09 September 2010

Shedding Moss

It never fails. Never say die, or you might. Predict where you’ll get that speeding ticket, and you will (and yes, I did and I did, though that was twenty-two years ago, clean since, no, wait, I’d better not say that, either). Announce a breakout, as I did last week, and something will break. Which I did, and it did, though I’m hoping I’m quickly past that, gathering steam, and shedding the moss that grew on the bottoms of my feet this summer.

Just a week ago I gleefully declared the summer slump over. New Hampshire Breakout, I called it. There’s an aspect of positive thinking in a statement like that. The recession will be over when we all decide it’s over, right? And my slump will be over when I decide it’s over. And I decided it was over, though I knew there was an issue…

When in New Hampshire, my clan bases ourselves at a fine small motel in Franconia, just north of the famous Notch. Nestled along the Gale River, I’ve got the choice of running the valley or heading up the hills, which, being New Hampshire, are significant. Arriving a couple of Mondays back on a cool, drizzly afternoon, having just driven the course of my upcoming New Hampshire Marathon, I was inspired to run the hills. Abandoning the clan at the motel, I headed up Route 117 toward Sugar Hill, veering off at the top to climb higher up Sunset Hill, roughly a seven-hundred foot climb in about two and a quarter miles. Exhilarated!

And then… Most runners would groan at a hill like that and crave the coming descent, but I’m not most runners. I’m simply not a downhill guy, perhaps a good reason I gave up alpine skiing over twenty years ago. (Yes, I prefer to hike uphill as well. But that came later in the week, I digress.) But what goes up, right? So, bang a left at the top and scream down, down, down, a beautiful quiet rural road, straight and steady, down, down, I’d checked my watch and knew I’d been cranking for a good six to seven minutes, all down all the time, not gentle but really down, down, down, when what do my wondrous eyes do see, but… yes, the familiar “truck on block” sign waning me of an impending hill.

Only in New Hampshire. Or, I suppose any mountainous state, but it sounds good to say that since I was in New Hampshire. A solid mile downhill and now they’re warning you about a hill. You’re kidding, right? I literally laughed out loud.

There was a reason they warned me. What followed were three or four pitches of the painful kind. The kind of hills that you simply can’t follow the hill coaching advice of letting the hill to the work, letting yourself glide down in a controlled fall, not fighting it. No sir, not on these babies. If you didn’t fight these, you’d be dead.

Bottom line (and it took a while to get to the bottom), them there hills, they hurt bad. Leaning back, fighting like the dickens just to keep balance, yanking on muscles that never get used, no, just plain shouldn’t get used, slamming, pounding, pain. That seven-hundred feet evaporated in about one-point-four miles, and with it evaporated a fair amount of connective tissue, I figured out later.

I know, I know, it’s kind of like Arlo Guthrie telling you the whole Alice’s Restaurant story to get to the punch line, isn’t it? But you really need the setup to know there this is going.

We spent a fabulous weekend in the White Mountains beating the crap out of our legs. Tuesday, per my younger daughter’s request, was up Mt. Washington via Tuckerman Ravine, a truly grand route I hadn’t covered in twenty eight years (and descending via a route I’d never taken, only to be taken by surprise by a very significant ladder at the end of the day; now, I don’t like ladders much and my daughter likes them less, but what can you do?). Wednesday I ran the hills again, different route but more painful descents, and a nasty surprise to discover that nine miles into a nine-and-a-half miler, on Mt. Washington-abused legs, the bridge was out, and it would tack on five more to go around. Fortunately, a very amused construction crew showed me how to weave through their work zone and pass through. Hey, if I can climb mountains, I can get over a measly creek, right? Thursday, an easier summit and a flat run, Friday a few small summit hikes and some moderate hills on the late-day run, Saturday my daughter again picked a good one, one of the steepest trails in the Whites, the Flume Slide, for a finishing touch on a week’s leg abuse.

And I came home pumped. And I wrote that column. And I knew darn well that my legs were shredded. And I didn’t care, because after a week like that, the slump was over! And I had less than five weeks to ready myself for the marathon.

Reality has a habit of setting in at the least convenient times. Those downhills had done their damage. New Hampshire Breakout quickly unveiled its true identity of New Hampshire Break-it. By the end of last week my left leg was at that, “you’ve got a nasty shin splint which, if you don’t rest, could gravitate to a stress fracture” point. And I hadn’t yet put in a long one. Four weeks to a marathon, and my longest run since May was a fourteen miler. And in need of a few days off.

Well, this stinks, eh?

The glass is half empty, the glass is half full, the glass is broken, take your pick. I’ll take half full. OK, so I burned four precious days sidelined and resting. OK, so there’s barely more than three weeks till the marathon. OK, so what? I told my self this wasn’t a time-focused race, this was a motivator, so get motivated. An early morning seventeen and a half today, not the best, but not bad, and we’re on our way. Mash in a twenty early next week (here’s a plan: other daughter’s new school is eighteen-plus away via the back roads, hitch a ride in with her and run home, that’ll be a fun and interesting odyssey…). Toss on top of that a high-mileage couple of days next weekend, as I was just recruited by a friend as a last-minute fill-in for their Reach the Beach Relay team – White Mountains to Hampton Beach, yes, again in New Hampshire, a dozen runners per team, 200+ miles, about 24 hours. Before you know it I’ll be in taper, one local 5K booked to mix in some speed (and burgers afterward) a week before, and hot diggity, we’re gonna’ run a marathon soon!

Moss free.

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