Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Toes Meet Towpath

(Apologies to Nitmos for totally stealing his blog name as inspiration for my post.)

Sunday morning I was up bright and early before the sun had even risen in order to embark on my long run, which I intended to do on the Towpath Trail, which parallels the old Erie Canal and the Cuyahoga River inside the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Yes, Ohio has a national park. Go visit it! This is Viper's home turf, although I was at the northern end of it.

Some years back I biked a portion of the Towpath, a 40-mile round trip. Sunday's run was to be on a much less grand scale: only 19 miles. I decided to take advantage of my proximity to the trail last weekend and do my run there instead of on the obnoxious hills, uneven pavement, and 45 MPH roads around my parents' house. The lure of a flat, un-automobile-encumbered ramble through the woods and meadows was irresistible.

I put tread to trail at 7:30 am Sunday. My car was one of only three in the parking lot at the Lock 39 trailhead in Valley View. A pair of people headed off down the trail shortly before me, but I caught up to and passed them quickly. From then on it would be miles before I saw anyone else. Only the truly dedicated (or truly nuts) would be out at that hour in those temperatures (about 33 degrees).

In the beginning: Sunrise over the Cuyahoga Valley. 19 miles ahead of me.

The solitude was complete; the ease at which I traveled unmatched. I was wearing my favorite pair of tights and the Jacket of Wonder; my iPod was freshly charged and on all-songs random play; my stride was smooth; my CamelBak strapped around my waist not bothering me at all.

Could there be more perfect circumstances for a run?

Beautifully bleak: March in northeast Ohio.

I stopped here and there to take pictures with My Precious (aka the iPhone) and observe things. I was on the lookout for birds because I am a birdy type. I saw many mallards and Canada geese in the canal and also abundant robins, red-winged blackbirds, chipping and field sparrows, cardinals, downy and yellow-bellied woodpeckers, and great blue herons.

How many great blue herons can you find in this picture1?

I came to an area which had a sign announcing it as bald eagle nesting habitat. I looked to the west and saw a large number of nests high in tall trees which I assumed contained the bald eagle nest. When I was on my return trip there were some people with binoculars and other fancy equipment stationed on the trail in the nesting habitat area. I stopped and asked if they could indeed see the eagle nest. I was then given the binoculars and told at which tree to look. The nest was originally a great blue heron nest into which the eagles had moved, and then the rest of the GBHs in the rookery promptly moved out. Through the binoculars I could see the white head of the eagle poking above the lip of the nest. Even though it wasn't much, it was still thrilling.

Somewhere in that scattering of nests across the river is the bald eagle.

About a mile and a quarter past the Red Lock trailhead I reached 10 miles and turned around to head back. Before I did, I took this picture, which I think best captures the beauty of the trail and the morning:

Time to head back.

Now I would be put to the test. While the out trip was a breezy jaunt, the return would be much less mosey through the countryside and more "just let me finish this damn thing." Since I grappled with ITBS in February, my long runs were aborted, skipped entirely, and just plain all jumbled up. I hadn't run more than 12 miles in a row this entire training cycle. I was very determined to make this one count. My pace up to mile 10 had been between 8:46 and 9:15. When I turned around I kicked it up a notch and peeled off 5 miles in the 8:37-8:45 range.

Then mile 16 hit. Suddenly my step wasn't so spry, my legs not so fresh. I started thinking less about "16 miles in the bag!" and more "dear god, only 3 miles left to go." My right knee, the one which was stricken with ITBS 6 weeks ago, had not given me so much as a twinge the entire time. No, this time it was my left knee which decided to turn pissy on me. I could feel it wanting to do something unpleasant. It was getting stiffer by the meter. I had to stop to wait for cars to pass by the canal visitors' center with about a mile and a half to go, and when I tried to move across the road my knee had completely frozen. I lurched/hobbled my way to the other side, and, upon checking Garmy and seeing I was so close to finishing, ground my teeth together and forced myself to continue. The last mile was a death march. My pace plunged into the 10:00-plus range, and I started glancing obsessively at Garmy, ticking off each tenth of a mile as I ground toward the end.

Finally I reached 19 miles, smashed Garmy's stop button, and slowed to a walk. I had planned my route so I would finish a mile from the parking lot and walk the rest of the way as a cooldown. I was regretting that decision as I walked along, knee aching, hoping for a glimpse of the parking lot in the distance. Finally, finally, I saw the cars in the lot and breathed a sigh of relief. Once I was back in my car, stripped of my various paraphernalia, and munching on my banana, I quickly discovered that operating the clutch pedal in my stick shift car was the most painful part of the day. Each depress and release of that pedal wrenched a groan from my lips. When I got back to my parents' I shuffled up the walk like an 80-year-old, thinking, what on earth have I done? It's better now...but not 100%. Sigh. I'd just like to make it to the starting line in Cleveland in one presumably healthy piece, you know?

My route. I love satellite photos, don't you?

Chock Full O'Numbers: This morning's run was a quick 5 miles around town, 42-odd minutes, an 8:21 pace. It was on the windy side which irritated me greatly. Tomorrow morning I'm running 10, yes, that's ten miles. This upcoming weekend I have 30 miles on deck: 10 on Saturday and 20 on Sunday. My first (of three) 20-milers. I'm 11 weeks into my 18-week training program for Cleveland. According to my Weight Watchers weigh-in, I'm hovering around 155 pounds. I want to get to 150 or less this time around, goddammit. I think I'm not eating enough. On that note, it's time for dinner. Black bean soup, anyone?

Final stats: 19.00 miles; 2:50:21; 8:58/mile. Fastest mile: 8:37, mile 15. Great blue herons sighted: about 12. Head of bald eagle: 1.

1: There are three.


Maggs said...

That looks like a great place to run.

girlrunningaround said...

Absolutely beautiful. Looks like an amazing run.

kara said...

Wow - nice run!

chia said...

Wow, if you put my weather on your run that would so be a perfect trot for me :-). LOVE it! Thanks for taking us along!

Anonymous said...

Looks like a fabtastic run. Similar to Richmond Park in London

Spike said...

amazing route, and great job running. going from 12 to 19 is no slight step up, and I'm glad to see the pain subsided quickly after the run (and no mention of it for the 5M either), so that is a good sign.

Carolina John said...

man, that's a beautiful trail. nice job sticking it out for the whole 19 miles!

raulgonemobile said...

Looks like a great run.. Hang in there. A lot of my long runs have ended like that, and they aren't even 19 miles.. good job

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Ouch - that sucks to get stricken during the last mile of a 19-miler.

Next time you'll see more bald eagles if you remember that they're vain and a lot of them do comb-overs now and they think they're fooling us, but they're still bald, man, and it's pathetic.

But from a distance, the comb-over can be pretty convincing. Remember that.

jen said...

Congrats on the big run! Impressive pace even with the slow down at the end. Sorry about your knee.. :( Ice and Ibuprofen and take it easy if you need to.

That route is absolutely beautiful. I love rail-trails, towpaths, etc.. for some reason they are my favorites. Simple, flat, and they seem to go on forever through a variety of environments. I would love to run there someday! Thanks for sharing. :)

Viper said...

It's a nice treasure to have in your back yard. I rarely make it as far north as where you were, but it's all pretty spectacular. Good job on the 19-miler. I was actually in the Cleveland Metro Parks that day for my 10-miler.

tfh said...

That's my kind of run, minus the agony. (Eating more is also always my kind of plan. Is the black bean soup homemade?)

Sun Runner said...

CJ-- Sticking it out or being totally stupid and just begging to be injured? You decide...

viper-- Luckily I have something similar near here in the Lakelands Trail, a 13-mile-long converted railbed trail which I will be hitting this weekend for one if not both of my runs.

tfh-- OF COURSE my black bean soup is homemade! It's the only way to go, IMO.

joyRuN said...

Geez - sounds like my long run today. Mile 16 & everything got so stinkin' heavy.

Great job getting the 19 in!

Driving around after my long runs, I have to use cruise control as much as possible or else I'll be driving at 20mph everywhere.

mr loser said...

You're so right about the clutch being a total pain post a long slog. Hope your body rebounds for the weekend clumps.