The wild life

“For me, running is a lifestyle and an art. I’m far more interested in the magic of it than the mechanics.” – Lorraine Moller, marathon Olympic bronze medalist

Running during the early morning hours offers some benefits.

This amazing autumn provides ideal training weather for a marathon. Perfectly clear skies open up a galaxy of stars, and if you’re careful, enough light to run without using a headlamp. And encounters with wildlife otherwise hidden from sight.

One day last week, as I returned from an 8-mile circuit south of Grand Forks, I spotted a fawn in the distance. It stood on the street, underneath the dull hue of the street light, as a doe stepped onto the concrete. And then another fawn. And another. In all, there were 6 deer making their way to the river near the Greenway.

A few weeks ago, as I worked my way up a hilly gravel road, I found myself questioning an object standing alongside the road, outside the thick wooded cover. So few people have a reason to be there. At first startled, chills raced down my back. Then excitement and adrenaline at the sight of a huge buck, who stared at me for about 20 seconds before bolting into the trees. He probably was startled to see me, too.

In the pre-dawn darkness, I find myself squinting to make out shadows and outlines – never knowing what I might find as I approach. Perhaps that’s one reason I almost always prefer to run outside.

There are exceptions, though. Weather, specific training effects related to speed work and sometimes, in the winter, just to see other people putting it on the line, too, to improve.

As my journey through training for the New York City Marathon winds down – I officially begin my taper tomorrow – I found myself at the gym this morning. The treadmill workout had a dual purpose – dial in the pace of intervals and escape the wind.

From here until Sunday, Nov. 2, it’s time to dial into a very specific routine to make race day a success.

Chasing hills

With just 15 days remaining until the start of the New York City Marathon, I went chasing hills today near Hawley as part of my final preparations in this long buildup to this once-in-a-lifetime race.

As I set out for one of the final pieces of the training puzzle, it struck me that I’ve been on the road quite a bit over the past few months: no less than four trips to the hills to build leg strength for New York City’s bridges. That’s more than 90 miles each way from home.

The gravel roads and Minnesota hills have been a staple in my training for more than 6 years – ever since I realized a steady diet of them would help prepare me for Grandma’s Marathon. In many ways, it’s a retreat where I can get lost in my thoughts, away from the bustling city, and batter my body into submission and test my mental limits. And, with so many long runs in the hills, I have a frame of reference that gives me a good indication of how my fitness stacks up to previous marathon training.

Today, about 2 miles into a 14-mile run, a guy pulled up next to me in his pickup, and we had a nice chat. For the next mile, we talked about running (years ago, he ran Grandma’s Marathon and his family ran in relay races), my upcoming race in New York City and a little bit about cycling. It’s conversations like those that make running fun, and reminds me about the camaraderie of our sport’s community.

The Glitter Jar

Some mornings it’s not so easy rising at quarter to 5. And the thought of pulling on a few thin layers to head into the crisp, cool autumn air doesn’t provide the motivation I need to continue the daily trial of miles.

After pulling on pants and a long-sleeve shirt, I set off into the pre-dawn air and push off. Soon steps carry me south of Grand Forks, where silver sprinkles spilled from a glitter jar adorn the deep indigo sky.

In a few weeks, my horizon will be filled with the night skyline of New York. This, I tell myself, is every bit as impressive. And worth the 4:45 alarm.

In three of the past 4 weeks, I’ve logged at least 70 miles. Even at my best, and fastest, I never put in these miles.

It’s helped to have a streak, especially one that I can’t seem to end.

This past Saturday, as I found myself racing the Fargo Mini Marathon, I recalled how much I despise racing in cold weather. While running in cold weather can be offset by layers, and good company, there’s little about racing in the cold that can comfort me. It was the 2012 Twin Cities Marathon – where the actual air temp at the start dipped to 25 degrees – that prompted me to declare my retirement from marathoning.

But it was the guarantee of the New York City Marathon, a once-in-a-lifetime race, that lured me back into the rigors of training. Along the way, I’ve overcome injuries, doubt and blows to my confidence and ego, and in turn I’ve been blessed with some of the best running days of my life. My love for running, once tormented by injury and personal struggles to return to form, was fueled with miles of determination. My spirit has been renewed, on the heels of two fall half marathons, with the belief that anything might be possible.