Today, I am RUNNER! Yes, I have been posting this series of columns on running for about a year, but until this weekend, I was working to regain my status using a minimalist style. I am there.
Just a year ago I read Born to Run by Chirstopher McDougall and decided to give minimalist running a try. Those of you who have followed and read know that making that change after 40 years running in technical shoes is not a simple adjustment. Compounding that was my own impatience at a few points along the way.
It has been a step function of progress with quick growth followed by plateaus of stabilization. I have discovered many things about style and technique as well as myself over this past year. More than that I have made some great virtual friends who share the running passion and who have offered encouragement and incentive. Many of them don’t even know it, but that is how those things work.
So, why today? Why this point in time to declare that I am a runner?
It is the day after the day after. You all know what I mean. The real pain of a long run isn’t felt until the day after the day after. This Saturday, October 13, I ran the ING Hartford Marathon.
It was the longest run I’ve made in minimalist style by almost a factor of two. The timing of the race didn’t allow me to use a typical prep schedule. I gave my physical conditioning in minimalist precedence over the mileage and concentrated on staying healthy. To compensate the lack of mileage I did more hill and interval work more frequently.
The morning of the race was cold – about 38F at the start. I dress for the “second mile”, so I had my shorts, a compression top and a long sleeve jersey and my minimalist shoes. Because of an ill timed blister I couldn’t wear my Luna Sandals, so I opted for a pair of NB Minimus shoes that I have been using on trail runs. Use shoes that you have run in even if they aren’t the perfect match for the course. It took a bit more than the second mile to warm up, but the day was sunny and not much wind to speak of.
It is a beautiful course. Starting in downtown in a large park we set off along a series of pathways along the Hartford River. Rolling hills provided views of the river, oarsmen, trees turning color in the early fall, and the tall buildings of Hartford. It would have been a perfect venue for a stroll, but me and the 17,000 other runners weren’t in a stroll kind of mood.
Breaking out of the city we spent the majority of the race running through the surrounding residential area of Hartford. Streets lined with tall trees and a relatively flat grade. It was a wonderful place to be as the air warmed up. I felt good as I approached the turnaround at mile 15 or so. But, having done a couple of marathons before, I knew the real challenge was at mile 20 and beyond.
I loved watching the elite runners heading past us before I hit the turnaround. It was in their eyes. None of them were looking around, just down the road at their goal. The focus and natural movement was awe inspiring. I will never be fast, but I want to be that smooth.
At mile twenty I felt the depression start to set in. I had been drinking at must about every water station and munching a Cliff bar and some raisins as I ran to help payback the 2860 calories my app said I burnt. I started to doubt myself. My feet were feeling the pain. I was in uncharted territory. Those puppies had only been subjected to 15 miles at the most during my regeneration as a runner. Concentrating on form was taking all the mental energy I had. Well, not really. A lot of my mind was focused on living inside the pain. Not my legs but my feet. Remember, minimalist shoes offer no cushion and I hadn’t had time to build up the stamina.
When I hit mile 22 I had to stop while I opened up a ziplock baggie with raisins in it. My fingers were so cold and stiff they couldn’t grip the plastic while I ran. Even standing I spent 20 seconds or so trying to get the damn thing open. I started to worry that I’d freeze up. Finally, a clump in my mouth and a second in my hand I zipped it up, tucked it in my waistband and started up again, another cup of water to help.
And it felt okay.
Mile 24 and I knew I was home. I was letting the aches and pains of my body flow through me, remembering the words of Scott Jurek – “Dig Deep”. He inscribed those words into my copy of Eat & Run. I also knew that mile 25 held the last climb of the race. A curving path up an entry ramp then over an overpass. It gains about 75 feet in a half mile or so. The perfect thing to do after 25 miles! I hit the climb with a smile on my face. I felt enough reserve to be able to power up the beast and enter the downtown area with less than a mile left powered by the cheers of the crowd.
At the end there is a sharp left turn to reveal the arch tower that is a monument of Hartford. The race finishes under the beauty and power of those arches. Legs enriched by the sight of the end find strength and move to the finish.
Water, food and some beer from Harpoon brewery made the end of the race comfortable, although I was stiff as hell. Then a long drive back home. a warm shower, and spending some time with the family.
That evening I paid attention to the aches and pains. Hydrating continued as well as munching on fruits. Dinner was pizza and beer, which is always on my training table.
Sunday found me with soar ankles and feet. That I kind of expected, but I also had a little tenderness in my knees. I didn’t worry about it, but didn’t push it either.
Then I noticed that I could walk up and down stairs without any tightness in my thighs. In previous marathons the thighs had taken a toll and I had to walk down stairs backwards as a result. I kept in motion the whole day. Fish for dinner after a smoothie for lunch and an afternoon of working in the yard and garage.
Now, here I am on Monday morning and I feel normal. I have no real pain in my legs or feet. I am amazed. I had almost dreaded getting up this morning because the day after the day after is always a deeper lingering pain. None. Nada. I walked down the stairs to my home office and a cup of coffee and I am normal.
It is the minimal style. It is body friendly. I know that now. And that is after running 26 miles in 3:56:30 – my second best ever – without the mileage I really should have logged. It tells me that this was the right choice to make and I am no longer wondering if there is a gottcha at the end of the minimalist conversion. Well, there is. The gottcha is the you want to run longer than 26.2!
I have completed a full marathon, running in minimalist form for the duration. I didn’t just survive, I ran. I finished in a time I never expected. Yes, the transition is complete.
Today I am a Runner! Run Free. Dig Deep