Off-season highs and lows

But I don’t want to go for a run

(stolen from this post)

The thing about the off-season is finding a balance between taking the appropriate time off from running and making sure not to lose all fitness, passion, and routine. It’s something I’m still working on – and something that involves a lot of listening to my body, and my mind.

I’m still running unplugged a lot, or at least not concerning myself with pace, but a few exceptions came up recently. And the results were mixed.

Last Friday was our first “summer Friday” at work, where if we bank enough time earlier in the week, and deadlines allowing, we can head out at 1 pm. Since we had a nice cold front rolling through – it was breezy, mid-50s, and overcast – I headed for the trails in Frick Park. It started out great: within the first mile and a half, I saw a beautiful doe maybe 10 or 15 feet off the trail. I paused my Garmin (brought only to track distance since I wasn’t sure what route I’d take) and we watched each other for a couple of minutes, her ears swiveling like satellite dishes, honing in on every noise. She seemed unbothered by me, even moving a little closer at a point, nostrils flaring. I noticed her abdomen looked pretty swollen for such a lean beast – probably time for babies soon! A few moments later, she leaped gracefully and silently away into the brush.

She was pretty much this close. And I wish I’d had a camera with me!

After that, as the path turned uphill, my mood went downhill. I struggled on some climbs, taking unapologetic walk breaks (well, mostly. Even if the off-season it’s hard not to beat myself up for what I may perceive as giving up). But my tummy felt off, and the work week had built up on me (lots of deadlines). I was relieved when I got back to my car, and disappointed that I had had such a lousy run. It could have been anything, but I’m sure at least part of it was residual work stress, not to mention the previous day’s brutal track workout.

On Sunday, with NF in town for the holiday weekend (he was moving out of his apartment and put stuff in storage. Another good workout: packing and moving boxes), we planned a weekend run with friends and Ragnar teammates from last year, Tim and Alys. I got to do part of a long run with them in the fall when NF was recovering from a mild ankle sprain during marathon training, but this was the first time we got a real double-date run in.

Problem was, I still had the rotten taste of Friday’s run in my mouth, and we were heading out to run at Frick again – Tim and Alys live very near the park. It took a lot of arm-twisting and convincing on NF’s part to pry me out of bed, telling me pace didn’t matter, that we’d have fun, that there was zero pressure, that I would feel better once we were out there. It was also mid-50s, full sun, and beautiful. I had to get out there.

From the very first step, I felt fantastic. We stayed clustered together for a while, my Garmin on my wrist ignored, just tracking the total distance and beeping its splits to itself. We did a lot of chatting, and eventually paired off girls and guys (girls leading, natch). We got onto Nine Mile Run for a bit, with a little time on Duck Hollow before we turned back in, planning a six-mile-ish out-and-back. At this point, Tim was feeling pretty tired (PhD. is ass-kicking and he hadn’t had very much time to run lately) and NF was being cautious about his healing IT band, so they headed back on a shorter route, taking a walk break first, and Alys and I kept running, with me following her on an unfamiliar trail that started flat, then led to a massive climb that left us wheezing, but feeling alive.

Alys is super fast, but other than that, we’re honestly a really good match. We both love running, and really gutting it out, and running together, I could feel that we were quietly raising each other’s competitive hackles. I’m bad at hills, but every hard climb we came up against, she just leaned into, and I matched her stride for stride, easing my arm carriage and relaxing into it. It worked! Until the last climb, it felt great! And the last climb probably still felt better than it would have had I been alone. But even with each of us pushing – her mostly pushing me – I didn’t even need to tell her when I needed to slow up. I would go silent, unable to respond in conversation, and just slightly pull up on the pace, and she fell right in step with me once more. A perfect running partner.

Okay, so we’re not exactly like Kara and Shalane. I mean, she’s blonde and I’m brunette, but that’s mostly where it ends. 😉

We emerged from the park onto sidewalk and I was briefly disoriented, then realized we were back on Braddock. We snuck up on the boys,who had just begun to worry, wrapping up at about 6.4 miles.

Tuesday I got a surprise run: I had a long work day and figured I’d miss pilates, but was relieved when I got out right at 5 (I’d started at 7, so no morning run). Then of course pilates was cancelled, so I went on a pretty hot, but short, easy run: two miles on a familiar route, no Garmin, in 85*. I was bathed in sweat after, but it was pleasantly breezy and doable, especially for a run so short.

Thursday was another story. I had planned on a fun, tune-up tempo run to remind my legs how to maintain speed for this weekend’s 5K. Dressed in my clearly-laundry-day-saving-cutest-run-outfits-for-the-weekend mismatched best, I headed outside a little after 6. It was warm – high 60s already – and very humid – high 90s. And the air had that…smell. That dank, smoky smell of a day that is going to be absolutely brutal. It was a very familiar scent, but for some reason I disregarded this warning sign – and the fact that this went hand-in-hand with it being an air quality alert day.

Ninety seconds into the run, I stopped: on the side of the road was a tabby cat, splayed out, having bit hit by a car. I burst into tears. Being a cat owner myself, it was not the best way to start my day. I pulled myself together and kept on with my warm up, trying to recreate my previous excitement about running hard.

But comfortably hard never settled in – it just felt hard. Not a half mile in, I stopped to wheeze. I got caught at a lot of lights (sometimes because I wanted to), and quit more than once. My splits were good, but I honestly didn’t earn them. I walked part of my cooldown and began to resign myself to the fact that this tempo was a horrible idea: I felt dehydrated and slightly underfueled, but the weather was mostly to blame. Pro-tip: check the alerts when checking the weather; don’t try your first tempo in a month on a bad air quality day.

Tomorrow is the 5K – I’m waiting for NF to get back from work now and we’ll head to packet pickup – and it looks tiny, maybe 100 people. The course looks flat and fast, and is right along the river, which is something I love. There’s something magical about running right next to water, especially a river. I’m looking forward to a fun, relaxed, but speedy race experience. Sunday we’ll do a long-ish (maybe 6 miles) run on one of NF’s favorite paths.

And next week? Well, I may go back to Garmin-less for another couple weeks. Or just wait for my body to acclimate. The heat is just starting, and marathon training is a month or so away. Bring it on.

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I'm a 35-year-old writer and runner. This is my running blog.

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