MCM Training Week 6: Return of the Hunger Beast

Can you hear it? That little rumble?

It’s the hunger beast, and it’s growling for food. It doesn’t matter that you fed it five minutes ago. It doesn’t matter if you ran five miles or fifteen miles. It wants food – right now. And if you don’t feed it, there will be consequences.

Mileage is still on the moderate side, but is edging up fairly rapidly, and we’re still in the first half of the training cycle, so it’ll only get worse from here. My only ally? Snacks. Healthy, filling, delicious snacks. And lots of them.

I’m doing my best to jump back onto the cross-training wagon, with just a few obstacles in the way. I did an arms and core workout on Monday, an easy 3(ish) miler with the boy on Tuesday, but Pilates was cancelled (read: she told us she would be absent but put in for a sub, and the gym management had no idea what was going on), so that was a real bummer. Wednesday I made my triumphant return to spin – the day before I decided I wanted to try again, and this time I was actually looking forward to it. And it paid off! I didn’t exactly bound out of bed at the 5 a.m. alarm, but I wasn’t feeling a knot of dread at the impending hour of sweat and possible boredom, so I think my time off from it may have been just enough. It was a decently full class, and while the bike I was on was kind of crappy (really had to crank it to get any kind of resistance – all those bikes have issues, though), I got in a solid workout and a great sweat.

Thursday was track day, and we had 4×1600 on tap. I was gunning for between 7:00-7:15 and was mostly in a blissful state of mental denial as we got up well before dawn and headed to the track. I was looking forward to the fact that Tess was going to be able to make it this time. Tess is really fast at short and mid-distance, though her hip won’t allow her to go farther than 6 or 7 miles usually (a feeling I am well familiar with), and has a similar competitive side to mine, so I knew it would be fun and interesting, and a very good distraction to have her there. We warmed up with five easy laps around the track before we took off.

Tess stuck behind me like a shadow for the whole of the first two repeats. Any time I thought I had lost her I’d give a quick glance  back and she was still tailing me, which kept me on pace more than I could ever believe. This was her first taste of mile repeats, so we modified the workout a bit into a ladder. After my second repeat, she did a bit of an extra jog rest period as I gunned into my third, and brought me in for the last 800 of repeat #3, which is usually when things get a little gnarly. The perfect motivation.

Repeat 4 I really wanted to crank it, and was finally starting to feel the pain – having Tess there so took my mind off of the effort that at times I was truly on a runner’s high and it felt more like tempo pace than speed, but nothing stays that way forever. Tess ducked out until the last 400, and while I had been at 7:00 pace for the final leg, she pushed me the last lap and I wrapped up a 6:46 1600. Awesome!

Friday I was a lazy butt getting out of bed – my sweetie was in Illinois visiting family so I didn’t have anyone there to motivate me to get my ass to the gym. But I made up for it with my walk commute plus a 40ish minute body weight strength workout while watching some West Wing after work.

Sunday morning, my 5:30 a.m. awoke me in the dark, alone, for my 17-mile long run. I had loaded up on my usual granola pancakes for dinner the night before, and I made a very small bowl of quick oats for breakfast (1/3 cup oats with some brown sugar cooked in water – generally avoid dairy pre-run).  I had a few moments of panic trying to find a handheld, then jammed a bunch of extra gels in there. I pocketed my iPod for later (still missing my armband) and cell phone in a fuel belt, slapped on my Road ID and Garmin, and was out the door just after 6:30.

Half a mile out the door I realized I had applied lube only to my feet and nowhere else. Too lazy to head back, I just crossed my fingers and kept going. Fortunately it was an absolutely perfect morning – mid-60s and overcast, and breezy at times. There were occasional rain drops but it never really rained.

View from the 40th Street bridge – no Pittsburgh long run is complete without bridge crossings

Pittsburgh really is runner’s paradise – there are so many trails that are well-maintained and trafficked, and you can almost never get bored. I came across lots of bikers, walkers, and other runners, mostly friendly and returning my waves and smiles and “good morning’s.” One guy near where I started on the North Side was clearly waiting for satellites to lock in, but caught up with me later and we chatted briefly. Mostly “how many miles today?” before we wished each other well and he took off.

Maybe a half mile from the Andy Warhol Bridge, which I was dying to see, another runner started to overtake me with a wave, when I asked him how many miles. He said he was also going 17, and when I said that was my mileage, he slowed down and we ran together for the next little bit. He’s training for Columbus, his sixth marathon, and was hoping for maybe a 3:15-3:20 (PR of 3:30) but wasn’t sure. We chatted about the trails, getting in these long miles alone and so early (I mentioned my running buddy was out of town so I’d been dreading it a little but it was going well so far). I was probably going to tell him to go ahead at his pace eventually but soon enough I came to my bridge and told him to enjoy his run, heading on up the stairs.

I designed this course specifically to see the result of the Knit the Bridge project, which you can read more about here. It’s an amazing project, and the studio wasn’t far from where I live so I often passed by and saw the massive squares these folks were working on to yarn bomb the bridge. I unabashedly stopped my watch for photo ops of the sight:

I hopped off the bridge into downtown, traveling all the way around the Point to see more of the finished fountain, taking five minutes to chat with a park worker about the city and my upcoming marathon.

Then it was on to Fort Pitt (bridge #3) and up to South Side where I made my way back across on Hot Metal, forgoing an out-and-back in favor of wandering around flat-ish Oakland to make up the last two miles.

Fearless bunny I encountered on South Side.
View of downtown from Hot Metal

I was starting to feel all those miles as I headed toward the Eliza Furnace trail head, with about 4 or 5 miles to go. As I neared the parking lot, I debated going all the way around or just cutting across the tracks to get to where the path picked back up. I ended up doing the former, but somehow overshot the little rocky path that heads down across the tracks, and wound up walking down a slightly steeper portion of it. A split second before it happened, I had a premonition of the rocks starting to tumble and me falling, and then it happened – luckily my ass broke my fall? I landed solidly on a rock with my tailbone and waited for a few moments to see how I felt. I knew it would be bruised and sore, and my right leg was now covered in dirt, but I didn’t seem to have done any real damage. Other than ruining my streak of not falling this year.

The last few miles went reasonably well, and I was able to kick it home the last two at goal half-marathon pace, finishing on a side street a couple blocks from my apartment for lack of a perfectly measured route. I quickly got showered and cleaned up, and began icing my rear – yesterday it looked like a thumb print, not it’s a pretty ugly purple and blue bruise, but it’s mostly okay, just a little sore when I sit or lay on it a certain way. No Pilates for me tomorrow.

The rest of the day I spent looking for and then feeding the Hunger Beast. Some of these super-long runs sap my appetite, so I pushed through a bagel and cream cheese and some eggs over easy, later sipping on a green smoothie (bunch of kale, two gorgeous peaches from a friend’s CSA, and some milk to add some more liquid). Around 3:30 I thought I should eat again, and had a 4 p.m. “lunch” of shrimp pad Thai – the Hunger Beast approved of the decision. I picked up my guy at the airport at around 7:30, and by 8:30 we were having a late dinner of ravioli with homemade pesto (CSA basil!), sun dried tomatoes, and spinach.

Now, I don’t plan on posting a food diary, pretty much ever, but it has been eye-opening to be using MyFitnessPal pretty religiously this training cycle, mostly to see just how much I need to eat after a long run, usually crammed into the late afternoon and evening when my real appetite returns.

It helps, though, that it’s still summer and there is amazingly fresh, beautiful, wonderful produce out there – not to mention that we got to take a couple of friends’ CSA last Wednesday when they were out of town. Free veggies!

Now I’m nearly wrapped with another week of training – having been working on a draft of this post for too many days during a very busy week. So I think I’ll leave you with a montage of food pictures. Because, I mean, what else is there really, in the thick of marathon training?

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

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