Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Blinders

It’s finally spring in Chicago. That doesn't really mean much, because snow is a constant threat save for maybe the middle of July. But the weather is gradually warming and noticeably so -- the lows aren't so low and the highs are getting higher. Runners are reappearing on the lakefront path, and not just on Saturday mornings, but around the clock Monday through Friday.  The water taxis have been spotted and I've even seen the Spirit of Chicago out on the lake. Only things left now are turning on the fountains and opening of the hotdog stands (where I’ll sometimes grab a Gatorade).

So where did I leave off…  What have I been doing since Naperville Marathon in November?  Am I training?  Am I even still running?  Well, yes, I am. And I can tell you this was one of those winters that will forever cause me to shudder when I think about running another winter outdoors. Yes. I know, I know... I've run every day this year except for 5 days; two of which happened to be when my daughter was born (interestingly my wife seemed like she would have been almost okay with me running then). And so far I've only been on the treadmill 3 of those running days. It’s now April 8. Not bragging; I realize there are more hardcore runners in Chicago than I.  I read several news articles about local Chicago runners doing 10 miles on a day I only considered 3 or 4 miles.  My friends (David, Francis, Mark…) have been out nearly the same number of days I have.  But I will say, I am just as freakin' excited as ANYONE that this winter is finally, FINALLY O-V-E-R. I was one of the folks dreading winter when it started turning cold last November. I remember thinking, “I’ll be fine if I can only get to December before donning a pair of tights.” But no, I wore tights on November 24th, and my soul cried that day.

So, let me clarify. I’m not bragging. I’m not gloating. Yes I ran outside a lot this winter.  But seriously, I had plenty of people telling me I was crazy.  I’m pretty sure I left behind, “Ken is crazy” burn marks, “that stuff won’t wash out,” type of sentiment in several people’s minds. And it was never, "Haha, I ran in this cold weather and you didn't."  No, because in the end it was not fun; sometimes it felt stupid; and sometimes it felt unsafe. In reality it was probably more like, "Haha, oh yeah, okay, the joke’s on me."
They work for horses, too.

So, well, why? I guess in a strange way this was my own coping mechanism, how I dealt with the unending cold of winter. If I could just keep on running – just run through it – and not let myself get tripped up in my own nonstop thinking about the weather (of course I still thought about it), then I could avoid giving myself reasons not to run. I unwittingly decided to put on blinders and, to try, at least, to ignore that inner voice. I was afraid if I stopped and looked around, I’d lock up.  If I were to take a break, I’d just become too comfortable and find plenty of reason not to run for 1, 2, 3… days at a time. And I had to leave the treadmill option out of it. I kept telling myself that people run in colder weather in other cities and in colder climates all the time and that this was nothing.  Just be aware of the conditions, layer appropriately, cover everything up, pay attention to the warnings, run at the warmest part of the day, be safe, and you’ll have no reason not to run. Easy.

Anyway that’s what I tried to keep shoveling back into my head.  The worst was when it actually would warm up 10 or 20 degrees, and then heartlessly drop back down a day later - a very bad joke - I’d have to acclimate myself to the cold all over again, at least mentally. And don’t ask how I feel about the wind - the breath of the devil. In the end, the past 4 months feel like nothing more than one very long, gray, cold, miserable training season in Antarctica. I don’t feel faster for it and I know my competition isn't any slower, if they trained indoors.  And who am I kidding - my competition is… me.

In the end, however, I ended up running more miles than I've ever run in the first few months of a year and, knock on wood, I am not yet injured either; we’ll save that for another time, later this year… undoubtedly, it’s all part of the game, right?

So it’s April.  It’s warmer. People are back. The training has gone reasonably well as I look back at my plan. I ran the F^3 Lake Half Marathon in January, and once again the weather and race conditions caused me to rethink why I continue to run that race with or without blinders (and no fault of the organizers to be sure).  The Shamrock Shuffle 8K came and went and I came out of it with nearly a 2-minute PR from 2 years earlier. I ran faster than I thought I could and it was 2 days after a 23-mile training run. Not too shabby. I've had aches and pains, and general soreness but stayed reasonably healthy.  I've gained weight but somehow managed to level back off again. I think that means I’m almost ready for 2014. It’s April, so I guess I better be ready. I’m nervous for Boston Marathon.  That’s a good thing.  A year ago, leading up to my injury that kept me out of Boston 2013, I was definitely not in the game mentally, so I’m much more excited that things are coming together this year. So it’s 2014. Yes. What lies ahead? Who knows? Injury for sure (like I said it’s part of the game I play). Maybe a PR or two if I’m lucky. I definitely don’t expect the string of PR’s I had in 2013, but I do hope to keep improving in the marathon. I’m not getting any younger; but I have to keep plowing ahead as long as I can. Onward and upward, as my uncle says. As long as these legs will let me.

7 comments:

  1. Great post Ken! It's impressive that you ran all through this brutal winter. I think you are a stronger runner this spring because of plowing into those brutal headwinds along the lake - not only physically, but mentally. What worse race conditions could Mother Nature throw you to compare with the ones you faced in training? So happy that you have stayed injury-free. Here's to many more years of staying in that zone. I love that you got a 2 minute PR after running 23 miles 2 days before the race. Imagine if you had tapered? :) None of us are getting any younger, but like you said, I'm going to keep on plowing ahead as long as I can. Nothing beats running. Good luck in Boston, you are gonna own it!

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    1. Thanks so much Pete, appreciate those remarks. If I were a gambling man I’d probably like to respond and say, yeah I feel like I’ve built up a little bit thicker skin when it comes to crappy weather, but as soon as I do that, I'll get struck by lightning or have the worst race ever due to bad weather, ha. Who knows, maybe I’m even more sensitive to cooler weather now. In either case, with the arrival of nicer temps, I'm pretty sure I’d go insane if it were to get really cold again, at least, anytime soon... ;) So I'll just say, thanks bud!

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    2. I agree. As much as I like cold weather running, it's nice to see the warmer temps come April. I like to wear shorts at least a few days a year! :)

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    3. I for one am very PROUD to have met you and look up to you in more ways "just a runner". You are honestly one of the main reasons I too got my ass up every single day and plowed through this winter. You've been a motivator and a voice or reason in numerous aspects and it means a lot to me. I wish I could put my thoughts in to words as effortlessly as you do ^^^ All I'll say is #BostonbetterlookoutforMAMOBRO

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    4. Exactly Pete! Todd man you were out there in those frigid dark mornings more times than I would have been able to get out, that is for sure. Those morning runs are the most brutal. I don't give you enough credit man, but knowing you were up and at 'em helped me get me going hours later in the day. When you took your brief break at the beginning of the year, it was really hard to muster some of that motivation on my own! :)

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  2. Can't believe I missed this post a few weeks ago. Damn. Anyway....I am so impressed by your commitment this past winter. Actually, I guess I could say that I'm not, in a way, because that's really just how you are: driven. Whatever your goal(s) this year, you go after it, and with a ton of heart and dedication that oodles of us admire....myself included in that mix. So happy you finally had your long-awaited Bahstun experience. Proud of ya man--and miss ya like whoa. :)

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    1. Thanks so much Erin! Your comment, all your comments actually, always mean so much. I appreciate your words considerably. Hope to run with you again soon!

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