Running for It, Week 32: In which I RUN A MARATHON

Fine. It’s done. I did it. I ran your precious Chicago Marathon. Are you happy now? Are you?!

Because I am.

I, Price Horn (you know, that weird funny-looking guy who named his son after Captain Kirk and who reads comic books at lunch and who has dolls action figures all over his house), just ran twenty-six point two freaking miles, babies.

Which is not to say that he ran them well. But, before we get too deep into that, let’s jump right to the numbers:

  • 4:45:58
  • 19950th out of 35708 finishers
  • 12934th out of 20255 male finishers
  • 2170th out of 3300 male finishers 40-44

Note that I used “finishers” instead of “runners.” That’s because the marathon results website thingy only counts people who actually finished the race, completely discarding the results of anyone who started but did not finish. And I say to the people who are responsible for compiling these figures: BOO TO YOU. 45,000 people registered for this thing; what happened to the other 10,000? (And don’t give me that noise about the wheelchair participants; there were only like 50 of those guys.) I understand that a bunch of them didn’t even show up, because of illness or apathy or alien abduction. But how many started and then crapped out before the end? Look: my numbers would seem so much better if you counted everyone who ran, even if they didn’t finish. So let’s work on that for next year, shall we?

And speaking of those numbers: 4:45:58?! That’s not just slower that I expected to run, it’s WAY slower than I expected to run… slower, in fact, than I have ever run, even on the worst of my long runs back in the sweltering summer. What the heck happened? In the midst of it, when I was too busy putting one foot in front of the other, I wasn’t really worried about pace. I was just running what felt right at the time, and for whatever reason, what felt right that morning was wicked slow. I’m not sure why, but I have some theories:

  • I didn’t sleep well the night before and woke up with virtually no energy.
  • I ate something on Saturday that didn’t quite sit right, and thus woke up with a (very) minor case of the Hershey Squirts. (That’s the last time I consume a burrito that I find on the sidewalk.)
  • It was a little warmer than was strictly comfortable, pushing 80 by the time I hit the finish line, and most of the race was in direct sun.
  • Localized time warp?

To be fair, I’m not the only one who ran slow that day (and even with that time, I was still in the top two-thirds of finishers in my specific categories, and just a hair off the top half in finishers overall). Every single runner I talked to afterwards–and I mean it, every single one–complained about how slow they had run that day. I can’t tell you how many times I heard some lean, sweaty marathon vet griping about his or her “worst time ever.” Most blamed the weather… sure, sounds good to me. It does make me feel a little better to know that everyone was struggling (everyone, of course, but the Kenyan who won the whole thing and set a course record that day). And I could tell, just looking at the faces around me, that people were working a lot harder than they had expected.

I really enjoyed passing those people.

When I could squeeze past them, of course. It was, shall we say, crowded. The starting gun went off and it took more than twenty minutes to get to the starting line and actually start, you know, running. During those first couple of miles as we made our way through the skyscraper canyons of downtown, I probably could have stopped running and just been carried along by the participants to either side of me. We were wedged in pretty tight there for a while, is what I’m saying. Trying to get around someone moving slower than me (yes, there were a few of them) was an exercise in futility, like trying to extricate myself from a maze whose walls kept moving.

And more than once, I was one of those walls for someone else. Somewhere around mile eight or nine, a tiny little lady–four feet and change, max, with disturbingly muscular legs–had to slide past me and she threw some weird, angry gesture at me as she passed. (After that, the girl in front of me got the business end of Tiny Angry Lady’s elbow.) That was kind of an unpleasant experience, I suppose, though not as unpleasant as the tied-up plastic grocery sack full of fecal matter that I passed on the march to the starting line.

But that’s nit-picking. Other than my oddly slow pace, it was phenomenal. Just being surrounded by tens of thousands of runners (many of them marathon newbies like me) as we waited for the race to begin, as we wound through tree-lined neighborhoods where perfect strangers had risen early to cheer us on, as we plodded on through assorted ethnic enclaves where we were loudly celebrated in assorted tongues… it was thrilling. Adrenaline-boosting. Especially around the halfway point and around mile 19 when I caught sight of the family and friends that had made the trip to Chicago, catching trains and buses all over the city to watch me do my thing at various points along the course.

they wrote “go” but forgot to write “away”

Of course, cheer-based adrenaline can only take you so far: ’round about that last sighting of the cheering section, I was really starting to feel it. Call it “The Wall,” call it whatever you want, but my feet were aching, and I was feeling the first glimmers of a raw, steady burn in my quadriceps. I was tired. By mile 21 (”I still have another five miles?!“), I was in uncharted territory. I had never run that far before, and my body would not shut up about it. All I could think about was stopping.

Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop running. Stop running now. It hurts. It hurts. Stop running.

But I didn’t, of course. I may have been running slow, but BY GOD I wasn’t going to stop. People were collapsing, dropping out… but after sinking months of training into preparing for it, spending all that money to register and to travel, there was no way I was going to throw it all away just to disappoint everyone. That’s right, the only things keeping me going were cheapness (sheer skinflintery!) and fear of looking like a chump. (Well, more like a chump.)

By mile 24, it was all I could do to move forward–just take a step, and then repeat. I was grunting like an animal, my legs quivering, burning. Runners around me were reacting similarly to the ravages of the race: weeping, panting, puking in the middle of the street. It seemed like I had been running forever, and that I would have to keep on running, forever.

This is never going to end. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. Stop. Please, stop.

But then, a sign: “800m.” Only 800 meters left in the race. I could hear the loud, raucous cheers of the finish-line crowds, the pounding music from the loudspeakers, and right then I knew: I got this. And at that moment, I forgot about the pain and the crippling fatigue, and ran faster in that last mile than I had run the entire race.

600m.

400m.

The 26-mile mark, right in the middle of the final hill of the course. So close. (And so focused was I on finishing strong that I completely missed the cheering section who had traipsed across town to see me finish. Sorry, folks, but I had a thing.)

200m.

And then it was done. Finish line. Medal. Photos. Bananas. Cold towels. Cold water. Cold beer.

I let loose with a manic war whoop, threw my cap in the air, and cared not one whit what anyone thought. Maybe it was slower than I wanted, but I did it. I ran a marathon. I was exhausted, and stepping up on a curb felt like I was stabbing myself in the leg, but I ran a marathon. I smelled like death, but I always kind of smell like death, and

I.

RAN.

A.

MARATHON.

And here’s the best part: because I got it all out of my system at the port-a-potty before the race, I ran 26 miles and 385 yards–a life-changing experience that took nearly five hours–and didn’t have to stop even once to take a dump.

Call it what you want, my friends… I call it victory.

thumbs up for medals, thumbs down for deep, crippling exhaustion

Running for It, Week 31: In which it’s all over but the cryin’

A week from now, it will all be over. (If it’s not–if I’m still running in the late afternoon of Race Day, then something will have gone seriously wrong. For example, perhaps I will have been thrown by an immensely powerful wind gust deep into Lake Michigan, forcing me to battle cold and deadly rip currents to fight my way back to the race where–weary and soaking wet–I will have dutifully taken my place at the back of the pack and plodded forward. More likely, I will have overslept and missed the whole thing.)

Anyway, by this time next week, I will be overwhelmed with one or more of the following:

  • triumph
  • exhaustion
  • humility
  • a deep, abiding shame

Or possibly all of the above.

There’s a part of me that is so wrapped up in the minutiae and effort of training that it has not really had time to contemplate what’s about to happen. Unfortunately, it’s a very tiny part of me. The other 97.39 percent of me is cripplingly obsessed with contemplating what’s about to happen, with ridiculous questions bubbling up over and over again inside my noggin.

  • What if I hurt myself between now and then?
  • What if the weather is terrible?
  • What if I oversleep and miss the whole thing?
  • How fast should I run on Race Day?
  • What if I choose a pace that’s too fast?
  • What if I choose a pace that’s too slow?
  • What if I choose a pace that’s just right, and then I’m eaten by a family of bears?

As I said, the questions are a little on the ridiculous side, except for the one about the bears. Here’s the one that worries me the most:

  • What if I’m not prepared?

I’ve been training for a long time. It feels like it’s gone well, but how am I supposed to know what feels right? I don’t have a coach to give me feedback. Sure, I’ve been using a plan devised by an old–and I do mean old– pro, but I haven’t been training with anyone else. Some friends that are marathon vets have given me a little advice here and there based on my Runkeeper stats, but they’re on the other side of the country. They’re not inside my head. (As far as I know, anyway. No, I know they’re not in there. No one could survive such an experience.)

So how do I know what feels right?

For example, I burned it up on my 20-mile run a few weeks ago, going much faster than I ever had before on a long run. And then, these past few weeks as I’ve been tapering off my distances, I’ve been going relatively fast on my mid-week runs and also on my long-ish Saturday runs. For example, on my 12-miler last weekend I was doing better than a 10-minute mile, and on yesterday’s eight-miler at Smithville Lake (the final Saturday long run of this here training regimen) I ran faster than I’ve run in months, even on my short mid-week runs.

look close and you’ll see where I took a wrong turn at the end

Crazy! I don’t know if that was the right thing to do or not. (And I know for a fact that I shan’t be running that fast next weekend. Not even close.) I know that it felt right at the time, but because I’ve never done this before, I don’t know if I’m the best judge of what feels right. What if I do what feels right during the marathon, and it ends up being wrong and I crap out (please, I beg you, not literally) before 26.2?

Then again, here’s the elevation map of the course:

almost as flat as a pancake, but not nearly as tasty

That’s the flattest course I will have ever run. (If I am reading the map correctly, those spikes are bridges over assorted waterways.) Truly flat courses are hard to come by ’round here. The closest I’ve come is my 20-miler, which felt flat, but which actually gently rolled up and down. I can’t compare the two courses, really. They’re just different, is all, and while my performance on one probably says something about my performance on the other, I have no idea what it says.

If I run as fast as I did for my 20-miler, I can probably finish the marathon at around 4:15. If I slow down just a bit, and run about the speed I ran for some of my slower long runs over the summer, I can do it in 4:30. As luck would have it, there are these “Pace Teams” that run at set finishing times, and you can sign up for them when you pick up your race packet. And yes, there’s a 4:15 pace team and a 4:30 one as well. But which one to sign up for? They say to sign up for the slower one and then just run ahead of them if you feel like it. I’d feel pretty stupid if I did the 4:15 one and had to fall back, so yeah… I’ll probably sign up for a slower one, if I sign up at all.

In the meantime, I have only a few runs left before the Big Day: a three-mile and two two-milers. (Running two miles almost seems like more trouble than it’s worth, but so Hal Higdon has written, so shall it be run.) It feels really weird to be running these short distances again–flashing back to the early days of training when that was the best I could do–and in fact, some days they feel harder than they probably should. I’ve been assured by my running friends that that’s normal.

(But then, I don’t know if I can trust the judgment of anyone who talks about me while uttering the word “normal.”)

See you at the finish line, folks. (I’ll be the stinky one.)

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.)

Running for It, Week 26: In which it is time to shake things up

Six weeks until Zero Hour, and you know what that means… Well, it means I have only six short weeks to train for what will most likely be the most difficult physical challenge of my life (even more challenging than that time in college when my roommate and I dared ourselves to down an entire giant bucket of KFC in one sitting–I was sweating grease for weeks afterwards).

And so, as this thing nears, I find myself wondering if I’m really doing everything I can to prepare myself. I mean, sure, I’ve been faithfully following my Higdon-prescribed training regimen, pretty much to the letter (with some minor exceptions here and there). I’ve kept up with my midweek runs. I’ve been dragging myself out of bed at 5 am on muggy Saturday mornings to run ungodly distances. But after I ran that hilly 18-miler last weekend in suburban St. Louis, and pulled it off pretty successfully, it set me to wondering: have I been coddling myself?

I mean, for quite a while now I’ve been doing my long runs at a park near my house, a park with a nice and shady and fairly flat course. Yes, the distances are still challenging, but the course itself is not. Plus, I have been taking those one-minute walking breaks every mile. I was checking the locations of the aid stations along the route of the marathon, and I realized that they are not exactly evenly spaced. (Seriously, what’s the deal with aid stations 3 and 4? They’re like half a mile apart. You can probably see 4 from 3. But I digress.) Yes, the course in Chicago is very flat, but I just couldn’t help but wonder if I have been spoiling myself, maybe taking the easy way out instead of pushing myself a little bit harder than I think I should.

So, to that end, I tried a little experiment on my long run. Now, I will say that this “long run” took place during my step-back weekend; that is, the weekend when I “step back” in distance a little to give myself time to recover from the 18-miler and to get ready for next week’s 19-miler. So I was only running 13 miles. (Who knew that I would ever find myself saying that I was only running a half-marathon?) Anyhoo, take a look at the fancy chart below and see if you can tell what I did differently:

charts are fun

One, it should be pretty obvious that I didn’t run on that easy running path at the park. Instead, I planned out a route that forced me to run some decent hills. And check the spacing of those blue spikes: for this run, I took walking breaks every 1.5 miles instead of every mile. And you know what? It went just fine. Yes, I was kind of tired at the end of it, but that was to be expected, I suppose. The way I figure it, if I can pull off these long runs with breaks at each 1.5-mile mark, that’s going to be much closer to the experience I’m actually going to face come October 9. Yes, I know, the aid stations aren’t exactly 1.5 miles apart in Chicago, and the course isn’t hilly at all, but still.

Of course, it’s one thing to sustain that pace over a measly half-marathon (!). Can I sustain it over next Saturday’s 19-miler? Here’s how you will know: if I do not post next week, it will be because I died in the attempt. But what a way to go!

Nothing else too interesting this week, except for one rare, puzzling technological glitch on Tuesday’s 5-mile run. I had run this route many times before, so I had a good idea of where each mile marker lay. So when RunKeeper whispered in my headphones that I had run three miles at a pace of like 8 minutes/mile, I knew something was up because experience told me it was more like 2.5 miles or so and there was no way I was running that fast. And sure enough, my pace and distance was off for the whole remainder of the run. At the end of the workout, I had logged over 6 miles on a 5-mile route. How on earth did that happen?

Well, apparently something went all pear-shaped with my GPS that morning, because the map of my route on RunKeeper has me all over the friggin’ place. Check this sample: not only am I weaving in and out of traffic, I’m doing loop-de-loops and repeatedly doubling back on myself.

look out, early morning commuters! comin’ through!

Later, I was drunkenly zig-zagging around a residential street and apparently running through people’s houses as they were getting ready for work.

me, running past a lady eating breakfast at her kitchen table: “on your left, ma’am”

I’m not exactly sure what happened, because I didn’t encounter the issue again. After I got home, I did find out that Google Maps was downloading and installing an automatic update during my run. Maybe that had something to do with it, I don’t know. Then again, maybe the map is accurate! Maybe that’s actually what happened and I’ve blocked out the horrifically traumatic memories of the experience.

Of course, it was probably much more traumatic for the people whose houses I supposedly entered. Watching me awkwardly stumble through your breakfast nook cannot be a good way to start your day.

Running for It, Week 25: In which OH CRAP I forgot to post this thing

What the heck? It’s Wednesday already? How did that even happen? Oh, right… that’s how time generally works.

Okay, yeah, I forgot to post anything about last week’s runs, but I’m pressed for time. So let’s just let these two words do the talkin’:

EIGHTEEN MILES, SUCKAS.

(Note: May contain more than two words.)

Here’s another thing I’ll let do the talkin’–a chart (courtesy of RunKeeper)!

I was told there would be no math

We were spending the weekend in the St. Louis area, visiting family, so I had to plan out a new route, sight unseen. I knew it might be tricky, since my typical long-run route is fairly flat. As you can see from those rolling green mountains, this was, shall we say, not. (I will freely admit that the last mile, as you can see, was all downhill and pretty much a cake-walk. Except I was running, not walking, and there was very little cake.)

The blue line is my pace, as you can see from the legend. You can totally see the short, minute-or-so walking breaks I took every mile or so. See those blue spikes? Yeah, that’s them. But look at the rest of that blue line: even going up and down some crazy hills, I maintained a pretty steady, even pace. Not too shabby, right?

I planned the route online, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but then Friday evening my father-in-law drove me around the route and gave me some tips on roads to avoid. There were a couple of roads we skipped over, as my father-in-law assured me they would be fine. Anyone want to guess where I had the problems?

Yep, right about mile 16 or so, I topped a hill to see a road ripped to shreds for resurfacing, and–of course!–no sidewalks. I didn’t know the neighborhood well enough to find my way around it, so I just plowed forward, literally running through people’s yards for almost a mile before I finally got back to civilization. But check my pace: it didn’t suffer at all for having to run through mud and grass.

Wet grass, I should point out. It rained steadily for the last four miles of the run.

Anyway, long story short, I ran 18 long miles in a hilly, unfamiliar setting, and I think I did pretty okay. Sure, it was a little slower than I typically run, but I’m not complaining and I’m certainly not disappointed in myself.

(My specialty, after all, is in disappointing others.)

Running for It, Week 24: In which my body is a LIAR

Or maybe it’s my mind that’s the liar, I can’t figure out which. I’ll explain what I mean by that later.

So this past week was good. Real good. It was probably the best batch of runs I’ve had since the half-marathon, and I owe it all to the fact that it hasn’t been 118 degrees outside. Yes, that horrendous Kansas City heat wave finally broke. We’re talking temperatures in the 60s/low 70s when I got up to run in the morning. No humidity, either, and brother, it was fan-freaking-tastic. I had great times on my midweek runs, probably my best pace since the half-marathon. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re not spending your entire run regretting you ever made the rash and ill-considered to do this thing in the first place because it will probably be the end of you. Without muggy tropical heat sapping every ounce of my energy, I was just sailin’. (And by sailin’, I mean runnin’. Very fast.)

Well, kind of very fast. I’m still not running as fast as I was running while training for Hospital Hill, but I’m running about as fast as I did during Hospital Hill, so I’m gonna chalk it up as a win.

And speaking of wins: 17 miles on Saturday. Heck yeah, I did. And it was great! No complaints. During past long runs, I have had all manner of petty annoyances to contend with, such as:

  • running in the dark
  • running through spider webs
  • a phone that kept getting phantom signals from my headphones and making random phone calls and skipping around to different songs
  • having to offload cargo mid-run (by which I mean I had to go Number Two)
  • Collapsing dead from exhaustion

(Okay, so I still had to run in the dark, and I still ran through a bunch of spider webs. This is the price you pay for getting up before sunrise to run in the woods. I think the City of Gladstone should reimburse me for my web-clearing services, but I digress.) But the rest of it hasn’t been a problem. I got an app for my phone that blocks phantom headset signals. I have successfully adjusted my gastrointestinal schedule such that I am taking care of business the night before. No kiddin’, 17 miles and I didn’t have to stop off at the bathroom even once. (Maybe it’s because the bathrooms are so convenient now? If I do a run when they’re inaccessible, perhaps I will have to face my old nemesis once again. Let’s not find out.)

And as far as the exhaustion goes, I did fine. Still taking short, one-minute walking breaks once per mile, and I ran faster on this long run than I have run on any so far. Now I’m not gonna lie to you: even with those breaks, during the last couple of miles I was getting pretty tired. During the last mile in particular, I could hear that voice in my head telling me to knock it the heck off already, this is getting stupid.

A while back, I listened to an episode of Radiolab called “Limits.” The episode dealt with, well, limits, including the limits of human endurance. The hosts talked to ultramarathoners and other endurance athletes, and they discovered that these folks have to eventually learn to actively ignore that little voice in their heads. They have to figure out little tricks to convince their bodies that they’re not exhausted, that they still have the energy to press on despite everything that’s screaming “NO! NO YOU DON’T!”

I’m not gonna say I got to that point last Saturday, but I could feel it creeping up on me. I was tired. My body told me that I wanted to stop and just walk the rest of the way. But I didn’t. I called my body a liar. It told me I couldn’t do it, and I called it a LIAR. I just put my head down and pushed on. It may not have been fun, but I did it anyway. And that felt good. It makes me think that I can do this thing. I know, from talking to other marathoners, that the last eight miles or so are a tough slog for just about everybody, but I think I’m starting to develop the mental discipline that will allow me to… if not ignore the pain, then at least to push it down–WAY DOWN–long enough to finish what I started.

I can do this.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. This is the part of the training schedule I have been dreading since Week 1. This is when the regimen gets interesting, and by “interesting,” I mean “terrifying.” My midweek runs finally bump up to five-eight-five, and the Saturday runs are gonna be just insane: 19, 20 miles? It’s gonna kill me. I’ll be running like 40 miles a week! Or so. If I do the calculations, it’s probably going to be less than 40, and that would be a crushing blow.

That’s why I’m not going to do the calculations. That’s one of the chief strategies I’ll have to deploy to get through this thing: ignorance.

Hey, it’s worked for me so far.

Running for It, Week 23: In which everything goes well and I unsurprisingly still complain

A couple of weeks ago, I hit the 14-mile mark, finally surpassing the distance I covered in the half-marathon. In that week’s blog post, I triumphantly declared that I had hit the halfway point in my marathon training. And I stood back and basked in the imagined glory that I imagined was justly mine to imagine.

Here’s the thing: apparently I do not know how to count, because that was week seven of an 18-week training regimen. For those of you playing at home, just so you know, seven is not halfway to 18. (I know some of my readers are from Arkansas, so I thought I’d better clarify.)

I just finished week 9, however, so now I can officially make my triumphal declaration that I am halfway there. Except that I’m not really in a mood to do so, for this reason: You mean to tell me that I’m only halfway done with marathon training?

Seriously, shouldn’t I be done with this stuff by now? All the sweat-soaked runs before work, rising at 5 a.m. on Saturdays for long runs, the obligatory blog posts that I have to write now because I promised I would despite the fact that I don’t really feel like it and nobody reads them anyway… enough, already! Can’t we just do this thing and get it over with?

A friend of mine told me the other day that I was probably ready for the marathon, that if you can run 13.1 miles, you can run 26.2. Is that even true? To be fair, I have heard that before, or at least something along those lines. I’ve done 15 miles, and that went pretty well. Could I do another 11ish without the training to get me there? Maybe, though I can’t imagine it would be pleasant. And I suppose I could take that line of thinking to its logical extreme: If the reasoning goes that if you can get halfway there, you can go the rest of the way… then clearly if I can run 6.55 miles, then I can run 13.1, then I can run 26.2. And if I can run 3.275 miles, then I can run 6.55, which means I can run 13.1 and therefore 26.2. And if I can run 1.6375 miles… well, you get the idea. Point is, I guess I better keep working.

All this to say, I’m starting to get a little tired of the training. It feels like it has gone on forever. Doesn’t it seem like I should be in Chicago by now? I wish I were. Training runs on the lakefront have got to be more enjoyable than these miserable slogs through the crippling heat of Kansas City. That said, this week did go pretty well. My four-seven-four midweek runs were almost fun, despite the sweat, and my 13.1-mile long run was almost–almost–approaching pleasant.

The best part of running a half-marathon on Saturday was noting that at the end of it, I felt pretty good. No excessive soreness and whatnot. My quads weren’t crying out for relief. Contrast that with my performance two months ago at Hospital Hill, after which I was basically wishing I was dead (which isn’t that big a deal, really, since I wish that several times a day). Anyway, it’s clear that I’m making progress. I’m a better runner than I was two months ago, and nine weeks from now, when I’m pushing along in a field of 44,999 other runners toward a finish line 26.2 miles distant, I’ll be an even better athlete than I am now.

Did you see that? I just referred to myself as an athlete, which sounds wicked awesome and may be the first time in history anyone has ever said such a thing about Price Horn. Of course, since I’m the one saying it, maybe I should not get the big head about it. After all, I’ve got nine more weeks to prove that I am a miserable failure.

(This is not, by the way, the first time in history that anyone has referred to me as a “miserable failure.” Nor will it be the last.)

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