09 March 2015

Magic of the Run

You can have your Throwback Thursdays and Hump Days. For me, I’m in Hard Core March. I considered calling it the Long March (for those of you into Mao, there’s a big tome on that bit of history waiting on my bedside table, itching for time to consume), or maybe my all-too-frequently used phrase Death March, but this isn’t political and that second term is really reserved for mountain adventures. So Hard Core March it is, even if it doesn’t quite have the same ring.

Hard Core March was brought to you by our friends at Blizzarmageddonfest, that joyful result of a severely disrupted climate that resulted in Worcester, Massachusetts notching its coldest February on record, and of course you know about the snow (as does my left arm, which won’t be the same for weeks or more). Yes, the month that should have seen at least one if not more twenty-plus-milers to prep for Boston was erased in a cloud of white and series of single-digit gales. Somehow I managed to hit my monthly mileage target – barely – but with little quality, far too many miles on hamster cages, and only one run over fifteen miles. This was not an ideal result for one looking toward Patriots’ Day.

But the winter has spawned a bumper crop of news hounds, with a half-dozen media outlets fishing the ‘How are you coping with this weather and training for Boston?’ angle. Yes, it is community cable news season again, but the running media always has the better slant, so it was easy to say yes to the request to answer a few questions for the Boston Legion at Level Renner (follow the link for amusement!). It was there that the phrase was born, quite accidentally, when I penned for them, “I’ve yet to get in any twenty-plus-milers, so March is going to have to be hard-core.”

So that did it. It’s Hard Core March.

Hard Core March screams, “Don’t wait! Time’s running out!” And so our multinational band (a native Brit, a native Moroccan, and boring old me) didn’t wait, and dove in on the first day of the month with twenty-one and a half, enjoying the seemingly balmy near-thirty degree weather while marveling at the chilling effect of the omnipresent off-the-snowbanks wind – no matter which way we were heading. Hard Core March begs you to get past the feeling that seven or eight is enough for the day, and remind your body that ten should breeze by without much thought, because the game doesn’t start till well past then. Hard Core March doesn’t really care that you did that twenty-one-plus yesterday, today is today, time isn’t running backwards, get back to it!

So it was that a week later, after notching my highest weekly tally in two years, the very next day it was back out with The Brit for another sixteen plus, this time cranking the pace down well below the previous week’s long one. Uncertain whether this was a good idea, fighting what started earlier in the week as a rather mild cold but had progressed to lung-clogging voice-ripping cough-fest, I figured I’d give it a roll and turn back in the event of Level Seven Agony. But you know that never happens. By mile four I was already out of my zone, but held on for the fun, especially the hill at nine that my companion claimed wasn’t impressive (he lied). By twelve, when like the previous week, again the weather turned, the temperature dropped, and the wind hit us full force face first, even adding a bit of snow for insulting impact, I gained respect for how my companion had felt the previous week when, somewhere around mile twenty, he already struggling, I informed him rather nonchalantly that in fact the course was a mile longer than promised. Like he the week prior, I was toast, and very cold toast at that. And that was with a mile-long climb yet looming ahead.

What’s beyond toast? Perhaps breadcrumbs, effectively finely dissolved toast? Find your own metaphor; on reaching our terminus, I was there, and just for dramatic effect found my two-hour-frozen well-overdue-for-a-coughing-spell lungs heaving painfully, needing to clear out the crap, but being over-chilled, not really able to. But hey, that passed quickly, and even with the late-game crash and burn, it was still a big breakthrough run. What’s a little agony, right?

Following that, one might expect that the next day would be a day of leisure, but one might be overlooking that not only this is Hard Core March, but that yours truly rarely ignores geeky statistics, having missed my calling to be the guy in the back room coming up with ridiculous facts throughout the NFL telecast. Yes, Frank, with that pass, Brady just surpassed number four on the all-time list of slot-left lobs to left-handed tight-ends resulting in six-to-eight-yard pickups! Can you believe it?

In my case, I found myself in reach of clocking my monthly meter to a hundred miles by the ninth of the month, something I’d only done a couple of times years back so it wasn’t new, but still notable (and no, I haven’t done it by the eighth). Meaningful? Of course not. Nerdy? You bet. And besides, the day was utterly spring, sunny and reaching the mid-forties, so late in the day when I could shovel the work stress aside for an hour or so, bon voyage.

Wow. Coming off the previous day’s virally-enhanced abuse, I expected a slow and stiff start, but I didn’t bargain for the lungs literally hurting. It felt like I’d literally pulled a lung muscle or two. No, not the diaphragm, but the mysterious, never-before-seen lung muscle. A mile out I was this close (how close?) to jogging it back in and calling it a sunny and glorious but relatively run-free day.

And that’s when the Magic of the Run kicked in.

By now, you’re saying, enough of your tales of woe, your moans of agony, your slipping in a few numbers (which you usually avoid) just to put some dimensions on this thing. We’ve all been there, you’re saying. We’ve all been worn out, beat up, fried, baked, and left out to dry.

And when you’ve been there, I hope you’ve had the chance to experience the Magic of the Run.

Mile two wasn’t much better than mile one. It still hurt. But then my planned course turned downhill, so I let it ride for a bit to see what happened. It got a little more bearable, but for self-protection I stopped the watch so as not to goad myself into running harder than I should. And I just let it go.

Around four and a half, traffic politely let me cruise a four-way stop I often pass, and it occurred to me that what they would have seen was indeed someone cruising by, but I dismissed it, having just come off a long sweet downhill. By six, I’d forgotten about the mile one lung syndrome. By eight, the small rises were floating by, and only the last, long climb back to the homestead offered up any level of concern. Somewhere halfway up that climb, the monthly meter chimed one hundred, and a half-mile later, only on finishing up, did I remember that my lungs were, in fact, still sort of messed up. Casual timing – alias glancing at the watch, noting only the minutes, not the details – offered up a pleasant, even if only mildly accurate, pace surprise. The detailed accuracy didn’t matter; only the obvious message that the run had, in fact, in its own odd way, healed me.

How many days do we find it hard to get out the door? Something hurts, the body is tired, aches, pains, this, that. Sometimes we have to heed those messages, listen to our bodies, and leave the shoes on the rack for the day. But when we can get past those inhibitors, let the heart pump, the muscles work, the mind wander (for some odd reason, today’s tune was, “Up, up and away…in my beautiful balloon” – can’t fathom what corner of the brain that came from), we come back stronger, happier, refreshed, and yes, healed.

The Magic of the Run.

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