Discoveries!

Well hi. It’s been a while, eh? Last week was insane – the play for which I did all of that fun and awesome research opened last week and I was dumb enough to leave a lot of the work until the last minute [and I mean that almost literally: the opening performance was at 8pm, and I finished my very last bit of work at 7:15pm], but it all got done, though I think I felt for two days the effects of the sleep deprivation that went with it – but it ended with a somewhat last-minute trip down to Virginia Beach that proved to be a most fantastic way to spend a couple of days. (Not least because it let me avoid all of the crowds and traffic here for my university’s graduation on Sunday.)

Before I get into the list of discoveries, though, I have to say that on Friday I went to opening night of the play on which I was working and actually watched the show for the first time. I decided to keep away from it during its rehearsals partially because I didn’t want my own work to be clouded, but also partly because I secretly felt like waiting until the show was complete to see how the director and cast put this crazy work together on their own terms. I know it isn’t actually complete per se, since shows continue to grow and change during the performance period, too, but I wanted to see it at its first into-the-world foray- I’ll see it again in the middle and again at the end – and I was handsomely rewarded. It was an amazing, fantastic, wonderful, speechlessness-inducing show. I actually cried at the end, which is something very, very few pieces of work can get me to do. It was just… wow. So, so excellent. Totally worth the wait, and totally worth the complete lack of sleep with which I went into Saturday. Which brings me to….

DISCOVERY NO. 1. The human body – mine, specifically – is an absurd thing. I mean, this is not exactly news to me or really anyone, but I’m astounded at its ability to say “to hell with everything you’ve given me this week, we’re doing what you set out to do, so deal with it.” To clarify: for most of last week I got about 4 hours of sleep every night. Normally I can skate by on 5-6, but over a few days anything less starts to take a toll on me. Add to that that I was stressed out from the play-work stuff, and that I was mostly on my feet for at least 17 of the 20 hours I was awake each day, and the result is one pretty exhausted me by the time Friday rolls around. [Thank gawd for coffee in abundant supply.]

I referred earlier to a last-minute trip to Virginia Beach for the weekend, which came about at the hands of saint of a boyfriend, who had a volleyball tournament down there and had asked me weeks ago if I might like to come along and spectate. After some hemming and hawing and finally figuring out that I could go, I agreed on Wednesday to join him, and ultimately we agreed that it would be best to leave late Friday night after I was done at the theater instead of leaving early Saturday morning and possibly running into traffic. (It was a 2.5-hour drive from where he was, and an hour between me and him.) The problem with that was that I didn’t leave home until close to midnight, which means I didn’t get to his house until close to 1am. By the time we left and arrived at the beach, it was 3:30am.

The problem with this? I’d decided to find a group of people to run with because it was Saturday-long-run time, and I didn’t feel like wandering around possibly getting lost in a place I’ve never been before. I did find a group to run with, and got in touch with them and figured out that they left for their run at 7:30am on Saturday. Normally this is not a problem, as it means getting up at 5:30am and I’m used to getting up between 4:30-5:30am on Saturdays for my long run as it is. But, when it’s 3:30am and you’ve just rolled in from a car ride during which you barely slept more than an hour, well… a sane person would think, Screw this, I’m taking a pass here and sleeping in, but we’ve already quite rather established that that is not how my brain works. My thought was, Well, this could suck, but I’ll slog on through and just make some extra coffee when I’m done. So when the alarm went off at 5:30, I got out of bed, set about my routine, and managed to get myself out the door in plenty of time to meet the running group. Which leads me to…

DISCOVERY NO. 2.  Running groups are awesome. Well, at least this one was; they meet every Saturday at this particular running shop, and it’s free, and anyone of any level and mileage can join, and they all know each other but are super-friendly and ridiculously nice and helpful. A tangential couple of discoveries to this are that a) I need to get out of my comfort zone more and do things like this more often, and b) my town could really, really use a group like this (we only have training programs for races, or particular clubs for racing teams that aren’t quite as open to plodders like me). So I’m sort of inspired to start one. One of the guys in the group won the Disney Marathon in 2002 and is this really fantastically nice retired British naval officer who bounded right up to me and introduced himself, and even waited around way later than I think he wanted to to make sure I got back to the running shop okay (I started out with them but everyone sort of went their own way after about an hour, which was totally fine). I was so impressed with the way these folks were totally welcoming and fun and encouraging, and it makes me think this is something my little ‘ville could find worth in, too.

Ah, but the run, you ask (or not). How was the run?

DISCOVERY NO. 3. This ties back into Discovery No. 1, but the run purely in a physical sense was as if I’d gotten normal sleep all of last week and normal sleep the night before. I felt fine. More than fine, in fact; I was chipper, perky, awake, firing on all cylinders, loving the scenery and the beautiful weather, so much so that I decided to add some extra mileage to the loop I was on and see how it felt. (It felt wonderful and dandy and awesome, is how it turned out.) I remember thinking towards the end of the run that it was wonderfully stupid for my body to be able to churn out all of those miles on so little sleep, and found myself just amazed that a collection of water and organs and bones and fibers held together by skin and hair is capable of doing the ridiculous things I ask it to do. Still shaking my head, sort of!

Anyway, I’ve not yet gotten to the real discovery here, which is that I need to run in Virginia Beach a whole hell of a lot more, because it is FLAT. Pancake-flat, flat-Stanley-flat, flat-as-I-was-in-sixth-grade flat. After having run for so long in my hilly town, it was so delicious to just be able to kick back and relax and enjoy a complete lack of elevation. Pursuant to this, I was able to do a “slow” run at a pace faster than I’d been doing most of my runs for the week itself (which is a no-no, really, but I couldn’t help it it just felt so good!), and thus was also able to tack on the extra distance without any issues. The woman I was running with for the first 6 miles told me that I should sign up for some races down there, and after having done some research once back home, I’m totally convinced: the half-marathon they do in the spring has an elevation change of about 10 feet, and the Santa 10-miler they have in December runs most of that route plus looks like tons of fun. So, both of those are going on the racing calendar, which is exciting, because it gives me something to look forward to after the marathon in November (which is also in a flat place).

The run went from the running shop a couple of miles up the road into a state park, which was delightful because it was shaded and full of greenery and birds – I saw several herons in the marshes off the trail! – and also awesome because there are something like 22 miles of trails in the park so you can really pick and choose what you want to do and never get bored. Also, there are water fountains and toilets at opportune locations along the trails where they meet the road, which was a lifesaver that day, as I had no way of pre-leaving a water bottle somewhere since I had no idea where I was going. I stuck to the straightest of the trails that was a six-mile loop, and was told that if I followed it to the halfway point – a parking lot with water and toilets – all I had to do was turn around and retrace my steps and that would be an 11-mile route. (I’d intended to do 12, so I figured I’d turn around, run a half-mile back, turn back around and run the half-mile back, and then turn around and head for the shop, giving me 12 total.) I did that, but I somehow missed the half-mile marker on the trail that I’d been looking for, so I ended up going a full mile before I got to a marker. At that point, I could have just kept going back to the shop, but I was feeling so sprightly that I decided to turn back to go the mile back to the halfway point and then turn around and run back to the shop. In sum, I added two miles to what I thought was going to be 11 miles, which, eh, okay, I guess I can handle 13 instead of 12 at this point, I thought.

Before the nice-lady and I parted ways, she very explicitly gave me instructions on how to get back to where we’d started. I get lost in my own house, sometimes, so I was not too careful in asking her to be as pedantic as possible. I was absolutely certain I’d gotten it right when she left me, so towards the end of the trail – when it joined back up with the pavement path that winds through some woods before reaching the main road – I had no doubts that I was going the right way. But instantly, I negotiated a small set of curves that I could have sworn we didn’t hit on the way in towards the trail. I decided not to panic, and kept going. This kept repeating for a good ten minutes, and I found myself thinking, Well, okay… if all else fails, just turn around and maybe that means you’ve thrown in a couple of extra-extra miles. We’re still good though, right? Right! It sounds insane now, but the thought then of maybe doing 15-16 miles didn’t faze me one bit. (Stupid adrenaline.) I had to remind myself to really seriously not panic as I kept going, and several times I told myself that no, we were -not- going to turn around, that we were going to trust our internal, often-faulty GPS and actually be okay and get to where we were going.

Which leads me to DISCOVERY NO. 4: trust that GPS, stupid, and panicking will only make you worry and expend needless energy. I was fine; I’d only remembered one landmark on the paved path into the trail, and I eventually rounded a curve and saw it beckoning in the short distance. Nonetheless, I still thought, hot dog! I’m not lost! and did a mental happy-dance at my ability to follow simple directions.

At that point I knew I was okay, so I hit cruise control and got myself back to the running shop, where Mister Nice British Marathoner was waiting for me. We chatted, and I popped into the store to thank them for being awesome, and I stretched in the parking lot and decided to find my way back to the hotel.

That journey was uneventful, but I did make DISCOVERY NO. 5 not long after leaving the shop, which is that drive-through Dunkin’ Donuts stores are the most awesome things ever. I was already sort of running late and knew I’d miss saint of a boyfriend’s first game, so I when I spied the familiar happy block colors and letters of the DD I decided to pull a mostly-legal U-turn and get myself a tall, hot cup of coffee to save myself the time of making it back in the hotel room. Oh, sweet, sweet, portable genius caffeine. How lovely it was. Speaking of which, tangentially related are DISCOVERIES NO. 6 AND 7, which are that coffee before my runs is now something I think I’ll be doing regularly, especially before the long runs, and that the Clif Shot Bloks in the black-raspberry-with-caffeine flavor are totally a keeper. So long as I allow myself plenty of time to digest the coffee and get a poop in before I head out the door to run, the coffee is doing a fine job of keeping me perky, and the Shot Bloks do not upset my stomach and taste decent enough and give me a very nice little pick-up. I’ve yet to try the strawberry or cranberry flavors; one of those will be had over the next couple of weekends, and then the other over the two weekends after that, so the experimentation will continue.

Aaaaanyway. I got back to the hotel, and couldn’t resist looking up how far I’d gone on MapMyRun, because I wanted to confirm that it was indeed 13 miles, and not 11 or 16 or something else. I was floored to discover (oh wait, is this DISCOVERY NO. 8?) that I’d actually gone 13.6 miles-  half a mile farther than a half-marathon, which is now my personal best for farthest-distance-run. And it felt like nothing! Well, not nothing, but it felt fantastic. Whaaaaaaaat. I was so happy – and my time was good, too, probably because it was so damn flat. (2:19 for the distance; you’ll recall my half was in 2:15, so that’s faster than my half-marathon pace. Whaaaat.)So, you can see why I was and continue to be enthused about running in Virginia Beach, land of the flat pavement. Hot dog.

Speaking of hot things, once I finally checked myself in the bathroom mirror, I made DISCOVERY NO. 9, which is that HELLO STUPID I NEED TO START WEARING SUNSCREEN and probably a hat too WHEN I RUN, yes, even on my early-morning long runs that take me through shaded woods. I have the most ridiculous farmer’s tan right now, which I should have seen coming when I started noticing an off-white strip on my wrist where my watch usually goes. Good God. You’d think I’d know this, but for some reason I think that the sun doesn’t count as hitting me as long as I’m moving somehow to avoid it. I mean… seriously? Seriously. Duhhhh. So I’ll try to be better about that, though this morning I definitely did not put anything on before heading out on a 3.5ish-mile run in a sleeveless shirt. Sigh.

And that’s DISCOVERY NO. 10: where the hell have I been, not running in sleeveless shirts this whole time? I had a good day of small-retail-therapy on Monday – I’d needed to go get new flip-flops, having totally worn out my old pairs, and Monday was the first chance to do it; on a whim on my way home, I stopped into Marshall’s to see if they had any cheap-ish running stuff, and wouldn’t you know, they had some sleeveless, thin Avia shirts in ridiculous colors that did not at all match the colors of the two more pairs of Nike shorts I’d bought on Sunday on the way back from the beach (pause for breath), so I bought two of them, as well as two sports bras, and decided that a short-run day would be the best day to try out all of this new stuff in case something went wrong – good God, where was I? Oh yeah, I wore one of the new shirts I got this morning, and it was amazing. It’s almost certainly all psychological, but I felt so light and non-sweaty even though I knew that I was sweating buckets in the getting-more-hot-and-humid morning cloud/sun. The bra and shorts performed beautifully, too, which was also nice. Tomorrow I’m trying out some new socks – Smartwool, with blister protection – on my 5-mile run, which may end up being a little more than 5 depending on what I feel like doing. (Not to mention how hard it’s raining.)

Okay, so, boring stuff about shopping done. As far as the rest of the beach weekend went, it was a fantastic time; the volleyball didn’t have the best result, but the weather was gorgeous and the beer and company were all delicious and, um, riotously fun. I had a gigantic ice cream cone for lunch on Sunday amidst a pouring rainstorm, because one does not do otherwise when one is at the beach, and was in that moment a totally happy 5-year-old kid stuck in a 32-year-old woman’s body. So, in sum, it was a fantabulous weekend, and I’m very much looking forward to returning to Virginia Beach for more ice cream, running, and salty ocean breezes.

Other discoveries I’ve made (this is NO. 11 by now) are that pleasure reading is a wonderful thing – I just started Camilla Läckberg’s The Stonecutter last night and I cannot put it down, much to the chagrin of my need to catch up on sleep still! – and (now for NO. 12) one of my new favorite things to do is to while away an evening with the windows open, listening to storms roll on by, watching the Nats on TV and thumbing furiously through said book during the commercials. I have a very strong feeling that I’m going to be dragging saint of a boyfriend to a Nats game next weekend, because it’s getting to the point where I feel like I’ll kick myself if I don’t go at least once this season and watch this team play. Plus, I secretly sort of want to do the thing where you pay entirely too much money for ballpark food and beer and have a grand old time shelling peanuts and tossing them right on the cement at your feet and heckling the opposing team and its possible nearby fans. I guess now that I said it, it’s not really a secret, but I guess the word is out: I’m a baseball fan now, and I might live and die by this team. Football season could be difficult, once I have two teams to live and die by…

I think I’ve blathered on enough, so I’ll end the journey of discovery here. I’m very much looking forward to this weekend, in which I get to make my annual Memorial Day jaunt to visit my family in North Carolina; the added bonus this year is that my dear, dear friend from college and former roommate who lives in London and whom I only see once or twice a year is able to actually join me this year, and she is bringing her boyfriend for all of us to meet, and he makes her absurdly happy so I am quite thrilled to finally meet him (and see her!). I anticipate lime cheesecake, beer, boat rides, grilled meat and veggies, pool time with my nieces and nephews, and lots and lots of relaxation. Word.

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