from mile to marathon

The journey of a thousand leagues begins from beneath your feet.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

run to break the silence

I signed up for a little 20K tomorrow. It's not exactly little, I know, but the prospect of not going over 13 miles is a fast relief. Since the race benefits an institute where deaf children learn to speak, I am additionally thrilled - for years I considered being a speech therapist. Verbal communication is part of what makes us human, although of course it does not radically distinguish us from dolphins or humpback whales.

The race starts at the Sandia casino and goes north and east into the Indian reservation. The flyer mentions an "all-terrain, cross-country course." I have never done this before, whatever it means. But I know, without opening an atlas, that the map in that area is blank. I guess they will somehow mark the route. I doubt I will be able to keep my pace under 10, but more and more I am trying to persuade myself not to get hung up on numbers.

Aside from an atrocious pink rubber brain model that summons me to "think oral deaf education," I am for the first time truly delighted with the goodie bag - a bottle of water, a green chile package from the local eatery 505 (think New Mexico), a yummy looking bar of honey roasted nuts (preferably pre-run snack), a fancy rubber to tie my hair with, and a cool T-shirt with a design in burgundy and green.

I am tempted to wear it tomorrow, but I will not. The race starts at 6:30 am. I will be a running heat-stroke candidate by the time I can end it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Twice during weekday runs, once this week, once the week before, I ended up with a funny feeling in my right knee, not pain, just a weird sensation as if a muscle or a tendon were twisted or dislocated. Each time it was gone next day. Each time it set in, as far as I could figure out, after the downhill mile on pavement. A mild descent, like the one during big runs on week-ends, so I inferred it was the pavement.

I changed my route slightly to an alternative on a dirt road, and the weird sensation stayed away. That is until yesterday afternoon, when it made its appearance while I was walking around in Barnes & Noble. Perfectly flat.

Kind of worrisome.

This morning I got up at 4 am, but could not move fast enough for an early start. It was 5:40 when I was ready for take-off on the Academy track, my knee wrapped tightly in a mental vise. I did not know what I would do if it started acting up again. The smart thing might have been quitting, and part of me was ready to frolic at the prospect. The other part panicked.

I ran about 11-12 miles with ease, and struggled for another four or five under the gaining sun. Heat just shuts my system down. I must have walked more than half of the last two miles, to reach a cumbersome 19. The knee held.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

change of plans

Since the marathon, I never ran more than twice each week during work days, but I put in "big runs."

Just before the 8K freedom run I did a 16-miler. Although I started early, toward the end the sun had become an almost palpable menace, and I walked half or most of the last 2-3 miles.

Last weekend I took off even earlier. At 5 am the darkness was a bit scary. I could discern the track in the moonlight, but a man on a bike, without cyclist gear, passed me TWICE and spoke to me both times, and that creeped me out. I got in 7-8 miles while the sun was still rising on the other side of the mountains, and afterward a slim layer of mist filtered out the worst of the heat. By the time the sun shook it off and started burning unencumbered I was done with my 19 miles.

Today I planned for 22. I was so stressed by my dilemma between darkness early and heat later, I dreamt during the night that by 4 am we had broad daylight and fine rain. I waited until some pink was weaving itself through the gray of dawn. When I got out of the car I noticed I had forgotten to put on my sports bra.

I do not have much to speak of there, so running was still a doable thing. But would a knight forget to put on his armor when getting ready for battle? I felt stupid, vulnerable, and... unprofessional.

I decided, on the spot, to do 13 miles only. I do not know if this, under the circumstances, was common sense, or if I chickened out because of the distance or the oncoming heat, or if it just occurred to me that 22 miles 7 weeks before my next marathon might be overkill.

I still walked a lot. My pace improved only slightly over last week's. But 13 miles left me remarkably fresh. And I realized something I might have not noticed if trudging on. The amount of miles I can do now drama-free (not effortlessly, but without feeling overwhelmed) is not 10 miles anymore. It's 13.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

4th of july freedom run

One thing the marathon did for me: when I picked up my race package for the 8K I did not feel like a total outsider.

The race occurred in the same place and was sponsored by the same store (Fleet Feet) as the Thanksgiving 5K last year. It can get never get more local than this. I got into my car, I drove for 5 minutes. There was no parking space (I knew that!), so I invented one, and lined up at the starting line a few seconds before the anthem started playing. I swear it was even the same balloon rising. Like last year, I wept. Not because of any articulate emotion, as in ”I am an American now,” simply because of indescribable beauty – the music enveloped us, the flag was fluttering from the gondola, the sun leapt over the rim of the mountain range, and we were ready for go.

The course started out eastward, facing the glare. For the first two miles, everybody passed me, youngsters, old hippies with white hair in ponytails, moms with strollers. I wondered what those infants were thinking in the urgency of the morning, recline over pillows, pushed against the light. I tried desperately to remind myself this was just another weekday morning run, a bit longer perhaps. It did not matter who was ahead. The silence behind me said there was no one on my heels, and I did not look back, afraid to find it confirmed.

I did not bring my watch. I repeated to myself time did not matter. The area was residential and quiet. There was road kill on the streets. It smelled of manure, it smelled of hey, it smelled of heat. The neighborhood dogs yelped at the commotion. Somewhere after mile 2 we turned westward, and the valley opened up before us. I ran for a long time, in silence, next to a man in a blue shirt, none of us staying behind or reaching forward.

By mile four I glimpsed on the electronic display that for the first time in the race I was below a 10 minute pace, and ambition suddenly bit me. If I could only maintain that. I had not pushed myself before, not to my knowledge, but now I did. The last mile was uphill again, as the first two. It was too much. Just before I got the finish in sight, I had to walk, breathless and spent.

But I crossed the line in 48 min 45 sec, still below the 10 minute pace, the same as in all my prior races shorter than a marathon, and I ended up on the other side dizzy and happy, soaked in sweat and satisfaction, barely able to reason.

By the time I got home I was hungry.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

8K tomorrow

One year after my very first race ever, the 4th of July Sunrise 5K of 2006, when I placed. By serendipity alone, not that I had any idea what I was doing.

The first two miles or so of the course tomorrow are uphill. I am not happy about that, but I better start being grateful pretty soon. The marathon in two months from now... the first eight miles are uphill.

Tomorrow I dread two things. Finding a parking spot. And the sunlight. At the poolside, a couple of days ago, I burnt my nose raw. So pathetic. A ton of sunscreen won't protect it from the sun tomorrow. Since the race will be over by about 8 am, I think I will survive the heat.

Happy Birthday, America!