A Monday Musing
Being vegan and athletic, I very rarely get sick. But the latter lifestyle choice does occasionally make for exhaustion – and never more so than if I’m training for a spring marathon during the peak of the ski season. There are, logically, only so many Saturday morning 20+ mile hill runs in sub-freezing temperatures, followed by Sunday ski days yoking (and, increasingly, chasing) a 10-yr old up and down a mountain, before the muscles start complaining and the energy level depletes.
I slipped into that zone over the last week, the knowledge that I was pushing myself too hard exasperated by some depressing winter weather: sleet, ice, rain, relentless cold and perpetual grey skies. (We are generally fortunate in the Catskills to get lots of snow and lots of blue skies: it’s amazing how enjoyable a long Saturday group run can be in the cold if you have sunshine to keep you company.) Throw in the fact that my body clock has had me waking at the ever-earlier dawn of late, and that I’m not good at going to bed earlier to compensate, and I was feeling genuinely depleted.
I began to regret committing myself to the Celebrate Life Half Marathon for Sunday, March 8. I’ve run it several times before, appreciate that it falls nicely into the Boston Marathon training schedule, love how it brings so many runners out from all over New York State for their first “spring-like” long race, and that it has excellent swag and good food (for non-vegans, that is), with the proceeds going to a good cause.
So why the regret? Well, I had to pass up our Saturday morning long group run, the last of winter, under perfect blue skies and nice temperatures (and there wasn’t even a Palace game to watch in its place); the clocks were changing, which meant a horrendously early start for me Sunday given the 90-minute, 65-mile drive to Rock Hill; and my wife was going out to the annual “Pisces Dance Party” on Saturday night, one of the few genuinely enjoyable local dance events, or so I am told: I seem to miss it every year for exactly this reason.
But most of all, it was exhaustion. My right calf, the one I pulled badly last year, had seized up after the previous weekend, and was causing me concern. My neck was stiff, a hangover from my 3,750 miles behind the wheel of a car in February, and yet I had canceled a pre-race massage appointment for Friday afternoon once I remembered that it was a half day at school and I could take my younger son to the ski mountain that afternoon (the result being, of course, further muscle ache). I pushed through Saturday, saw my wife off, dressed to the nines (her, that is, not me), and went for the necessary early night, but the exhaustion and aches wre such that I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed thinking that I might as well have gone out dancing for all that my body was getting to relax and rest. I “woke” Sunday morning, before my alarm, feeling like I just wanted to skip the race and go straight to my rescheduled massage. Having been informed by e-mail that the souvenir race jackets had not arrived and would be mailed out after the even, it occurred to me that I could stay in bed a while, put in my 13 miles locally, and at leisure, still get the jacket, and save 130 miles of petrol and three hours of driving.
Fortunately, I’ve been through this whole scenario before. It happened on the eve of my first Boston Marathon, where indigestion, nerves and an annoying on-off ventilator sound in my hotel room rendered me so exhausted from lack of sleep that I was almost crying when I boarded the bus to the start line at 6am. I then ran a solid marathon and re-qualified for Boston in the process. So I have learned that the body is capable of amazing things and that sometimes we just have to push through the doubt and uncertainty. I made my coffee, took my shower, packed my pre- and post-race energy drinks, cranked up the heat in the car and set off south.
It was snowing when I got to Rock Hill, in Sullivan County, so I donned my trail shoes for a short warm-up, figuring the route might be slippery and that I could do with the extra grip. But the shoes felt heavy and the road felt good, so I went back to my minimalist Inov-8 Bare X-Lite 150s, even though they are like slippers to begin with, and have lost all grip from over-use. (A new pair of Inov-8s did not make it to my mailbox in time.) We were reminded at the start that while it was snowing, at least it wasn’t as cold as it has been recently, and that seemed like a good thing – until we set off and the snow got heavier, and heavier, and heavier, until my glasses literally froze over. I took them off, and the horizontal snow stung my eyes. Put them back on; could barely see where I was going. As we meandered up and down the rolling residential hills alongside Wolf Lake, the snow steadily accumulated under foot, making for an inherently slippery surface. I felt like Johnny Marr describing his experience performing ‘This Charming Man’ on Top of The Pops, for which he wore moccasins on a slippery stage and spent the entire three minutes focused not on the joy of achieving a boyhood ambition but on staying upright – except I had 90+ minutes of this balancing act to endure. The only other person I talked to on the race was someone else in Inov-8s, but he was smart, and wearing his trail shoes. For my part, I had to apply the brakes on the downhills as I felt my feet ready to fall away from under me – and given my determination to run at marathon pace, that meant making the time back up on the few stretches of road sufficiently driven to be free of snow, slush and ice. There wasn’t much of it.
It was all a very different experience from the Frostbite Half-Marathon I had raced a month earlier in Tennessee, where the temperatures, in contrast to the race name, were positively balmy compared to our frigid Catskills winter, and I had been glad to have packed my salt pills. Despite being in a motel rather than my own bed, I had slept well the night before that race, which had also started at a lazy late hour that allowed me several miles warm-up. It was, in short a perfect set-up for a fast run, and yet my legs had felt tight throughout – possibly the result of spending so much time in a car – and it had taken everything I possessed to come in under 1:40. The post-race recovery process then seemed to last days. In Sullivan County, despite the exhaustion and ski-related aches, my body felt more race-worthy. Once I got going, I knew I would be fine.
Don’t ask me how this stuff works, why your body can so often rebel against conventional wisdom; sometimes you just have to accept it. Despite the lack of vision, the slippery surface, and the other hindrances caused by the conditions, I pulled in at a comfortable 1:39:20, a few seconds faster than I’d run in Tennessee, and exactly where I wanted to be for my time at Boston, now only six weeks away. My hands were frozen solid under my cold and soggy gloves, and there was a few minutes of painful thawing out in the car, but otherwise I felt good. My regret at missing out on the Saturday morning run and Saturday night dance party evaporated; I had stuck to my goal, and if it had cost me just the one weekend day and night of depleted resources, it was worth it.
Now it was time to truly celebrate life. Prior to the race, I had taken a picture of the new “store” opposite the Sullivan Hotel in Rock Hill: Brew, with its genius concept of “Coffee by Day. Craft Beer By Night.” The coffee urn being empty at the post-race headquarters and with not a single vegan item on the lunch menu, I went to visit. Other runners were doing likewise, and a few were eyeing the tap list with a few to a post-recovery drink. I asked one how his race had been. He snorted, a reflection on the conditions I imagine. “But it certainly helps beat those winter blues,” he then remarked, with a smile. And he was right. It does.
With a lovely cup of hot joe in hand, I put together a six-pack of craft beers from as close as Ellicotville and as far afield as Colorado, and set off on the 90-minute drive home, detouring for that now post-race massage appointment. My therapist remarked on my calves being “pumped” but it may have made it easier for her to work out any kinks than when I come in cold, and the process was less painful than it can be. She reminded me to drink lots of water in the evening, to flush out the lactic acid, and while I already knew to take that advice, I also knew that nothing was going to stop me rewarding myself with at least one of those choice craft beers. I can safely report that the Cricket Hill Hopnotic IPA from New Jersey is more balanced than its name would suggest, and highly quaffable at an easy-going 6.5%.
The wife cooked the family a great dinner. She had got back at 2am from dancing, so had her own issues with energy levels. We were both tucked in good and early, and, thanks to the satisfaction of the run, the lingering tiredness, the massage and the beer, slept a solid nine hours. The sun also slept in an extra hour. Dropping my boy off for the school bus, I paused to take some pictures of it rising over the mountains, and its reflection off the snow, the ice and the creek. We have so much snow coverage here that Hunter Ski Mountain has already declared a seasonably late closing date all the way in mid-April. Still, the freezing temperatures of what is apparently the second coldest winter in Catskills history appear to be behind us, and the week ahead looks more like spring. This Monday morning, all appears to be well with the world.