Challenge Accepted

challenge

It’s remarkable what a random challenge can do for one’s motivation.  Earlier this week Cory Reese of the Fast Cory blog and of the fabulous book “Nowhere Near First” issued a challenge to those that friends with him on Facebook to run a “Before Work Marathon”.  In his challenge he also declared it a popup contest over a seven day span to win a pair of Altra running shoes.  For me, the added bonus of Altra shoes is AWESOME since I pretty much run exclusively in their various models due to their amazing toe box configuration and because I find the zero drop style of the shoe very helpful for the health of my body with miles and miles I log.

Cory posted the challenge on March 14th but I really didn’t want to wait around so I quickly started plotting when I could do this.  I also figured since I don’t work on Saturday and Sunday I would honor the challenge by only doing an early morning run prior to actual work.  This is where it gets interesting:  I have a family with three young daughters who all need to get ready in the morning for school.  Part of the balancing act my wife and I do is for her to get her gym time and/or running before she goes to work every morning.  She usually gets out of the house around 5:30am.  This means I needed to get this run done and be back in the house before she would leave.  On top of that, I felt like it really didn’t honor the challenge if I just did it the night before.  In my mind, I needed to go to sleep, get up, do the marathon, clean up, and go to work.  My calculations meant I would get up at midnight and get on the road before 1am.

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About to start

I got on the road at around at 12:38am.  What was going through my mind at this point was a) this will be fun, b) I hope I don’t encounter too many drunk people/drivers, and c) how is my body going to react considering I just did a 60km run six days earlier?  The excitement of this nutty adventure propelled me quite well for the first 10km.  Learning from the end of the 60km run, I planned this route not to end on a long uphill.  So I started on a big uphill to begin the run.  Where I live in Mexico City, you either go up or you go down– there’s no flat running to be had.  After about 11km, reality quickly set in that I still had over three hours remaining on this run and it was only coming up on 2am.  I got a bit demoralized and definitely started doubting why I did this to myself.  It was almost like I fast-forwarded to the later stages of an ultramarathon.  I knew the feeling all too well and had experienced it at the 50 mile mark in my first 100 miler and also 4-5 hours into my first trail ultra.  I think I remember reading in one of Dean Karnazes’ books that he recommended as preparation for an ultra to wake up in the middle of the night and train just to get you in that state where you aren’t well rested (like in an ultra) and to acclimatize you to running in the wee hours of the night/morning before sunrise.

Once I made up another large hill and to a gentle downhill section, my energy picked up again along with my enjoyment.  I was relishing the fact that I was knocking out a good long run while most of the city was fast asleep.  I also was laughing to myself of how such a random, spontaneous thing could get me out on the streets in the middle of the night.  As my wife mentions from time to time, I do like to challenge myself with crazy things.

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CDMX at Night

Around the halfway point of the run, I started up a long uphill section that really sucked my energy in my 60km run.  I took a peak at my watch and noticed that I was going considerably slower than I did on that run, too.  This caused me to start getting into an internal debate regarding my speed.  Publicly, I have been repeating that I am just going by feel during these runs and that I’m not trying to push hard.  The idea being that I enjoy running every day and do not want risk injuring myself.  I’ve seen big gains in my endurance and fitness following this method.  However, the competitive side of my was thinking, “What’s up with you dude??!!  You are being lazy and taking it too easy.” The internal response was, “Don’t forget you just ran 60km only six days before.” This back and forth went on for quite a while but finally I reached a conclusion, “What does it matter?  I’m only doing this for me.  There is no race.  I feel good.  I’ve avoided injury thus far and if this is what my body wants right now then that’s what it’s going to do!!”

After all the internal dialogue, I reached a point in the run where I needed to reference the map on my phone.  I know the neighborhoods where I run very well in Mexico City but because of the length of the run and the fact that I didn’t want to be on any major roads, I needed to do some zigzagging.  A pit stop was just what the doctor ordered and I used it to also eat a little bit more, top up the water, and focus on what remained.  Visualizing the rest of the run showed me there would be three more major climbs to accomplish.  I was about to begin the first one.  Onward I pushed.

It took a good 5-6 months for me to be able to “run” the hills in Mexico City.  Since I had been living in the completely flat city of Merida for the past two years, I had to walk almost all the major hills when I arrived last summer.  Around January or February, I finally had built the strength to run the major uphills.  After knocking out one of the remaining three major climbs, I dropped down into a valley that would begin my homestretch also known as the last 12km of the adventure.

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The moon keeping company

This section was the worst of the remaining climbs including 267m of elevation gain over 8km including 179m in just 3km.  I was dreading it as it drew near but then something else popped into my head, I had never run this stretch with no walking/hiking breaks.  This would be my first attempt to run it straight.  I put my head down and envisioned my inner diesel engine.  It was rough but I did it.  When I got to the top of the tough 3km section, I felt a weird sort of excitement knowing that I finally did something I couldn’t do before.  It’s those little things that make me happy and keep me going.

After all that climbing was done, I got to enjoy about 3km of downhill and it felt great.  I did one more quick climb knowing I had it literally all downhill from there.  The joy of finishing this spontaneous challenge helped me push hard down the hill to the end of the run.  When I checked the numbers, I actually ran this section faster than I did at the beginning of the run.  Go figure that after 40km I could muster the energy to run faster than the beginning.

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Challenge completed

There it is…I am now part of the group that accepted and accomplished Cory’s challenge.  I’m quite happy that this random event popped up because it helped shake things up for me.   Some of the traps of constant training are routine and boredom.  I am always looking for ways to infuse more fun into my runs and this did it.

As a parting note and for those of you unfamiliar with Cory Reese, I highly recommend you read about him.  I do not know him personally (only through his blog, book, and Facebook) but he seems like a remarkable person.  From everything I’ve gathered, he is great father and husband, a genuine friend to everyone, a gifted photographer, and all around cool guy.  His positive, humorous outlook on life and how to make the best of it are things in which we all can use.

strava

Typical View Run in Merida

Typical neighborhood in Merida.

Typical neighborhood in Merida.

To give a glimpse of what it is like for me to train in Merida, Mexico, I thought I’d take some quick pics while I did one of my recovery runs in the late afternoon.  Normally, I train it the early morning before sunrise and I’m not one to take photos. Since I am trying something new by documenting my experiences in running, I decided to forego my lack of photography.

The roundabout to nowhere.

The roundabout to nowhere.

As you’ll see through these shots, this is as pretty as it gets around here.  There are no trails, hills, or public parks to run in.  All my running is on the streets–not even on sidewalks because in much of Latin America, sidewalks are not publicly maintained and are instead the responsibility of the property owner.

Try running on that sidewalk on the left.

This results in terribly maintained sidewalks that are dilapidated, broken, uneven, and downright useless. It really makes me miss Luxembourg.  Yet rather than get hung up over it, I try to use it to my advantage by using it as mental preparation.  All the monotony of running similar routes in the city forces me to find peace within my mind.  I truly feel that helps me for runs of five or more hours.

 

The tallest buildings in the city.

During my 100 mile run, I never had any issues with being bored or restless. I found that zone of just “being in the moment.”  I’m a firm believer of taking whatever situation life hands you and trying to figure out how it can help you. I focus my energy on growth rather than obsess on what I don’t have available.  Would I love to have trails, hills, mountains, and lush nature to train in?  Of course!  But I don’t so I must be creative.

One of the few runable sidewalks in the city.

 

Smiling because it feels good to be back running again! Notice the crumbling sidewalk behind me.

 

Country Towers apartments.

 

This project has been going on for at least 3 months. Not much progress.

 

I’ve run this stretch at least 30 times in eight months.