. And I was a good 5 miles from home. But there was NO WAY I was going to abort the mission. I can procrastinate at least as well as the next guy and if it had been raining before I started the run I would have had no problem whatsoever convincing myself that I didn't need to run a 20 miler today. But not 15 miles into it. Misery with no payoff is just, well, miserable and I wasn't about to let that happen.

So I'm running along in a complete downpour, cars are honking at me as they pass buy, and I'm starting to get really cold. My legs are complaining vehemently but somewhere around mile 16 they were no longer my focus because--and you might not want to hear about this--my nipples were absolutely killing me. Yep, this run was my introduction to both the Cougar Stop and the Cougar Nipples.

I used to make fun of Cougar all the time about his pre-race nipple preparation. In fact, if I'm not mistaken I was giving him a hard time about it just a couple of days ago when I last spoke to him on the phone. I had seriously never had the problem before and so, frankly, when I saw runners whip out a tube of vaseline and a roll of duct tape right before a race had always sorta wondered just what exactly they were planning to do. And now I know. Apparently, the combination of moisture, cloth-induced friction, and the body's biological response to cold can cause some problems. So I ended up having to run the last four miles in a downpour clutching my shirt with both hands to keep it away from my nipple area.

When I finally stumbled up the stairs to my front porch, I was apparently unrecognizable to the family dog who went berserk. My good wife met me at the door with a warm towel and and an "I'm married to a nut-job" roll of the eyes. I wasn't allowed inside until I peeled off my shirt, took off my shoes, and wrung out my socks. Calf cramping and involuntary shivering ensued for an hour or so, but after taking a warm shower and wrapping up in four layers of clothes I finally got the feeling back in my hands.

All I can say is... Bring it on, Miss Myrtle. I'm as ready as I'll ever be.


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