The last time I saw a David Bazan concert in Grand Rapids in November, I was turning around and packing up my car to drive down I-80 to I-355 to spend a month in Illinois getting proton radiation treatment. This year, after an loud and grungy Bazan show at The Pyramid Scheme, I hit the same road, but instead of going north on I-355, I went west west west.
So Adam and I are renting an apartment in Fort Collins now. At least through July. I loaded up my car with bikes and outdoor active wear and drove straight west along Interstate 80 for 15 hours from South Bend to Fort Collins for my first vacation since I started my new job last April.
I didn’t really have many plans aside from seeing some mountains and drinking good beer, but on those fronts, I was quite successful. I rode my bike a few days, up canyon roads that climbed for 11 miles and 2,800 feet, and down the backside, hitting 58.4 mph on the descent. My hands only froze from the cold on the first day. I got used to the altitude.
I swung by Denver, and Boulder, hiked through Eldorado Canyon State Park, went backcountry skiing in Cameron Pass, trail running in the foothills near Fort Collins, and just generally unplugged from the modern world for awhile.
I visited 7 breweries and sampled as much beer as I could. The New Belguim tour is the best brewery tour I’ve been on. Brooklyn Brewery is still the worst tour.
I drove back across the great prairies of the Midwest, bookending my trip that started with wine tasting and dune hiking in Michigan and ending with hiking a “rugged” trail in Indiana meant for “advanced hikers”.
November has gone fast.
So it has rained for nearly a week straight. Tuesday was dry, I think. It has been a busy work week, where I’ve hardly gotten home before dark most evenings. And the sun sets by 7pm these days? Doesn’t it seem like just a couple weeks ago where we didn’t even start our rides until 6:30pm and we could fit in 40 miles on the bike and still be home with copious amounts of daylight remaining?
On the Wednesday Dirty ride, it was just Joel and me, and we left late because I was rushing home from work and having to stop at the hospital for yummy CT contrast, but at least it was warm. I didn’t pay attention to the weather forecast, because the sun was out most of the day as I sat at my desk and wanted nothing but to be on my bike, so that by the time I got home, the radar map full of green would never dissuade me.
We headed south and fought the wind until we got to the good gravel roads, where we already had to switch on our headlamps. But we rode the dirt and chatted and tried to spot the sandy sections with what little light there was and it started raining but I honestly can’t tell you when it started raining. We were just riding and that was all I wanted to do in the world at that moment. And the rained began falling in buckets, and there was a fresh layer of ungroomed sand on 122nd Street to prepare for winter conditions so we dodged tire ruts and pushed onward. And I threw on a jacket to keep warm, because we were still by Fennville, and even with the tailwind, we were nowhere near home.
I imagine the few cars that did pass by us in the downpour with our tiny front and rear lights thought we were crazy, but warm fall nights are a rarity now, and what else would you rather be doing but riding? I couldn’t not smile.
Pretty soon it will turn to snow and my only concern is finding the right pair of cross country skis to buy before that happens.
I’ve been struggling trying to find the right words to sum up running the marathon last week. You see, it was 100% more fun than running it last year, and yet, I’m still trying to figure out for myself why I even have run 4 marathons in the first place. The other week Run Wild by Boff Whalley (yes, that Boff Whalley) came in the mail, and so far it’s exactly what I always wanted What I Talk About When I Talk About Running to be. The entire premise of the book is that the city marathon is the antithesis of what running should be – and I’m half-inclined to agree. It’s a long story.
They changed the start of the marathon this year to have 2 waves – one starting at 7:30am, the other starting at 8am. Because I didn’t have a qualifying time to get in the first wave, Ian and I started in the first corral of the second wave. Which made the first 2 miles of the race completely different from last year. The road was spacious and uncrowded and we started off running faster than we planned, but it felt good, so we stuck with it.
The last corral of the first wave included all of the charity runners. I don’t know what the average finishing time for charity runners is, but it’s certainly much slower than my running pace. By mile 3, we were passing people walking. Walking. At mile 3, with at least a 15 minute head start.
Ian and I continued to run about 7:20 min/miles, and started getting really good at dodging people as we passed them on the road. Really good. Because we dodged people from mile 3 all the way until the finish. It was annoying. But we were flying, and feeling good, and it was just so much better than last year that it hardly seemed like work at all. At every mile check, I compared our time to what my PR’s were from 2 years ago, and my splits were almost the same. At the 10k mark, we were only 30 seconds slower than my PR from 2 years ago. At the half marathon mark, we were actually faster than I ever ran a half marathon aside from the Park 2 Park race from a couple weeks ago.
We were holding a really good pace, even if we slowed a bit, everything flew by faster than last year, and I actually didn’t space out and remembered running miles 17-20 this year. The little things stand out more than last year, even though they all passed by much faster. It was really a lot more enjoyable to run 54 minutes faster than last year and spend less time out on the course. It was also a lot easier to run with other people. From mile 7 until 23 or so, Ian and I ran with another girl who was going exactly our pace, which actually made running a lot easier during the later miles. When the urge to walk starts settling into your mind, it’s good to have other people next to you to motivate you to keep running.
So I don’t really know what else to say. We ran a marathon. In 3:21:39. Which is pretty fast, I think. We crossed the finish and were stunned at what we’d just done. It all came together better than I predicted. I’m literally shocked that I can run so fast.
Will I ever run another city marathon? I don’t know. I just know that I’ll continue to run, and continue to seek out the unknown.
My commute to and from work is lined with trees for miles and miles that, just in the past week, have seen their leaves go from all green to a hint of yellow, to full on orange, to blood red. It’s much more scenic than the commute I had for the past 4 years, even if it is over twice as long. So after my annual rereading of this excellent McSweeney’s piece, I’ve been getting out of the house and watching the colors and enjoying the wonderful weather we’ve had here in Michigan, where all the trees are just the right height.
Last week I went to Grand Rapids 4 times. To go for long walks in the city while drinking iced coffee and soaking in Artprize, to see a funny movie and enjoying time with others even if we completely missed this, to drink good beer, to race a little cyclocross, to just get out of the house and go do things. It was all so great. Every week should be like that.
I had a good race. Finished 8th or so. Maybe by the end of the season I’ll move up to the “A” race. It just feels good to bust your legs and lungs for 45 minutes straight. I’m technically tapering for the marathon on Sunday, but I can’t stop moving. I just want to ride my bike and be outside and get dirty.
Park2Park Half Marathon
Don’t ask me how I did it. I’m still trying to figure out the answers myself.
Yesterday morning started off cool, and with only partly cloudy skies. Perfect conditions for running. I decided to include the Park2Park Half Marathon as part of my training for Chicago. My previous PR was a respectable 1:39:14. Based on the good time I had at the Riverbank Run in May, I figured I could run a 1:35:00 half marathon. I figured that would make for a good goal, given the number of miles I’ve been running in training over the past couple months. That plan for Saturday’s run went out the window pretty fast.
I started near the front of the race right from the line, mixed among actual collegiate cross country runners, and used the first half mile to warm my legs up. But everyone around me was moving too slow, so I went ahead, and well, found myself isolated pretty quickly. Apparently when you run fast, there are not so many runners to keep you company on the road. It gets lonely. I took the first mile out in 6:20.
I quickly got used to running alone, just like all my training runs. I passed and/or got passed by a grand total of only 3 people the entire rest of the race. I kept my pace steady, and somewhere along mile 5 or so, Matt Smith was on the side of the road cheering and said “you’re in the top 10”, which I know he wasn’t actually counting, but I started to think about it, and, well, given the number of people who I saw take off up the road ahead of me from the start, it didn’t sound ludicrous. I had to definitely be in the top 20, probably top 15, even.
If the mile markers on the road were accurate (which they very well may not have been), I ran the sixth mile in 6:03. 6:03! I have never in my life run a mile under 6 minutes, and there I was, out on the road trying to reel in one guy ahead of me, being wary of the dark, dark clouds suddenly coming into view off the lake, and running faster than I ever have, ever.
As the course took us out to the state park, my new goal was to run fast enough to finish before the rain started falling. I stayed light, told my feet to keep kissing the ground, and just cruised. I was pushing myself, but was still comfortable, as comfortable as running 6:25 min/miles can be, at least. I passed one more guy after mile 10, and just before mile 12, got passed by the 1st place woman. Who, apparently is a runner at Western University. I picked up my pace to try and hang with her for a few minutes, before giving in to the lactic acid and letting her open up a gap on me.
I heard thunder as I rounded the last corner, and finished feeling strong, if in a lot of pain, and then I crossed the line in 1:23:51! Seriously! 15 minutes faster than my PR. 10 minutes faster than what I was guessing I would run. 13th place overall. An actual placing out of a huge field! (Somehow 4th place in my age group) The storm rolled in right after I finished, and the race directors “black flagged” the race, effectively cancelling the rest of the race. There were only 15 official finishers before everything was torn down. It pays to be fast, apparently. I never thought I could run this fast, though. I am on cloud 8-3/4. If the seeding for corrals at the Chicago Marathon hadn’t closed awhile ago, I would’ve been in the A corral. Like, the one right behind all the elite runners. The one full of people who run fast enough to qualify for Boston – which seems suddenly possible. Certainly not this year, because I haven’t done quite that level of training, but why not next year?
Kisscross Highland Park
But of course, even with a race in the morning, I felt the need to also race in the afternoon. This time on a bike. I don’t have as many words to say about the cross race at Highland Park in Grand Rapids, just that the course was mostly grass, not very technical, and meant for the power guys. That’s usually good news for me, because I struggle with technical courses, but my legs were tired, so I just had to hang on and do my best. And take multiple beer hand ups. And have fun bunny hopping a barrier. And hurting my legs in as many ways as I could think of in one day. And just having fun riding my bike again. I finished 14th, getting out-sprinted at the line once again, pretty much right in the middle of the field. But it didn’t matter, because there were microbrews to recover with afterward. And my legs were so gloriously tired at the end of the day. God I love bikes.
So the summer heat has finally given permission for fall weather to arrive, and I’m maybe a little less enthusiastic than normal. I’m eager to wear sweaters and flannel and hats and drink darker beers and fall asleep with an extra blanket on top of me, but there’s one thing I would really prefer to do without. I’ve always had relatively cold hands/feet, chalk it up to a combination of a low resting heart rate (under 50bpm these days), lower than average blood pressure, and just not a lot of fat to insulate things, and it’s not a surprise that I have to opt for gloves and wool socks before most. But last winter it was worse, and I wasn’t sure why, but I slowly figured out, that well, yeah, Raynaud’s syndrome is my new reality thanks to all the long term damage that chemo did last year. I went for a run today, and I lost feeling in my fingertips halfway through. It was 55 degrees out (not really all that cold), and I was wearing gloves too! And really, the only cure is, “bundle up”. My fingers and hands will be turning white a lot this winter, methinks.
Exactly a year ago, I was completing a half Ironman with very little training. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the last chemo I treatment I had. Wow.
It’s been an entire year, and I still don’t really know how to process it. I know one thing though – the fatigue that comes from a half Ironman, or multiple marathons with no training, will never match the fatigue from chemo. There’s something about lying in bed, feeling like all of your limbs are made of concrete wrapped in lead with the gravity of Jupiter, physically unable to sit up to turn off the alarm clock in the morning that makes running a couple extra miles after a long day at work pretty easy. Even with numb fingers. There’s fatigue, and then there’s fatigue.
And so, these days, all of my focus is on running the Chicago Marathon in 3 weeks, and how I’m actually more confident that I’ll be in good shape for it as the days go by. I keep going for runs and bike rides and my legs just never get tired. It’s magical.
At some point on the Sprint Ride yesterday morning, I ticked off the 3000th mile on my bike for the year. In January, it was my goal to ride 3000 miles by the end of 2012, and I’ve reached that point 3 months early. I’m a little proud of riding so much, but also a little apprehensive, because, like, that’s all I do with my free time, and it can get lonely. I feel stronger than I ever have on my bike, and it’s nice to look back and see how much I’ve improved over the year, but when you think about it, cycling really is a weird sport to dedicate so much time to. After a long day of work, or a long week of setbacks outside of work, I get on my bike and try to escape. I try to suffer. I try to cause my legs pain.
I finished reading The Secret Race this week, and in it, Tyler Hamilton mentions how when he was first discovering his love for cycling, the main draw was its escapism. He was had a coach tell him to “stay within himself” during a race, and Tyler’s only reaction was to think how backwards that advice was. Wasn’t the whole point to push all of your boundaries and lose yourself in the effort?
I suppose the escapism offered by cycling isn’t all that different from burying your nose in a book, or a good movie, or playing the guitar, but there’s generally a lot less suffering involved with those activities. At least 3 days a week, I roll up to a nondescript, empty parking lot on my bike with a dozen or so mostly middle-aged men, and we try to rip each others’ legs off. Some days I’m the one sprinting ahead of the pack for a sign on the side of the road, and other days (more often the case), I’m shelled out the back and burying myself to catch back onto the group. And so we do this for 30 or 40 miles, all with the same goal in mind – to feel the breeze blow by our ears at 30mph, to feel the lactic acid build up in our legs sprinting up a climb, to maybe try to set a new record on an arbitrary Strava segment, to come home and climb off my bike and have to sit still for 15 minutes before I can summon the energy to take off my sweaty kit and clean up.
The Chicago Marathon is 3 weeks away, and I woke up before dawn this morning to run 20 miles. My legs always have some soreness in them from all the miles I’ve been tallying up lately, and I was filled with doubts that I would actually get through my run this morning. I was tired, my hands were freezing even with my gloves on, and it was just me and the quiet, quiet Sunday morning. A funny thing happens after about 50 minutes of running though – my legs loosen up, feel light as air, and go on autopilot – running becomes almost effortless. You probably don’t believe me, but between minutes 50 and 120, I can float. My feet kiss the ground and pain turns to numbness, and my brain forgets my legs are even down there, doing their thing stride after stride. Invariably, some hitch brings me back to reality, but this time, I caught a second wind of sorts after breaking through the paper thin pain barrier that had risen, and I finished not really all that tired.
I don’t recommend this to anyone really, because I know it’s not an entirely sane way to spend a Sunday morning, but for me, for right now, it works. I was talking to a coworker who grew up in a small town in Indiana and used to be a really good cross country runner in high school. In explaining how he go to be so good, he matter of factly said, “Well, there was nothing else to do growing up in that town, so I just ran all the time.” I can never listen to music while I run, because I think, like Tyler, the goal isn’t to distract yourself from running, it’s to focus so deeply on the state of pain and the art of the act that you escape from reality. Sure, I think through other things while running – work, future life plans, the lyrics to the catchy song stuck in my head, whether girl X or Y likes me, what’s for dinner – but those minutes when all I can see is a few yards of pavement ahead of me and my mind goes completely empty as I float along, that’s divine.
And so I’m not even that sore or exhausted. I wish I was so pooped that I could collapse in my bed and get a long, full, decent night of sleep for once, but it feels like I could’ve done even more today. My toes are tapping and I’m antsy for more.
Cross season has finally started, with the first race in the area at Cannonsburg Ski Area last Friday night. I’d ridden my cross bike all of a couple hundred yards since April, so needless to say, there was a little rust to shake off. I got there early, watched the “C” race while drinking a beer and trying to not to freeze in the cold rain that suddenly started falling from the sky. But it turned out to be the perfect temperature once I actually started racing and got warmed up. Also, maybe beer isn’t the best pre-race drink.
The course that was drawn up had quite a variety of terrain, from going straight up the ski hill, then straight down the ski hill, to off camber sandy turns, to a few barriers on the back half of the course that was PITCH BLACK by the end of the race because there were no lights over there, to even a stream crossing with 4 foot high banks on each side that got progressively muddier and muddier:
But overall I don’t think it was too technical, which is good, because I’m much better on the pure power sections of courses. The first lap was crowded as everyone tried to get to the stream crossing first to avoid being held up, but I was squarely in the back third of the pack anyway, because I can’t sprint off the line. Also, on the fastest part of the lap near the finish line, the guy in front of me hit a bump and lost control of his bike and bit it HARD. I narrowly maneuvered around him as he was still sliding/tumbling to a stop, and I think he was banged up pretty badly. He certainly didn’t get back on his bike and finish the race. After the first lap, the pack spread out and I never really had to fight for a line, but it did take me half the race to actually figure out the cleanest lines.
Over the rest of the race, I continually passed more and more people as they all got tired and my endurance only made me stronger. I was having a blast, even if my hands and arms were ready to quit trying to hang onto the handlebars over all the rough bumps. I took a beer hand up on the last lap, and also somehow cut my hand at some point, leading to a bloody knuckle. I finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, with muddy and sandy legs, and a huge smile on my face.