Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Road

O.K., my road isn't quite a route to uncertain destination in a post-apocalyptic world. It's a narrow road, just behind where I work, leading up into the hills. When I can run it in its entirety, I beleive, I'll be ready to run the marathon.

The Road is 9.5 miles long. It starts with a steep climb, and on this climb the road appears to have been carved out of the hillside long ago. On each side a rock face rises about 20 feet or so, and drip with wet, green moss. Above these rock faces are woods, and their overhaning branch create a green tunnel for the road. If you encounter a car at this point, you have to press against the rock face until it passes. Often the road itself is wet, and after heavy rain it's a nearly a stream.

After this initial climb, the road forks, and the fork to the right takes you into another climb. This one is a touch less steep, but by now you are breathing hard. After 100 meters or so, the road flattens, and a pastures appear on the left and right. Usually there are sheep in the field to the left.

Next there is another sharp climb, but you are rewarded at the top with a brief descent, and an open view to the hills. From here on it's rolling hills for several miles, and then a gradual descent to the road's end.


On Sunday my wife took the children to their swimming lessons, and I was free to go in to work and to get in a long run. Long-distance running takes time, and it's a challenge to carve out a chunk of this - especially with small children. Some get up extra early in the morning, but I've never been a morning runner. Still, this is a thought, as the sun rises just before 4 am here in the summer. I listened to Steve Runner's Phedippdations podcast on the drive in, dropped off some necessary work in a colleague's mail tray, and then mapped my run. I wanted to do 12 miles.

The hybrid maps on "map-my-run" were most useful. 6 miles along The Road would take me to a large stretch of woodland beyond a large hill. 5 miles would take me to a farmhouse. A familiar training route, 4 miles, takes me to the sole pub on the road. As I was going to do an out-and-back run, these would give me 8, 10, or 12 miles. To do the whole thing, which I've never done, would be 19. If I can build up my endurance to run to that point, I'd be a long way towards marathon fitness.

It was cool but sunny when I started. On the initial climb I just plodded along, running slow, but getting it behind me. After this, I relaxed a bit, and enjoyed the open views. Occasionally, there were sheep on the road. I also saw three deer crossing the road, and startled one pheasant. It was a quiet Sunday morning though, and most of the traffic was from cyclists.

As I approached mile 4 I felt that I wasn't running too strong. I checked my watch: 37:27. This was a surprise - it was faster that I typically run to this point. After the pub at mile four there's a 1/2 mile climb to a patch of trees, and then a gradual descent. I'd never run beyond 4.5 miles from work.

The view from the pub is impressive. There's open moorland and all sides, and rounded hills. I had my eye out for potential spots to camp with the children someday.

Beyond 4.5 I felt o.k. At 5 or so I started feeling pain in the side of my left knee. This was familiar, and what I've self-diagnosed as illiotibial band syndrome. I hadn't reached the 6 mile mark yet, but at 56 mins I decided to turn around. I was a good distance away from my car, starting to feel sore, and I'd already been out nearly an hour. The 6 mile marker would have to wait for another day.

My runner's knee didn't get worse on the return journey, though later in the afternoon, at the playground with my children, it reminded me of its presence.

So, I called it 11 miles in 1:48.

This is about as much as I can do, on this route, with my current endurance level.


In my mind, I'm not actively training for a marathon yet. I'm keeping in some long runs, as the marathon is a distant aspiration, but for now I'm doing road or trail runs for upcoming shorter-distance routes.

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