I generally know if a run is going to be good within about a minute of starting out. This morning’s plan was Murphy Hill. I didn’t do a specific speed workout yesterday for my short 5 miler, so I thought getting a brutal hill in would be this week’s speed focus. I also had this feel that today might be my best ever Murphy Hill climb.
The temperature was perfect. Truly perfect – low 50’s, gentle breeze, sun not up enough to be hot – just up enough to turn the sky into a sunrise portrait of pale blues, purples and wispy clouds, with some haze here and there. I have been waiting all year for running weather like this, putting in my dues during those 5 degree dark days. I was wearing my relatively new shoes, and it was the second time I’ve used my newest insert experiment (Berry Superfeet) in them, and I was pleased that the feet felt supported, cushioned and that nothing hurt.
In fact, nothing hurt anywhere. This has actually been happening more and more often as I continue to improve my base. When I just go out there and put in the miles at the pace my body wants to go (rather than the pace my brain wants to go), often everything feels good, easy, smooth and natural.
I am starting to accept (or trying to accept) that if I go at the pace my body wants to go, I will almost invariably be disappointed with the time it takes to do my first mile. That first mile is a bit hilly, and although at one point in time when I tried to do every run as fast as I could take it, I would manage it in 9:30, it pretty typically takes me 10+ these days, as I allow that first mile to be a warmup. Today was 10:25. Tiny little voice in my brain whispering disappointment but I waved it away, happy with how limber and strong my legs felt, and reveling in the astounding beauty of the morning.
The next mile was 9:52, which eased the voices in my brain a bit. Still feeling good. Mile 3 was 10:10 – that one is a bit hilly too, so all in all, the voices were not overly loud about pace, and they let me focus on feel.
Murphy Hill starts right after mile 3 – it is a 600 foot (or so) climb, in the space of 1.6 miles. Sort of a series of steep rollers. It is my favorite “go to” hill. The first mile of the climb has been known to take me 13 minutes. The way I’ve been approaching hills has been “take the hill at the same effort as the rest of your run – not the same pace”. Lately this has been just a constant focus on “how does my body feel RIGHT NOW, and what adjustment do I need to make”? Generally by doing that I have a strong climb.
Today’s climb was perfect. Every step felt right, and, more importantly, every step felt strong. I could feel my glutes, which I’ve been working on, propelling me up the hill. I was thrilled when I saw that first Murphy Hill mile took me 11:18. Killing it, and feeling great. One of the best things about today’s climb is that it was strong and steady and it felt awesome. Sometimes it is just killer hard – my breathing is rough, and it requires extraordinary mental fortitude to just keep taking the little steps up the hill. That’s good training in itself – but I love it when I feel fantastic.
The last section of the hill gets pretty steep and just requires little quick steps, as slow as necessary to get to the top. That section usually feels pretty rough. Today – well, today it felt just fine!
I got to the top and stopped for just a moment to let cars pass and to enjoy the view. And started on the down.
Although it would seem that the down would usually be great, that isn’t always the case. I’m not a strong downhill runner – I think I tend to brake a bit, and I’m never quite sure what my stride should be. My approach lately has been to try to lengthen my stride, relax, and let gravity do its thing without me getting in the way. Today it felt kind of like flying. My first full downhill mile clocked in a 9:17 and my next one was pretty close to that. As I concluded the real downhill portion, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of brown. I quickly registered it as a doe and her very very new, tiny, spotted fawn, nestled down beside her, to the left of me in a meadow. I stopped and reached for my phone to take a picture – but alas, the fawn was gone and the doe started wander away. Damn. I really would have liked that picture. But at least I had the gift of seeing that perfect moment.
As I started to run again, I was thinking to myself “there is nothing about this run that isn’t perfect”. About a mile later, I spotted another doe and fawn together in a meadow and realized again how grateful I was for this perfect run.
It wasn’t until I was about 3/10 of a mile away from home that anything happened to mar the beauty. There, off to the side of the road, I saw another beautiful spring animal baby – a fox – lying lifeless, killed by one of those awful road monsters who so often seem like they are aiming their headlights and tires at me. My heart broke just a little bit, and I finished the run on a more somber note.
So, not a perfect run after all.