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Hitting Late Summer Pay Dirt

09/06/2010

Presently it’s my quads that are paying for hitting the dirt–that and I’m growing some skin back over my knees. But happily. Joyfully, even. Oh, so joyfully.  My DOMS inspired winces as I move up and down the stairs are buried in smiles, each a silent reminder of this Saturday’s trail run over South Mountain. If you have read ANY of my previous blogs, then you know well that for me, there is simply nothing like running mountain trails, and after a long, hot summer of short, hot city runs, and lots of treadmilling, thanks to the cooler temps brought by Earl and the Reston Runners and their terrific event planning, I was finally out there again.

If you are a runner, you don’t need me or that blurt of car radio 80’s nostalgia to remind you it’s been a cruel, cruel summer.  And I am probably not alone in that I’ve been doing A LOT of treadmilling this season–more than I think I have ever done in a winter it seems, because of this summer’s constant high temps.  I kept thinking I must be getting soft, that I used to tolerate the summer heat better. I always, if begrudgingly, went for long runs in the high heat and humidity. But I checked the running logs, and this season is indeed unique. For me, 95 feels a lot like 85 until after the first 10 miles.  Then, well, my feet just turn to stone.   Short distances may be fine, but when you go long in the heat week after week, it just takes lots and lots of energy and fluids and recoup time, and well, for me–the joy–out of the long run. That, and well, I guess I personally just don’t have the constitution for it. It would seem there is no Badwater in my future (but, well, maybe an Arrowhead ; )  ).

It’s been a cruel summer for me in more ways than one; a summer of compromises and set-backs and falling short on training. But in some ways, so far, they all have proven themselves to be pay dirt.

I have a couple of good, long mountain runs looming in that distance that is for me yet but a fuzzy idea of what will be November, the MMTR and the JFK, and the fear of one of them drove me to some early overtraining on hills. This aggravated a tendon in my foot; a tendon before which I didn’t even know I had. From what I have read this tendon is a fine example of poor design in the body.  It said “hello”  in the form of Peroneal tendonitis, a way that like a pesky relative could not be ignored and went on demanding constant attention and refusal to let me run for a good three weeks. Then, after much bicycling and a little kayaking and very little walking, and heavens, NO running, it saw fit to say abruptly: “Mmmm. Okay! You can walk and run again.” And just like that it stopped its screaming as if it had never hurt.  So after the end of July and beginning of August’s 6 accumulated pounds and 400 miles of mind-numbing stationary bicycling, eyes glued to the Tour de France, I gingerly climbed back onto the treadmill and cautiously jogged a few snail miles.  And even that tiny taste brought a tear and an ear-to-ear grin. I was once again reminded just how precious and valuable running is to me–even treadmilling–and what a gift to be able to do it at all–something I will never again take for granted.  (Until of course, the long miles will cause some other part of the anatomy to scream aloud. Here’s hoping what I have learned will keep that in check.)

What I learned was how to listen far more carefully than ever before to my body. Sure, I have had other injures and this lesson before. Sure, it’s been drilled into my head in every other running article to “always listen to your body.” But in that slow and painful climb back up from a mere three weeks off, I learned more than any previous injury, race or training regimen has ever taught me. There are different types and levels of listening. This time, I really dug deep and tuned in, and found that there was a lot being said that I had never before heard: muscle weaknesses and tension in places I hadn’t been aware of, how to really relax my body and my breath, and to breathe to maximum capacity and in coordination with movements, ways to adjust my form and stride that increased running economy and decreased impact.  Intense focus and running at the much slower pace allowed me make minute adjustments in form and stride that I never knew I could.  And I could take this relaxed form up to much higher speeds. It was like I found a whole new extra set of controls. But this was the least of it.

There was such a sense of heightened awareness–of being fully present, of fully being.  To be present in running is something that is almost a given in the outdoor environs, but it has more to do with being immersed in the surroundings, of becoming one with the environment. This was a going within; a deep meditation that really awakened me to things going on of which I had not previously been aware.

Running for me is the gift that keeps on giving, and I saw this as yet another gift of running, and I marveled at how the practice could teach one so much about it through its absence.

So not so much was lost in the mid-summer cease-run after all, and as a glorious finale to this summer of no running, slow running, intense listening and outdoor deprivation, I was given this marvelous opportunity of a trail run with the fabulous Reston Runners: good friends, new and old, who share in the joy of running. On a favorite stretch of mountain trail in the most perfect sunny, clear, cool breezed, weather we tested and trained our bodies and minds for this Fall’s JFK, smiled, laughed and afterward picnicked.

Recharged now, mentally at least, I am ready to tackle the challenges ahead; those blessed mountains that loom in the distance. I don’t know how it will be. Will they make me or break me? But I’m embracing them early-on, and either way, to prepare now, I feel all I need are a few more stony trails up and down a mountainside, and well, maybe afterward a good massage.

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