Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hi my name is James and I’m a run-a-holic

How do I know this? I proved it early this morning. I had gone to bed at the normal hour after a productive but not too stressful day. But around 3:30 in the morning I awoke to the playful growling of my cairn terrier, Scout. He needed out and must have subtly been trying to wake me for quite a while because by the time I got him downstairs he went immediately. Twenty minutes later I was back in bed staring at the ceiling unable to get back to sleep. And off my mind went, racing through my to-do list for the following day. It also took time to wonder, “hey, why am I wasting time in bed right now, knowing I’ll never get back to sleep?”

My mind does this every once in a while; usually around 4 in the morning. Don’t ask me why. As usual, the urge to get out of bed was winning. It’s very persuasive. While the rational part of my brain was trying to get to sleep while organizing the action items for the next day, the irrational part was scheming. It likes to play “what if” with the rational part of me. I’m not supposed to be running hills right now as I still have a twinge in my quad, a recovering IT band and weak hamstrings. And it’s less than two weeks until the final Rock n Roll Marathon of the year in Las Vegas. My rational priorities are recovery and preparation for that event – and the prep is mostly easy, flat runs.

But the irrational part of my brain knows my weaknesses are hills and the unknown. And it prays on these weaknesses. Living in the San Carlos hills I’m surrounded by awesome hill running. My all time favorite is Water Dog Park and it’s up the road to the North. South is Edgewood Park with its glorious views and awesome roundabout trails. South and west are Pulgas Ridge, Canada Road and at the end of Edgewood Road a fire road I’m dying to try, that heads up the hills to Skyline Road.

It didn’t use any of these to tempt me this morning. Instead it said, “Look, I know you don’t want to do any hills so what if we just run along the Crestview ridge. We’ll take it down to Hallmark, turn onto Ralston and then we can go to Sawyer Camp and watch the sun rise. Awesome, huh?!”

The rational side was intrigued. We have run Sawyer Camp many times and it’s a fantastic destination but we had never run to Sawyer from home. It’s mostly flat and I love running in the early morning before the sun is up. The quiet neighborhoods, the occasional deer wandering the streets and the beautiful city lights make for a tremendous setting. Plus Scout and Annie were sleeping hard and wouldn’t be bugging me to go out until 6:30 or so. Ok, I’m in.

So I quietly stepped into our closet, pulled out some fall-appropriate running gear: Adidas running pants, Nike running shorts and technical shirt and socks and tip toed out of the bedroom. When I got downstairs, I listened to hear if I had disturbed anyone’s sleep and all was quiet. I hit the hall closet for a running jacket, Under Armor knit running beanie, disposable running gloves and my trusty Mizuno Wave Musha 2 running shoes. I strapped on my iPod and was about to head out the door when my wife’s voice entered my head. The much more rational half of our family had only one recommendation for me after my last 4am run -- perhaps I should wear a reflective vest if I’m going to run in the dark? So I took my hand off the doorknob and went to the garage to dig out a reflective vest from the box containing all our gear for The Relay (next one is April 30th. Who’s in?).

All gear on, I tapped the iPod wheel and guided it to the Ultramarathon Man audiobook and we were off. I had been listening to Dean Karnazes’ book, off and on, for a few months now and didn’t have too much left. As I left our cul de sac, Dean was approaching the South Pole to complete his marathon in Antartica. His mask had frozen solid, his cheeks and nose were beginning to show signs of frostbite and his shoes were sinking in the snow. But off in the distance was a red and white striped barber pole marking the bottom of the Earth. He spent a month waiting for the right conditions to do this to his body. I know what you are thinking. No, I’m not that crazy. Addicted but still sane.

Anyways, Dean had recovered from his frostbite and was preparing for his next great challenge, to run The Relay by himself when I hit the end of Hallmark Road in Belmont. I turned onto Ralston and was amazed at its lack of traffic, the calm stillness around me, and the fact that it was still very dark. Streetlights were plentiful though, so I could see where I was going. I headed north toward San Mateo and Sawyer Camp. As I crossed over Highway 92 I looked up to my left and saw the county buildings that lie just up the hill from here and realized I had never been up there, and was curious. So I ran up the road to where they were and found a nice piece of architecture. I now know why I hadn’t ever been up there because I hadn’t the need (and I hope I never do) to visit the county court and lock up. There’s a youth camp and a separate camp for girls up there too, along with the elections office and a motor pool but I don’t need those services either.

Still it was fun to see something new and the main county building is beautifully designed. I was surprised, though, to see cars parked in the visitor spots at this hour. There were a lot of cars here overall, but visitors? I started thinking that maybe people drove to court and it didn’t go so well. Let’s get out of here.

I returned to Polhemus Road and started toward the Crystal Springs Shopping Center and two things occurred to me. First, it was still very early. Sunrise wasn’t for another two hours and if I ran to Sawyer Camp I’d have to hang around a long time to see the sunrise. And they really don’t want you in there before sunrise and Crystal Springs Road doesn’t have the widest shoulders, nor any streetlights. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Second, I had passed a road on the right as I went down Polhemus that I hadn’t been down before and wondered where it went. Come to think of it, I had driven up De Anza road, which goes from the shopping center to Highway 92 but never continued up the road past the freeway. I wonder if these two roads are connected? Let’s find out.

So up De Anza I ran. As I passed the shopping center, Dean was in Marin about 40 miles into The Relay and feeling good. He was being chased by his family in a rented RV. This is how I remember him from The Relay the first year I ran it. In the audiobook I was listening to, he was running it for the first time. The year I ran into him, he had tacked on a few more miles. That year he ran from his house in Marin to Calistoga then ran the whole 199 miles. I passed him that year as we were both struggling up highway 9. For me it was the last of my three legs and I was trucking up the hill. He was, understandably, struggling as it was about mile 214 for him. Dean: crazy. Me: I know what crazy looks like and that’s not me.

I crossed under highway 92 and kept on De Anza charting new territory. I always get this excited feeling when I hit a trail or road I’ve never been on because it’s a new experience and kind of a thrill not knowing where you are. Granted I’ve lived on the San Francisco peninsula for over 15 years so it’s not like I was going to get lost but I really didn’t know if this road would lead me back to Polhemus, then to Ralston. But I was eager to find out.

In the darkness lit only by the occasional streetlight and the city lights bouncing off the cloud cover, the hill was climbing in the correct direction. I started to pick up the pace a bit when it began to rain. It was a light misting and felt good as I was beginning to regret the running jacket, and the beanie was starting to get warm. I’d be glad I brought them about 10 minutes later though when the skies opened up on me.

This happened at an appropriately biblical moment, I thought, as when the rain came pouring down, De Anza had turned into Glendora and come to stop at the Laurelwood Shopping Center. This was definitely not taking me back to Ralston. I was now deep in the heart of San Mateo. Glendora crossed Hillsdale Road. One way would take me to the College of San Mateo where our Team in Training group sometimes works out. The other way wound down towards the mall, and that way I knew how to get home. But it would be a much longer and hillier run than I had planned for. And down came the rain.

I was feeling good this morning and had no choice but to run on. Dean was in San Francisco now, running past a guy dressed to the nines who was walking along the relay path at around 2am. Both were surprised to see each other. The dandy was covered in lipstick and was ending his night. The other was covered in sweat, carrying a bottle of Pedialyte and was more than 24 hours into his run. I looked at my watch – 5:50am. How long was this run going to be?

Running along Hillsdale during the day is a treat, as it’s a long climb with pretty homes lining it on both sides. I was thankfully going down it and in the pale, rainy dawn it looked very peaceful and welcoming. I ran past Laurelwood Park and across a few streets heading West wondering if any of them would take me back to the west end of Ralston which would be an easier way home than what lay before me. I decided to try my luck at Laurel Creek Road but it dead-ended. Rather than run back to Hillsdale I turned and took Fernwood. It was heading roughly the same direction as Hillsdale and I hadn’t run along it before. New. Exciting. Lost.

My instinct was a good one as Fernwood ran into Alameda de las Pulgas taking a few feet off where Hillsdale would have put me. I started up the Alameda when a sinking feeling came over me.

It wasn’t an emotional response to fear or doubt. No, it was a feeling that my running pants were sinking past my waist. I hadn’t chosen the best gear for pouring down rain and now the Adidas pants were weighed down with water. I stopped and redid the drawstring to keep them at my waist and ran on. As I adjusted, I realized that the running jacket I chose wasn’t a rain jacket either and the cold droplets was seeping into me from every direction. The beanie was double-lined and was keeping me dry and warm which was great. I pulled off my soaked gloves, stuffed them in my pockets just as I crested a street corner and dove my running shoes into a large puddle that had newly formed. Great. It was too dark to see it coming and dodge around it. Now my feet, too, were soaked.

Alameda at this point starts a slow climb into Belmont. I’d run this stretch before and biked it during the annual Tour de Peninsula so I knew the way. I tried to stay on the sidewalks but they came and went as I ran. Sometimes they were there along the right side, then ended, then started again on the left. I didn’t feel like playing rabbit and crossing the road unnecessarily so I stuck to what Coach Terry had taught me – run at traffic. This way if they don’t seem to see you, you certainly see them and can take action to get out of the way. Run with traffic and you risk a blow to the back that ends your day quick.

Alameda emerged at Ralston and as I waited for the walk signal I checked my watch. It was 6:30am. The sky was beginning to turn light grey as the day began. Scout and Annie would be up and wandering around the bedroom about now. I better get a move on.

I crossed Ralston and had two choices: climb it back up to Hallmark Drive and go home the way I came, or go straight and face the trek up Club Drive to home. Club is notorious as it’s a long steady, steep climb to Crestview. I’ve come to view it as a fitness test: make it all the way to the top without stopping and I’m ready for my next marathon. I hate running the same way twice, so I opted for Club. Bring on the fitness test.

As I started up Club I was feeling good. The heart was pounding a bit more and my lungs were filling. Dean, by this time was about 40 miles from the finish and was ascending highway 9. My brain immediately jumped to that fateful day in 2003 when he and I were ascending the same stretch. As Dean climbed 9, I climbed Club. Two runners; side by side.

He was downing Pedialyte and peanut butter and honey sandwiches like there was a run on the adolescent ward kitchen and his legs were only mustering a slow shuffle, he revealed. I was feeling strong, just as I had in 2003 but neither of us felt like looking up the hill any further than a few feet in front of us.

As Club crossed Witheridge Road, Dean and I were neck and neck. I was tiring from the endless hill and he, since he was writing in the past tense and thus skipping the boring stuff, was nearing the top of his. Poppy Lane went by and took with it most of my remaining strength. I slowed to a walk. I needed about 30 seconds of recovery time, then ran on to the top of the hill. When I reached Crestview I felt elated as it was nearly 7am and I was less than a mile from home. Dean crossed the finish line in Santa Cruz as I did the same. I stretched a bit reflecting on a great, but unexpectedly long run. The rain had stopped as I was climbing Club and it was shaping up to be a beautiful morning.

The run turned out be to just shy of a half marathon – 12.7 miles. If you care to repeat my adventure, you can find the route here. Who needs sleep when you can have an experience like this to start your day?

See y’all at the Turkey Trot.


Maha Feghali said...

Love it! So inspiring to read, thanks James!

Jhonne said...

Indeed, you had a great blog. I love reading this because I'm a run-a-holic too. I would always love to used my marmot jacket.