Running for It, Week 30: In which it gets real

Two weeks to go, the epic 20-miler behind me, the tapering process well under way… and all of a sudden this arrives in the mail…

i was kind of hoping for 24601

That’s right, babies: it just got official.

You know what this means, right? It means this thing is actually happening. I mean, yes, I’ve been training all summer for this thing (the better part of a year if you count my half-marathon training) (which I do). So many hours spent running in the dark, running in the heat, running to the bathroom… but now that I actually have a bib number, it’s real.

And now that it’s real, now that I cannot avoid the fact that I am actually going to have to run 26.2 miles before God and everybody… that’s my cue to start neurotically stressing out about how I can screw it up.

That’s just how I roll.

This incipient marathon-based anxiety has been simmering for a while, but now that success in within reach, it’s suddenly reached a rolling boil (or possibly a “roiling boil,” which is kind of hard to say). Anyway, my mind is constantly divining new ways for me to ruin everything and disappoint everyone (specifically concerning the marathon, not life in general, in which ruination and disappointment are par for the course).

It’s even ingrained itself into my subconscious; the other night I had my first marathon nightmare. Here’s how it went:

It’s Race Day, a bright Sunday morning in Chicago, and I am getting ready to leave for the starting line. Family, friends, even co-workers have all traveled to Chicago to support me and wish me well, and they’re all there with me in the room as I’m getting ready to leave. (For some reason, we’re all staying in a college dormitory, but such is dream logic.) So, dressed in my running togs, I go to pin my bib to my shirt and I realize that I don’t have it. Somehow, in the craziness of the weekend, I completely forgot to go pick up my race packet, and four critical words from the marathon website come to memory: NO RACE-DAY PICKUP. I don’t have a bib, so I can’t run. All that training time, wasted! All these people traveled all this way just to see me, and I completely let them down. As I am desperately trying to think of a way to break it to everyone that I ruined everything, I wake up.

(Filled with dread and covered with sweat—which, to be fair, is how I usually wake up.)

But it’s not just my REM sleep that’s filled with thoughts like these. I’m constantly second-guessing every choice I make that might, might, conceivably affect my running performance.

  • These flip-flops leave my toes exposed… what if someone drops something—say, an ACME anvil—on my foot and I break a toe and I can’t run?
  • I should probably take the stairs, you know, to keep the leg muscles nice and limber. Wait—what if… what if I’m actually overworking my leg muscles?
  • Does this meal have enough protein, or too many carbs, or too much protein, and exactly the right amount of carbs, and anyway what exactly is a “carb,” it sounds made up?
  • I run in low light conditions all the time… what if I trip and fall and hurt myself?

Of course, that last one seems improbable, right? I mean, I’ve been doing this for a while. I think I can run a few miles without, say, tripping and falling and bloodying myself up real good, can’t I? Can’t I?

not pictured: all my sissy tears

No. No, I cannot.

It was last Thursday morning, two miles into my last five-mile run before Race Day (which is a huge deal on its own; I feel like I’ve run a thousand miles this summer, all in five-mile bursts). I crossed the road—to get the other side, natch—and in doing so, I ran across the end of a driveway that was all busted up for some reason. This is, by the way, a driveway I have run over probably dozens of times. But on this fateful day, something caught my shoe—my beautiful new shoe—and I went flying. I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to catch myself, but I did at least have the presence of mind to try and roll toward the grass to soften the blow. So I didn’t land right on my knee, but the rough driveway did manage to land a glancing blow against the side of it there, with the above results.

So what did I do? I got up, I looked myself over and determined that I seemed to be okay, and within 15-20 seconds of tripping, I was running. I finished the last three miles without a hitch. (That photo above was taken after I got home.) Yeah, it looked groady, but it was, in the words of the Black Knight, just a flesh wound—nothing a big bandage and some Neosporin wouldn’t cure.

Actually, those aren’t cures… they’re just treatments for symptoms of a bigger problem: my own klutzy dorkiness, that is, being Price Horn. And that, my friends, is a disease for which there is no cure.

Running for It, Week 29: In which I make new friends and toss the old

One is silver, the other…well, they’re also silver. (I am not very good at rhyming.)

I thought I could pull one last running season out of them, but alas, over the last couple of weeks or so it has become painfully obvious that it is time–nay, long past time!–to bid a fond farewell to my old running shoes.

not pictured: horrific odor

They may not look horribly horrible in the photo, but trust me: they’re pretty worn out. You can see that I’ve ripped a hole in one side there, plus I’ve worn through the inside padding where it meets my heel, plus the hundreds and hundreds of miles I’ve put on these things have really done a number on the soles. I’ve worn these bad boys through this entire training regimen so far, but they actually go back a few years. Frankly, I probably should have replaced them at the beginning of this thing, but the skinflint in me thought they had just enough life left in them to get me through this ridiculous commitment I’ve made to train for and run a marathon.

But check these new kicks!

the N stands for “not a very good runner”

Pretty fancy, eh? And they’re wicked light, made of this stiff mesh-like material that helps the feet breathe (although I am pretty sure that is not how physiology works). And they’re comfortable, too. Sure, there’s going to be a bit of a breaking-in process to stretch them a little here and there, and so my feet can grow accustomed to a slightly different fit, but I’m pretty happy with them so far.

I picked them up mid-week to give me time to get a few miles in them before my long run on Saturday. And this would not be just any long run; oh no, this would be The Big One. The Peak. La Corrida Grande: 20 miles. This was, according to Hal Higdon’s training regimen, as far as I’d run before Race Day.

And so it was that I was looking forward to this weekend with a strange mix of trepidation and excitement: trepidation because 20 miles is a significant marker, and excitement because… well, I don’t know, because it would be cool to say that I ran 20 miles? Anyway, I was prepared to get up early on Saturday and do my thing, and I had even found a new running path around a lake about half an hour from the house and I was eager to try it out.

And then life got in the way. Turns out I had completely forgotten about a church retreat thingy that stretched from Friday evening into Saturday afternoon. Desperate to get my run in early on Saturday, I planned out an alternate route that centered on the hotel, but then I realized that in order to complete the run and get back and shower and whatnot before retreat stuff started, I would have to get up at like 3:30am.

I did not want to get up at like 3:30am.

So I didn’t.

I decided that, as much as I hated running during the non-morning hours, I would have to run in the afternoon. And so, as the retreat wound down and we packed up to go home, we walked outside… into a steady rain. Oh, joy… 20 miles in the rain. Plus, I kind of had a headache, and they had stuffed us full of food at the retreat and I was feeling a little weighed down and tired. Long story short, I was not feeling up to this run. Nonetheless, dutifully, I got my running crap together and drove up to Smithville Lake to just get this thing done already, dreading every minute of it.

And then I proceeded to kick a** and take names. (Though I did not kick very hard and I subsequently lost the list of names.)

I’m not even kidding. It was probably the best long run I have experienced since the beginning of this ordeal. Check it:

a long and winding road

Make a note of that time. I ran 20 miles faster than I ran 18 miles several weeks ago. Frankly, I’m not sure what happened. You’re not supposed to run that fast on your long runs; according to Hal Higdon, you’re supposed to run them at an easy, comfortable pace, about 45-90 seconds slower than your expected marathon pace. That’s what I’ve been doing… that is, until Saturday. I ran about a minute/mile faster than I’ve run on any of my long runs so far. I actually kept trying to slow down and it felt weird. The pace I was running felt right, it felt good, so I just kept running it.

It helped that:

  1. The rain had stopped just before I started running.
  2. It was a cool, cloudy day.
  3. The running path was mostly flat, with a few gentle hills thrown in for variety.
  4. All that food I ate apparently gave me plenty of fuel to get it done (apparently that is  how physiology works?).

I can’t believe I waited until the last long run of my training to try out these running trails at Smithville Lake. They curve around the lake, where you can see herons and other big birds (of which I do not know the names) diving for fish. They wind through wooded glades, where deer without number run across your path or stare at you placidly from the treeline. They pass through a few campgrounds, where Boy Scouts and old folks in RVs wave at you and fishermen give you a friendly nod as you pass by. And I only covered maybe a third of the length of the whole trail system; there are miles and miles and miles I haven’t even touched yet. Fantastic!

But that’s not to say it was all pleasant. Those last couple of miles were a bit of a slog; I didn’t slow down, but I was getting pretty exhausted, and when I hit the 20-mile mark I’m pretty sure I didn’t have another six miles in me. Lesson: slow down a little. I got excited, and maybe went a little–though not a lot!–faster than I probably should have. I hadn’t planned on running that fast in the marathon, anyway, so I think I’ll be okay come Race Day.

And here’s the best part, I kid you not: 20 miles, and not a single episode. Come on, you know what I’m talking about.

If you don’t, then brother, you ain’t been paying attention.

Running for It, Week 28: In which I am preemptively depressed

I am the kind of person who hates going on vacations because they inevitably come to an end and I know I will be depressed when they’re over.

I am the kind of person who dreads getting something good because there’s a part of me that will think, “well, it’s good, but it could be better,” and then something will go and ruin it anyway, in which case I will be depressed.

I am the kind of person who does not dare to dream of chasing down a dream because even if I could somehow achieve it, there is no way it could live up to the expectations I have built up in my head, and what’s the point anyway because it will never come true anyway, and I am thus depressed.

I could go on.

And so it is that I have realized that four weeks from today, it will all be over. I will  have spent like eight months of my life focused on a single goal (well, okay, two goals really, if you count June’s half-marathon as a separate goal), rearranging my schedule and my priorities and obsessively training to accomplish one difficult task. And then Race Day will arrive, and I will run the marathon, and it will be hard, but I will push through and do it, and it will be thrilling to cross the finish line, and I will be happy. But then there will be a part of me–I know this, because I know the kind of person I am–that will whisper: “Yeah, I did okay, but I could have done better.” Or “Sure, I ran a marathon, but it was an easy one (relatively speaking), so don’t get the big head.”

But the voice I fear most will say: “Okay, fine… now what?” That’s the worst. I know that once it’s over, I will be depressed because I will no longer have that singular focus. Once I’ve achieved it, then what?

And so, I thought I’d just eliminate the middleman and get depressed now. Why wait?

Is this normal? Does anyone else feel this way? Is it going to help, or hurt, my training? I mean, I’ve still got one big bad run left–the 20-miler slated for next weekend–and it can’t be a good thing to be down for that when common sense says I need to be up. I can’t be running down the road at mile 16 or so, thinking to myself, “Pfft. This is ridiculous. Why are you wasting your time? It doesn’t even matter.” (Maybe I could get Shannon to drive beside me the whole way, shouting that de-motivational slogan out the window of the van? It would save me the effort, anyway.)

I do know this: I gotta get past this somehow. Just sitting here writing about it has helped clarify the fact that this mindset is not helping me one bit. Intellectually, of course, I know this, but emotionally it’s a bit of a slog right now. And my running ability has very little to do with it. I am, if anything, more confident than ever of my ability to do this thing. I can tell that I’m improving, getting steadily better (yes, that’s pretty much the definition of “improving” — ed.) and I am frequently amazed that I can somehow look at a 12-mile run and casually dismiss it as “easy.” But for whatever reason, that’s just not enough right now. Maybe that 20-miler next weekend is just what Dr. Higdon ordered; maybe the thrill of setting the bar just that much higher will be enough to jog me loose from this funk.

But then, after that I slowly taper down for three weeks until I’m doing, like, two-mile runs. I don’t know how I’m going to feel about that. I’m sure I’ll find some excuse to complain about it. After all, that’s where I excel: the long-form whinge.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how my runs went this week: meh.

They were fine.

They could’ve been better.

Running for It, Week 27: In which an old enemy returns… with a vengeance

It has gone so well, for so long, that I guess I should not have been surprised that at some point something would go horribly awry.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: my 19-mile long run went great. Fantastic, even. Because last weekend’s experiment went so well, I kept up my pattern of taking short walking breaks every 1.5 miles, and I really have no complaints. (I did some number-crunching on the aid stations in Chicago, and they average out to one every 1.3 miles, so I’m thinking I should be okay in that respect.) And I kept up a reasonable pace even though the course was wicked hilly. Check it:

oh, 17-mile mark, I think I’ll miss you most of all

Thank God for those downhill stretches, because there were a few uphill climbs that, as soon as I saw them off in the distance, made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. But here’s the thing: I made it through them just fine. I’m not gonna lie to you… I was getting pretty tired by mile 17 or 18 or so, but if this training regimen has taught me anything, it’s taught me to endure. It’s not that I’m getting any faster, really; it’s that I’m getting much, much better at pushing through despite my exhaustion, essentially ignoring my aching leg muscles. A few months ago, I might’ve just quit and started walking when my legs started crying out for relief. (I might also have been a little shocked to learn that my legs had developed the power of speech.) But now? I just keep running. Cry all you want, legs, I’m just gonna ignore you. Go ahead, I can keep this up as long as you can.

(Parenting, it seems, also provides good endurance training.)

So anyway, I guess what I’m saying is, it was a great 19-mile run. Yes, I was pretty beat at the end, and I definitely needed a nap that afternoon (I had to get up at 4:30am to beat the day’s heat), but I was very happy with it.

Well, except for that one thing that I obliquely mentioned earlier. Something I thought I had long since gotten out of my system decided to make a return appearance, with much stinky fanfare. You guessed it, babies: I desperately had to drop a wicked deuce.

This has not been a problem for a very long time. I assumed my gastrointestinal system had adjusted to my running schedule and that we were working hand-in-colon to make this thing work. Still, I planned my routes such that there would be bathrooms nearby when the urge hit. And so when it hit, right between the five- and six-mile marks, I was flustered but I assumed it wouldn’t be much of a problem. After all, I was running along a main thoroughfare with numerous businesses, etc.

Here’s what I didn’t plan on: I was running so early in the morning that none of them were open. It wasn’t even 6am yet. Grocery store: closed. Gas station: closed (I had really put all my brown eggs in that gas station basket, and when it turned out to be completely dark, I was crestfallen). And then, a-ha! There was a burger joint right next door, with cars in the lot and people walking around inside. Salvation!

Or so I thought. The workers at this particular eatery had other ideas. It was still like 12 minutes until 6:00, and it didn’t open until 6:00, but I really didn’t think I could wait. It was that bad. So I banged on the window, and when a young female employee came to the door, I stated, as calmly as I could muster, that I knew they weren’t open but please OH GOD PLEASE could I use their restroom? After a moment’s thought, she decided she would have to ask her manager. So I paced back and forth, clenching fiercely and murmuring “come on come on come on come on come on,” for a few minutes while she did so.

She finally came to the door and said, “Sorry, but we don’t open until 6.” And she shut and locked the door, leaving me sweating and frantic and miserable. I had to take a dump, and there was literally nowhere to do so. Oh heck, why am I being so vague about these people that treated a fellow human being (which I am) like a common bum (which I also am)?

Steak ‘n Shake at 4929 Northwest Old Pike Road in Kansas City, Missouri: I’m callin’ you out.

That’s right, I’m naming names.

Seriously, folks, what possible harm could it have done to let a brother use your bathroom? A few minutes and I would have been completely out of your hair. I admit, I may have looked kind of like a crazy person, because who but a crazy person would be out running at that ungodly hour, but come on! We eat there all the time! It’s not like I wouldn’t have made it up to you later. I just expected more of you. I’m not angry, I’m… disappointed. Oh yeah, I’m getting all parental on you.

Anyway, could I wait eight more minutes until they opened? No sir, I could not. So I did the only thing I could do: I started running again, clenching feverishly. What else was I supposed to do? I couldn’t pinch one off behind the Home Depot or in the church parking lot. So I just ran, praying desperately that I could make it to Englewood Road, where my salvation–in the form of a 24-hour QuikTrip–awaited.

I may never understand how I was able to make it. Call it a miracle, if you wish. I don’t know how else to explain it, because I ran another mile with a round in the chamber and somehow managed not to fire until I reached that blessed, blessed convenience store.

As long as I’m naming names… QuikTrip at 528 Northwest Englewood Road in Kansas City, Missouri: you guys rock.

(Also, I’m sorry for what I did to your men’s room. A little elbow grease and those stains’ll come right out.)