Monday, October 29, 2007

Sprinkler Runs

Packers vs. Broncos. Monday night football. 7:30 pm CST. ESPN. It's been on our calendar because Nathaniel is a fan of Green Bay. And because I'm a fan of Nathaniel, I am therefore a fan of the Packers. (My logic prof would be proud!) So I'll write while Nate explains all the wonders of football. But it's still a bit confusing to me. If a 340 lb, angry, aggressive, pumped-up guy were running at me, I'd drop the football, yelp, and run the other way. No, I'll take that back. I'd throw the ball to him, hopefully distracting him, and then make my getaway. I may not be especially speedy over short distances, but if I was being chased by a 300-pounder in helmet and padding, I could convert those endurance muscles into fast-twitch speedy bullets. But I still get a kick out of watching Nathaniel watch football. So if I seem a little scattered, please accept my apology. And I've got to admit, the game has been growing on me... I think the strategy and the coordination of the 3 teams (offense, defence, and special teams) is pretty neat - then again, coming from a single-person sport (save the relay), this "teamwork" thing is a little foreign to me. I still don't like the part about getting pummeled, but then again, I suppose that's why I don't play. Give me a bike and painful seat any day, thank you very much.

That being said...

Yesterday I had my final long run run until Clearwater. I let myself sleep in, enjoy a leisurely Sunday morning of oatmeal and coffee (with creamer!), and listened to a replay of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" (Nathaniel got to listen to the annual Halloween reading of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" and was a happy camper), and finally got the gumption up to leave for the run. I was looking forward to the run, as I had an option of staying in heart rate zones 1-2 (if I was tired) or pushing the pace into the higher heart rate zones. After the previous day's intense brick and a final overload week of intensity, I was a little doubtful about how speedy I would be. But you never know, so I went into the run with an open mind.

Additionally, the "later" start time enabled me to train in warmer conditions, as the temperature at 7:00 am was in the low 50s. Beautiful, absolutely wonderful running weather, but as I'm trying to remain as acclimated to as much of Florida's heat as possible, I figured the temperature around noon would be hovering somewhere in the upper 70s. I wasn't disappointed. Great for a potentially warm race in a week or two (exciting!)

I got my gear together - shorts, top, visor, sunscreen, a few gel packs (to work on race-nutrition) and yes, the camel back. I know, I know - I probably look like a dork to the average Joe. But hey, at least I'm a hydrated "dork". And besides, Nathaniel - in his lovingly way - says that I look "cute". So there I was, a cute hydrated dork, gels in had, starting out on her final 1:45 run. Ready Set Go!

Within about 50 feet, I could tell, I just knew that this probably wouldn't be a zone 3-4 heart rate effort. My legs just didn't have their usual "snap". For some reason, that didn't bother me. I figured I would enjoy the beauty of UWF (University of West Florida), work on my hill running technique (the hills there are ferocious), and just enjoy the peaceful serenity of a beautiful day. I reasoned that there was a time and a place for different heart rate exertions, and because Coach had given me the option of taking it easy, I knew it would be key to listen to my body. No worries! There are just some days where you're flying: things feel great, and the workout is going so well you just want to drop to your knees and scream in jubilation. And then there are other days where it's just a little bit more challenging - but that doesn't take anything away from the fact that you're still out there doing. "Slow" pace aside, I knew it would be a great run. And it truly was. I felt lucky to be out there, just running and thinking.

And then it started getting a little warm. 20 minutes later I was getting a little more steamy. Another 10 minutes I was downright hot. Thank goodness for the Camel back and gels. And this is exactly what I wanted - the opportunity to train in "heat", or at least warmer conditions.

Cue the flashbacks to sprinkler runs. Eons ago when I ran Cross Country and Track in high school, our team used to go out on long runs. Instead of the usual 4 or 6 miles through the areas surrounding our high school, when it was warm/hot, we would make a bee-line for the local golf course. Running on golf courses is a lot of fun - the grass feels squishy under your feet, there's lots of rolling terrain, and it's a pretty neat feeling bounding through sand traps. The drawback is, of course, the other golfers. And club house managers. And the groundskeepers. For some reason they really didn't like our antics of running across the greens. At the time we didn't bother - it was golf. It was slow. It took forever. It was b-o-r-i-n-g! But now I kind of feel sorry for the groundskeeper, even if he did call our high school coach and complain. Oh well - we were stupid kids who didn't appreciate all the hard work that went into golf course upkeep.

The best part of golf-course runs by far were the sprinklers. Because golf courses need to remain green and in immaculate condition, oftentimes the water system and sprinklers would be out, watering various parts of the course. On particularly hot days, when our coach wasn't following us in his red mini-van, we would beeline for the sprinklers and cool off, eventually dashing through in our shorts and sports bras, until we were discovered by angry golfers, angry groundskeepers, or even angrier club house owners. We would grab our shirts, tear across the course, ignoring golfers, golf balls, carts and all, sprint up the hill and make a mad 1/2 mile dash to the relative safety of Como Lake. A great speed workout! But it was great fun, and it made warm days bearable. Good company and a huge industrial sized sprinkler, I suppose it's true that the little things in life can make the biggest difference.

As I was huffing up the UWF hills, I remembered with great fondness these past training runs. How carefree we were - no worries, just training and racing, and going to school (of course). A simple life, free of adult worries or responsibilities. I miss some of those aspects, but would not trade places with my former self, period. Something about having a few dozen awkward years to live through just doesn't seem all that appealing. So I'll take the life I've got, thank you very much, slow-paced run and all. But it was rapidly heating up, and I was hoping that the UWF Soccer Complex would have their sprinkler systems out. I huffed up the next hill, listening to the sloshing of my camel back or my stomach (probably both), made sure I took in my second gel (about 1:00 or so into the run), and looked longingly towards the Complex. Darn it! No such luck. Just to make sure, I jogged past the stadium. The sign "Non-Potable Water" made my heart sink. The though of running through water that had been treated by our waste was beyond disgusting. But the grass looked great!

But that made me think of another incident involving Sprinklers that wasn't quite so carefree. And potentially very embarrassing.

A little over four years ago, Nathaniel and I were married. As part of his first duty assignment, he was sent to school out in 29 Palms California, in the middle of the high desert, above Palm Springs and near Joshua Tree National Park (It's beautiful there, we fell in love with the desert, the vivid colors, the extreme climate, the clean/clear air, the beautiful red and tan stone formations, and of course, the Joshua Trees). We drove out there together as part of our honeymoon - a car trip across the US from Virginia to California in July - what an adventure!

As you can imagine, 29 Palms was VERY hot in July. The temperature as we were driving on the Marine Corps base was 123 degrees F. I have never experienced heat like that. It was stifling, unrelenting, ceaseless. There was a 3 mile running trail on base near the waste water treatment (which I dubbed "Camp Toilet"), and an additional paved Tank Track that ventured 9 miles out towards an outlying camp inside the main military center. As long as I ran early in the morning, before the heat of the day, I felt great. It was hot, but it wasn't unbearable yet. The humidity was low, the colors were beautiful, and I truly enjoyed the desert serenity. Usually I would start my runs about 20 minutes before sunrise, and the temperatures skyrocketed shortly after the sun was above the horizon.

One of these particularly warm (okay, stifling HOT) mornings, I was walking back up the hill on 3rd street towards the temporary barracks we were staying in. As I was walking, I noticed all sorts of Marines marching in formation to their academic classes, or running in formation with their squads. I felt a little out of order - the only female within sight, standing out, non-uniformed and alone, on a male-dominated infantry base. Just at that moment, as I was passing the General's Parade Deck, the sprinkler system came on.

Let me explain, the Parade Deck is a pretty big deal in the Marine Corps. The Commanding General is able to conduct inspections on the deck, formal military processions take place, and it's a place reserved mainly for military functions. But the grass looked so lush and so tantalizingly green. The water looked beautiful - I bet that it was cool, lush, clarifying - and it certainly made the grass look beautiful. All I wanted to do was to strip off my shirt, throw off my shoes, and run carefree through the sprinklers. My inner child was nearly throwing a fit - Go Go Go GO GO! What are you waiting for?? You LOVE water! It's hot! It would feel SO GOOD! GO HAVE FUN. Let go of reason, and just fly!

It was so tempting. I paused, watching the water rotate in wide circular arcs over the lush grass. It did look wonderful. And I was a little warm. And I had just finished a long run, so a sprinkler run was definitely called for. But reason took over, and I realized I would look like a complete idiot, among all these uniformed professional Marines, marching in their orderly formation of 60 paces per minute (I counted. I just have this thing for numbers. Plus it's really neat to see them marching to this particular cadence when you've got techno music to the same beat. It looks a little surreal, but pretty cool). So I took a pass on the sprinkler run, vowing to return when no one was present, and run like a little kid to my heart's content.

Later that day I explained my near-sprinkler adventure to Nathaniel. He looked absolutely horrified.

"What?" I asked, unaware that I had done anything wrong. For Pete's sake, I didn't even put a toe on the grass, let alone run barefoot and shirtless through the sprinklers.

"Sweetheart," he started. "Do you know what non-potable water is?"

Was this a trick question? What was I supposed to say? I'm from Minnesota, where we get enough rain to make all the fields green. "No," I replied, nonchalantly.

"Well, it means that it's water that's not safe for drinking." He plowed on. "And based on how ungodly green that grass looks in the middle of the high California desert, I suspect that the water that's doing the sprinkling, comes directly from Camp Toilet."

I was speechless.

"Mother Nature's fertilizer at it's best." He laughed, a glint in the corner of his eye.

Wow. I was still speechless.

And then the complete and utter grossness of what I had almost done hit me. I was just about to strip down and run through poop-water in front of hundreds of Marines. I would have been beyond their help - they probably would have called the Military Police, who would have carted me off, poopey-water and all, for some serious questioning.

I guess I need to learn to pay attention a little more. AND wonder a little more about what kind of fertilizer is being used to make the grass in the desert so green.

What do you know? You learn something new every day. And that is what explains how suspiciously healthy the Parade Deck looked, for the middle of the desert. In July. Next time, I should make sure to read posted signs, rather than run headlong into a potential gross mistake. It would have been very embarrassing if I had abandoned reason, and run headstrong into the Camp Toilet sprinkler water, in front of hundreds of Marines. Thankfully, I didn't.

But it just goes to show - make sure you know what you're running into before you decide to take the leap.

And with that happy thought, I finished out my run. Not the fastest, but still a great showing, nonetheless. Runs like this are simply wonderful - carefree, and just running for the sake of running. By the end, it was no longer my camel back making the sloshing, but my stomach. It was now full of gels, water, oatmeal and coffee. But through some miracle of miracle, I didn't get sick and felt almost as good at the end as I did at the beginning. I guess it's just the power of positive thinking. And good memories that make you laugh.

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