Post Mortem on a Long Blizzardy Run

11 Feb

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This is what greeted me at 6 am when I stepped outside to begin my run.  It was 7 degrees and…I couldn’t make myself do it.  If its not a race and you don’t have other plans which require you to run at a certain time (hard to make plans when the MBTA is closed, roads are barely passable and everyone is in a sloth-like state) it is really hard to make yourself run when its that cold.  Especially when you know you will be outside for many hours.

Back indoors to wait…and wish I’d managed to sleep more than an hour or two.  More time to convince myself that this is a terrible idea.

The run didn’t happen until 9 am.  Which, for me, is terribly late.  But the lure of “30 degrees instead of 7 degrees” made me wait.  (And the fact that my system needed some time to purge itself of waste before the run…)  And the fact that I had some other quiet activities I needed to get done.  Rationalizing postponement is always easy…but rarely a good idea.

Finally, I started.  The roads were not plowed.  The first mile looked like this:

photo-2Can you see a sidewalk/road/path/other footsteps?  Trick question – there were none.

I managed an 11 minute mile for the first mile which at the time felt absolutely horrible but in retrospect was pretty remarkable considering I was sinking into a foot of snow with each footfall.  When I said “1/20th done!!!” in my head, I realized that a few rare tears were pooling in my eyes.  Never a good start.

I took heart when I reached Mass Ave…until I realized it was barely shoveled and I still couldn’t see any sidewalk.  At one point, in a rare moment of stupidity, I ran 1/10th of a mile under a bunch of storefront awnings and thought to myself “I could just run back and forth 190 times and stay dry and not slip and set a good speed.”  You think stupid things when you run.  I reached the end of the block and realized I couldn’t turn around and run it again, let alone 190 times.

My slogan for the day was “embrace the adventure” which seemed pertinent.  Just like the Boston Marathon this past year was not a race but an experience (due to the heat), this was not my longest 20 mile training run, but an adventure.  Sometimes lies help….

Miles 1-3 involved a couple of disheartening moments:

1) Being hit from above with a couple large chunks of snow that fell off a traffic light directly onto me.

2) Being squashed by a fireman in front of the Northeastern fire station because he slipped trying to get out of my way.

3) A (senile?) older lady in a housecoat and boots saying “Well done! I am so proud of you!” and not being sure if she meant me attempting to run, the fireman attempting to get out of my way, or the fireman flattening me.

Thinking about the three things above made mile 3-4 really whiz by.  Particularly because I discovered the secret to running in very deep un-shoveled snow without snowshoes: you don’t do it.  It only took a few times running through deep puddles of melting snow and running half a block on the sidewalk only to arrive at a mound of snow taller than me with no exit to decide that running in the street was the safest option.  So Huntington Ave and Route 9 and Beacon St were all christened by me.

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My route was supposed to look like this.  It kinda looks like a dog being kicked in the mouth by a running sneaker. Appropriate if we think of me as the dog.  Also, I’ve been told it looks like an exhausted runner lying flat on their back holding a battered kite/saxophone/hookah.

Instead, my route became “whichever way looks the cleanest” which is an interesting way to run because I could not avoid hills that I would normally. It also meant that it was hard to warn my friends when I was arriving at their place for the second half of the run.

Once I got into Chestnut Hill, I switched to hilly residential areas.  Not the best call ever.  Mostly because the roads were minimally plowed and people were backing out of driveways without being able to see the road and then fishtailing all over the place.  It was a little Mario Kart for my liking.

But…it was pretty.

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And this bus stop in particular looked like something out of Narnia.  It probably won’t be used as a bus stop anytime soon.

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Miles 5-10.5 were much more fun.  I settled into a pace, my ankles were no longer in danger of twisting with all the sliding around on the snow, I had recovered a little from the first few miles of “high knees” (Insanity creator Shaun T would be so proud…) and it was warm and sunny and gorgeous out.  In fact, at one point, my shoes dried out just enough that the next time I stepped in a puddle, it was shocking to feel them get all cold and squishy again.

At some points, I felt that I was running in a special labyrinth made just for me.  I didn’t see another runner until mile 9 so this wasn’t a particularly odd thought…

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Being shorter than the snow piles made it seem even more like a labyrinth.  Sadly, this particular path ended in a snow mound that I could build an entire Marriott igloo hotel in.

Mile 9-10.5 were particularly fun because I saw other runners (even if they were three 6 foot tall spandex-clad 5% body fat college guys) and because I was mostly running downhill and because I was heading to see my friends/fellow adventurers and because this path was kinda cute:

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It was a good path for me because I’m pretty small but it was about half the width of a stroller so it wasn’t going to be much help for mothers and children or college students who are unable to walk in single file (its a fact!).

I arrived in Brighton where the entire town was out in the streets digging out their cars.  It almost felt festive.  And I was halfway through my 20 miler!

Miles 10.5-20.5 were so fast, I barely remember them.  Having two good friends sacrifice part of their day to wrap duct tape on their nice shoes and venture out into crappy snow slush with you is wonderful.  We laughed, we talked, we experienced the insanity together, we cobbled together a running route on the fly which may have involved running against the traffic on a major road (Storrow Drive, anyone?) and then up to the Watertown Arsenal and Newton.  Aside from a few times when we took turns trying to justify a longer route over a short but nasty hill (the hills usually won) we had fun.  Well, I had fun. I hope they did!

I had been taking small amounts of fuel (about 40-50 calories) every 2.5 miles.  I have a hard time eating on the run but this strategy was working for me.  My fuel regularity diminished when I had friends to distract me but we ran a negative split (the second half of your miles are faster than the first half) and I never reached the low blood sugar/Wall.  I very excitedly called out every half mile from 18 to 20.  When you begin mile 2 of a run not sure you can make it to mile 3, and suddenly you find yourself at mile 19, you know for sure that 1) you are not amazing but 2) perseverance can pay off and 3) friends make all the difference.  When someone would slow the pace a little, someone else would give us a good nudge.  I was afraid I’d be pretty quiet the second 10 miles, just trying to hold it together, but on the contrary I was very chatty.  I guess that -2 degree 16 miles of hills really did prepare me well.

Also, my friends are laugh out loud hilarious.  Your mind has no time to worry about IT band pain or tight calves (running on the snow is not nice to calves) when your friends are cracking you up with anecdotes.  Also, after nearly 48 hours alone during the blizzard, any distraction seemed particularly “fun”….

True confession:  I walked for about 2 minutes up one hill around mile 19.  Ostensibly, I needed to take a picture of this amazing seminary at the top of a hill but also my legs were kinda shot:

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Because I’m a lot Type A, I stopped my GPS counter during the walk to ensure that I was going to truly run 20 miles, not run 19.75 and walk 0.25.  In retrospect, that was foolish…

My friends agreed to run 8 miles with me.  It became 10 miles instead.  When we reached their apartment, my 20 miles were over.  And I’d run another 0.5 on top of that.  We stretched, I ate a banana, we got angry watching a guy shovel snow off his car into the freshly shoveled parking spot behind him.  And then we learned that the MBTA wasn’t opening the T until Monday morning.  Which meant I had another 2.5 miles to either run or walk (and when you think about food, hot shower, and time versus effort, walking 2.5 miles in soaking wet sneakers seemed less pleasurable than running a grand total of 23 miles).

I did it.  Not alone.  Not without some tears, getting flattened, getting very wet and support from awesome friends. But I did it. If I ahd any doubts that my marathon training had prepared me well, I no longer have them.  Fueling went as planned, I reached home hungry but not with a blood sugar crash, plenty of energy to accomplish my afternoon to do list, pleased that my last 2.5 miles were run even faser than the 20.5 before them and excited to taper.

It’s official! The taper has begun.  It’s lower mileage, more rest, more stretching and mental recovery, and no more runs over half marathon distance until the marathon.

And yes, I will be re-routing to avoid the fire station for the next few weeks

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