After a nice, relaxing breakfast and a hot cup of coffee, I pulled myself from the chair and started getting ready. Better now than never. I felt sluggish and groggy, certainly not revved up for a 10-miler. Taz was napping underneath the table, and Babs was stretched out sunning herself under the chair with her white belly exposed. It was all I could do to pull myself away and not join them for an all-day nap-fest.
I filled my fuel belt bottles with Propel and chilled them in the freezer. Strapped on my heart-rate monitor, and checked the weather. Mid-40s. Chilly, but perfect after a little warm-up. I pulled on my socks and tied my shoes. Re-tied them so the laces were just right, applying even pressure throughout the top of my feet. Stretched. Stretched some more. Yawned. Jason, my husband and training partner, bounced up and down a few times. He looked much more energized than me.
"Do you feel RAAARGH?" he prodded me.
"No. I feel mew."
Fully equipped with our fuel belts, MP3 players, and heart-rate monitors, we stepped outside. For one of the simplest sports that exists, we were certainly gadgeting it up. The cool, early spring air hit me unexpectedly through my California-raised thin skin. I began walking quickly to warm up. It was sunny with just a hint of a breeze. Perfect running weather.
We began running with the short, springy strides of the first steps of a run. I adjusted my heart-rate monitor and checked it. It instantly sprang to 158. Guess I should have done a little more this week. I worried that my VO2 max might have taken a hit from the time off. Cautiously, I slowed my pace slightly. I had to last for 10 miles.
We ran down the street, passing other Sunday strollers in jackets and scarves, walking their dogs. I noticed the white, yellow, and purple crocuses and daffodils popping up in our neighbors' yards. Young male robins with sleek black and red feathers darted across my path, competing for the best territory to stake out before mating season officially began. Just arriving from their northern migration, it was a clear announcement that spring was here.
As we hit the running path, my stride lengthened and settled into an automatic, rhythmic pace. My mind drifted, and I felt enveloped by a meditative, surreal state. I had warmed up and entered the beginning of my runner's high. The park was teeming with runners, walkers, bikers, roller bladers. Alone, with friends, dogs, baby jogging strollers, couples, groups. Many of them passed me. Frustrated, I held back. On another day, I would have passed them or at least picked up the pace, but not today. Controlled and restrained, I maintained my heart rate, which was already creeping up. I would forget, and speed up; suddenly, my breath would shorten and I would begin to gasp. Glancing down at my wrist, I saw I had reached 170. Way too high. I slowed; my heart rate dropped to 165. Still high, but I felt comfortable so I let myself stay there.
Jason and I were chatting away. I started to get the familiar stitch on my left side that I get whenever I talk too much on a run. Running is the only time I don't talk very much. I began breathing deeply and exhaling sharply. The stitch spread from under my rib cage to down my left hip. After about a mile of deep breathing (and not talking), it subsided. Thank God, stitches are the worst thing when running, second only to gastric distress.
We reached Skinker and took another swig, waiting for the lights to change. 3 miles down; no problem. I felt good, and I was feeling better and better as we went along. We crossed Skinker and began the long climb up Forsyth. An older runner passed me. By this time, I had replaced my competitive instinct with respect, and I glanced at him as he floated by. A cyclist hammered up the hill. I slowed to maintain a pace and focused on pushing up the hill. Now, we were running on sidewalks, and my joints were beginning to complain a bit from the increased impact. We reached the top, and I felt like celebrating because I still felt good. Intramural softball teams were playing in the baseball fields to our left. Players in the dugout screamed and cheered as one of their teammates hit the ball towards the far end of the field.
Now we had reached Wydown and begin the long gentle curving descent. At first, it felt great as I let gravity carry me along. I began to pass a few runners, boosting my spirits a bit. My heart rate dropped as I floated effortlessly down. About halfway down, my knee and hip started whining a bit. I ignored it easily. The pain began to worsen, and I scooted into the bike lane, where the asphalt softened the impact. I never thought I would think of asphalt as "softening".
I saw the lights on Skinker up ahead change to green. We'd never make it. I didn't want to wait for the next light so I sprinted ahead. Pretty stupid. We made it across just fine, but my heart rate was up to 175, and I was panting. And I was at the base of another long hill. I struggled up the entire hill, fighting both the hill and my heart rate. Oh, well. It was a good fartlek. Sometimes I can't hold back the thoroughbred inside me.
We began the windy, hilly return through the southern side of Forest Park. I grimaced as my tiny needles stabbed my knee on a sharp descent. Then we reached the zoo, and I happily allowed myself to be distracted. The parking lot was filled to the brim with cars. I peeked in between the gates and got a good look at the zebras with their vibrant black and white stripes. They dozed lazily in the sun, swishing their tails lackadaisically at imaginary flies. The sight of the zebras perked me up and I passed two more people (not that I was counting).
At mile 8, I got to see the horses out in the paddock as we ran past the mounted police stable. A cop on his little dun Quarter Horse walked by. A chestnut gelding with shortly pulled mane pricked his ears towards us and craned his neck over the fence. He looked frisky, alert, and ready to run. Maybe he was jealous he couldn't come with us. I still felt pretty good except for the knee. Maybe 13.1 miles wouldn't be so bad in 3 weeks.
As we headed out of the park, we passed by the fishing pond. Some dedicated fishermen sat on the banks, wrapped in jackets and scarves. They looked cold. I can't imagine they were catching anything. We stepped around several groups of ducks, roosting in the grass. I knew I would soon see dozens of little ducklings swimming behind their parents in the lake.
We finished our last hill and began the final mile back towards the house. I had done 9, I could do 1 more. I was back on the sidewalk and ignoring the pain. I concentrated on picking up my feet and knees and avoiding the tired runner's shuffle. I couldn't control my feet very well. My brain was trying to make them run but my feet didn't want to leave the ground. I reached a numbness and some sort of rhythm, and then the house appeared and I was done.
We rushed in the house, grabbed ice packs from the freezer, and I laid on the ground with my legs covered in ice. I promptly fell asleep for the next few hours. Except for my knee, I felt very good. However, I was spent. 10 miles was enough. I couldn't have done 3 more. Not today. But I know in 3 weeks, I will be able to. It's all in the head.
Note to self: do not take naps with sweaty heart-rate monitor still on. I have a nice red rash on my chest now. Great.