Week 1 - 4
Week 5 - 8
"Rest up. Itís time for a
"Guilt and the long distance runner"
"The long and shorts of it"
Week 17 -
"Todayís weather may suck"
Al Sleet was comedian George Carlinís "hippy-dippy weatherman
from Wonderful WINO radio," a fellow with too much of something in his
morning coffee. "Heyyy man," heíd intone with a noticeable slur, "the
weather for tonight is dark. Continuing dark throughout the night with
lighter periods by morning."
Like the inescapable reality of death and taxes, we marathon runners
cannot avoid weather. I use "we" since Iím halfway through the training
and figure Iíve earned something.
Ottawaís January to April weather is often rotten. Thatís not rotten in
the sense of it being a little cool or a tad windy or a bit damp. I mean
rotten as in bone-jarring cold, toque-lifting windy, and slushy damp.
Here, we slop through six seasons. Between summer and fall, just before
the snow, is a period of moist chills I call the moist chill season. Then,
as winter slithers into spring, we experience temperature fluctuations
that can have us in shorts one day and three layers the next.
When the National Capital runnerís weekend was pushed back two weeks to
May 30, there was uniform rejoicing. We would do less training in the
January freeze and more on dry pavement. Everyone forgot the weeks in
between stay much the same.
For instance, the morning after the first day of spring, we ran 26 k. I
had a good nightís rest and ate well early in the morning. I felt great.
It was only when I stepped outside I realized I was truly mad.
In the 10 metres between front door and car, a blustery wind punctuated
with spikes of snow pellets bit into me. The gusts reached 50 km per hour.
To put it in perspective, thatís about half of a hurricane force wind and
certainly enough to warrant CNN disaster area coverage. Where there was no
wind, the temperatures seemed to inch up as springís sun fought through
the overcast. This created slush.
Itís the kind of cold, yucky slush that makes you dance over and around
it, hoping you donít immerse your $150 running shoes in a puddle. Turns
out, no amount of hopping helped. My feet found a bunch of puddles that
were camouflaged like wet mines beneath tiny mounds of snow.
My group, the 430ís, would trundle along through city streets chatting
away until weíd hit an open spot like fields or the bridges over the
Ottawa River. Suddenly, all talk stopped. We turned our faces away from
the biting wind. Some covered exposed ears. Occasionally, each step felt
like I was jogging uphill in deep sand. I could hear peopleís laboured
breathing. A few, myself included, groaned, as if searching for someone to
blame it on. I recall one gust of wind shot by me as I was trying to take
a swig from my water bottle. Most of the liquid splattered onto my jacket.
We all know better than to think the rest of our early spring runs will be
without some sort of weather anomaly. At the end of that most horrible
run, all the 430ís swore the experience had not just chilled and dampened
us, it had toughened us.
Still, from now on, I may first consult an Indian weather rock my
neighbour, a native Canadian, told me about.
It has four inscriptions: If white, snowing. If wet, raining. If hot,
sunny. If gone, windy.
Isnít that all a marathoner needs to know?
"Rest up. Itís time for a nap"
According to the particle theory, molecules in matter speed up as heat is
applied to them. In the case of liquids, the more heat applied, the more
the molecules move until eventually some escape and evaporate as a gas.
Iím almost certain that stuff is true because I taught grade 9 science one
year and it was the only unit I fully understood myself.
Now, though, Iím not so sure. I ran for over 3 hours at the beginning of
week 10. After the first hour, my molecules began to tire. The fatigue
continued unabated for the duration of the run. It began in my ankles as
the lower level, or steerage, molecules struggled to move fast enough to
keep me vertical. As if in collusion, my knee joint molecules quickly
Each time the 430ís reached the one minute walk in the 10-and-1ís, I could
sense a molecular revolution brewing in my joints. It didnít matter what
fuel I dumped into my body. Joint, muscle, and other sinew molecules were
collectively slowing down.
This was in direct contravention of the particle theory and didnít make
sense. The thousands of footsteps should have kept my internal cell
temperatures warm enough to toast a bagel and certainly warm enough for my
wee atoms to continue their happy hopping.
After 29 k, they all stopped hopping. This was a good thing since it was
also the end of the run. I guess molecules need to rest, too, since for
the next two hours I received nasty internal signals to choose a
I wasnít horizontal driving home, but it was close enough to confuse the
molecules, which explains why rising out of the driverís seat at home took
a full three minutes. I sat in the kitchen icing my knees while eating
half of what was in the refrigerator, grabbed the newspaper, and headed
for the couch.
Horizontal at last. Between the ice and the lack of movement, the
molecules chose the perfect time to revert to their original solid state.
I slowly sunk into a deep slumber, as every molecule let out a soft
That night, eight hours after the run, I was still sleepy. Evidently the
bodyís muscle cells take enough of a beating during long marathon training
runs that they prefer to share their misery with other cells. Like bones,
eyelids, lips, even some biological functions. All told, my molecules were
in a sorry state.
It wasnít much better the next morning either. Less stiff, but still achy
tired. A full day after the long run, molecules had rejuvenated to the
point where they not so much hopped as tiptoed.
Iím now in tune with my bodyís sounds, particularly the screaming and
whining of fatigued molecules. Iím training them to increase their
tolerance for Gatorade and gels, but I know they have a finite patience
level. Soon after long runs, I need to be horizontal. In fact, Iíd been
doing a lot of sleeping in recent weeks as I tried to coerce my body into
thinking it was more tired than it was. Iíve given in. Thatís in, not up.
I always knew rest was part of training. I just never imagined sleep was
such an integral part of resting. My molecules have more zip now and seem
convinced they can sustain their hopping for longer periods. I hope they
can, too, just so long as they donít choose to go from their liquid state
to the next one.
"Guilt and the long distance runner"
Good intentions are inversely related to degrees of guilt. The greater my
desire to adhere to the running program exactly as designed, the more Iíve
felt like a colossal cheat when Iíve missed a day.
The guilt came crashing down on me at the beginning of week 11, the Sunday
of a 19 k run. Iíd spent the last couple of months helping two hockey
teams in their playoff drives. Team A was advancing to a provincial
championship weekend, Team B was in the midst of its final playoff series.
Traipsing from game to game and rink to rink presented me with daunting
scheduling changes. Iíd vowed I would not, could not, miss my runs.
Of course, the short ones werenít a problem. Those had been easy to
squeeze in between arriving home from work and eating dinner before
heading to a game.
But that 19 k Sunday run loomed like a dark cloud on the horizon, and the
horizon was only days away.
What if I didnít do the 19 k on Sunday morning? What would happen to my
bodyís progression to marathon wellness if I skipped a short Saturday run,
did the 19 k on Saturday instead, and did nothing on Sunday? How would my
body feel by hill day on Tuesday if Iíd taken off both Sunday and Monday,
rather than the usual just Monday? Most importantly, could I cope with the
As it turned out, my body and the hockey teams conspired against me.
Hereís why I was miserable by Wednesday:
Friday night: game with Team B ends at 10 pm. Drive 3 hours to
tournament for Team A. Bed at 2 am.
Saturday:wake up at 8:30 am, groggy and rubber-legged. Too late for
early morning run before scouting 10 am semi-final. Body thanks me.
Our semi-final goes to triple overtime and we lose. Game over at 4 pm.
Return to quarters too depressed to run. Endomorphins want no part of a
recuperation. Will run 19 k early Sunday.
Sunday: Bronze medal game at 10 am. Not enough time to squeeze in the 19
k. Besides, weather is blustery, cold and damp. Too many excuses to
figure out which one to eliminate. I opt to use them all.
Home at 5 pm. Have not run since Thursday. Must be at rink at 7 pm for
Team Bís next playoff game. No time to run. Legs are twitching. Rest of
body remains convinced this is not the time. Grab some food and a nap
instead. Home at 11 pm. Went entire weekend without a run. I keep it a
Monday: Normally a day off from running. Good time to stick to the
schedule. I take Monday off. Have not run in four days.
Tuesday: Race home from work, do the hills near my home rather than with
the running club, eat, go to rink for another playoff game. Win
championship, celebrate, home at 2 am
Wednesday: Fatigued. Heart pings Ďcause it knows Iíve have lied to myself.
Feel like Iíve crawled through a swamp. Legs okay though. No wonder.
Return to routine. No apparent harsh side effects of having skipped the 19
Sometimes, life pulls a nasty and gets in the way. Heck, at least I
munched on power bars all weekend.
Week 12 will begin with a jaunty 29 k. Iím going to wear shorts and
smile away the guilt.
"The long and shorts of it"
Itís probably true we never shake off miserable schoolday memories. One
day early in my grade nine year, I jogged out to meet my phys. ed.
classmates. I wore the standard issue white cotton shorts that were baggy
enough to contain three of me.
A particularly annoying kid snapped, "What happened to you, chicken legs?"
Amused by himself, he chuckled and scampered away.
Fortunately, a few days later Ė a Friday, I believe Ė I reached puberty
and my scrawny legs sprouted teeny hairs. I may have had sad looking pins,
but at least they were now a manís. Anyway, chickens donít have knees.
Since then, Iíve courageously coped with legs that never filled out shorts
very well through decades of beach walks and summer lounging.
The up side of training in Ottawa has been how much of it was spent in
non-shorts weather. With the marathon pushed back two weeks to May 30, the
majority of my runs were spent in long layers.
In fact, Iíve frequently found myself with clothing conundrums. During
winterís darkest hours, Iíd wear three layers on top, tights and
occasionally a light shell over them to cut the bite from the cold winds.
By March, the choices for long Sunday runs became more confounding.
Jacket + long sleeve shirt + tights? Jacket + short sleeve shirt + tights?
Long sleeve + short sleeve + tights? Long sleeve + tights?
This was not to mention the choices between toque or cap and mittens
versus gloves. I made the mistake of running barehanded when the
temperature was slightly above zero Celsius. When I got home, I couldnít
manipulate the zipper on my jacket and had to pull it over my head.
A sidebar to the longer Sunday treks was that I became more chilled the
longer we ran. Iíd heard that at some marathons, blankets are thrown over
people as they finish to retain body heat. We didnít have that luxury at
the end of a 23 or 29 k run so Iíd chosen to keep my jacket on even as the
temperature inched into the double digits. Meanwhile, other members of the
430ís peeled off a layer and ran in just shirts.
On the other hand, I did become the first in the group to attempt the
Sunday run in shorts. Mind you, they were almost knee-length and not quite
the normal summer wear. Part of this was practicality. It was now April,
mild enough for my legs not to feel a chill. The other part was
pre-marathon mental preparation. On May 30, Iíd have to run in summer
shorts. It would be the final layering down of clothing from what Iíd
started wearing in January.
A small part of me hoped, too, that all this road pounding might transform
my pins into anatomically perfect masterpieces. Perhaps by the end of May
I could be close enough to trying the slit-up-the-side shorts.
You know, the ones Ben Hur wore because he needed the leg freedom to row
for his life at ramming speed on a Roman galley.
The ones I dare not even attempt to wear around my daughter who commented
when she saw me in tights, "Youíre not wearing those, are you?"
So then, the slit is out.