Saturday, February 4, 2012

Week in Review: 29 January - 4 February, and "Training Beautiful"

Here's how this past week went down:

29 January: 21+ miles (140 minutes), all over Baltimore, feeling strangely fine

30 January: 10 miles (70 minutes) at APG at lunch, then another 13 miles (90 minutes) to, with, and from the Fed Hill run

31 January: 10 miles (70 minutes) at APG at lunch

1 February: 10 miles (70 minutes) at APG at lunch, then a total of 10 miles (70 minutes) in the evening with the Wednesday Night run from O'Donnell Square

2 February: 1 mile (10 minutes) easy, because there wasn't time for more

3 February: 5+ miles (37 minutes) at APG at lunch, then 21+ miles (185 minutes) easy-ish in the Patapsco area in the late afternoon

4 February: 11 miles (77 minutes) in the morning, under ominous skies, then 7 more miles in the evening (49 minutes) after the heavens opened up, in rain/sleet/snow

Total Time: 868 minutes
Total Distance: 120 miles

(WARNING HTML ERROR BELOW NOT FIXING IT SORRY GUYS)

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(This picture is about to have a point)

As I sit here after a cold, dark, slightly snowy, slightly spiteful seven-mile run to close out a debatably dismal day of mindless meandering, against false reassurance from "a friend" that "it should be a nice day out at least" (which I knew to be untrue, since red skies in the morning make sailors take warning, and probably piles of cat puke on the rug, too), it seems more than a little strange that the first and foremost thoughts in my mind are about "training beautiful." Maybe that's because earlier in the week, at the prompting of scenes like the above, and the unseasonably warm weather, I couldn't help drifting back to the days of my first marathon, Baltimore, in 2004, and pondering the path that led me there.

I had always wanted to run a marathon, and when the time seemed right, Baltimore seemed like the place, and I trained dutifully for 4 months for marathon day. And, as luck would have it, marathon day was magical. After the race, I hastily scribbled notes in my running log (now strangely missing from the bookcase under the stairs upstairs, but that's a mystery for another day), trying to capture all of the beauty of the race, and all of the people who made it so beautiful: my sister Rachel, who let me crash at her apartment at the Hopkins Homewood campus the night before the race, another runner named Mark who I met during the race, who I ran with for most of the race, who called me "crazy sock guy" because I was wearing socks for gloves, Liz Krimmel, who was out for a run around Lake Montebello right when I got to that part of the course, and who made it into one of the race photographs with me, John Onofrey, who cheered me on as he walked through Mount Vernon, then came out to hang out with me at the end of the race, when nobody else was there for me, because nobody else seriously thought I could do it, or do it as well as I did it - 3:00:51, easily qualifying for the Boston Marathon (my goal), painfully short of a sub-3 hour race. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, there were so many times during that race when I felt myself moving effortlessly down the streets of Baltimore (particularly in the first half, when I was on 2:50 pace), and my heart was overflowing with joy.

But all of that isn't even half of the story. This is where the training comes in. Because for four months prior to that race, I came back to my parents' house after long, seemingly pointless days of work at APG, to suffer through training runs of upwards of 12 miles on weekdays, and upwards of 70 miles per week (at the time, nearly unthinkable numbers). My training for the 2004 Baltimore Marathon was some of the most disciplined, directed training of my life. I followed the "advanced" training schedule that I had photocopied from an issue of Runner's World exactly. Hill work on Tuesdays, speed work on Thursdays, Sunday long runs. And over the course of the training program, amazing things happened, things that may seem inconsequential in words, but are burned into my mind as beautiful experiences. I remember the long runs - going to Cracker Barrel with my family after my first 18-mile run, and the transcendent taste of the chicken and dumplings, a 20-miler the morning after my 5-year high school reunion, even now amazed that I could run that long after such a long night, having gone that distance so few times before. I remember the intervals in the warm, humid dusk at the now-nonexistent Harford Community College track, 800 meters on a minute rest, quads and lungs burning, but getting no reprieve until the 20-minute tempo run home against the backdrop of the setting sun was complete. And I remember the misery of the easy days after the brutality of the workouts. I remember 4-mile runs on Wednesdays after hard hill workouts that may as well have been 400 miles, and 50-minute runs on Saturdays when I would stagger through the last 10 minutes, shower, and flop on a beanbag chair in my room in front of the Playstation and Silent Hill.

In fact, if I were given a calendar and some time to meditate, I could probably remember something from just about every training run that I did leading up to the 2004 Baltimore Marathon. Like the contrails in the sky over APG, they still pass through my mind every so often, eventually spreading, dissipating, and being absorbed into the backdrop, to reappear again some other day. Every day of training tattooed a new, obscure memory into my mind, and so I was not just building my body, but my mind and my heart, accumulating willpower and emotion, ready to be released on race day, to coalesce into a coherent scene of brilliance (see picture above), regardless of the quality of each individual memory. Good, bad, indifferent, it all came together for a few hours to create something meaningful and beautiful.

And so, today, on my "nice day out at least," I spitefully stepped out the front door, and laced my key into my shoes as fat wet snowflakes, punctuated with frozen raindrops, fell on my face. I switched on my iPod shuffle, and sure enough, first song - "Bombs Over Baghdad" - "weatherman sayin' it ain't gonna rain." I pressed on through Patterson Park, smiling as I passed the few brave souls out walking dogs that wouldn't take "miserable" for an answer. My stride was quick, strong, and even, my breathing was smooth. I headed for the waterfront, to the promenade, as the darkness grew, to "Amen Fashion (Jesus is the New Black)," passing two other runners plodding through this unfortunate night. My turnaround point was the Fells Point pier, and as the brilliance of the neon signs across the water flashed across my field of view as I made a sharp turn inland, I felt re-invigorated. I felt no pain. Speeding down Aliceanna, then Eastern, the snow had stopped. The rain had slowed to just a few drops. "Edge of Glory" came on as I knew I had only about 5 minutes of this left. Part of me didn't want it to end. But most of me was glad that I closed out the run at 6:45/mile pace, arriving at my doorstep to dying horns in my earbuds as I unlaced my shoes - a warm shower couldn't come quickly enough. In spite of spite, I felt joy for outlasting Mother Nature, at least for tonight, and for feeling so strong under apparently adverse conditions.

Another contrail across my mind, to be revisited in a race someday. Someday, this will be nothing but beautiful.

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