Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer of the Long Run

I have long considered myself a casual runner. I was not the sort to never miss a day. Rain, or even just the threat, was often enough to deter me, and if the temperature dipped below 40° F, I was staying inside. For the last several years, I competed in a local tour of 5K road races. I managed, mainly by entering nearly every race, to win my age group in the tour, even though my times were not particularly noteworthy.

That started to change last year. Rather than just running occasionally, I started training – mixing in middle distance, long runs, and speed work. My times improved dramatically. There were only two 5K races, early in the season, when I failed to break 20 minutes, and I took nearly two minutes off of my time at the Oktoberfest 10K. Still, I had trouble getting up early enough to run on consecutive days and fell into an every-other-day routine. The longest distance that I could muster the energy for was about seven miles.

I still wasn’t the sort to run in cold weather, either. I spent most of the winter running circles at the YMCA on the elevated track, where 16 laps are counted as a mile. Rather than try to count laps, I would just run for 40 minutes and call it five miles. By the end of the winter, I could tell that I was covering quite a bit more than five miles in those 40 minutes.

When warmer weather returned, I signed up for a pre-season non-tour 5K and started thinking about what my running goals would be for the year. I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove on the 5K circuit, and winning my age group in the tour didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment any more.

Then, suddenly, for the first time in my life, I started to consider running a marathon. Podcasters like Steve Runner at Phedippidations, Jeff Smith at The Running Podcast, and Roland Cavanaugh at The Twenty Minute Runner made it sound like an achievable goal. My brother-in-law and his wife had run the Chicago Marathon just four months earlier, and they ran much less than I did. I set out for a test run one Saturday, and completed ten miles without too much difficulty.

After talking to my wife and family, I decided to forego the 5K tour this year and instead registered to run the Air Force Marathon on September 15. My entire summer of running would be spent in training for that one race at the end of the season.

That was in April. It is now August. The first half of the training program went about as expected, although the 14 and 15 mile training runs were pretty brutal. Then I hit an obstacle. The morning after my mom’s funeral, I left home for a nine-mile run. Two miles into it, my hamstring seized up, and I couldn’t run anymore. I had to walk home.

For the next two weeks, I could only run about ½ mile before being compelled to stop by my protesting hamstring. I tried to maintain some kind of training regimen as I watched the probability of being able to run the marathon reduce daily. I tried walking briskly and found that after two days, my legs were sore and my feet blistered, even though my heart rate was barely elevated and I never really even breathed hard. Walking wasn’t working, so I returned to the YMCA and put some time in on the elliptical and stationary bike, along with some extra stretching.

Seventeen days after injuring my hamstring, I tentatively tried running again. I made it three miles before I felt my hamstring growing tight, and I stopped to avoid further injury. Three days later, I managed eight miles. Two days ago, with five weeks until the marathon, I ran twelve. My original training program had me running twenty. I have two more weeks to build distance, although at a rate that risks injury, and then I enter the taper.

God willing, I might still be able to run the marathon.


Anonymous said...

And the religious parallel.....once you feel comfortable with your faith dig deeper?? Pray more?? Maybe a silent retreat or a tridiuum?? How about instead of praying for just 30min a day strive to pray for an about a holy hour, everyday! Oh crap!! Did I just set myself up for a resolution? holy Cow! I think I did! Thanks honey for that blog post (a bit sarcastic) ;)

Kurt H said...

Alright, let's see if we can spiritualize this. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:25 that he does not run like a man running aimlessly. If you want to improve, you have to train, and training involves having a training plan. We don't just make it up as we go along, and we don't just go with the flow. We have to think about what we need to do, we have to set aside the time for it, and then we have to put forth the effort.

Another parallel might be that, even with a training plan, we can still end up injuring ourselves. A Christian can go to church every day and recite all the right prayers, but still suffer from a severe defect of charity. My hamstring injury led me to question my reasons for wanting to run a marathon, and many of them were not good ones. I found that I needed to purge my pride. I think that's a good thing.