Confessions of the 50k

The 50k: it’s not about the distance, really. It’s how you get there.

My husband says the title of this post should have been, “The 50k, finally.” I admit it has taken me a few years and several false starts to get here. For more than a few years he really thought the race itself would kill me. I really thought the training would kill me.

Hal Higdon’s training programs have always been my go-to marathon plans. His 50k program lasts 26 weeks. Six months. The first 18 weeks follow a typical marathon training plan on steroids with three 20-mile runs and one full marathon (26.2 miles for those non runner readers). Then we get to the really fun training weeks where the long runs are simply described by how many hours one should run in one session. When I trained for the 50k a couple of years ago, it wasn’t that I got injured. I just wore myself out.

Luckily for me I’m retired so that I can run every morning. This is handy when you still want to have a life. I followed a Canadian marathoner last year. She ran before work, sometimes during her lunch break, after dinner wearing a headlamp, and followed a long-run route that crossed a frozen lake. We’ve all been there. You just do what you’ve got to do. Even in retirement our alarm routinely rings at 5:30a so I can finish a run before lunch. And if you’re determined to be the best you can be, this doesn’t last for 12, 18, or 26 weeks. If you want to be really good, you follow this schedule to some degree or another all year.

Earlier this year I remembered reading from a fellow runner (Dan’s Marathon) about the ChicagoUltra. The full 31.1-mile course is on the Chicago Lakefront path – imagine flat, scenic, flat, a slight breeze, flat . . . sheer bliss. Even better when I realized this could be an anniversary race of sorts. I ran my first marathon in Chicago in 2007. How perfect to run my first ultra in Chicago ten years later. . . maybe nothing’s worse than a nostalgic runner.

My husband and I decided on a training plan that wouldn’t kill me and I began training in May. Some number of months later, there was an out-of-state family emergency.

It came on a Wednesday. No problem I thought, and I reworked my schedule to accommodate two days off in the middle of the week. Then the same family emergency came again the next week.

It was at the end of the second week that I told my husband I had really screwed up. I had run 80% of the week’s miles in three days for two weeks in a row: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the long run on Saturday both weeks. One week later I ended the Saturday long run with stress fractures in both feet.

In my last post I wrote about stress fractures of the lower leg: “Studies released this year build on a growing body of research that suggests it’s not how much you train in isolation, but how the training load changes (training load errors).”

The strategy for this year will go down as “go for broke.” I went into full recovery mode training thinking there was nothing to lose. I had already been cycling for cross-training, so I ramped up the cycling schedule, added extra long walks as soon as I could walk without it hurting, and spent serious recovery time focused on being off my feet. Four weeks later I was able to restart my training.

I’ve emotionally held my breath for every run. Going back to Hal’s programs, I settled on another one that would pick up where I had left off, and hopefully prepare me for the race without re-injuring my feet. Last Saturday I finished my longest training run, and (as of now) I’m still injury-free.

My dad has once again agreed to babysit the dogs, I’ve paid my money, and I’m finally registered for my first 50k.

My husband used to warn us about getting too excited about a successful meeting with investors years ago in our start-up businesses by saying, “It’s a long way from the cup to the lip.” In other words, lots of things can go wrong in a short space of time.

Today is the first day of a shortened 2-week taper, and although lots of things could go wrong, I’m still on a strategy of go for broke. Race day is Saturday, October 28th. Stay tuned.

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Cycling through Summer

There is no crying in baseball. . .” It’s my husband’s favorite response when my life runs amuck, so there was no whining at my house when I came home black, blue and bloody from what started out as a delightful morning bike ride.

Cycling is not my primary sport, although it has been my favorite cross-training for several years. After running two marathons (and remodeling two houses) last year, there has been little time for cross-training of any kind, and this year I vowed to reintroduce cycling to my training regimen. It’s had its ups and downs.

The best part of my re-entry to cycling is location. I can leave my driveway and cycle for just over an hour with relatively few climbs. The downside of my cycling is what I have learned to be toe-overlap; where your toe hits the front tire when turning. It seems this is a common problem for road bikes with racing geometry. Racing bike = racing geometry = short wheelbase.

The online advice is fairly consistent: get used to it. When you go fast, you don’t need to turn the wheel – just lean. But what about when I want to do a u-turn in the middle of the road to head back home?

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My simplest route is an out-and-back: 3 right turns, 3 left turns, 1 u-turn.

Two years ago I traded the standard pedals that came with my new bike for the clipless style pedal. These rocket-science style pedals have special cleats that attach to your cycling specific-shoe soles, which serve to hold your feet in proper position and will not let them go. Of course, I was given instructions at the time: just step down to click into the pedals and twist your feet to the side to exit. It has never been that simple.

Throughout this past winter I left my bike locked into a trainer upstairs in the gym and spent several minutes of every ride clicking in, and twisting out. Surely by the time summer came around it’d be a piece of cake. You would think.

So, in celebration of the 200-year anniversary of the bicycle, I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on the art of cycling; lessons learned during this blissful sometimes torturous summer of cycling.

Look the Part.

Nothing gives a rookie away faster than a black streak of grease on their calf. And when my chain fell off one day during a poor gear change, I realized it would look even worse should I finish that ride with grease on both calves, both hands, possibly my face, and blood running down one arm. Avoid looking like a rookie at all costs.

Follow the Leader?

Cars fly past at unconscionable speeds. Trucks roar by with all their might threatening to blow you right off the road. An interesting phenomenon seems to happen, however, when these vehicles pass you on your cycling journey.

If a driver is particularly respectful of your space and moves to the outside lane, chances seem good that the next car after will do the same. Likewise, if a car remains in the right lane and passes you with only inches to spare, hold your breath for dear life because there may be a string of these cars yet to come. Once in a great while a driver will see this infraction, think on his own accord, and break rank from the leader to once again make things right. God bless these brave souls. They are a valuable example for all walks of life.

Don’t Stop Pedaling!

I have read that one of the easiest ways to determine the experience level of a cyclist is to see how early they clip out before coming to a stop. A novice rider will clip out as much as a block before a stop sign or red light (that’s me). To look cool, they say, let the bike come to a full stop before clipping out. To look Eurocool, never clip out. Track stands are the only acceptable way to wait at a red light. Maybe next summer.

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The first bicycle was devised in 1817 with a front wheel capable of being steered, a padded saddle, and armrest. Although pedals were eventually added in the late 1850s, only the front wheel could be pedaled until the chain was invented in 1869.
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The Future. . .  Photo Courtesy “History of the Bicycle: A Timeline” at brown.edu

The Runner’s Four Letter Word

Some say true athletic development is not possible without periods of rest. Most of us would say just shoot me now. Then we learned about periodization.

Athletes can’t train the same way all the time. Some training programs incorporate this keep-the-body-guessing approach on a daily basis, but runners need only divide their season into distinct segments that includes time for base building and endurance, strengthening, speed-work, and maybe a taper before the target race.

Periodization also includes time for rest. And what pray tell does an athlete do during a period of rest?

There are the expected answers: fishing, golf, video games, reading, sitting on the beach, or even mass doses of bingo.

Hanley Ramirez from the Boston Red Socks spends his off time cooking, and Texas Rangers pitcher, Colby Lewis, drives Go-Karts on a track he set up in his back yard.

Professional athletes in every sport take some time off completely from their sport every year – usually two to six weeks, although Croix Sather (2012 world record holder for the solo self-sustained crossing of Badwater Ultramarathon) took a six-month break.

Bernard Legat, a Kenyan-American middle and long-distance runner and 5-time Olympian, says he gets “fat” during his time off – and we may as well not kid ourselves, we obviously lose some level of fitness. A planned break, however, is always better than a forced break (i.e., injury), and fitness is regained sooner than you may think after returning to training.

Greg McMillan says of this, “Science is discovering that the chemistry of the brain, the hormonal system and the immune system are compromised during hard training. Breaks rejuvenate these systems, allowing us to train better, more consistently and with more zeal across the next training plan.”

He put his own advice into practice by taking a month off after a marathon, and ran 2 minutes faster in a subsequent 15K than he had run it before. He was convinced the recovery phase was the critical component.

Rest and adequate recovery helps head off problems while the tell-tale signs of not taking these breaks are disrupted sleep, moodiness, chronic fatigue, poor concentration, a noticeable difference in appetite, a general lack of interest in other activities, and eventually injury.

A full week of rest fit nicely into my training schedule last week, so I took the land-based route to Chicago for a getaway to see my son, including a week of days sleeping past 6:30am, shopping for endless hours, long naps, and lovely dinners. Ahhh, rest.

The Despicable 5k

It was in June of last year that I stumbled onto a post, “Are Marathons Stupid?” Three little words, and I was captured.

The author, Jon Waldron from therunnereclectic.com, quickly referenced an article by Christie Aschwanden that had been published a few days earlier on fivethirtyeight.com, “The 5K, Not The Marathon, Is The Ideal Race“. I had already read this article, and thought it was a lousy attempt to upsell the 5k.

Waldron had the perfect response: “But the problem I have with the piece and others like it is that it makes no serious attempt to really grapple with the reasons people choose to run hard events, or competitive events, or long, life-altering events, rather than convenient ones. People don’t run for no reason, they run for a variety of reasons, some simple and some complex, and like any other human behavior, people engage in it because they apply a calculus that convinces them that it’s worth it.”

The last 5k I ran (and at this point there have only been two in my life) was 7 years ago. I wrote about the experience: “Less than 10 minutes in, I was saying to myself, “Shit! This hurts. I hate this!” A few minutes later I had decided nothing was worth hurting that bad for. I would quit. I stepped off the course and stopped running. For the next few seconds, I tried to picture how I would unwind myself from this race. Walk back to the start? Walk to the finish? Good lord, how would that look. How long would that take? My husband was standing at the finish line waiting for me. Did it really hurt so bad that I couldn’t finish? No, it didn’t. I put my feet back on the course, stopped at the aid station for water and, cussed all the way to the finish line. . . in 3rd place for my age group.”

Almost every year I try to convince myself I should run a 5k. They must be great for improving speed. It’s a nice way to set realistic expectations for other races scheduled that year. It’s only 3 miles. I hate the 5k.

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fivethirtyeight.com

Last Saturday I ran a 5k. It set me back $15. There were no finish medals, no mile markers, no aid stations – although there were plenty of bagels, donuts, coffee, water, oranges and shirts for all. And I won a blueberry bush from the drawing at the end of the race.

My only training included testing a theory that riding my bicycle would fire up the fast twitch muscles as well as sprints at the track, so I’ve spent about one day each week cycling instead of running fast. Otherwise, I focused on maintaining fitness for a spring half marathon instead with 25-30 miles/week and one longish run of 10-12 miles. It’s been heavenly.

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As race prep, I looked up the last 5k I ran (in 2010) and realized I had never recorded my finish time. And since it appears those race results have long ago been deleted from world history this took me to my very first 5k in 2008, which I finished in 24:19.

So there I stood at the starting line last Saturday morning hoping for a finish just one minute slower, but knowing I’d be happy with a two-minute gain over 9 years.

Maybe the 5k race strategy seems pretty simple. Run. Fast. Do. Not. Stop. There are other approaches.

Lauren Fleshman became an ambassador of sorts for the 5k. Her advice for running the perfect 5k goes like this:

“Try this next time: Run the first mile with your head, the second mile with your focus, and the third mile with your heart. In the first mile, you can’t let any emotion or excitement in at all. Start with a pace you are confident you can maintain and then relax a little bit more. Until you see that one mile marker, all you are allowed to think about is running smart. From 1-2 miles, focus on maintaining your form and start to look around you, taking a survey of which runners around you probably went out too hard, and which ones you should make your prey in the third mile. You are taking some time to strategize for the big battle, and you aren’t allowed to draw your sword until you pass the 2-mile marker! The last mile, start to pick off your victims.”

With the passing of time (old age), I’ve realized that if I can get my feet moving fast and then settle my heart rate back down by relaxing into the pace, I can maintain that pace for a while (however subjective that may be). On race day this translates into: start fast, settle in and feel good, momentarily crash just past midway, recover, and surge to the finish. Turns out it’s a viable strategy.

Rick Morris wrote “5k Race Strategy And Tactics” for Running Planet where he differentiates the 5k strategy based on the runner’s experience level:

“It has been drummed into our heads that we should always be conservative during the first mile of a 5K race so we are able to pick up the pace in the middle and last miles. But is that always good advice? Maybe not. There is evidence that competitive runners will usually perform better with a stronger start. Scientists at the University of New Hampshire studied 5K pacing strategy of eleven moderately trained women distance runners and found that the best performances were obtained when the athletes ran their first mile at between 3% and 6% faster than their average split times for the entire 5K race distance. Another study from South Africa that studied record breaking performances found that the first and last kilometers of most record breaking races were run significantly faster than the middle miles. Both of these studies seem to support the benefits of competitive runners running the first mile at a slightly faster pace. . .”

I survived my token 5k race of this year (decade?) with a finish time of 26.03. It felt pretty good to run faster than usual for the first mile. Things looked good when I made the turn at the halfway point, and then I nearly crashed on an uphill around mile 2. I had vowed not to stop and walk. I stopped and walked. Cussed when the 50-something woman ahead of me didn’t stop and walk. Recovered and surged to the finish.

It was the most miserable 26 minutes of this year.

Now that I have run the 5k race three times in my life I realize the length of the race is not commensurate with lessons learned.

In just 3 miles you can reach your limit, recover, and make a decision whether to continue or quit. . . “and just like any other human behavior, people engage in it because they apply a calculus that convinces them that it’s worth it.”

Happy racing, runners – no matter the distance.

The Anatomy of a Runner: it’s all about that bass (the Upper Leg & Glutes)

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The first in a series of posts about what makes runners uniquely equipped to do what we love to do most. . . run.

Functional Overview:

The lower leg is the part of the lower limb that lies between the knee and the ankle. The thigh is between the hip and knee and the term “lower extremity” is used to describe the colloquial leg. For this discussion, the runner’s base is considered the upper leg, which begins at the hip and the Gluteus Maximus and continues to the knee.

In human anatomy the knee is the connecting line between the upper leg and the lower leg. This connection, and the resulting tension caused by its relationship between the two has caused the topic of the knee to be moved to another post. We’ll get a feel for the knee’s function as it relates to the upper leg, but delve into specific knee injuries another time.

Key Facts: The only bone in this region is the femur, the largest bone in the body. The femur’s head creates the ball of the ball-and-socket-style hip joint. The base of the femur makes up part of the knee.

Major Players:

Gluteus Maximus (the “glutes”): muscle located in the buttocks regarded as one of the strongest muscles in the human body. Responsible for movement of the hip and thigh, contributes to good running form and alignment. Standing up from a sitting position, climbing stairs, and staying in an erect position are all aided by the gluteus maximus.

Hamstrings: three muscles at the back of the thigh that affect hip and knee movement.

Quadriceps: the strongest and leanest muscles of the body – a four-muscle group at the front of the thigh that work to extend the knee and lower leg.

Knee: a pivot-like hinge joint that connects the bones in the upper and lower leg. It is the largest joint in the human body. The knee is where the femur in the upper leg meets the tibia and fibula bones of the lower leg. The patella, or kneecap, is at the center of the knee.

Tendons, ligaments, and protective elements, such as cartilage and bursa, connect and protect the bones to keep them in place and prevent them from grinding against each other while also allowing the knee joint to flex and twist slightly.

Glutes

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Healthline.com

Why it hurts: The most common cause of a gluteus injury is stretching or straining one of the muscles beyond its normal range of motion – especially prominent with soccer, football, and baseball players who make sudden movements and overexert their legs during a play.

However, track events such as hurdles or the long jump, or a runner’s rapid acceleration (particularly up hills) can also increase the likelihood of a gluteal strain.

Excessive acute stress on a gluteal muscle can cause it to tear, which usually results in immediate pain and leg weakness.

Where it hurts: symptoms include numbness in the buttocks, hip and possibly the thigh down to the ankle with difficulty walking normally and rising from a seated position.

Prevention/Recovery: rest, cold/hot therapy, massage, and eventually strengthening exercises. According to a review in the November 2005 issue of “New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy,” a full squat and running on an incline require the greatest gluteus maximus function. Start slow and easy.

Test Your Strength:

30 Second Chair to Stand test: this test measures the ability to stand up from a seated position as many times as possible in a thirty-second period of time. Testing the number of times you can stand up in a thirty-second period helps assess strength, flexibility, pain, endurance, and progression of recovery.

Runner’s Note: according to the physique-oriented website Waist, Hips & Thighs, doing repeat sprints using starting blocks is the best way to build the gluteal muscles. If you’re hoping to avoid the over-emphasized glutes (aka “bubble butt”), focus on long, easy mileage rather than short, intense bursts of speed.

Hamstrings

Why it hurts: also known as a pulled hamstring, is defined as an excessive stretch or tear of muscle fibers and related tissues. Hamstring injuries are common in athletes participating in many sports and are very difficult to treat and rehabilitate. Track and field athletes are particularly at risk, as hamstring injuries have been estimated to make up 29% of all injuries in sprinters.

Research proposes predisposing factors to injury include muscle weakness, muscle imbalance, poor flexibility, fatigue, inadequate warm up, poor neuromuscular control, and poor running technique. One of the few predisposing factors that most researchers agree upon, however, is previous hamstring injury. Brokett et al. (2004) stated that “the athletes most at risk of a hamstring strain are those with a previous history of such injury” and noted that 34% of the hamstring injuries were recurrences.”

Cameron et al. also found that 34% of injuries recur in the same season. Arnason et al. generalized these numbers, saying that previous injury was in itself an independent risk factor for re-injury.  (Reference: Wikipedia)

Where it hurts:

Grade 1: Sensation of cramping or tightness and a slight pain when the muscles are stretched or contracted.

IMG_2927Grade 2: Immediate pain more severe than the pain of a grade one injury. It is confirmed by pain on stretch, swelling and contraction of the muscle.

Grade 3: A grade three hamstring strain is a severe injury. Immediate burning or stabbing pain, unable to walk without pain. The muscle is completely torn and there may be a large lump of muscle tissue above a depression where the tear is.

Prevention/Recovery: almost always, the hamstring strain occurs just before the lead foot hits the ground, when hamstring tension peaks to resist forward motion of IMG_2924the swinging leg. Incorporate agility and trunk stabilization exercises, stop and stretch during runs.

Avoid over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, which can interfere with tendon remodeling.

Deep tissue massage is better for recovery and pain.

It is usually possible to continue running through recovery.

Shorten your stride, increase cadence, and keep the pace slow.

If the injury is too painful to run, avoid prolonged wet-vest pool running. Although it is true pool running maintains aerobic capacity while recovering from injuries such as stress fractures, pool running fails to adequately stress the hamstrings since the resistance provided by the water forces the quads to pull the lead leg forward while the hamstrings are stressed only while pulling the leg back.

The natural function of the hamstrings is to fire eccentrically when they lengthen to stop forward motion of the lead leg. By failing to strengthen the hamstring eccentrically, pool therapy often results in rapid hamstring re-injury as soon as the runner attempts to run fast.

 

Test Your Flexibility:

Test it With:  Toe Touches. To see if your ‘strings are supple enough for Deadlifts and Olympic lifts, put your feet together, bend over and touch your toes. Can’t reach? Back rounds when you do? Better loosen up.

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Fix it With:  Leg Lowering Pattern. Lie on your back with both legs in the air. Place a band around one foot, then lower your opposite leg, keeping the leg straight and core tight. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.  (Read more at Champions Are Made In The Off-Season.)

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Runner’s Note: the glutes and hamstrings have far more fast-twitch muscle fibers than the quads, making them more powerful and explosive. If too much attention is placed on strengthening the quads, thereby creating an imbalance, the glutes and hamstrings will suffer. A lack of strength in the hamstrings compared with the strength in the quads can result in an unstable knee joint and assorted lower-body injuries.

Quadriceps

The Marathoner vs The Sprinter

Why it hurts: As mentioned above with the hamstring movement, eccentric loading occurs when muscles lengthen and shorten at the same time. When we run, our quadriceps contracts when our foot touches the ground. This stabilizes our knee and stops us from collapsing. But even stabilized, our knee bends slightly, stretching our quadriceps as it shortens. This eccentric tug-of-war creates enormous tension on the quads.

Where it hurts: Athletes with quadriceps strains often complain of a “pulling” sensation in the front of the thigh. Pain, swelling, bruising and muscle tenderness may also occur. Its severity is categorized by the same grades as with the Hamstring injury.

Prevention/Recovery: a counterintuitive strategy for recovering from a quad injury was offered by Pete Magill in Runner’s World: Cure Quad Pain, Calf Pain, and Heavy Legs: “Running downhill can cure quad pain once a runner’s legs adapt to the eccentric overload caused by the activity,” says Beaverton, Oregon, coach and exercise scientist Tom Schwartz. “Initially, the soreness caused by downhill running can be quite harsh.

A parallel is the soreness caused by starting a new weight training regimen. Soreness is caused by the lowering of weights, which is the eccentric loading. Lifting weights, which is concentric loading, doesn’t cause soreness.”

Brisk downhill running increases the eccentric load on our quads, causing more muscle damage. The good news is that once our body repairs this damage, we’re left with quads that are pain-free, stronger and protected from further injury.

Although there is no substitute for real descent repeats, eccentric single-leg squats and lunges may also prepare the muscles for downhills.

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Other eccentric Quad strengthening exercises include the straight-leg deadlift, good morning squat and the calf raise used by shortening the concentric phase to one second and extending the eccentric phase to at least three seconds. (Read more at runningcompetitor.com.)

(Additional Reading: Quad Strengthening Exercises from the Bay Area Orienteering Club.)

Runner’s Notes:

Weak hip muscles can allow the legs to angle inward or outward instead of keeping each stride in line.

Underdeveloped gluteal muscles might cause the runner to lean his or her trunk forward.

An imbalance between opposing muscles, particularly, is a major cause of the repetitive stress injuries.

Next up in our series: be still my beating heart.

Meghan Trainor declared, “I’m all about that bass, ‘Bout that bass, no treble, …”, and while runners everywhere train by the very beat of their heart, Meghan’s lyrics may be more true than we first thought.

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RUN through the Holidays!

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There’s nothing like sore abs from yesterday’s sit-ups to make you think twice about apple pie and ice cream. I like to think of sore muscles as progress, but progress is usually hard to come by during the holidays. It’s not like our bodies lie down in a motionless revolt. No, it’s the mind that betrays us.

If you’ve planned your schedule to allow for a 2-week Rest&Recovery session through the holidays, you may be the smartest runner of the year. My only scheduled rest break was immediately following the last marathon, which has already come and gone. That leaves at least some of us figuring out how to shop, entertain, and enjoy the holidays without losing one ounce of fitness.

Lots of folks write about exercising through the Season – intending to keep us motivated to hang in there with our tough training regimen. And if you’re halfway through a marathon training schedule, you probably have no choice but to keep at it.

If your racing schedule is similar to mine, however, you find yourself with holiday-related training options.

Our family makes yearly rotations through parents, grandparents, and in-laws so that some years we have the holidays – and our training schedule – all to ourselves. These quiet, mellow holidays are not the problem. It’s when the dance card fills up that things go a little haywire.

Here’s a few practical thoughts for coping that have worked for me over the years:

1. Job Share: when the house is full of guests, my husband and I take turns working out. While he mingles with company, I exercise and vice versa. Somehow it lessens the guilt of leaving your guests for a workout when your partner is there in your absence.

2. Keep it Simple: at the risk of repeating myself too often. . . one stressor at a time. If you’re going 90-to-nothing, pillar to post every day, keep holiday workouts easy. It’s the best injury prevention and the only way to avoid a Crash&Burn.

3. Cut back: even though I’m following a 6 day/week running schedule at the moment, last season’s 4 day/week training proved there’s no set rule, and lots of runners train just 3 days each week. It’s best not to miss more than 2 consecutive days, but if you drop back from your usual schedule to just 3 days of running through the holidays, you won’t lose fitness.

If you have the energy, ratchet up the intensity to offset the reduced mileage, or if you have the time, increase distance for those 3 days to maintain the same weekly mileage.

If a serious cut-back is required, remember that a brisk 10-minute walk three times through the day can reduce blood pressure, and burn calories. It always feels better than you expect to walk around the neighborhood after dinner with the family.

4. Let it go. Sometimes the only thing to do is hang up the running shoes until after the holidays. Somehow we always survive.

I would make the suggestion to also forego dessert, but my husband would say I have surely lost my mind. Happy Holidays.

 

 

image courtesy picphotos.net

The Dark Ridge

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A mountain-top farm along my long run route.

There’s a slight coolness to the morning air, and the pumpkins have already been harvested from the farm along my long run route. I first claimed this route for all my long runs four years ago when we moved back home from Ecuador, and in four years it has never changed. The first 8 miles are sheer bliss, and one mile further is just torture.

After all these years, my husband can calculate to the minute how long it will take me to finish the long run. Once we have done the math and agreed on a time to meet at Lulu’s for lunch, I head to the top of the mountain.

Granted, the down side of a point-to-point run and our agreed upon meeting time (and the fact that I don’t run with a phone in my hand) means there is no dilly-dallying. I keep a constant check on my pace, and no matter what goes wrong I keep myself moving for fear I don’t make that meeting time, give or take a few minutes, and my husband goes into a lunatic-worry over what has happened to me.

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Beginning at the Balsam Community Center, this run takes me past the historic Balsam Mountain Inn, local fly-fishing spots, and the Moonshine Creek Campground.

The creek rushes down the mountain 30+ feet below the road on my left while the rock face extends 30+ feet up to my right. Houses are scattered here and there, a train pokes along its track high above the creek, the wooden planks of one-lane bridges crackle under my feet, and farms glisten in the bright sunshine near the four-lane highway where Dark Ridge Road meets Skyland Drive, and the sheer torture side of this run soon begins.

Last week when my calendar turned up an 18-mile run, I had the idea to extend the blissful part of the run by as many miles as I could piece together. I don’t particularly like running new routes, lord only knows how many free-range dogs live on these roads, but it didn’t take long before I came on a new road that would add two miles to this blissful side of the run.

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Courtesy: mapmyrun.com

 

So, I’d like to say I have a proven theory on why this happens, but if I’m going to need a potty break during a run (of any length really), this becomes apparent very early in the run. It was barely a half mile into this 18-mile run that I knew I would need to find an early potty break, and all the unfamiliar sights and sounds of this new route were lost due to the endless search for a good potty spot.

There’s the 30 foot drop on the left that intimidates me, and even in the few places where I could walk over and put my toe in the creek, my Outdoor Leadership training kicks in and I wouldn’t dare “go” within 20 feet of the water. So I keep searching.

There were the two rocks I used a few weeks ago to drop down below road level and back up again, but adding the 2-miles to the early part of the run skewed my memory of exactly where those two rocks were, and every time I thought I’d be brave and just duck behind a tree. . . a car came along.

By mile 5 the situation had become urgent and I walked for a moment to compose myself. I knew there was a bridge overhead just down the road, and although it would not be nearly as private as I would have hoped for, I vowed I would stop behind the big concrete foundation of that bridge. A few minutes later, I turned the corner and could finally see the concrete footings of the bridge. . .

There was no warning trickle, and it took a few seconds to actually accept what had happened. Then there was the briefest “What now?”

Many years ago I read a hilarious account of a brave runner who described his not-so-fortunate “accident” and this was the thought that came next. Immediately I realized I am not the only runner that has suddenly lost their bladder. In fact, as my husband and I would later say to each other, it could have been much worse.

My accident happened just after mile 6. There were 12 miles to go. It was too far into the run to go back up the mountain to the safety of my Jeep, I still needed to finish this long run, and the clock was ticking – my husband would be waiting for me. There was nowhere to go but forward.

Maybe that’s the point. . . sometimes, no matter what has happened, there is nowhere to go but forward.