from mile to marathon

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

Friday, August 31, 2007

it's almost marathon day

I bought new shoes (Brooks) two weeks ago, when I decided to do everything possible to take care of the knee, and I discovered in the meantime I do not like them that much. I have to wait until after this race to pick up another pair of Asics.

I am surprised again how unprepared I am, I do not mean the running itself, just associated details - the knee, what exactly to wear, how to fuel. I still don't like anything I've tried, and my last 20-miler was essentially on empty.

I can think of a dozen things I should thave tested or focused on or done differently.

It's too late now for looking back. Marathon day is two days from now. I played it out in my mind. The incline of the first eight miles, then the descent - all the elevation loss of the race is condensed in the next five miles. I'm going to have to take it very easy here, since my knee doen't like it downhill. My strategy, if I have any, is to arrive fresh at the half-way point. My marathon starts at mile 13.

I spite of this course layout, I don't believe a negative split is likely. Neither is a personal record - that comes the next time around.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Tapers might be good for the legs but they mess with my mind. I am happy of course that I am supposed to run not more, but less. But it puts limits on my imagination.

Yesterday I started my 13-miler at 5:30, the same time as the race, my knee didn't bother me that much, the air was a few degrees cooler than last week, I ran steadily, even if not fast, and I finished in good shape, tired but not exhausted, pleased even if not exhilarated.

The thing is I could not even conceive of doubling the output. It's a thing of the mind, of course - 13 miles is what I had programmed myself for, so 13 miles is what I delivered. Presumably next Sunday, my mind set on 26 miles, I will deliver 26 miles. But this tapering business, right now, prevents me from envisioning a full marathon.

I shared this with my boyfriend over breakfast, and he looked at me for a while, as is his way. Then he said: "You better start envisioning it."


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

focus, focus, focus

It says something about how much I am on automatic pilot that, more than a month after my first symptom in my right knee, it occurred to me I need to do something about it. Here I am, marching into my marathon with an injury.

I started with extensive research on the web. If it's ITB syndrom, then it's mild and atypical. I cannot decide what it is, and the other possibilities are not a better prospect.

First things first, I better avoid running hills until the marathon. For weekday runs I can go back to the threadmill. For my planned 20-mile run this last week-end I was at a loss. The only flat course I know is the Bosque along the Rio Grande where a woman was assualted and shot last week in broad daylight. Since I planned to start at 5:30 am, the Bosque seemed a contraindication of sorts. I chose the track of La Cueva high-school - it would take me 80 loops, OMG, but it would be safe. I still asked my boyfriend to come with me and stand guard until dawn.

It was, exactly as the last really big run before my first marathon, a brutal experience. THE HEAT! The temperature was in the mid-80's before sunrise. I did not care to find out what it was when I finished roughly four hours later, but I did not need numerical indicators to know I was wiped out.

This is the desert. Let's pray for clouds.

My mind is plotted across various exercises and strategies that are going to enhance the overall strenght of my legs, neutralize whatever issue dwells in my right knee, and do away with the injury by sheer effort of will.

It's imperative. Marathons are looming.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

too much or too little?

Since I could not get either the knee or the incline of the marathon course out of my mind, I ended up calling one of the organizers at and asking if he would talk to me about it. I only saw him two or three times before, while signing up for a race or at the award ceremony of another. He is of course experienced as a runner, and luckily did not mind meeting me.

He said I worry too much about the knee, it's nothing. He said I worry too much about the incline, it's not that steep. But throughout the conversation he continued to shake his head in disbelief about my training. My weekly mileage (20-25 miles) he considered dismal - how do I plan to run a marathon in three weeks with such an output? On the other hand my big runs (19 miles every other week at least) were too frequent and too long. Who trained me, anyhow?

Eeerh... nobody. So, I asked, was I doing too little or too much?

He offered to run those first uphill miles of the marathon course with me.

He was right, it's not that steep. Once we were done, it was a pretty good experience. I refrained from commenting I had no idea how I would add another 18 miles on top of those first eight.

It's the first time I ever ran with someone. Time passed with easiness, but he was much too fast for me. I had to fight to keep up with him. Then, when it was over, he claimed he had adjusted his pace to mine, and I had dictated the rhythm all along.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I can do it

The 20K, with its first half at a steady incline, was a good training run. I signed up for the New Mexico Marathon Plus on September 2nd, and the first eight miles are more or less uphill, almost one third of the marathon. When I do big runs on the Academy track every Sunday, a third of it is uphill too, but in loops, so every third mile is uphill, it's not a relentless ascent.

We drove along the course this last Saturday, and I do not know how I will handle it. Sure, there are a couple of dips. Sure, one way or another I can do those first eight miles. But then I have to do another 18.

Ironically, they call this a downhill marathon since the elevation at the start is higher than at finish.

I ran 19 miles this week-end, the last part in overwhelming heat. Between now and September let's have some cooling down, let's have some clouds, let's have some reprieve from the brutal sun.

And the knee is bothering me too. But I can do it. I can do it, I think.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

the longest 12 miles I ever ran

All three races - 5K, 10K, 20K - shared the same starting point, with the 20K taking off the earliest. For the first half a mile, while winding our way through the uphill casino parking lot, everybody passed me. Well, not quite everybody. A couple of 70-year-olds passed me just a bit further.

The course, marked by tiny orange flags, was easy to identify, but running is was a whole different proposition. Off it went, along track tires and ravines, across ditches and arroyos, over gravel and rock, left and right, up and down, incessently. The first mile marker I noticed was the 5K turnaround. It was incomprehensible to me I was just 1.5 miles into the nightmare.

At mile 3 two boys passed by with such velocity I inferred they could not have just lagged behind, they were the winners of the 10K, striving for the turnaround. Seconds later I saw them again flying by from the opposite direction, God bless them, they had half of their thing behind them. I never envied anybody as much.

An endless ordeal later, I crossed paths again with a few lonely figures, and I computed, shocked, these were the winners of my 20K, their turnaround already behind them. One of them was familiar - a guy with dark shades I had encountered repeatedly on my week-end runs on the Academy track. We always exchanged glances before, but never said hello. This time we did. It was a kind of highpoint.

Next I saw the five mile marker, and I could have sworn I saw it before, one mile behind, but I had no way to prove it. A pebble had nestled in my shoe. I did not feel like sitting down in the desert convening with rattle snakes while I fished it out. Actually, to say the truth, I did not mind the rattle snakes as much. I feared that, if I sat down, I would not have the strength to get up again.

By mile six I was done, ready to lie down and forget about everything. But I was already on one of the turnaround loops, halfway through, and it occurred to me, no matter what I did, I could not just hang out there, in the middle of nowhere. Some way or another I had to find my way back, whatever it took. The right knee had started to bother me, but at that time every ounce of me was so immersed in discomfort, it did not make any difference anymore.

I was so far behind the contingent in front of me, I could not spot anybody on the entwined loops. Long ago, the city had fallen silent behind me, and the distant roar of the highway had died. I could hear my own ragged breath, and the cries of birds splintering thin air. The range of the mountains glittered in refracted light, and nothing existed besides the desert and me.

I do not know how I made my way back. It was easier than the first half, since the gist of return was downhill, but here we went again, across arroyos and ditches, right and left, down and up, endless miles. The heat was burning in my face, and I could not understand why I would ever want to run a marathon again.

I was one of the last to cross the finish line. They had already dismantled the triumphant gate of grape-colored balloons in burgungy and green. I even had a hard time finding a bottle of water. I finished in 2 h 25 min 20 something seconds, didn't even bother to check out my time, overall pace between 11.5 and 12, my worst race ever.

But I ended up feeling good. I do not mean simply the phsysical part. My limbs were still loose, and I laughed with my boyfriend at the pathetic performance, amazed and grateful I didn't break an ankle or twisted my spine, with all those ravines. Besides and beyond all that, I was happy about the cruel exertion.