Monday, September 27, 2010

The Long Run

2% of 500 is 10… 2% of 510 is 10.20… 2% of 520.20 is…

Sometimes when I run, I compound interest.  Or I plan meals I’m going to cook for the week.  Or I imagine myself being interviewed on Oprah (most importantly, what outfit I will wear).  I do anything I can to keep my brain from doing this:

My hip hurts.  I’m bored.  This hill sucks.  Why am I doing this?  My toes feel squished.  My hip hurts.  I feel a little nauseous.  Am I getting nauseous?  It’s so hot out.  When can I stop?  How long have I been going?

To me, the hardest part about doing long runs is not the actual running.  Somewhere after 40 or 50 minutes, the pain/discomfort levels out.  The hardest part is keeping my mind off running.  For short runs, I can achieve a little running zen… feeling happy and content with just feeling myself run, feeling healthy and strong, listening to my breathing match my footsteps.  On short runs, I can problem solve.  For years, three mile runs have been my therapy, my brainstorming sessions, my best-idea-generators.  Long runs, runs where I’m out there silently pounding the pavement, are a whole different beast.

I completed my third half-marathon on Sunday.  The night before I didn’t feel particularly nervous this time – I knew we’d trained really well, including a super hilly 13 miles the weekend before.  I knew it would be hard – physically uncomfortable – and that we’d be out there for a really, really long time.

What I wasn’t anticipating though was the difference that a really small race makes, mentally.  My past two experiences have been huge races – the Virginia Beach Rock 'n’ Roll Half and the Baltimore Under Armor Half.  Both had well over 10,000 people, spectators throughout the race, and courses that wound through interesting scenery and cities.

But OUR race had the Lowe’s Motor Speedway!  We were going to run on the Speedway!

Turns out after about 1 minute on the speedway, the “coooooool, I’m on the Speedway!” factors wears off.  Then it’s just another 17 minutes (I’m slow) of running a big, long, gerbil track.  And the Z-Max Dragway?  Running down an airport runway.  To add insult to injury, there were only about 150 other runners and no one on the course except a volunteer every half mile or so to point the way.

“What’s 2% of 100?  And 2% of 102?”

I was digging deep to keep my mind busy.  Lauren and I paced together for the first 9 miles, and we tried hard to steer the conversation away from the crappy course.  After nearly 8 months of training runs together, we’ve covered pretty much every topic of conversation but we were both struggling to keep each other going on this one.  Around 9, Lauren started inching ahead and I waved her on.  9 was a uphill bridge back to the speedway, and then running through the back of the stands (where concessions are) to the entrance.  I sucked on a Gu, chanted “I feel good” to the sound of my feet (which was a far cry from the truth) and willed myself to get to the speedway.  10 was the entrance to the speedway, and after the initial “cool!” factor, I was over it.  Halfway around the track, at 11, I started channeling my dad.  When I ran Baltimore, my Dad was waiting at 11 and jumped in with me.  I heard his voice in my head again telling me it was just a few more miles, flat from here on out, I wasn’t going to stop now, keep going.  11.5 was the exit of the speedway, and a little old man sat at the corner pointing me to 12.

I always think when I get to 12, I’ll feel this burst of energy and just let it all out for the last mile.  This was not what happened.  I was literally chanting to myself “do not stop” “do not stop” over and over again to the sound of my feet.  I knew Lauren and Jamie were already finished, and would be waiting for me.  I started systemically picturing what I would do when I finished: drink a Gatorade.  Get in my car.  Go back to my sister’s apartment and take a shower with her really expensive, yummy smelling shampoo shampoo.  (Thanks, Katie.)  Eat a giant burger from Big Daddy’s. Go home and nap. I kept replaying what was to come in the next 10 minutes over and over again in my head.

And suddenly I was rounding the corner.  Seeing my friends.  Lauren and Jamie, and Lauren’s mom, sister and husband, and Crystal and Akanksha.  Crystal was snapping my picture and Jamie was jumping up and down and shouting.

I started to speed up… just in time to hear Jamie say “you have to go around the corner to finish!!!  Don’t stop!!!”


The finish line was around the corner from where we had started, and probably just another 100 yards but it felt like another mile as I rounded the corner.  I saw the timer ticking up another minute and I gave it every thing I had. 

And then, just like that: it’s over.  I had a Gatorade.  Hugged my friends.  Drove back to my sister’s apartment and took a shower with her really expensive, yummy smelling shampoo.  (Thanks, Katie.)  Went to Big Daddy’s with Jamie, Crystal and Akanksha and ate a pimiento cheese burger and homemade chips and a cookies and cream milkshake.

And now, 24 hours later, it’s over.  I can’t really remember the pain.  I can’t really remember how frustrated and tired and mentally challenged I was.  I had to pick out shoes carefully this morning to avoid blister pain and my calves protested the walk up to my third floor office, but other than that… I can’t really remember it.

What I can remember is seeing my friends faces as I rounded the corner.  Hugging Lauren – who after 8 months of training had just completed her first half. Jumping in the car with Jamie and expressing our relief that it was all over. Feeling blessed that 2 of my friends made the 40 mile drive down from Winston just to stand at the finish line and shout for us.  Realizing that a year ago this time, I dropped out of training for a half because of my colitis – and that I was healthy and strong enough to complete it this year. 

The finish line had felt miles away, and just like that it was all over.  And so instead of deleting the email I just got from Lauren about a half-marathon in February (in Disney…with LOTS of people….and LOTS of spectators…) I’m wondering if I could do it all over again….

IMG_5777 Jamie, Lauren + I post-race


Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

And again, your life challenges mine. I have just started walking semi-regularly, but am already thinking about maybe running, eventually, which leads to a far, far away whisper of "maybe someday you, too, could run a half marathon." Probably not, but then again, maybe? WHo knows. Congratulations on running and finishing yours. I would totally come cheer you on anytime you are short of a cheering squad! Love ya.

Meg said...

Shush that probably not. Of course you could. When I started training for this one, I hadn't been running for almost six months so I started with a run/walk with a mile of running + 2 of walking and gradually built up. It's just a matter of building up slowly and being consistent each week! It's certainly challenging (as evidenced by my internal dialouge) but it's very possible.