January 31, 2012

And to think I saw it in the park. . .

Sightings in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Sunday afternoon through Tuesday morning.
  • Three cops in double-breasted uniforms from the 1930's, Meadowport Arch. Smoking and staring into the distance.
  • One headless chicken (deceased). Trailhead east of Stranahan monument. Dull brown plumage, feet the color of a Meyer lemon.
  • Lone astronaut in space suit, on Lullwater Bridge. Seated on rail, helmet closed. Seemed wistful.
  • Bacchus (probably), off Center Drive west of Nethermead Arches. Green velour toga, circlet of leaves. Posing on makeshift plinth.
  • Mounted police officer, modern uniform. Walking slowly west on trail above Wellhouse Drive. Blood bay gelding.
  • Impressionist. Same location. Painting a limpid view of Prospect Park Lake.
  • Multiple obese squirrels. Ubiquitous. Complacent, as if unconcerned by global warming.
  • Eight beauty queens, with sashes and tiaras. Walking en groupe on Lullwater path. They took care to wear black tights against the chilly air.
Theatrum mundi. If I brought my camera into Prospect Park I'd never get any running done.

January 30, 2012

Rode hard and put away wet

On the NYC subway, a man who is wet, shivering, and bleeding from knees and hands won't attract much attention. Just another ornament on the city's dusty shelf.

I ran a team workout the other night. It was rainy and cold in Central Park. We were doing a 5-mile tempo at a pretty good clip, and I was thinking about how I've been running an awful lot of slow miles and how it's mysteriously boosted my speed. The body is an eternal stranger.

I was jockeying with a teammate in a windbreaker, which he wore off his shoulders and it billowed as he ran. We were working hard together, and he stayed mostly just off my shoulder. He'd race ahead a little and I'd focus on relaxing and pass him again. As we turned a corner he rounded close and accidentally clipped me. I flew.

I found myself sliding on my left knee along the wet asphalt before I howled to a stop. Windbreaker was horrified and helped me up. He really couldn't have felt worse, poor kid. "OMG, I owe you at least a couple of beers!" I tested my knee and got ready to go again. I told Windbreaker to go on, he could buy me a beer at the end of the workout. (But it'll have to be at The Four Seasons.)

My hands, elbows, and knees were scraped raw, and my clothes were torn. But I was frigid, wet, and far from all the places I wanted to be, so walking was out of the question. I ran the last couple of miles carefully, but not easy. Despite the bloody hole in my running pants, the knee ran fine. The burning in my knees and hands seemed superficial. I never got my groove back, but I ran straight.

I ended up with a decent workout, though not as good as I wanted. My mileage, while hardly Lydiardian, has been high enough to give me some saving stamina. Running cures most ills caused by running.

It's when you stop running that things get hairy.

I arrived at the subway platform shaking more from cortisol than the chill. My knees were still smoldering and the lines of my right palm were irrigated with blood. I drew deep breaths to cancel the shivering as the train came and commuters raced me for a seat.

I didn't want to sit. I felt like a total badass. Except for, you know, the uncontrollable shaking, the gasping, the stooping, and the look of deranged pathos I surely wore. I attracted only a few cautious glances. A man across from me with kindly eyes was reading a worn Bible in French. A woman bent blankly over her biology textbook.

In the days since, I've had to nurse some inflammation in my knees. At least it's distracted me from the inflammation in my feet. Actually my plantar issues seem to be on their way out. The training goes on and on, with a very good 21-miler yesterday. My legs, apart from the bruising, feel better than they've felt in over a year.

Running taketh away and running giveth back once more.

January 20, 2012

Fierce repose

Maybe I'm just feeling my forty-odd years, but repairing the calculated damage of running takes me less effort than running itself. Running isn't much more than a specific choreography of destruction and rebuilding. Here's the thing: as I apply more intensity to recovery, running fast becomes almost effortless.

Last week I did more miles in one week than I've ever done, by around 20%. It was the easiest running week I've had in ages. I found myself excited about every run, in a way I haven't felt in at least a year and a half. All my aches vanished. My insides felt sleek and able. I bounced up stairs. My plantar issues subsided significantly. My "comfortable", low-effort pace approached my old race pace. The whole week was buoyant and light.

I capped the week with an 18-miler, 10 miles of it at marathon pace. I went out tentatively, not sure I could keep up with the plan. But three loops around a hilly course and my body kept finding energy for a perfect, steady effort. I probably hit the hills a touch hard, because the last one hit me back. But once I pulled it back together on level ground I felt I could have done a lot more.

Now to consolidate all those miles. This is a week of lower mileage - though still about as high as my previous maximum - and of lower intensity. I've been alternating a general aerobic pace with recovery pace. When I'm not running I try to walk a lot. I've been focused on staying calm. I work to hydrate and eat right.

I confess the plantar issues are back. Nothing worse than before, but they need attention. So I'm icing, stretching, massaging, and wearing shoes everywhere. Recovery is a constant dialogue with injury.

I'll get serious about speed again soon, because I know I've already lost some. We'll see about next week. But for now it's all about rocking the recoveries.

January 13, 2012

In the Night Kitchen

When I'm running fast, I don't like to do it in the dark. When I slow down I prefer the trails, which are tricky in the dark. But last night I didn't get out till sundown, and I must confess to you - it was kind of hypnotic.

Five mile recovery run around the park. I felt so fresh it was hard work to keep the horses reined. Man, I wanted to run fast. Still, I managed to hold about the middle of my recovery pace range, using the surplus mojo to relax and keep good form.

They let cars in Prospect Park at rush hour, and the oncoming headlights tensed me up. But then the darkness began to wrap itself around me. The mist fogged my glasses and the headlights diffused into rhythmic wills-o'-the-wisp. I found myself neglecting my tensions, my whole body loosened almost involuntarily, and bits of me drifted off in desultory heaps. I was still plenty paranoid about running half-blind right next to traffic, but my limbs managed to trance out anyway. The middle miles were like a massage from the inside out.

Rock the recoveries: don't just rest, but rest deep. Not just rest deep, but siphon up the gallons of energy laid away in the dark of the cellar. Let the lights come to you. . .

. . . um, within reason of course.

January 12, 2012

Lazarus, Introduction to Second Act

I didn't make a New Year's resolution, but if I had it would have gone something like, Don't be a pussy in 2012.

So here we are, two weeks into 2012 and 13 weeks before the Boston Marathon, and I'm already a pussy.

I'm hiding out from the track.

Here's the deal. When I first started running I read something like, don't laugh, a dozen books about how to run. One of the best was Brad Hudson's Run Faster. It's great because it says over and over how you have to keep your training program responsive and flexible to the needs of your body. (And it has sample training schedules - which I of course blindly follow regardless of my body.)

But Hudson led me astray in one critical aspect: he doesn't believe in periodization.

Actually, I don't believe in it either. And it's not that Hudson doesn't periodize, it's just he doesn't do it in linear fashion.  Most training programs divide the weeks into distinct periods with a different emphasis in each. Pete Pfitzinger, for example, has endurance, lactate threshold, and specific endurance phases, pushing one neurophysiological adaptation at a time.

Hudson overlaps and overlays the phases, so that even in a week where you concentrate on endurance he'll have you doing at least some speed, hills, and lactate threshold. "I believe it's extremely important never to allow any single aspect of your running fitness to fall too far behind the others in your training, because they are all so deeply interdependent."

Right? Interdependent! What could go wrong?

For two marathon cycles I dove right in. As I very methodically upped my mileage I also did light hill work, some speedwork, and a tempo run or two every week. Inevitably, about four weeks in, some muscle would tense up and refuse to let go, which kept me off the road for at least a week. I backed off the mileage.

The fact is, I was that formerly rare bird, the masters novice. I didn't run in high school or college. I was over forty. Hell, my running career was less than a year old when I ran my first marathon. So the kind of ramp-up that might work fine for even a hardened masters runner or a novice in his 20's broke me down too much.

Now I'm in my fourth year of running, sure, but I'm coming off a six month break followed by a low-mileage season.

So for this year's Boston Marathon I'm training old school. I'm upping my miles without trackwork for a few weeks and laying off the hills (as much as anyone can who lives at the top of a hill). I had planned to hit the track every Tuesday, but now I'm doing medium-long runs instead.

I still believe it's better to overlap training stimuli to stay fit. But I guess, like Hudson keeps trying to tell me, you have to be flexible. Even if that makes you a pussy.

January 5, 2012

Kalendis Ianuariis

As 2011 hobbles out of town like a farty old bastard, there's good reason to hope for better in 2012.

Before last year even began I'd gotten this weird aversion to running. Just didn't feel like getting out there. Within a couple of months my calves, or maybe my tendons, or both, had become sclerotic from lack of activity and stretching. Then in March, with hardly any training at all, I had to go and run a half-marathon. And that's when all hell broke loose.

My shoe was lined with razorwire. Or maybe the medial calcaneal nerve in my left heel got trapped under some kind of inflammation. Hard to say. I limped and moaned for days. Finally got to the podiatrist, who handed me a long menu of stretches and a night splint perfectly constructed to annoy my wife and trouble our sleep. 

Then the cat got fleas. Because of the vasodilation from all the Advil I was taking, they found me a cheaper snack than the feline. Or maybe I'm just delicious that way. In short order they had infested my night splint, giving me a weeks-long itchy welt where they had pricked and picnicked en famille. A mosquito or a bedbug has a discrete proboscis that it'll sink into your skin to get your blood. Not the cat flea. Ctenocephalides felis basically saws through your flesh with jagged implements, leaving behind a livid lump. Justinian had survived fleas, so I guess I could too. But now my foot hurt and itched.

For six months I had neither run seriously nor slept well (for the itching and the splint), and still there was hardly any improvement. By midsummer I was carrying a dark cloud wherever I went. Finally decided not to wait for a miracle and just started running again.

Well, the running didn't make anything worse, and anyway the pain was creeping around from the back of my heel, where it was sharp and local, to the back of my arch, where it became diffuse and insidious. That's what folks round these parts call plantar fasciitis.

Aaauugh! So: rolling golf balls under my feet, stretching, ice, blah blah.

Meanwhile I had a pretty good road and cross-country season on low mileage. I got six age-group firsts over the season. The pain abandoned my left foot and took up in my right. In December, fuck it, it was time to start thinking about the Boston Marathon. So I ignored the unchanging pain and ran even more. And, mirabile dictu, the footache started to fade, just a little.

As I run higher mileage now than I ever have, the pain continues to lessen. I attack the pf with everything I've got and continue to ramp up the miles. I have no idea how this story ends, but I feel every step grinding that old man deeper in the ground. In spring we'll see what sprouts. I'll look for crocuses in every footstep.