Week 14: Labyrinth

Note: Not a post about David Bowie. Go ahead, dry those tears of disappointment.

The Labyrinth is an invitation to contemplate in nature. Monks, nuns, and other spiritual professions have used labyrinths as a type of walking meditation or prayer. The intricate design presents twists and turns that, through their physical disorientation, bring clarity by insulating the individual away from the outside world and into a hub of calm.

Lately, my meandering runs have conjured the image of the labyrinth. I find that while I am aware of my surroundings in the first few miles, I gradually begin, through my weaving path around the city or woods, to find that silent center. Soon the sound of my feet and my breath play in harmony with the wind, water, and birds. The only reminder of the outside world is the beeping of my watch as I complete each mile. Sometimes I listen to music, and the sights and grandeur are narrated by melody and lyrics. Sometimes I take out the ear buds and listen to nothing but what is already there.

The length and duration of these runs are still difficult. But I think about how many times a person ventured to that labyrinth, in the cold or the dark, because the ritual was begging them there. Running has become highly ritualized for me–and a surprising revelation as I close out this month–a somewhat spiritual exercise when I take the time to go alone and give the practice my full attention.

Two more visits to the labyrinth before tapering begins. And the marathon is only a month away. I am thinking about it, using detailed visualizations, and trying to allow excitement to overcome any fears.

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I am still alive!

I am back from my two weeks of travels, family and friends. Last night, I completed my first run of Week 13. This Sunday I will run 16 miles, then the next Saturday I will run 18. Finally, two and a half weeks from now, I will run either 18 or 20 as my final long run of marathon training before tapering. Lots of work ahead, but the good news is I have company for the long runs! My running buddy has to run 9 miles this weekend, so she will join me for more than half of my run. Another friend who will be running in the marathon but lives out of town is coming up next week to run the 18-mile distance with me. Just knowing I will have company on these runs restores my confidence. I am a natural introvert… but 3 hours is a long time to be running alone!

Let’s see… another update… last week I went to a local running shop and got fitted for new shoes. I’ve been a solid fan of Mizunos for the last year, but with the increasing mileage, I started to feel the need for a bit more support. I am enjoying a pair of New Balance shoes, and also experimenting with Superfeet. My running buddy also picked up some new shoes, and we broke them in last Thursday on a relaxing trail run (mine are the white ones on the bottom):

Besides preparing for upcoming long runs, I am finishing up a load of projects at work and anticipating the buzz of activity that normally occurs each September when the school year returns. Speaking of fall, it’s been breezier in the evenings and very pleasant for runs after work. Looking forward to the cool temperatures again!

I ran with a friend!

My running buddy took me along for an 8 mile run yesterday, and it was a fantastic way to wrap up the week. I was traveling around last weekend, so I had to run piecemeal, but I am really happy with the 8 miles. It was a good physical and mental detox. I realize after a run how much better I feel about everything… it just demolishes stress.

One more week of slightly altered training, and then back to the grindstone for the next several weeks. I am looking forward to getting some more long runs under my belt; especially with September approaching rapidly.

My goal this week is to eat whole and non-disruptive foods. I have a sensitive gut, and while I am all for eating dirty and running hard, I am having some flareups of digestive issues that I need to address in order to run comfortably. So, cutting back a bit of dairy, greasy take-out, coffee consumption (beyond the 1-2 cups a day I need!), and looking at how I can add more water, whole produce, and hearty grains and proteins. Starting tonight by cooking our homegrown zucchini with some yams and chicken.

I will try to read up on Week 12 this evening so that I can share some insights later in the week.

Still here, still running, no big updates…

I have not been a great blogger these past few weeks. Training is going… well, it’s going. I am putting in my time and probably could put in more if all conditions were ideal, but I am swamped at work and looking at two consecutive weekends of traveling. The leaves are starting to change a bit, and it reminds me that fall is coming. Next month! Which means the marathon is moving into view!

I drank a lot of water yesterday, and felt the impact during my evening run. Hydration is so important, and for some reason it is still one of my big challenges. I should be drinking water like I drink coffee at work, and then I would be golden. I am running on trails as much as I possibly can–to keep cool in the August heat (we’re wimps out here in the Pacific Northwest), and to treat my joints with kindness.

If you are a Runner’s World subscriber, the Newbie Chronicles editorial for the September 2013 issue is amazing. I wish I could link it here, but it’s not available online yet as far as I can tell. Put up your feet, have a beer, and read the article. I think you will enjoy some chuckles.

Wishing you all a great weekend! Stay cool and stay hydrated!

The 16 mile run: Did you see that dead cat?

Dude, I ran 16 miles on Saturday to complete Week 9. I wish I had some higher level insights about myself to share, but I just don’t. It was long and, at times, difficult. It was a feat of strength. I did not hit a wall, but I was challenged, mostly emotionally, by the last 2-3 miles. The difficulty of those last few miles was topped off by the unfortunate experience of seeing the most horrific dead cat, in a full-on state of rigor mortis, mouth still open, right at Mile 14. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a stranger to roadkill on runs… I’ve seen raccoons, birds, and yes, cats, but usually it’s obvious why they are dead. This one was just frozen in mid-meow. It was awful! Darkly comical, however, was comparing notes with my running buddy, who is following the same schedule at 50% the distances in preparation for the half marathon. We went out last night and she was talking about her 8 mile run and I had to ask… “did you see the dead cat?” And the look of horror flooded her face, and I knew. She had seen it too. Frozen Mid Meow.

It was traumatizing… can you tell?

Anyway, let’s back up to before the dead cat. All in all, the challenge of 16 miles was mostly in the duration. Physically, I was a bit wiped after the experience, but I went about my business the rest of the day and even moved a bunch of furniture. No residual soreness or injuries, so that is good. I hydrated and fueled well, although I need to pay more attention to replenishing liquids the 24 hours following a long run. It was an out-and-back. I found myself excited during the first 8 miles, simply because I was covering a distance I had never done before… although all of the chapters of the run were familiar to me. I was able to run the majority of the miles on our interurban trail system, which really spared me the trauma of pounding concrete. I reached the 8 mile mark, in the thick of the woods, and then turned back around. The course had a lot of hills and, later, switchbacks, but I thought the elevation variety would be realistic practice for the marathon, which is a hilly course at times.

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Around Mile 7/9

I did pretty well until mile 12, when I started to get bored. And I credit the boredom for slogging through the last few miles. Also? No fanfare at the end of this run. Just going through the front door and taking a cold shower.

Running solo for 3 hours is going to be boring. That’s what I learned from Saturday’s expedition. No amount of music or podcasts can keep you entertained. And even though Flow is wonderful and the simple exercise of running is wonderful, all of that peters out at a certain point. Similarly to driving a long distance, it gets old. I think this is a fact of life when training alone… and it’s the path I chose. Have you seen Spirit of the Marathon? You know the groups that run together religiously every weekend and chat through their long runs? I passed one of those organized efforts on Saturday. There are teams training together. From the outside, it looks rosy, particularly as I head into my third hour of This American Life (no offense, Ira, I still love you). And then there are people running alone. I am one of those loners. A solitary beast. At the end of the day, this first time I am undertaking the journey that is the marathon, I need to be inside of myself. The only drawback is that it would have been nice to crack a few jokes 13 miles in to keep the mood light.

I do not despair–not many long runs left. In fact, I have two consecutive weekends of travel that will keep me from being able to do the two 16-mile runs for Week 10 and Week 11, respectively. Initially I stressed about this, but revisiting my training schedule I realized I have three long runs left over after the traveling. So my game plan is to maintain my mid-week mileage and try to fit in some running on the traveling weekends, and then pick up the long run again at Week 12. I am trying easier. Long runs will be as follows:

Week 12: 16 miles

Week 13: 18 miles

Week 14: 18 miles

[tapering begins]

Here is my plan for Week 10:

Monday: 5 miles

Tuesday: 4 miles

Wednesday: 4 miles

Thursday: 5 miles

Saturday: ???

Let’s see… what else? I hope to be back tomorrow or Wednesday to chat about Week 10. I know last week had few entries–I kind of needed to see that I could run 16 miles before writing about it. Does that make sense? I just wanted to act first, process later.

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I am so excited, I finally got a pedicure last night and, most importantly, I have all 10 toenails!