Thursday, March 15, 2012

Secret Training

When running partners are apart, they keep up the training so that they aren't "left behind" when the break is over and the run together again. Over the holidays, The Dark Warrior and I would text each day how far we had run. Weekly mileage was very similar even though we were on opposite ends of the US. While I was running Sabino Canyon to Prison Camp, he was running the white sandy beaches of Florida (I have no sympathy for him, and neither should you). Below is his story.

"Christmas Running - keeping up with a 'cheating' running partner" by The Dark Warrior

So, here it is February, and I'm about to write about training that occurred over Christmas. This shouldn't surprise you. My speed in writing just about matches my speed on the half marathon. Not exactly fast. However, I keep being reminded of this challenge I made with a trail runner. A young, fast, vindictive, sneaky trail runner. I don't remember exactly how this bet came about; of course, I don't remember much of the seventies either (thankfully). Be that as it may, I promised to document every mile leading up to the Ascent. Elsewhere I mentioned the peculiar relationship between running partners (best friend, worst enemy). There is nothing that illustrates this like enforced time away from each other. In this case, over Christmas, we had almost 4 weeks apart. She stayed in Tucson, I had to go to South Alabama where we have part ownership in a beach house. Ok, it's in Florida but it's only 20 miles from Alabama. Trust me, it's close enough. The locals refer to it as “the Redneck Riviera”. Joy.

Time away from your running partner is traumatic. For one thing, you know that they are sneaking in extra miles to shave time off their averages. For the second, she has the high tech gizmo that tells you the distance and the speed. Without her, I have no idea how far I've run. The closest I can come is a ball of kite string and a stop watch (even using a tape measure, it takes a while to measure your total distance). Finally, without your partner, there is no one to motivate you by suggesting "want to take a nice, easy recovery run up the canyon?". In other words, no one to lie to you in a little disguised attempt to take you out and kill you - what doesn't kill you, makes you strong...or fast...or paranoid (ok, so my definition of motivation is a bit warped).

The Florida Pan Handle is an interesting place to visit (sort of like Hell: nice and warm for a while, but you wouldn't want to live there). The area that we have the house is the same place frequented by Brittany Spears, Cheryl Crow, Miley Cyrus and Paris Hilton (I did give the Hell analogy, didn't I ?). It does have a few redeeming features. At Christmas, there are miles of beach frequented by only two or three people. In addition, there are around 70 miles of relatively flat bike path. And, finally, there is a National Forest with miles of Biking/Running trails. So, I arrived in Florida sans running partner. The first thing that I did was to run 4 miles along the beach. Sounds relaxing, right? Wrong! The beach is about the worst place that there is to run if you're training. First, beach sand is like quicksand, only dry. Running in it is horrible due to the effort required and because it has a tendency to find its’ way into your shoes and immediately start rubbing sensitive areas. The remedy for this is to run where the sand is hard. The only place where there is hard sand is next to the surf. The ocean is sneaky. You'll be running along on wet, hard , sand with the ocean thirty feet to your right; next thing you know, you're sharing your running shoes with five hundred gallons of water, thirty pounds of sand and a pissed off jelly fish or two. Second, the beach slopes at a noticeable angle. If you run 3 miles in one direction, you have to run back in the opposite direction so that you can tweak both knees equally. Next, the ocean and the wind are in cahoots. The wind scallops the beach so that it is in huge "sawtooth" dunes. You feel like a scene out of Lawrence Of Arabia. No matter how you try to gauge your stride, the toe of one shoe or the other is digging in to the top of the next dune (SM - sucketh mightily). Finally there are fishermen and the owners of small dogs. Have you ever noticed that people that own Yorkies and other small dogs almost without exception have them on "reel in" leashes that are at least 40 feet in length. Why, on earth, would you have a small dog on the end of a leash that long? By the time that the dog hits the end of the leash, it is too tired to return on its’ own power. The only thing that makes sense is that owner intends to use the leash, reel and dog to spin cast for sharks. The fishermen are almost as bad as the dog owners. They pound a pipe into the sand, cast their lures out into the ocean, place the handle of the pole into the pipe, and sit down in a beach chair to take a nap. The only way to avoid the line strung at neck height is to note where the ends of the pole are and draw a theoretical straight line to the edge of the surf (if you aren’t busy dodging an ankle-biting Yorkie at the time. So there you have it, the beach is the worst place to train.

With running on the beach so much fun, I decided on running the bike path. It was a fairly uneventful run for the six miles out (minus the point where some tourist leading a gaggle of family members on bikes going the opposite direction shouts out “You make it look too easy, Old Timer!”

Fortunately, he was well past before I could throw the appropriate elbow and play Dominoes with his family. Note to self: consider a bottle or three of “Just For Men” hair color. Running back illustrates how fast the weather can change on the coast: warm and sunny until you’ve gotten as far from home as you intend and then raining and lightening all the way home. Knowing that lightening tends to strike the tallest object quickly makes you realize that, on the coast, YOU are frequently the tallest object. It was this run that forced me partially into the modern age of running. I realized that I could not use my usual methods of determining the distance that I had run (for the record, in order of preference the were : get it from my running partner, get if from the odometer of my car after driving the trail, get it off the Treadmill(shudder)). My car couldn’t drive on the path, so I called up Ms. Perky for advice. She suggested a program available on the internet. After many tries, I was able to determine the distance. I realized, however, that for running the National forest, this wouldn’t work well (sort of like using a pre-Columbian map to find the New World). No, I didn’t run out and buy a run logger. Instead, I downloaded an app for my trusty Droid. I now use this app frequently and I usually get acceptable results. I did say usually; this could be because I’ve tinkered with my Droid’s software (maybe tinker isn’t strong enough – I did a Frankenstienian transplant. Now I have to be extremely care of what commands I give it lest I inadvertently command it to move a satellite or some such). And now comes the great irony of the week of training away from my partner. “How far did you run?” Turns out, without coordinating, that she ran 34.7 miles; I ran 34.5. I knew she was running more in order to improve her times! She Cheats!

Let me interject a progress report. By this time, I had lost 18 lbs. Part of this was weight lost due to training, the other was weight scared off by running trails with Ms. Perky. I went to a party held by local friends that I only see at Christmas. One of the friends notes that I have lost weight and asks me how much I lost. I tell him. He responds by saying that he was able to lose that much when his jaw was wired shut. No explanation, no story, just that statement. I didn’t ask. I did tell you that this was South Alabama.

My final adventure was running in the Washington National Forest. You can get away with this in the Winter. In the Summer, it is a Cypress Swamp populated by alligators, wild pigs, black bear, deer, mosquitoes, water moccasins and idiots (deer hunters). You can’t go anywhere in the Summer without a machete and an industrial can of insect repellant. In the winter, you don’t have the reptiles or the mosquitoes. My intent was to take a moderate trail (8 miles or so). Last time I tried this I was gone for four hours. This time, I had a map, my cell phone and a determination to follow the markers. I didn’t carry a gun because it weighs me down (like water) and I’ve always felt that fear makes you run faster. I started out through the forest and had gone a few miles when a herd of swamp deer jumped across the road. They may be called “deer”, but I swear they were the size of ponies. And they jumped a long way. It was like a herd of flying ponies jumping out of the palmettos. I was glad that I was wearing black. Palmettos are nasty plants. They’re like short palm trees that grow in large clumps. I ran past one clump and noted that the wind had come up and was rustling the leaves. Then I noted that the leaves across the path were still. Point of survey – when confronted with evidence of wild animal, do you a) stop, b) run faster, C) go at the same pace and hope they don’t notice? I noticed evidence of the idiot population – the trail markers had often been used for targets. The worst problem was the area that had been the recent recipient of a brush fire. Try finding a burned trail marker on a burned tree trunk sometime. At the end of it, I made it out alive and had only added 2 miles more than I had planned. End of the week mileage – Ms. Perky had 36, I had 35. Like I said, she cheats. So by the end of vacation, I had been able to run six days a week for four weeks. I was ready for almost anything my partner could throw at me. Almost.

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