Forecast: Snow, Ice, Slush, Snow, Slush…

Six inches of snow, followed by several days of temperatures in the teens or 20s.

Rinse. Repeat.

That’s January in St. Louis so far. Or at least the last couple of weeks. And although the driving portions of the roads have been cleared nicely, the edges of the roads and the sidewalks have been covered by a layer of snow and slush. And mostly, in the prime early morning running hours, ice.

I’m getting old. I have to worry about things like falling down and breaking my hip.

All right, maybe not THAT old. But I do hate the uncertain footing, that feeling of never knowing how solid the next step is going to be. So it’s to the treadmill I go.

Now, before a couple of days ago, I hadn’t been on a treadmill for nearly a year, and I was of course dreading it. If you’re used to running outside on the streets (or better yet, trails) in beautiful weather, there’s not much to like about grinding out the miles on a treadmill.

It hasn’t been a very good January for me for running. I took the last three weeks of December off after the Pere Marquette Trail Run (What a crazy race! Check out these two videos!) — a planned break to give my legs some rest after a busy 2010 — but then it took longer to get back into the groove than I’d expected. That’s OK, though; it’s just January. Still, through the first three weeks of the year, I was behind even my meager mileage total from January 2010, a month that had me recovering from some nagging injuries from late 2009.

Fortunately, last weekend brought some good news in terms of motivation: entries opened for the Quivering Quads Half-Marathon, to be held March 20. I ran this race last year (and wrote about it here), and it was both a fun race and a great kickoff to what turned out to be a good racing year for me. I wasn’t in shape last year, so I’ve been looking forward to this year so I can hopefully destroy my time from 2010. I’m now officially entered, and counting down the weeks ’til the race.

Finally, some real motivation to get back into training!

But there’s still that treadmill business to deal with. Fortunately, ‘mill running does allow me to indulge in one thing that I normally shun: my iPod. I never run with an iPod on the streets, because I want to hear the cars coming up behind me. I have as much of an aversion to being run down by a car as I do to slipping on ice and breaking my hip.

But on the treadmill, if a car’s gonna hit me, it’s getting me whether I have the headphones on or not. So I’ve pulled out the trusty old iPod, and I can rock while I can roll. I can bump while I grind. I can … well, you get the picture. I honestly don’t have a whole lot of use for the iPod except for running, so it had been a while since I’d used it, and I’d forgotten what a joy it is to listen to music through the headphones. The first time I wore it, I listened to DMB’s Before These Crowded Streets straight through. The second time, a couple of Beatles Albums. Last night I had an exceptional run, with some vintage Rolling Stones blasting. (In what was supposed to be kind of a long run, I had to crank it up to basically 5K race pace during the guitar solos on the YaYa’s version of Sympathy for the Devil. Maybe not the smartest workout strategy, but you have to go where the music takes you.)

So anyway, I’m starting to feel like I’m getting back into shape. Even though last night’s 5.73 miles was my longest run since Pere Marquette in mid-December, I am confident I’ll get the mileage up to be able to do the half-marathon in March.

Longer-term, though, I’ve pretty much discarded the idea of running the New York City Marathon in 2011. I’m not saying I won’t do ANY marathon this fall, just that if I do crank it up for a second shot at 26.2, it will be in some less logistically challenging event closer to home. New York, Boston … they’re out there, but not for this year.

Meanwhile, I have a list of shorter races I’m aiming for this spring and summer, and with the iPod strapped on I’m ready to crank out the miles inside if necessary. Let it snow!

Quivering Quads Trail Half Marathon

Stretched out in front of us was a ribbon of muck, sprinkled liberally with puddles of water. Our shoes, when we’d pull them up out of the mud, made a sucking sound that would make Ross Perot proud.  “This,” the starter told us,” is the best-groomed part of the course.”

And he wasn’t kidding. We stood at the start of the Quivering Quads Trail Half Marathon in Cuivre River State Park in Troy, Mo. As he said, the first 1.8 miles of the race was on what would be, in drier times, a one-lane dirt road. But Troy had seen some rain in the last few days, and the dirt road had dissolved into the goo pit that lay before us.

The race, with 400 entrants, was divided … Keep reading

Slouching Into 2010

On March 21, I’ll be running the Quivering Quads Half-Marathon in Troy, Mo. This is a trail race,  through a state park on a course that varies “from smooth to very rough, dry to very muddy, and flat to very hilly. Racers may have to cross ankle-deep streams as they pass through forests of white oak and limestone glades filled with turkey, deer and foxes,” according to the course description.

As often happens, it seemed like a good idea when I signed up, but now I’m having second thoughts…

In pain -- but still upright! -- at the finish of the 2003 Chicago Marathon.

My recent history of running has been, let’s say, checkered. Long story short, although I’ve considered myself “a runner” for more than half my life, I haven’t done much running the last few years. After a bipolar experience in my one and only marathon (Chicago 2003), I began suffering some serious knee pain, and there were many times in the next few years when I thought I would never run again, let alone try another marathon. Then I’d start up again for a couple of weeks, the pain would come back, and I’d quit for a few more months. Finally, about a year ago, I decided  it was time to get some professional help. I went to a orthopedist, who diagnosed tendonitis and gave me a ticket to physical therapy. For several months over the summer, the folks at the Sports Medicine and Training Center in Webster Groves worked me, bounced me, shocked me and stretched me, and although it didn’t seem to be working for a while, all of a sudden things started to fall into place, and by the end of the summer I was able to run basically pain-free. Amazing!

For Father’s Day/my birthday, Jean gave me a Garmin GPS watch with a heart rate monitor, which fueled my compulsion for keeping statistics on my running (in July I ran 51.5 miles, in August 77.93 miles, etc.) and got me started on keeping track of my heart rate.

In November, I watched as American Meb Keflezghi won the New York Marathon. He was an inspiration, of course, but it was also cool to see all of the back markers getting a tour of the city’s boroughs at six miles an hour. I could do that, I thought. Suddenly, my running had a new purpose. For the rest of the month of November, I did one run each weekend of at least 10 miles, and a during-the-week run of at least five miles. I began thinking about marathons in 2010.

Then, a nasty uppercut/jab combination laid me out. I ran the 10-mile Great River Road Race in Alton, Ill., at the end of November, and inexplicably took it out in a 7-minute pace. By four miles I was in agony, and by six miles I was taking extended walking breaks, my right hamstring in flames. A lousy race for me, but I figured I made a mistake, would learn from it, and bounce back. Nope. The next time I ran, the pain was in both my hamstring and my calf, bad enough that I end up taking about a week off to let them heal. I thought I was better when it was time for the Pere Marquette Trail Run two weeks later, but about two miles into that race my calf felt like it was ripped in half, and I finished the course in a humiliating mix of limp/walking and limp/running, and then basically shelved the running shoes for the rest of the year.

I decided to ease my way into 2010; I joined a gym, and, using a recumbent bike and a treadmill, I slowly worked to restore my fitness. By the fourth week of January, I got back out onto the roads — and felt pretty good. I actually managed a 10-miler on February 6.

Then it snowed. Not much, but enough that I needed to shovel the walk. It was a nice, light, fluffy snow, and certainly no trouble to shovel it off. But my 50-year-old back thought otherwise. I must have tweaked something in my lower back, because I was hobbling the next day. Actually, though, the pain wasn’t awful, and it had cleared up enough over the next three days that on Friday I did a two-mile “trial run” to see if running would hurt it more — it didn’t — and then on Saturday went for another 10-miler.

I spent most of Sunday lying down.

I guess 10 miles of pounding wasn’t the best thing for my back. I’ve been gobbling a cocktail of over-the-counter pain relievers all week (and of course not running), and only now is it starting to feel better. I’ve given up on the idea of a 10-miler every weekend — at least for this weekend — and now I’m just hoping to get back into it enough by March 21 to be able to finish that trail race with at least a modicum of respectability. I’ll keep you posted.