Today is Tuesday, March 23, 2010, and it is a good day for a run.

A great day for a run, actually; after this weekend’s cold snap, temps were back up in to the fifties and the sun was out. I did my Tuesday two-mile easy run, and enjoyed it the whole way. No interesting stories to tell, although afterward, when I was stretching in the gym, my friend/co-worker Nick was picking my brain about my run today and my running in general, because he and another co-worker had just made plans to start running outside together since it is nice out. I’ve been having more and more conversations with co-workers about running lately; probably because it is on people’s minds now that it is getting nice enough to make people want to get outside and do stuff after being inside all winter. Also, I am still actively pursuing getting people signed up for my work Crazylegs team, so I’ve been putting the bug in people’s collective ear, so to speak. Anyway, I told him I would share some courses I have laid out around work.

I of course know all my usual courses like the back of my hand now, but I was planning to map them for him to see, and it got me thinking (and grumpy) about the poor quality of maps available for that purpose around my office. Don’t get me wrong, Google Maps is an amazing thing, and it gets better all the time. But I have a love-hate relationship with it. Because the satellite images they use never get updated. And the bike trails, which I regularly run on, get updated all the time. As an example, the area by my work has a nice network of bike paths that have all been under constant improvement for the past several years. But the satellite image on Google in that area doesn’t even show the completed building that I work in. that building was under construction when I was hired, and I have been employed there for over six years now. The building has since even been expanded. But according to Google’s satellite images, it’s still just a dirt construction site. Needless to say, many of the paths don’t show up there at all. There was a big to-do in the biking community recently when everyone got excited that they added biking directions. Which, I admit, is a great thing to have. But the directions are only as good as the information they have, and they don’t have great information.

There are plenty of sources out there for mapping and measuring runs, and I have at least tried most of them. But all of them use Google’s map API for the interface. Understandable; it’s the de facto industry standard at this point. But while that means they get all the power and flexibility of Google Maps, they also get all the flaws and shortcomings. Which, I my case, puts me out of luck. This had, for a long time, driven me to use Microsoft’s Live maps (since rebranded Bing maps to go along with their re-branded search engine). It’s got a lot of things about it I dislike—not the least of which is that it’s from Microsoft—but it does have the most up-to-date imaging I have found. Still not all the paths are there, but more of them are, and it has the handy bird’s eye view feature, which helps not only because the images are more recent still, but to get some perspective on terrain and other views when paths are hidden in trees or some such.
However, one site—my favorite, in fact—gives some other options besides just the standard Google images—and one of them is the not great, but very high potential OpenStreetMap. It also knew nothing of my bike paths, but it is a wiki-map, so I promptly set up an account, and began entering them. A little learning curve to get to the point where I could add them, but as of now, at least part of the trails that I run on and which do not show up on any other mapping tool, are there.

All this and I haven’t even mentioned my eighteen-miler last Saturday. As I mentioned before, I moved the long run to Saturday last week to accommodate Anna’s plans. I was pretty nervous about it not only because of the reconfiguration of the schedule (which necessitated a drop of my usual Friday workout to get a rest day in before) but because of all the other factors—bad weather predicted; difficulty with fueling and hydrating, etc. As it turns out, none of that ended up being a significant problem. The run itself went surprisingly well. The forecast was for temps in the thirties, and snow/rain—up to several inches. What actually transpired was that Friday night and overnight in to Saturday morning, there was a light snow—maybe a couple inches, tops—fell, but when I got up, I looked out to see (much to my pleasure) that while the grassy areas had some light snow cover, all the streets, sidewalks, driveways, etc. were completely clear. There was enough retained heat in them to keep any snow from sticking. And this meant that all the trails would be clear, too.

The temperatures were moderately chilly, starting from the high twenties in the morning, but steadily rising throughout the day. By the time I was getting ready to go out, the clouds were starting to part and the sun was coming out, warming things up more. There was, however, a bit of a wind. I wore just shorts, but a long sleeve shirt and my windbreaker (which I had to bring out of a premature retirement) and gloves and a headband for my ears. The route I was taking was a vastly different one from any of my other usual routes, as it goes far out on to a regional bike trail that runs through a fairly rural and remote area south of town for a good part of it, and I had only run it once before (for last year’s eighteen –miler during marathon training). As such, I wanted to be extra prepared. I took my phone with me, as I almost never do; partly I took it because I was on call for work, and knew I would be getting a test page in the middle somewhere, but also because I was going to be away from any nearby source of assistance if I ran in to trouble. I took my Gatorade bottle, of course, but also a granola bar, two GU packets, and a salt packet. I ate a salt packet before I left, and picked up a bottle of water and a banana which I stashed about five miles or so from the finish. And finally, I brought a pair of plastic gloves (the kind Anna and I use to dye hair) just in case it got wet out there. It didn’t look like rain anymore, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

As I headed out, the first part of my route was mostly downwind and through a sheltered area, so after a while, I even got a little warm, and took off my gloves. I felt great and was just cruising along with no trouble. By the time I got five or six miles in, I was thinking this was going to be no problem at all. Part of that was the wind at my back, and the sun shining down on me; part of it was seeing other people out there running as well; but mostly I think it was the novelty of a course that I haven’t run a hundred times already. When I got somewhere around the halfway point, I hadn’t drunk much Gatorade, but I wasn’t really thirsty, and I wasn’t really hungry either, but I ate the granola bar anyway, because I figured I should. I normally would have taken the salt packet at that point too, but I just felt like I didn’t want or need it, so I didn’t have it. I know the idea of eating a packet of straight salt probably makes most people think you would never want it, but usually it goes down pretty well after you’ve been sweating for an hour and a half already. This time, though, I just felt fine.

Of course, that point is also where the trail transitions from mostly urban to mostly rural. That meant a few things—that the trees and building breaking the wind were gone; that I was going back into the wind, and that the small, rolling hills I was on turned in to long, slow inclines and declines. Those, combined with the simple fatigue of having run so far already, meant that things got more challenging. Gone were the other runners and bikers. It was just me, the thoughts in my head, and the point on the horizon I was headed towards. It wasn’t horrible. I remembered my time out there last year, and it was also on one of the last cold days before spring, with wind whipping and at that time even a bit of snow in the air. I think this time was a little better, though, as the sun was still out, warming things, and at this point one could even tell that the snow cover was noticeably fading to the point where as I approached the finish much of the areas that had been snowy in the morning were now clear. I did get so I enjoyed every downhill stretch and every grove of trees that gave respite from the wind.

My focus during this stretch (aside from singing TV theme songs in my head) was on getting to the point at which I had stashed my water and banana. Like I said, I didn’t know this course that well, so while I had vague memories of how it went, I didn’t know every twist and turn like I do on most runs. So I kept looking to the east hoping to see the spot appear. The funny thing is, when I finally got there, I just didn’t feel hungry or thirsty at all. I still had plenty of Gatorade, and while I didn’t have an upset stomach, exactly, I just didn’t feel like eating. So I just left them there and went right on past. I had a few sips of Gatorade every now and then, but I still had some left when I finished. Not sure why. Maybe I’m getting more efficient (ha ha) or maybe I just ate a lot more than I usually do before I started. Another probably significant factor is that before I left, I took two tums to avoid acid stomach, (which is something I discovered on long runs last year in training) which I suspect slowed down digestion enough to stretch what I had in my stomach over the course of the eighteen miles. The last few were tiring, but that’s to be expected. When I finished I felt strong, if fatigued.

So now I’ve got the first of three scheduled twenty-milers coming up this weekend. By now I’m gaining a lot of confidence in my ability to do the mileage, but again life’s hurdles are going to be bigger than the simple act of running for distance. Anna spent Sunday at her sister’s, and after returning, asked if it would be okay for us to spend this coming weekend with her family celebrating Easter early. Again, normally, I would find this to be a good solution to the two families/one holiday problem, but throw in a little twenty-mile run, and things get a bit complicated. The good news is I already did a twenty mile run last year when we were visiting there (then it was I believe the week after Easter that we did the off-Easter Easter) so I already have a course laid out. The bad news is that I don’t really want people to think I’m ditching the party to spend several hours on the trail. That, and the fact that while a baked ham and mashed potatoes might make a good recovery meal (sodium and protein, carbs), it probably makes a very poor pre-run meal. Also, my route is a very simple out-and-back, in an area I am not really familiar with, which doesn’t lend itself to placing fueling stops along the way. So it might mean carrying a banana ten miles or so. On the other hand, I bought a bunch of fruit leather strips to try, since they are light, fairly digestible, palatable, not bulky, and reasonably calorie-dense. We’ll see how it goes.

P.S. – Hawkeyes’ 23rd overall and third consecutive NCAA Wrestling Championship!

Easy, Long, Run | Tags: , , , ,

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