Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Big Event That Wasn't

Since I became serious about cycling back in 2008, I've built each cycling year around a Big Event that would be the main focus of my training and planning.
  • In 2008, my first year of getting serious about cycling, it was the Seattle to Portland double century. 
  • In 2009, it was spread across four separate rides as I dove into the randonneuring deep end and set out to ride my first Super Randonneur series. 
  • In 2010 the Cascade 1200 was the pinnacle of my season as I took the next step up the randonneuring ladder. 
  • In 2011, the granddaddy of grand randonnee's, Paris-Brest-Paris consumed me for months. 
  • And finally 2012's event was the San Francisco Randonneurs' Golden Gate 1000.
I love having a Big Event to plan and train for. I never have a problem with going for a long ride in the country with no particular purpose, but with a goal in mind my energy level rises and I feel as though the ride is not just another ride, but a leg in an epic journey. I can push myself harder and longer when I'm training for an event rather than just out burning calories.

This year I had a different kind of Big Event in mind. The idea started with a fat dog.

Our dog Lucy is a sweetheart but let's face it, she's too fat. I can't practically take her on rides with me, so last fall I started running with her to help her burn off some calories. I've never been much of a runner; it always seemed to me like a painful unpleasant task one did because one couldn't think of a more sensible way to exercise. But Lucy seemed to like it, so I was willing to make a sacrifice for my dog with the runaway BMI.

Somehow on those early morning runs through the park with Lucy, completely without warning, I became a runner. It snuck up on me. I found myself actually looking forward to going running, and wanting to do progressively longer runs. I'd catch myself researching running shoes online rather than cranksets and derailleurs.

One thing lead to another, and by the Spring of this year I was making plans for a 2013 Big Event that didn't have a darned thing to do with bicycles or randonneuring. A runner friend, John came up with the concept and I opened my wallet wide and bought in. The plan was to do a 17 mile trail run through the Enchantment Lakes, from the Colchuck Lake/Aasgard Pass end through to the Snow Lakes trail head. The date was loosely set for Labor Day weekend. 17 miles isn't marathon distance, but with about 4,400 ft of elevation gain and 6,500 ft of descent it would be a challenging enough run to easily qualify as my Big Event for the year.

As I started ramping up the running miles, I realized I had no choice but to ramp down my cycling. There are only so many hours in a day and it was hard to find the time, let alone the physical and mental energy for both running and cycling. So, once I had wrapped up a Super Randonneur series with the Seattle Randonneurs' Watery Olympic 600k in early June, I shifted gears from cycling to running.

Other than my daily commute to and from work I did very little cycling during July and August. I rode fewer miles in July and August combined than I had ridden in either May or June alone. But with my training for the Big Event keeping me busy and flooded with endorphins, I wasn't missing cycling much.

July and early August were filled with some fantastic and memorable trail runs of increasing difficulty, including a beautiful rolling 12 mile ramble on the Mt Rainier Wonderland trail from Longmire to Box Canyon and a grueling 16 mile loop from Mowich Lake through Spray Park and along the Carbon River.

But with that Mowich Lake loop I made a classic rookie runner mistake: Too much too soon. With a ton of crazy steep climbing and descending it was more than my inadequately trained half century-old knees could take. I developed an extremely sore right knee about 10 miles into the run and had to walk the last five miles. My knee continued to hurt enough that I thought I should stop running for a few days to let it recover. Problem is, it ended up taking a few weeks to recover instead of a few days.

On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, John and another friend ran the Big Event without me. They lucked into some ideal weather and had a fantastic time. I hadn't been able to do any running for a couple weeks at that point, and my knee was still too painful to even think about running around the block.

Summer seems to have ended early in the Pacific Northwest this year. The storms are rolling through like it's November and snow has already started falling high in the mountains. There'll be no Big Event for me this year.

The good news is that I'm finally back into running shape again, but starting slow, doing three and four mile runs close to home. Lucy is happy to see me running again and so am I. Luckily cycling doesn't seem to aggravate the knee problem at all, so I was able to get in some nice long rides in the last days of summer.

Running is in my blood now and I intend to keep it up as long as my body allows, but when it comes to the Big Events, I've discovered that my body is much happier being pushed to the limit on a bike than on foot.

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