Running Mailman

Earlier today I decided to do some half-mile intervals around my block (it’s a school day, and I didn’t want to go to the high school track only to find it already taken).

So, I threw on my manly running tights, a couple of shirts, a hat, and regrettably, no gloves. And for speedwork I of course use my trusty Five Fingers (it just occurred to me- why did they not name the shoes Five Toes? Or, more accurately, Ten Toes, with the added bonus of an alliteration?).

I warm up a bit and then head off (as usual, way too fast). And, since I was going back and forth along the same stretch of road, I passed a  mailman on his route each time. After my last interval I was walking in circles in my post-speedwork pose (hands on the hips, slightly bent over, taking deep breaths- you know the one), when the mailman I had passed came around the corner and saw me.

The conversation that ensued went something like this:

“That was quite a pace you were running, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that fast,” the mailman remarked.

“Yeah, well, it’s only for speedwork, not long runs,” I replied.

“I’m a runner myself,” said the mailman, “but I only do an eight minute mile for my long runs.”

“Yeah, me too, for long runs…”

You get the idea.  The conversation then went to my Five Fingers, which were new to him, then on to racing, and finally to him wondering why the heck I wasn’t wearing gloves (“They were dirty,” I said, as though that were really an excuse).

My point being that all runners have a connection. My conversation with the mailman would not have struck up if he wasn’t a runner himself; even if he commented on my pace without being a runner himself, the conversation would have ended much sooner than it did.

It’s great to know when I’m talking to a runner that he will appreciate what non-runners merely scoff at, will get the lingo, and understand the urge to run.

But running is more than a topic that is discussable with other runners; it’s truly a bond.

My Latest Not-Too-Bright Running Idea

I wanted to do a speed workout tonight, and nothing could get in my way. Not the fact that I was exhausted or that it was the middle of the night. Or the fact that it was hot and sticky outside. Or the nontrivial issue that my running shoes were quite literally torn apart after a recent trail running experience (coming soon to the blog).

The first problems were more inconveniences to me than serious obstacles; I could put them aside if I was determined enough. But the problem of my sneakers was a bigger issue, and I gave it some thought. I knew I could still run in them; last night I ran 7 miles (accidentally: I missed the turnoff in the dark that would have made it 5.8 miles instead) at a decent clip in these very shoes. But speedwork is different, and I knew that shoes in such disrepair would only slow me down.

Given the facts, what would you do? Accept a slow speed workout? Not do it at all? Well, bravo, you are a sensible person. I, however, am not.

When faced with this quandary, I saw only one viable solution: Run barefoot.

I’ve considered purchasing the Vibram Five Fingers; I have no abnormal obsession with the conventional running shoe. I’ve been told that barefoot running is good for your form and healthy for your feet. So, I figured, why not give it a try now?

So, with remarkably little preparation, I was ready to go (most time spent preparing for a summer run is on the shoes, after all). And so I went. Out the door and onto shockingly uncomfortable concrete. I headed to the street for a softer surface and rationalized my barefoot running by telling myself it’s beneficial to have a nice slow warm-up. Considering my pace, that must have been one super-beneficial warm-up.

I reached the track and expected to feel relief as my feet land softly onto the lush, wet (did I mention it had just poured?), shock-absorbing—

—disappointingly hard track.

It hurt. But, this was my choice, and I was going to stick to it. Well, the running barefoot on the track lasted only a couple of laps: soon I was only doing the sprinting on the track itself, and everything else on the inner grass.

About halfway through, upon stretching my quads, I looked at my feet. They seemed a little worse for wear. In fact, one of them seemed to have a deep gash with possibly a rock or other sharp object still inside. I didn’t even notice the monster blood-blister that was forming on my big toe.

The truth is not always pretty.

I suffered through the speedwork. My splits, as you may imagine, were not great, but surprisingly not that far off either. But my stupidity tonight taught me a valuable lesson: Don’t run on a wet track at midnight without shoes or socks. Stick to the grass.

If there are any Calvin and Hobbes fans out there, such a lesson may remind you of one of Calvin’s self-taught, ridiculously specific lessons (I believe it concerned deranged mutant snow goons).

As a testament to my stupidity, an open cut on my toe just stuck to the floor and I had to yank my foot up, creating a despicable squelching noise. And on such a lovely note, I leave you.

The Eternal Battle Over the Inner Lane

Don’t you just hate it when you go to the track to do some speedwork and an old lady is using the inside lane to walk?

I mean, first of all, I’ve never really understood walking at a track in the first place. The only reason I use the track is for speedwork, where the track is useful for the distances, but does a walker really keep track of their 400-meter splits? And isn’t it ridiculously boring? Why not go somewhere more interesting for a walk?

I suppose they want some idea of how far they walk (I would show them a site like mapmyrun or USATF routes, but I don’t think that the age group I’m referring to is all that computer savvy), but I still can’t understand it.

There’s nothing I can do about walkers at the track; it’s one of those things I’ve just come to accept. But what I refuse to accept is why they use the inner lane. I mean, they’re clearly going to exercise, why not go a little further by using an outer lane? It’s not like they need the exact distances, most of them probably don’t even keep track of how many laps they do. But for some reason, again and again, a walker will be using the inner lane when I go to do speedwork. And so I have developed my own way to handle it.

Step One: The cough- As I approach the walker on the inner lane, I will cough twice to let them know I’m coming. Sometimes they move. Most of the time they don’t. If they don’t change lanes, commence Step Two.

Step Two: The close pass- Once the cough fails, I have no choice but to pass the walker on the next lane; so I pass close to the walker (speeding up, as I always do when I pass someone), nearly brushing them, and then zoom back into the inner lane after I pass. This hopefully sends the message that the rude runner wants the lane you’re walking in.

Step Three: The spit- After the pass, I always spit toward the grass on my left. I think this may be a subconscious act of trying to disgust the walker out of the inner lane, but maybe not. It’s just a weird habit of mine after I pass someone.

Step Four: The request- I have actually never had to do this yet, which surprises me. But the last thing to do, if you really want that inner lane, is to ask for it. Nicely, of course. If that doesn’t work, suck it up and take an outer lane.

Another annoying ‘walker thing’ is going in pairs or larger groups. I don’t mind that in itself (I like it for running, I don’t want to be hypocritical), but when they take up the inner lane and the next lane or two, I have in the past gasped ‘excuse me’ as I go by, which has always made the group shift a lane.

These are the ways I have learned to adapt at the track to inner lane walkers. I am sure there are other runners who are much more upfront in demanding the inner lane, and others who don’t even give it a second thought. But all I know is that it bugs the hell out of me.

How Tying My Shoes Got Me to Do Speedwork at an Obscene Time

At about 1:00 AM last night (I will refer to it ‘last night’ even though it was technically this morning), I realized I hadn’t run yet. I had planned to do speedwork, which I hadn’t done in weeks, and I really didn’t want to neglect it.

I debated with myself about going out so late. The prudent, lazy me insisted that I should forget the whole thing and climb right into bed and be done with it; after all, even if I want, I wouldn’t be very fast at 1 in the morning. And then the runner side of me whispered in my ear, ‘It’ll be fun, go for it.’ It was about the closest I’ve ever come to having to little guys on my shoulders trying to sway me to good or evil.

Well, I doubt I would bother blogging about this if I hadn’t gone.

I went. And it was great. I didn’t run all that fast, but I enjoyed it the whole time; it was very peaceful. Normally speedwork is not the most relaxing part of running, it’s too intense. But last night I was able to enjoy it, appreciate the pounding of my legs on the track, the sweat dripping off my face, the sensation of just being alive.

I believe it was Kara Goucher in a Runner’s World interview who talked about stepping back and just enjoying the act of running. Last night I did that.

I looked at a clock when I returned from the speedwork last night, and saw it was just before 2:00 AM. I laughed to myself.

I considered how close I had come to not going out. What was it, in fact, that compelled me to go? Did my runner self give better arguments than my prudent self? Hardly. What really did it was putting my running shoes on.

I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to go- so I got dressed to go to see if it felt right. By the time I tied my running shoes, I knew I was committed to going. I find this to be generally true: if you get dressed to go somewhere, 9 times out of 10 you’re going. That’s what happened last night. When I finished dressing, I figured I might as well go for the run- I mean, I was already dressed for it, wasn’t I? It’s not the most logical argument, but it works. Tying your running shoes ties you in to go for the run.

This is a good strategy for whenever you’re wavering about going out for a run, as I was last night. Before you think too much about it, quickly get dressed and tie your running shoes, and before you know it you’ll be thinking, ‘Well, since I’m already dressed…’

Believe me, it works. My run last night is testament to that.

Running Through a Thunderstorm

As I pulled on my socks and running shoes a little while ago, I heard a noise and looked up. It was a deep rumbling; not a plane, but thunder. Right before I was about to leave my house to run some 400’s and 800’s at my local track. I considered my options. It was getting dark; so I either wait for the storm to pass over and run later in the dark (not that that’s such a terrible option, it’s just that I was already ready to go), or just head out now and be a human lightning rod on the very flat and empty track.

I smiled to myself and stepped out the door.

Thankfully the storm I ran through wasn't quite this bad... (Credit: Axel Rouvin, Wikipedia Commons)

As it turns out, someone out there didn’t want me to get electrocuted today. Because when I arrived at the track, some high school sports team looked like it was taking up the whole field practicing. So I made a quick about-face and instead started a 3.5 mile loop that I often run. I was pumped up by the rumbling thunder, and started out at a quick pace, so I decided I’d do a tempo run; I’d warmed up on my way to the track, and I wanted to run fast today anyway. About a mile in, the rain started. And the thunder got louder. And the lightning brighter.

It was also around this time that I began a half-mile stretch along a railroad track. I’m not sure if it’s scientifically backed, but something about running by railroads tracks in a thunderstorm doesn’t appeal to me. I’ll just say I ran that half mile pretty quickly.

It was fun to watch cars go by as I ran on, soaked and smiling, thunder booming in the background with the sky lighting up every minute or so. The drivers must have thought I was insane. But I had fun. To be fair, I was scared at times too. When the lightning bolts looked particularly bright and when the lightning was followed almost instantly by huge claps of thunder (indicating the storm was right overhead), I jumped and picked up the pace a little more.

Running in the rain, as I’ve noted before, can be a fun activity. I run fast, and feel in tune with my body when I hit the streets in a rainstorm. Today’s thunderstorm was a special treat.