Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

04 February 2014

A Run To Remember

"I have given you an example" (Jn 13:15a). Exemplum enim dedi vobismy new episcopal motto. As someone once said, "Everyone is my teacher. Some teach me what to do; others, what not to do."

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Mondays are my day off. If I don't have the hospital beeper, I usually--eventually--go home to Saint Clair to visit my mother.

For the past ten weeks or so, I have been following Hal Higdon's "Intermediate 1" marathon training plan, the same one I used to train for the Via Marathon last September. There is another 26.2 in my sights: the Two Rivers Marathon in the Pike County town of Lackawaxen.

Unless you live in Florida or points south, you have been experiencing a very rough winter. I don't think a week to ten days has gone by without a few new inches of snow and/or ice. Our schools have all but run out of scheduled snow days; at this rate they may end up going to school in July!

The Weather Channel app said that the 19605 would get 2 to 4 inches of snow on Monday. I don't think we had any less than 8 inches.

So this was a perfect day for a run; and not just a "base mileage" run of, at this point in the schedule, five miles: rather, a "long run" of thirteen miles, sandwiched between an 18 last week and a 20 next week.

My friend and occasional coach Joe Muldowney, of "Running Shorts" fame, suggests that runners in training for a race consult the long-range weather forecast for the best possible day for a long run.

Not I!

Almost invariably I save my long runs for Mondays, as they can take as long as three hours to complete, not including prep and cleanup. I think it's better not to take all that time away from the parish. Then again, there's no virtue in taking it away from visits home. Most of the time, I do get some quality time with Mom, which, people tell me, I'd better enjoy while I have her. No argument there!

With the snow that was steadily falling since the early hours of the morning and giving no sign of surcease until after lunch, most sane people would have stuck to the treadmill today.

Not I!

Long pants, hooded sweatshirt, and trail shoes hastily stuffed into my bag, I headed up Route 61 amid a veritable slushfest. The traffic light in Shoemakersville turned yellow when I was still a ways off. I applied the brake, but kept sliding with no prospect of stopping at the intersection. Thank God nobody was near me. A Channel 69 News car was parked in the lot of the former Chinese Buffet, with a camera set up. I hope they got some good footage.

Where would I go for this run? As I approached Hamburg I decided to park at a familiar spot: the Kernsville Dam, the starting point of the Bartram Trail--six flat, scenic miles that terminate near Auburn at an abandoned railroad bridge.

Pulling into the parking area already was a challenge, so I deemed I was none too smart to be following through with this venture. When I opened the car door, the snow was almost up to the base of the door. From the first steps I felt like I was running with the steel-toed boots my father used to wear to work. I had to accept that my turnover was going to be slow. If I tried to compensate by kicking up my legs, it would only sabotage my already lackluster form and deplete my energy. Oh, I forgot my fuel belt and energy gel...

In the first mile I took notice of the snow-covered trees. How they glistened: a truly picturesque moment! The scene got a bit scary, however, when branches and whole trees graced the path like gauntlets. I couldn't exactly leap over them like a gazelle, but I'm happy to say I didn't trip over any of them. The worst ones were at the beginning. On an out-and-back course, however, it means that they were also at the end, by which point I'd have a harder time hurdling over them.

Several times I had myself convinced that I was going to cut this run short. "I'll turn around now, and make it a 10K. That's not too bad." But I kept on, and figured, "I've been at it this long--I might as well keep going." But every mile out would mean another mile back: would I feel so eager to do 13 when I reached 5?

By mile 5, I was further saddled with snow. It was now clear that I wore the wrong pants for this occasion. Loose-fitting, with drawstrings at the ankles, they scooped up the snow as I trudged along. It was starting to stick, and every step accrued more to my account. Every quarter-mile or so, I had to grab the legs and shake off the snow, which clung to me like leeches. I thought, I can't put up with this nonsense for another six or seven miles--but what else can I do?

The turn-around point on the Bartram Trail is a fence, without which one would descend to certain death. I usually tag that fence, smacking it like the hand of a teammate after scoring a point. I did so today, but this time asking for its intercession. On my way back, I noticed that the footprints I'd left earlier were at least halfway refilled with fresh snow.

In the middle of mile 7 I looked down at my legs and noticed that they swelled into snowy ham hocks. Instead of shaking my pant legs, this time I stopped and rolled them up to my knees; but as soon as I resumed running, down they went, ready to inflate once again. Fresh out of ideas and patience, I did what anyone who was crazy enough to run 13 miles in this confounded weather would do: I removed my pants and draped them around my neck like a stole. Might as well let the snow brush against my bare legs. It figured, too, that the wind would start kicking up. At one point every branch in the next tenth of a mile decided to divest its flakes, as if the trees were starring in a Head-and-Shoulders commercial. For all of this, however, my scrawny legs didn't feel nearly as cold as I thought they would. Fortunately for me, and prudently for them, nobody else graced the trail to see (or hear!) my startling display.

Since this was a 6-mile stretch, I could have called it a run, if indeed it was worthy of the name, at mile 12; but the schedule said 13--and what the hell, I've gone this far--so I turned around for a victory lap. If you know the course, you know that there's a bridge about .7 mile into it. At the threshold of the bridge I turned around, and finished with all that was within me...running on fumes.
Screen shot from my Nike+ account. You'd swear I did this just for the story.
I took a few minutes to stretch, and to brush off the snow that had accumulated on my car in those two hours. I attribute my exodus from that parking space, and, for that matter, the entire morning, to my guardian angel.

In the past few months I had whittled down my average pace by two seconds because of speed work and the overall faster times that usually result from it. Thanks to Old Man Winter, however, those gains have been reversed.

Did I mention that I've been feeling something amiss in my left instep since last Wednesday? Since May 2012 pain has been migrating from spot to spot around the lower half of my body. It has found a couple of reliable places to lodge, despite receiving plenty of eviction notices from stretches, foam rollers, ibuprofen tablets, etc. By Sunday the discomfort significantly decreased, convincing me that it was all right to run 8 yesterday and 13 today. As of this typing I feel considerably better than I expected. A doctor's visit may yet be in the works, but perhaps it will be a psychiatrist.

Today a priest-friend and fellow runner tagged me and a handful of others with this photo:
Who's joining my militia to kill this rat-bastard?
That's just about how much time remains, if I don't first email the race coordinator to rescind my registration, or really injure myself. I'd get to decide on the former, but the latter would come against my will. I certainly don't wish injury upon myself (contrary to what you may be thinking), but at this stage, a doctor's strident recommendation would come as a relief. With my luck, on the Ides of March NEPA would get 15" of snow and ice, causing the cancellation of the race. I'd be tempted to tromp 26.2 around the church that morning, just to get it out of my system. Duly forewarned, one of you can tip off 69 News so they can get some good footage.

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