Sunday, December 20, 2009

Run, run and keep running

Last year I racked up more than 1,000 winter miles between November and Februrary. I had a goal for June, the Shenandoah 1200K. Although I am signed up this year for the 1001 Miglia Italia in August, I didn't feel pressed to accumulate those winter miles. And there is also the fact that now I have a really nice steel bike that I do not want expose to all the salt thrown on the roads. My desire was to stay fit, but I hate trainers. I bought one last year and used it twice. Now a friend has it. Then I had the idea to start running.

I always enjoyed running, but never took it too seriously. When I did, in my teens, I got really fast and skinny, but less attractive to girls. At that point in my life girls were a lot more important to me. So I started going to the gym and stuck with soccer until 2007 when I tore my ACL. That brought me to cycling.

Late Fall I bought a pair of nice running shoes and started running 2-3 times a week, anywhere between 6-10 miles at a time. Most of these runs were with my friend Ben, who is an exceptional cyclist. What became clear to me is that his dominance in cycling did not translate directly to running. Maybe I could be actually decent at this. A few days ago while running down the hill to Ithaca I suddenly thought of the lake. Why not run around it? Well, for starters that's about 90 miles. Secondly, it's winter. I put the idea in my head to run around lake Cayuga on Dec 31st. A caring soul brought me to my senses and suggested I go for a 30 mile run to test my legs. During the week I planned the run, a map of which can be found here. It turned out to be about 42 miles.

I went to bed last night a bit nervous. It looked like the temperature for the beginning of the run would be around 16F. That was a bit too cold. I managed to wake up at 5am for an early breakfast. I went back to sleep and woke up around 7:30am and left the door at precisely 8am. Already during the first 3 miles I started to feel my calves a bit. This was not going very well.

At the 3 mile mark I met up with a friend, John Dennis, who ran with me for about 3 miles. It was very nice. We both chatted a bit and time went by quickly. I was to meet another friend at the 6 mile mark, but I messed up my predicted arrival time, so we missed each other. I just kept on going. Now solo.

At the 3 mile mark

I immediately noticed that distances were a lot harder to deal with mentally while running when compared to biking. On a bike, if you see the road go on for a few miles, you tend not to worry too much about it because you know it will take you just a few minutes to get there. On a pair of legs it takes a lot longer. I tried to keep my eyes on the horizon, concentrating on my breathing and just the emptiness in my head. At one point I saw a huge flock of geese hovering around a field. It was beautiful to watch them. They settled and as I ran by they all took off and resumed their coordinated movement in the air. Quite something.

My next cue would be on Lake Ridge Rd. This road took ages to show up. And when it did it seemed much longer than I had anticipated. At this point I was suffering in a pretty brutal headwind. My legs started to hurt. Mainly my feet. Oh boy, I'm not even half way there. I would see a stop sign and think, this must be it. It wasn't. Finally my cue did show up. I had made it to the halfway mark. It was time to eat.

I stopped at a diner and ordered 3 eggs over & easy with two slices of wheat toast and a chocolate milk. That costed $3.24. I couldn't believe the receipt. Well, I guess running 21 miles for that kind of deal is almost worth it. While I waited for my order I let John know about my whereabouts and asked him for the time: 11:11am. Wow! I really didn't expect to be there before noon. I stayed at the diner for a little over 30min. My legs were pretty stiff at this point. I was encouraged by my time and got ready to go.

The first miles out of the diner were probably my fastest. I didn't have a watch and the cell phone I borrowed was tucked and not easily accessible. I knew this burst of speed would take its toll later on. But I was happy and happy people run faster. It took a while for the pain to settle in once again. My feet were hurting and now my hips were too.

I slowed down a bit but didn't stop or walk at all. I knew if I did I would be tempted to just walk or give up. This is where the determination part really started to become important. I was following the numbers on the mailboxes. 1242... 1220... 1190.. 1100... 1034... 968... 848... 790... 642. This last number I remembered on my way out. One by one, the visual landmarks I had noticed earlier started to appear. This was encouraging. Then I saw a sign. Ithaca 7 miles. At this point I was well beyond my longest run prior, just over 10 miles. Those 7 miles would be the hardest.

My enthusiasm plummeted after a long uphill stretch just before my next cue. Ithaca 6 miles. Oh no, that was just 1 mile. It felt like at least 2. There must be something wrong with these signs, I thought to myself. Oh well.. On my way out I carried a water bottle mostly in my right hand. Every time I tried to switch it to my left hand it would reappear in my right hand, almost like magic. My right arm was tired from carrying that water bottle so I decided to stash it in my rear jersey pocket. I was wearing a winter cycling jacket. For a while the bouncing of the water bottle on my back bothered me, but I must have adjusted my stride because it subsided after some time. Either that or I got used to it. But now I was thirsty, very thirsty. So I started to walk for a bit while I chugged on my water bottle as I ate a Lärabar, which I highly recommend. I had 6 of them with me and I only ate one. I started to run again... ouch. That wasn't easy.

I decided to give John a phone call. I was close to his house. He informed me it was 2:10pm. What? That tailwind must have helped on the way back, although I did feel like my butt was frozen several times. It was still about 2 miles to John's house. Soon I saw him on his bike coming towards me. We both greeted each other and he took a picture of me. I ran with him alongside for just a few hundred feet and decided to stop. This was hurting too much. I began to walk and he joined me for about 2 miles. We chatted about many things and it took my mind off the cold and the pain I was feeling. I continued to walk home, now at even a slower pace. At 3:50pm I walked into my house. 7h50min of total time, including the diner stop and the 3 mile walk at the end. I was not exhausted. I actually felt great in terms of cardio fitness. I guess the 8,000+ miles this year on the bike really helped me with that. The feet and hips were another story. They hurt.

39 miles in

I was able to muster a smile

90 miles around Cayuga Lake? I don't think I'm quite ready for that. But I feel good and happy about the accomplishment. The time wasn't too shabby either. Foremost I was happy to finish uninjured. I celebrated with two glasses of maple milk. Delicious.


Unknown said...


I liked the description of the geese settling in the field and taking off again. I suppose they were Canadas but there may have Snow Geese or even a Cackling.
I'm utterly impressed with your accomplishment today, I could never have done that. But I do plan to run more regularly.

cheers, John

Kttrue said...

Just add the swim and try an Ironman.

Juan PLC Salazar said...

John, the geese where white with black tips on their wings. That seems to fit the description of snow geese very well. I never had seen these geese before. Very beautiful.

Juan PLC Salazar said...


You already know what I am up to.

Anonymous said...

hey juan!
glad you made it safe and sound, injury-wise, and great report, as usual. i am looking forward to episode #2 of this run saga!
"crazy little" ace!