Monday, February 21, 2011

Challenges of outdoor running

Last week was a lovely week for running outside in Central Illinois. And by lovely, I mean "not blizzard-like". In fact, I managed to do three of my five runs outdoors and I enjoyed every one of them. At the same time, each outdoor run presented me with a unique challenge, turning my runs into sort of mini-adventures. Allow me to share...

Challenge #1 - Cold Feet

For a short mid-week run, I decided to run on the local bike path since it was rush hour and I wanted to avoid the highly-trafficked roads. But about 1/2 mile into my bike path journey, I encountered an obstacle. A stream of water running across the path - runoff from all the melting snow. The water was about 10 feet wide and 6 inches deep. I couldn't jump that far. There was no avoiding it; I had to run through it. The water was every bit as cold as you would expect for melting snow runoff. I muttered a choice expletive as I ran through the water. My feet were completely soaked to the bone, and every step I ran thereafter made a wet, squishy sound.

*run squish run squash run squish* Just like that.

But aside from having cold feet, it was a very nice run. And my shoes have since dried out.

Challenge #2 - Angry Pickup Truck Man

On Saturday morning, I decided to take advantage of another beautiful running day and I set out for an easy 4 or 5 miles. It was shaping up to be a really great run - there was hardly any wind, the sun was shining, and my legs felt great. But then in the last mile, a jerk in a shiny black pickup truck ruined it all. Apparently, I was a serious threat to him, running on the correct side of the road, staying as far to the side as I could, and being generally unobtrusive. I guess he was offended by my law-abiding nature. Or maybe he just didn't like my brightly-colored running shoes. For whatever reason, he felt the need to drive up behind me at top speed (in a 30mph zone, mind you) and lay on his horn as he passed me. Twice. He was clearly being aggressive, and frankly, it was making me pretty nervous. Especially since he made a point to come back and scare me a second time. So although I was feeling good enough to get in a full 5 miles, I ended up cutting my run short to 4.7 miles to escape Angry Pickup Truck Man.

I hope to never run into him again, mostly for his own sake, since I will be carrying large rocks in my pockets which I can and will use to damage his truck's shiny paint job.

Challenge #3 - Kristi

Sunday morning wasn't as nice, weather-wise, as Saturday. It was cloudy, colder, and extremely windy. Oh and there was a chance for rain. But it was tolerable enough for me to venture outside to run with my beloved Stashies, who I haven't seen in months. They were going to run one of my favorite routes, which is a little over 10 miles long.

So I started the run off slow, running well behind the rest of the group, like I always do. I was running into the wind, and I saw no need to push hard on this run since I had just done an insanely difficult 10-mile run four days earlier. I was just aiming for some easy miles.

When I reached the first water stop, about 3 miles in, the rest of the group was already there, rehydrating and chatting. I grabbed a quick cup of water and Kristi mentioned that the rest of the group was turning around soon for a shorter run, so maybe she and I should run together for the rest of the 10 miles since it would just be the two of us. That sounded like a good plan to me, and I wasn't worried since I have done many long runs with Kristi before. It would be nice to have someone to chat with along the way.

But there would be no chatting. Kristi took off at breakneck speed and I spent the remaining 7 miles gasping for air, trying to hang onto her for dear life. Oh sure, I could've just let her go ahead and run my own pace. But she was issuing an unspoken challenge. And I would not be defeated.

I wanted to say something. Something along the lines of "OMG why are you doing this to me???" But I didn't want to appear weak. So I struggled silently as we attacked the multitude of hills. During this portion of the run, she remained about 30 feet ahead of me. I wasn't going to let her out of my sight. Once we got to the Tower (our second water stop), I knew the rest of the route would be mostly flat. If she kept the same pace, I should have no problem keeping up.

She didn't keep the same pace.

Every mile that ticked by on my Garmin, my pace was getting faster and faster. I was impressed when we finished up mile 7 at a 10:24 pace. I was even more impressed when we zipped through mile 8 at a 10:06 pace. I was right on her heels and I felt strong. I mentioned this to Kristi and she told me I was doing great. Little did I know she was secretly plotting my demise.

When we finished up mile 9 at a 9:42 pace, I grew alarmed. With an evil glint in her eye, Kristi turned turned her head around and asked every-so-sweetly, "How ya feelin'?"

At this point I realized she was going to try to kill me in the final mile.

We actually had about a mile and a half left at that point. She dropped the hammer. I wanted to tell her to slow down, but the only sounds I was capable of making were "Gah! BAH! Puh!" My Garmin beeped again. Mile 10 - 9:30 pace. And Kristi just kept getting faster and faster. Yes, she was definitely trying to kill me.

We had about a half mile to go and I could no longer hang on to her. I held the fastest pace I could manage and she surged ahead, making it look all too easy. I knew I wouldn't catch her, but I sure as hell wasn't going to slow down. I always finish strong.

Final 0.6 mile - 8:48 pace.

And you know what? I didn't die! Oh, I was a little winded. Okay, a LOT winded. But overall, I felt pretty good.

And as soon as we hopped in our cars and started driving away, the rain started pouring. So Kristi's little plot to exterminate me actually ended up benefiting me because if not for her, I would have gotten soaked in the downpour.

So nice try, Kristi! *sticks tongue out at Kristi and runs away*

Peace. Love. Train.

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