Sunday, March 18, 2007

Why We Sprawl

Two years into living in the south (of Greater Cleveland area), I have finally found a reason for urban sprawl: unknown-distance running.

Ever since the novelty of my one-mile track street wore off, I have been itching to venture out into the surrounding “neighborhood.” Unfortunately, the streets around here tend to have more speeding cars than sidewalks. And if you’ve heard me quip about riding my bike on the street, you can imagine how I feel about running. I guess I was just a sidewalk-raised kid.

Today's loopBut I took to Steels Corners with abandon today and headed toward the hike/bike path near OH-8. I had always eyed the path for some quality running and kicking hills, so I took it to a hilly road. Before I knew it I was rounding the street and heading toward a local commercial area that I could have sworn was much farther than it now seems.

You see, the sprawl advantage is that grid-oriented people like me have no concept of distance whatsoever when there are no blocks to count. Rather than worrying about where or how far I had run, I just took off down the street and crossed my fingers I would make it back.

My goal was to run about 45 minutes (it was cold), so I wanted to run out for 20-25 minutes and then head back. Instead, I took a back road that looped around from Cuyahoga Falls back to my part of Stow for a long, hilly run.

Although it was really nice to be out in the middle of nowhere, tackling hills and challenging myself more than the rec. center track allows, I was a little afraid of being out in the middle of nowhere. Granted, I was only a couple of miles from home… but also surrounded by what appeared to be acres of grass and wetlands, some empty developments under construction and more than a few creepy-looking roadside cars. There was a strip of industrial-looking buildings, but they didn’t provide much comfort on an early Sunday morning. I planned out in my head which of my keys I would use against an attacker—whether it was a human being or a coyote (I don’t know what kinds of animals are out here)—but reasoned that next time I should also bring my phone.

So, it was a relief when I finished climbing the last hill and saw Steels Corners in the distance. It’s funny the way I feel when I approach hills with a steady stride these days: I’m running strong and thinking to myself, “I can totally take this hill at this pace and not feel a thing; it’s going to be great!” Then I actually start running up the hill and the magic disappears.

But I can feel my strength and comfort with running hills improving already. Just a week ago, running up a 6-percent grade hill made me want to stop running for a bit. Running up two of those hills made want to stop running forever. I may not be achieving the time improvements I envisioned (oh, they’re very subtle goals right now), at least my outlook on hill-climbing has gotten better.

By the way, today’s run was 5.36 miles over about 45-50 minutes. When I decided to take the route, I was certain it was an 8-10 mile run. Alas, my grid-girl instinct was wrong. It’s too bad: halfway through the run I was certain I wanted to start training for the half marathon in May. But it was a good run and a great discovery that can be fine-tuned with a few added turns and hilly roads.


Landon said...

I think you'll be great for a half-marathon by May. Frankly, I suspect you could run one right now! No one believes me, but I believe strongly that it's 90% mental after an hour or so. Training just convinces you that, yes, you really can run that far that fast.

I don't know exactly how you're training right now. But if you have a designated "long" day, where you go farther than in your typical workout, and you were to increase that slightly each week until May 20th, I think it would be a cakewalk for you. That's eight weeks to figure out how to run THREE MILES farther than you alreay can.

I have confidence in you and I'm sure you'll make the right choice for your particular training path. If you skip May, let me know if you have your sights set on anything in the fall. I'd be happy to join you.