Monday, January 7, 2013

23 Mile Challenge

As a follow up to last week's New Year's Kickoff, I want to finish telling you about my kick-start to the new year and new challenges. Last Saturday was my 23 mile training run in preparation for my upcoming marathon.

With the holidays, my weekday runs have suffered. I'm still working hard in the gym, but those 4 am runs have slipped by while I rest on my comfy TempurPedic snuggled up with this guy. 

I set my alarm for 3:45 am on Saturday, and got up and got ready knowing the challenge ahead....or so I thought. I have done a 20 mile run twice now, once with a friend and once solo. Both felt great and I even increased my speed when I went alone. I felt like this run would get me back on track and confident again about going in to the marathon.

In the days that approached, I did my usual prep work: checked the whether, mapped out my course options here, and tried to decide on a time. I knew I didn't want the run to eat up my whole weekend, but I was also enjoying sleeping in til 7 am over the break. To start before sunrise, or not?

Friday evening approached and the chance of morning rain was 80%. I wrote to my neighbor and occasional training partner to see if she was up for some crazy-early and probably wet morning pavement pounding. She was, so just like that I was locked in.

I set my alarm for 3:45, and headed to bed early. In the morning, I got up and felt like everything was right on track. I didn't even mind the light rain. The plan was to run an 8 mile loop first, then run 3 loops at 5 miles each. We stuffed my mailbox full of water and gels, and started the Garmin.

Loop 1: 8 miles, no problem. My partner's pace was a little behind my goal for the day, but I didn't mind since we were still in pitch black darkness. After 8 miles we took a quick water break and headed back out for our first 5 mile loop.

It was as if the sky opened up on this one. We ran through puddles and in to the wind. We were drenched head-to-toe, but still having fun. About 3.5 miles in (at 11.5 for the day) my partner's pace really slowed and she urged me to go ahead. The sun was still a good 20 minutes from showing up, so I decided to work on my pace. I ran ahead at my own pace for about 1/4 mile increments, then turned back to meet her. I did this about 3 times until she said she'd just meet me at the end of the loop.

We all have good running days and bad running days, so I knew how she was feeling. After finishing the loop (at 13 miles for the day) I decided to run the second loop backwards. I don't like taking breaks during runs, so I was worried about my legs cramping up while I waited for her to finish. I set out on the backwards loop and waved to her as she was finishing up her 13 miles, letting her know I'd see her again about 1/2 way through the next loop.

It was light enough outside at this point and the rain was easing up. I kept looking for my partner around every corner, but I never saw her. When I made it back to my mailbox at the end of the second 5 miler (at 18 miles for the day) I saw she had taken her cooler and water bottle. She must have gone home. My spirits dropped, both for her and for myself. My boyfriend's car was gone (he must have gone to the gym), so I knew I was on my own for the final 5.

I was envious, but also, determined. I was sad for her, because I knew she wanted to run the full distance today, but I knew how those bad running days felt and I know I will have one again soon. I decided that I just couldn't handle that same loop any longer. I needed a change of scenery if I was going to go this route alone.

Instead of south, I headed west, to they gym. If Mike was there, maybe I could finish up on the treadmill next to him or even talk him in to going on the road with me for the final few. It's just over 1 mile to the gym. I got there and the thought the treadmill would be unbearable. My spirits were down, my legs were tired and in pain, I needed these last 4 miles to fly by. I didn't see Mike's car in the parking lot, but heading further west meant a sketchy area with no one around for protection. I told myself I would beg and plead with my boyfriend to join me for the final miles if he was home when I got back. I weaved my way through some back streets (which turned out to be just as sketchy as heading west) hoping the mileage would pass, but by the time I got home I still was short...21 miles down, 2 to go.

Still no car back at my house. That was my last hope, the final two were all me. The bottoms of my feet were throbbing with every step, my knee felt tight and every muscle felt sore. My lower back felt weak and my still wet clothes were starting to get really uncomfortable.

I headed away from the house to a familiar 1 mile marker. Every step was a fight with my mind. I knew my body could do it, but my mind was weak and wanted to be done. I put my head down and turned my iPod up.

Carolina Girls came on next, and I immediately burst in to tears. This song always makes me think of my dad. I pictured him cheering for me at the sideline of the marathon just like he used to at soccer games. I could hear his voice in my head, and the sobbing continued.

I pretty quickly realized sobbing makes it VERY hard to breath while running, so I sucked it up and made myself stop. But even those few seconds made me feel so much better. A good cry is so necessary sometimes. Just then I looked up and saw the turning point approaching.

Once I turned around I knew what to do...turn off the music and start an inner song. To the beat of my steps, I said to myself "Just get home, just get home, just get home" over and over like a drum. It's a little trick I picked up in cross country back in high school. Usually I pick something more random and light-hearted (like Mary had a little lamb), but that day, "just getting home" was all I had left to do.

I did finally make it home, and the world did not end. I dragged myself up the stairs and in to the shower. With my hair still in a towel, I climbed in to bed. When Mike returned (he was at the gym! How did I miss him?) he showered up and took me to lunch. French fries, yes please! I think I earned them.

That was a REALLY long way of telling you that I completed my 23 mile training run, mostly alone and very much on pace (I made up some time from miles 12-18, then fell back in to a 10:20 pace for the last 5). Up until this run I had only heard about the mental wall that marathoners hit where it's a fight with your mind to keep moving.

Call me crazy, but I thought I wouldn't hit it. I now know there is a HUGE difference between 20 and 23 miles, and it's mostly in my head. My mind had me running through a lot of different things that day, but at the end of it all I was only one thing. Proud.

1 comment:

  1. I am SO proud of you! WOW, 23 miles is huge and you DID IT! I read this post like a good mystery novel and was on the edge of my seat until the end but I knew you would do it all! I'm actually sort of glad your neighbor flaked out. Now you know you can do it and do it all on your own. Again, SO proud of you and can't wait to see you do it in person!!!! Then we will eat more than some well deserved french fries :)