Winter Break and Speed

My husband took his first vacation time in two years this past December.  He was home from December 17 through January 4.  I had forgotten just how much I like him until about day three, when I remembered I had married a man I not only loved, but who also is my best friend.  All those days together- well, something had to go, and no, it was definitely not going to be my daily run.  Instead, my winter break became a blog break.  I do have some running highlights to share from that time, including a run with a former world class Olympic contender…

I ran Christmas morning.  For the first time in my history as a parent, I was awake well before either of my children.  I logged 6 miles before a single stocking was removed from the mantle.  A small Christmas miracle, that cold early morning.  Other runners and walkers were out, too, and I joyfully wished every one a good day.  I ran New Year’s Eve morning, too, 8 1/2 miles, and New Year’s Day 5 1/2.  Because there was so much snow and ice, I did not quite make my running goals for those past couple of weeks, but kept close to 25 miles per week total.  Now, for my running highlight of winter break:

My husband’s best friend, Jay, called on Christmas night.  He and his eight-year-old son were available for an overnight visit on the 26th.  Our whole family loves Jay, and we adore his son.  Cheers of excitement rang out around our dining room table when I announced the visit.  I asked Jay if he would be interested in running with me, and if so, suggested he pack his cold weather running gear in case the roads were fit to run.

We stood by the window like terrier puppies on the morning of the 27th, watching the rain pour from the dark gray sky.  My husband sat at the computer, watching the weather radar screen to see when the deluge would end.  We gave in around 9 and ate pancakes my daughter cooked for all of us, with warm maple syrup.  I watched the sky from the dining room window as I licked sticky syrup off of my fingers.  At around one o’clock, the weather cleared and I nudged Jay from his spot on the floor by the fire.

“Wanna go?”

He hopped up and grinned, then made his way upstairs to change.

Jay is a small man, and very slender.  He has always been a runner.  His body looks like he still runs every day, but he confessed to having been on a running break for a while. Work, parenting, and taking care of his own home and helping out a neighbor who had an accident in the fall have all contributed to not running.  Jay used to be a competitive world-class runner.  He has been written up in Runner’s World magazine, and although I was nervous about running with him, I was excited, too.  I wasn’t worried about measuring up, really, but definitely worried about keeping up.  Especially after eating three giant pancakes and hanging around all morning.  I usually run early, after coffee but before I eat.

We met in the front hall, both of us clad in winter running tights, layers of warm tops, Asics sneakers.  He wore a hat, I sported a ponytail and a thick layer of chap stick.  We assessed each other quickly and silently, and I opened the front door.

We took off at an easy pace, a little fast for my warm up, but I felt pretty good.  I couldn’t hear my stomach sloshing around, so right away stopped worrying about the pancakes.  I led Jay along my regular six mile route, warning him about slippery spots I knew, and steeper hills coming up.  It was cold, but not windy, and the rain had cleared most of the snow from underfoot.  We traded back and forth from the street to the sidewalk, and I watched Jay’s stride out of the corner of my eye.  He moved like a long, lean cat, with smooth, gliding strides, arms easily pumping, almost propelling him along, cupping the air and scooping it back behind him.  Although I am taller, my own stride seemed short and inadequate, and I lumbered along beside him, breathing and listening.

Jay began to tell me a story about something that happened between himself and a good friend of his, and he talked without pause for most of the run.  This was a good thing, for I was pushing so hard to keep up with his pace I could barely gasp out a “Thanks” when he commented on my pace going up the steep hill at the end of Penzance Road.  This is the hill I try to avoid at all cost.  It is currently unavoidable  due to the impassible conditions of Eden Road in winter.  I keep telling myself that pressing up that hill will make some kind of difference in spring, when I do not have to include it in my route.  I have yet to run up it without a loud grunt of self-approval at the top, and even though I was running with Jay, I did not hold back.  I grunted as usual and although it felt pretty loud coming out, he didn’t seem to hear.  We kept going, down along Marmion Way, and stopped at the top of the hill on my street.  I checked my watch.  I counted.  I checked it again, trying to see if I had made a mistake.  6 miles.  46 minutes.  6 miles!  46 minutes!  That was the fastest I had ever run.  Jay and I walked around the block, cooling down, catching our breath.  At least I was catching mine— he was finishing up with his story, loping along easily beside me.  I could barely hear what he was saying.  I kept thinking about the speed.  He’s so fast!  Wait.  I was that fast, too!

I have not tried to return to the speed I ran with Jay as of yet.  It has only been a week or so, and it’s been very cold and icy.  I fear slipping, falling, breaking.  But as soon as the roads clear, I’m definitely going to up my own ante.  Spring goal: speed work.

And a little tip— if given the opportunity,  run with someone really fast once in a while.  Even if you can’t keep up, you wind up trying really hard, and doing better than you might expect.  This may apply elsewhere in life, too…

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