Sunday, August 5, 2007

Running with the Flu

Distance running is a very humbling sport. One minute, you’re there thinking your training is going well and you might not only run a good marathon, but establish a PR that would make your friends jealous; the next, you’re struggling through your long run (LR) and wondering if you should even bother lining up at the starting blocks if you’re just going to break down at the end and walk to the finish anyways.

I woke up this morning with a head cold. I’m not exactly sure how I can catch a cold in the dead of summer (and if anyone should know, I guess I should being an M.D. and all) but I felt sort of weak with a sore throat and mild fever all morning. I knew I had a 14 mile LR scheduled with my training partner in the late afternoon, so I tried to focus on taking it easy all day in preparation for the run. I hadn’t run since Thursday so I felt I was well rested from a physical standpoint to handle the challenge.

I felt slightly better by the time 5pm rolled around so I headed off to the park with my gel packs and Gatorade bottle anxious to begin my run. I met my friend Renny at the entrance to Central Park, did some light stretching, and headed off. We had planned to do three loops around the park: the upper 5-mile loop, the middle 4-mile loop, and the lower 5-mile loop for a total of 14 miles.

We ran the first loop at a nice and easy 8:00 min/mile pace. I was feeling comfortable as we started the second loop, but knew that I had to maintain the slow pace to make sure I had enough stamina to finish the run. The weather was perfect for a late Sunday run. Temps were around upper 70s, and there was a cool breeze that pretty much made the afternoon humidity a non-factor. Perhaps that was the reasons that one mile into that second loop, Renny (who usually complains that I’m running too fast!) decided to raise the ante and increase his speed to about 7:30 min/mile pace. I was neither prepared or expected to run at that pace and struggled hard to catch him. I eventually did by the end of the 4 mile loop, but was so winded and fatigued that I had to take a short break. I told him to go on ahead without me and went over to the water fountain to regroup. I took a few gulps of water, ate my powergel and started running again. I was hurting bad at this point and tried to focus on just moving my feet for as long as I could. The miles during that last loop seemed to last forever, and it took everything I had to keep going. At the end of mile 2, I made the executive decision to turn the last loop from a 5 miler to a 4 miler. I knew that if I hadn’t, there’d be a good chance I would be taking the dreaded “walk of shame” back to the start or worse, risk an injury that would wipe out the rest of my training.

Eventually, I was able to finish my 13 mile run at a 7:54 min/mile pace. My whole body was aching by the time I was done and had to rest on the bench for a good 5 minutes before I regained feeling again in my feet. I couldn’t remember the last time I was so tired and sore. Renny came in soon after I did, having completed the whole 14 miles at less than 7:50 min/mile pace. I was proud of him because that was the longest distance he had ever run, but was slightly disappointed that I wasn’t able to run with him during that last loop.

I had wanted to reward myself with a bowl of Pinkberry frozen yogurt at the end of the run, but only had enough energy to eat some plums, wash up, and go to bed. Running can be very humbling indeed, especially when you don’t use your head. Never again will I attempt a long run with a flu or fever again!

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