Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wildlife, Winds, and Wicked Good Sunsets

I wanted to post this on Sunday, but then I got the horrible, awful news about my friend Faith dying from Hodgkin's lymphoma, the same type of blood cancer that I had 10 years ago. So I wrote about Faith losing her fight, which still seems unbelievable to me. Then, Monday was my friend Nicki's fifteenth anniversary of her life-saving bone marrow transplant, so I had to write about that yesterday. So I am posting this Tuesday about some unique training for the half-marathon.

Saturday, I had to leave our TNT Silent Mile training after just 1.5 miles to get to a 2PM meeting in Sandbridge. With the Shamrock Half Marathon just three weeks away, and me feeling ill prepared for it, I needed to get in 12 miles today. So after the meeting, I left about 4:20 to start out a training run. It was a beautiful clear day, with the temperature around 50 degrees at the start, but with incredible winds. My original plans were to run down to the wildlife refuge visitor center - 2 miles away - and then a mile more into the refuge to the point where the dike trail is blocked for the season. Turning around and returning would give me six miles. Then I would run north along the beach road for three more miles, and turn around to get in 12 miles. That was my plan. But when I got to the point in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge where the dike trail should be closed, imagine my surprise when it was open! So, change in plans - keep running to False Cape State Park. I've hiked into there before but never run.

I was moving pretty smoothly at first, cruising down the refuge road, a very strong wind to my right rear. Running about 80% of the distance, my pace is around an 11:15 mile. This is less than half the speed of a world-class marathoner. So I am going to have some catching up to do if I plan on setting my world-record in the marathon in the near future. As I moved along, I didn't see any wildlife here other than a belted kingfisher, but I sure enjoyed the scenery, like these stunted oaks.
Once I got to my assumed turn around point where the dike trail gate is normally closed in the winter and realized that I could just keep on running, I started to see wildlife. The winds were incredible, and all the ducks and other waterfowl seemed on edge. I saw dozens of mallards and this huge flock of American coots, some egrets, a great blue heron, and a couple of cormorants. The views are always so pleasant in the refuge, with marshes, bays, little stands of trees, and sand dunes on the ocean side of the dike trail.

By the time I reached False Cape State Park, it was fast coming up on 5:30. I had covered 5.3 miles from the start of my run. I could keep going to the state park visitor station, which would add 1.6 miles round trip. But if I did that, I would be coming out of the refuge for miles in the dark, which technically is not legal. So I decided to turn at this point, realizing that I would be in the dark no matter what for about 20 minutes even so. I figured that the 10.6 miles, plus the 1.5 miles running in the morning at the TNT Silent Mile, would give me 12 miles for the day - my training goal.

It was a really tough trip out. I was running into a stiff 25-35 knot wind coming out of the northwest as I ran mostly north. It knocked the snot out of me, with the wide open wetlands! Now and then, a little stand of trees gave a much appreciated wind break, though. The temperature was dropping, I had no warm hat or gloves, and no fleece. So I was genuinely chilled as I moved along into the brisk wind. I used to sail in a past life, cruising with joy along the rugged Maine coast in my 23 foot sloop. I would have hated to have been sailing in this kind of wind!

My pace kept slowing, and I probably dropped to a 12.5 minute average pace on the way out (including some time for photos, to slow to see watch deer, and to stop to see wildlife and the sunset) as I started taking longer walk breaks. I was tired, cold, and wind blown. I was also feeling some chafing. I'd brought my body glide down to the beach with me, but had forgotten to smear any on before running. And I didn't have a man's sports bra (two bandaides) with me, so had to chafe a little.

On the way out, still about 3.5 miles from getting back to the start, I was treated to an amazing sunset. I've posted photos below. The last mile or so of my training was in total darkness, which can be soothing, except when I startled a great blue heron in the dark just feet from me. I jumped a bit as it crashed into flight. I was tired as I came down the stretch, and probably walked nearly as much as I ran for the last mile. I felt like I had run uphill for the whole way back, even though it is flat as a pancake, because of the tremendous headwinds.

Sometimes I am a little hard on myself when running. It seems really difficult this time around. But thinking rationally, I had a rough last year in which I did almost no running. I had foot surgery 13 months ago. I had plantar fasciitis just after the surgery healed that lasted for months, often feeling like someone was driving a nail into my heel with every step. Even when I walked the Komen 3-Day in September, my left foot hurt with every stride for nearly 60 miles, though the pain was much less than before. So maybe I should cut myself a break. Hell, I may not get a personal record in three weeks at the Shamrock, but I have gone from almost no running for over a year to trying to get ready for 13.1 miles in just a few months. I know that 13.1 miles may seem short if you are in a car, but on foot, trying to run, it is a good long way to go. So just being able to do this race is worth something, even if I am slower than I wanted, as my training Saturday proved all too much. After all, my reason for plunking down 100 bucks to run the Shamrock Half Marathon was not to win the race, but to celebrate 10 years of surviving cancer this April. So in that sense, I can crawl to the finish line next month and it will still be a victory over cancer.

Here are the photos of the sunset:

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