I woke feeling as though there was a railroad spike piercing my forehead just above my left eye. Uh-oh… it feels like a sinus infection coming on. I have deformed sinuses, and as a result, I am occasionally sidelined with nasty infections of the same. I know several folks who have had their sinuses surgically altered, with little positive effect. The insurance company has approved me to have my own head “rotor-rootered”, but as it is a “nasty” procedure, and the results are questionable, I opted to leave well enough alone, and live peacefully with my deformity.
A few weeks ago, when we headed up to a local lake for a swim, I took note of the lonely dirt road which included a nice long hill and some rolling easier terrain. I asked Phil to set the odometer in the car, and we clocked the mileage to the near end of the lake, and then to far end of the lake. Mileage to the first lake was an even four miles, then to the south end of the bigger lake, 5.6 miles, continuing further still, at a seemingly arbitrary point just beyond the north end of Little Soap Lake, we hit the seven mile mark. Phil asked me, “are you thinking of running here?” I nodded in the affirmative. The hill would be challenging, and the traffic basically non-existent, all while traversing this hauntingly beautiful high desert landscape. It seemed a perfect route.
In spite of the building pressure behind my eyes, we had decided that today was the day we would go for a long run. It was the day to run the Soap Lake Road. Because these lakes are alkaline and not potable, we decided to drive up prior to our run and cache a water supply at the lake. As we headed up the dirt road, dust swirling around the truck as we steadily climbed the mile long hill, we flushed a small coyote from the sagebrush. My face broke into a gentle smile, my eyes crinkling with delight, as we watched the coyote trot up along the road and disappear into the vegetation on the far side.
The temperature was supposed to be cool all day today. I didn’t give it a second thought as we parked at the highway and left the truck around 10 am. The route heads straight up a pretty kick ass hill for about a mile and then levels out quite a bit while traveling through sagebrush and remnants of old lava flows. There is something about this type of terrain that calls to my spirit and soothes a dormant part of my psyche.
When I was a small child, my grandmother would load her old pick-up truck with inner-tubes, suntan lotion, and grandkids (myself included). She would head up this same road, precious cargo in tow, and we would swim in the alkaline waters of Little Soap Lake. The soil in this region, being quite sandy in composition, does not hold water very well, and as a result, the road is prone to damage from flash flooding and its resultant “wash-outs”. I remember very distinctly one hot summer afternoon, when the rear tire of the old beat up truck sunk deeply into the mire of the road and stayed there. Grandma remained calm even with a truck full of screaming younguns’, and she simply got out of the truck, scrounged in the bushes and found and old piece of plywood, got out the shovel, and proceeded to dig us out. Freed from the dusty mire, we continued to the lake and enjoyed a carefree afternoon of splashing and swimming in the warm alkaline waters. As an adult, I often think back to this experience, and I’m not certain that given a similar set of circumstances, I could have been so independent and confident as my Grandmother had been. Grandma is definitely my role model and one of the strongest and most independent women that I know.
In spite of the fact that I have a sinus headache and my knee was aching while driving in the car, I felt strong as I headed up the hill. As we continued running along the rolling dirt road, I still felt pretty good. I chose to slow to a walk while crossing over the numerous cattle guards laying in wait, always ready to grab a foot or turn the ankle of an unaware traveler.
At about mile four, we came upon a lovely little lakelet with beautiful white granite rock formations gracefully decorating its shoreline. The dozens of cows that were lazily browsing along the way mostly moved quickly out of our path. It is too bad that this lake has been claimed as a domicile fitting only for cattle, as a little dip in its cow poop infested waters was less than appealing.
Another mile and a half brought us to the south end of Little Soap Lake and our water cache. Both of these lakes are alkaline and as such, unfortunately for hot weary runners, not potable. Turning around here would give us an 11.2 mile run. Definitely respectable mileage given my training progression thus far, but we had clocked an additional 1.5 to the north end of the lake, which round trip, would make a sweet even fourteen miles.
I took a few sips of water and grabbed a little vegan jerky nugget. The water cache was a brilliant idea. It tasted sweet and wonderful. Unfortunately, the jerky was not such a wonderful idea. As I popped the salty little morsel into my mouth, it went about halfway down my throat and stayed there. Uggh.
As I was taking sips from the water cache, Phil asked me if i was up for the additional miles to the end of the lake. Focused, I merely nodded in the affirmative and headed out running. The terrain to the far end of the lake is mostly flat with just a few little rolling hills. I really was feeling great. To protect my damaged knee, I opted for a more gentile run/walk strategy. I would run until my form faltered and the knee began to ache, and then I would walk a short distance to recover. Phil said that my pace was much faster immediately following a walk break.
I felt pretty good energy wise. The additional three mile loop completed, I stopped to have a few sips of water before the final 5.6 miles of the run. Truthfully, I was having doubts about my ability for the entire distance, but I was here, so I was going to give it my all.
It really was supposed to be cool today, unfortunately for us, the cool weather was a bit slower moving into the area than initially anticipated. As Phil sprinted ahead of me to take photographs, I could see a large wet “V” completely covering his back. No doubt about it, the temperature was giving us a run for our money. The sun was relentlessly beating down on us from above. There was no shade.
After a great initial showing, I began to falter. I was still strategically walking across the cattle guards, (narrow metal bars spaced several inches apart and spanning our dirt path). I found myself increasing my walk time after each crossing. This terrain is fairly flat. I chided myself, “come on Splash, this should be easy”. Only it was not. It was at about mile 12.5 that I was hit with the “spins”. Dizzy beyond belief, I crumpled to the ground and stayed there. I sprawled flat on my back, waiting for the world to stop moving. I eventually rolled onto my side and curled up in a fetal position, gathering strength from the still cool temperature of the dirt beneath my face. Finally, I reluctantly allowed Phil to pull me to my feet. The sun seemed too bright in the sky, glaring down into my narrowly slit eyelids. I pulled my visor low and began to walk. I saw an electricity transmission tower up ahead. I told myself, “just walk to the tower and then you can run”. I arrived at the tower and even at a walk, I was barely lifting my feet, opting for an awkward dust raising shuffle along the dirt road. Another tower came and went and I was still shuffling; although, thankfully, my equilibrium was returning to a somewhat normal state.
After walking for nearly half a mile, we rounded a corner and I could see the road finally angling downward at a fairly brisk angle of descent. Breathing a sigh of relief, I dug deep and with my eyes and mind set firmly on the road ahead, I began to lift my feet, slowly and somewhat painfully at first, giving way to a more joyous and comfortable stride, I ran.
The mile long downhill stretch passed quickly, and although I was moving on tired legs, I felt remarkably good. The aching of my arthritic knees did raise a small little flag, and I walked just a short distance to shake it off and regain my form.
Running once again, focusing on taking many small steps to ease the stress of the downhill grade, I spied the highway. When I was a short distance from the finish line, I dug just a little deeper and turned on my jets. I ran like the wind. I ran like I was being chased by a rabid bear. I ran as fast as my legs would go.
My breath, coming out in a somewhat jagged squeaky rhythm, I slowed back to a jog. The highway was less than one city block away. It was so close and yet at the same time, it seemed so interminably far. Could I even make it without once again collapsing in an untidy heap on the dusty surface of the little road? I saw Phil head out for a final sprint to get a photo of me coming in to the finish. Somehow I managed to suck it up and still jogging, raised my hands up in victory as I ran up to the highway and our fourteen mile mark.
The jury is still out on whether or not a former fat girl with arthritic knees can transform into a runner. The endurance training itself seems to work against me, as it increases my appetite for every naughty food item in sight. The current popular philosophy states that long slow distance is not the best type of activity to reduce ones’ appetite nor to maintain a lean physique. There is a reason why HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training is so popular. With regard to weight control and maintaining a lean body, HIIT works, and it works well. So, as I look towards a long distance running goal, I wonder, am I sabotaging my own fitness by releasing a flood of stress hormones into my body and triggering a “foodmageddon”? If I believe the current exercise hype, that may in fact be the case. As I am participating in more and more long slow distance training, I am not only feeling softer, but am ravenous most of the time. A quick google search of weight gain and marathon training brings up a paltry 17,500,000 results… really? This is a real thing. It does not happen to everyone, but it is more common in women than in men. Several of the official “running magazine” type articles claim that the weight gain is normal and that it is just muscle weight, but if you dig deeper and read blogs written by real everyday people who are training hard for long distance running, a single theme does emerge. The weight gain is real, and it is not muscle. Distance runners who believe that they will whittle away to nothing, are getting softer, larger, and they are hungry all of the time. Crap. I have worked really hard to get fit and lean, and I really don’t want to tip the scale in the opposite direction. Sigh, sigh, and double sigh. So, while I’m not ready to give up this current obsession (distance running); I am paying attention.
Truth? When looking back on the days exertion, victory is the furthest thing from my mind and I have to wonder, “WHAT WAS I THINKING?” Clearly, I was not ready for a fourteen mile run. It wasn’t pretty, and I did not do it in fine style, but I had set the goal and I crossed the finish line. As I was rehydrating and looking for a post work-out snack, my mind drawn like a moth to a flame, goes to the little stash of Baker’s Chocolate in the cupboard… hmmmm, now if I just mixed it with a little peanut butter…