A post of many firsts. Also, 60 days out. Ack!

I like things in numbered lists. This post will be no exception, since it will cover a lot and will almost certainly make no sense if I even attempt to make it coherent. Wheee!

1) Last week: during my short-ish weekday runs I was feeling kinda ehhhh. Tuesday’s run was a nice 4-miler, during which I ran over a bridge and had this wonderful sense of nostalgic deja-vu wash over me. It was a bright morning, but there were impossibly large, billowing white clouds in the sky, some of which were tinted gray on the bottom – harbingers of the absurd amounts of rain we got last week that had, at the time, mercifully abated enough for me to catch an outdoor jaunt – and the way the wind was blowing combined with those things and the fact that I was running over a bridge instantly transported me back to St Petersburg. (The one in Russia, not in Florida.) In that moment I realized that ten years ago at this very time, I’d just arrived there for an academic-year stay, and I can so clearly remember the impressions that I had in the first few weeks I was there. Last Tuesday was a near-exact replica, sky- and wind-wise, of many a September day I had in St Petersburg, walking around, wondering how a sky could be so wide and full of color and clouds, going over the same bridge four or five times a day because it was really the only place to stop and just watch life move for a while. (St Pete is a city full of bridges, since they connect the various islands that compose the city proper. The bridges are somewhat iconic, and even the small ones didn’t fail to impress me.) I’ve gotten emotional while running before – sometimes merely because the pain in my whatever-it-is-that-niggles-that-day is almost too much – but this hit me like nothing I’ve ever run with before. I had to swallow a hard lump in my throat real fast, mostly because a gentleman passing by me said hello to me and I was not going to leave him hello-hanging, but also partly because it got me thinking about how much my life has changed in the last ten years, since that seminal year in Russia. So much that didn’t turn out how I thought it would, for both better and worse. So much that I never, ever expected would be true – and, of course, one thing I keep coming back to is this whole idea of running a marathon. I’d have laughed you stupid if you’d stopped me on one of those bridges and said to me, So hey, ten years from now you’re going to be about two months away from running 26.2 miles. But you know what? It’s true, and it’s not entirely laughable.

2) But it does sort of totally freak me out that the marathon countdown on the race’s homepage says 60 days. Two months to the day, exactly. WHATTHEFUH. I mean, I know time passes quickly and all, but it seems impossible that I will probably blink and that counter will say 30 days. And then 20. And then 10. And then I might start leaking from my pores all of the ridiculous excitement and nervousness I have.

3) Of course, a good deal of that nervousness is me constantly doubting that I can actually do this thing. When I have bad runs, I have every doubt that I will be able to recover and have a good run the next time out, even though that’s almost always exactly what happens. Wednesday and Thursday of last week are textbook examples of this. Because I am doing horribly at keeping to my training plan as written down – purely in the sense of doing week 9 during week 10 instead of week 9, for example, and switching around pace runs and easy runs according to the weather or my mood that day; the mileage is all there, not to worry – I switched weeks 9 and 10 and ran week 10 last week to run week 9 this week, so that I could do a half-marathon very close to where most of my family in North Carolina lives so they could come out and see me. That meant jumping up to an 8-mile pace run after only two 7-mile runs in the preceding two weeks, which did not please me, but on I went.

Well.

It didn’t go so well, and I ended up slowing down and jogging out for a lot more of the run than I’d wanted to, and finished not terribly far off my target pace, but far enough for me to be mad at myself. And then the doubts started creeping in, especially because the long run for the week was scheduled at 17 miles, and I’m at the point now where most of the long runs are at the point of running them the longest I’ll have ever run in my life. 17 miles was that – the most I’d done prior to that was 15, the weekend before. (I know, I know: 2 more miles seems ridiculous to worry about when the mileage is already that high, but (warning: profound statement coming!) 17 is really close to 18, and 18 is just unfathomable, right?)

So, I made a deal with myself: if, come Thursday, it was raining as much as the weather folks said it would be, then I would shelve my regular 4-mile run and take it inside to do a 4-mile pace run. The running gods must have heard my vow, since Thursday morning brought about a serious gullywasher that actually threatened some flash flooding. Okay then! I thought. Pace run it is. 

And thus it was. I decided to really push myself and run a (to me) torturously fast 4-miler, but I was helped by the fact that I arrived at the gym late due to circumstances completely beyond my control, related to the rain, and had to do the same amount of working out and showering in much less time than I usually have. The first thing of my routine that I can fix is how long I run for, so it was a happy coincidence that I was in a somewhat self-punitive mood. And you know what? I thought I was going to puke, but when I was done, I felt fantastic. Damn endorphins… they get me every time. Ultimately, I was feeling pretty good about the weekend’s 17-miler by the time I left the gym, entertaining approximately zero thoughts that it would a) suck or b) be impossible.

4) I carried those thoughts into Saturday morning when my alarm went off at the ridiculous hour of 2:45am. Even then, I was looking forward to the challenge, somewhat (maybe totally) because I had a breakfast date afterwards for all-you-can-eat pancakes at the peach orchard near where I had that spectacular 12-mile-run bonk last month. Also because my route, which I had broken down into loops to make it more mentally manageable, in pieces rather than in one giant 17-mile behemoth, took me past a Dunkin’ Donuts three times and actually into it twice (it’s open 24 hours, and I figured that if they wouldn’t give me free water, they’d at least be willing to accept 50 cents for some ice). I ended up leaving late due to mapping issues, but once I got out – holy cow. Holy COW. It was gorgeous. Only a mite humid, but the sky was clear and the stars were still out, since the sun wasn’t due to rise for another 90 minutes at that point. I was soon glad I had my headlamp, since the first loop was along several very dark roads, some of which were so dark I had problems seeing in front of me where my feet were landing, which was a bit disconcerting, especially since I’m clumsy enough to have fallen off of sidewalks before. On this first loop I ran into the same three people twice throughout – coming and going – which was amusing, but also encouraging, because the first few miles of a run always suck hard for me and I have to remind myself that they do, eventually, get much better. Having people to wave to gives a little pick-me-up that takes my mind off of the suck, so that was fun.

But the highlight of the first loop was definitely the sunrise. Somehow I planned it totally by accident so that I was looping back to come into town at the top of a hill and running on a long downslope for about a half-mile right about the time the colors were starting to peak over the horizon. In these parts, the horizon is made of mountains, and there was still a bit of lingering mist over them as the pre-dawn purples and blues gave way to the reds and oranges, and my heart caught in my throat as I was making my way down the hill and looking over to the skyline. There’s a lot I may not like too much about where I live, but God damn (sorry) if the sunrise in the mountains isn’t one of the things I will miss so hard when I finally move away from here. And not just any mountains – they call them the Blue Ridge mountains because they actually do look blue, and when they’re bathed in a misted end-of-summer-peeking-into-fall twilight, they’re just freaking gorgeous. I actually stopped and said, out loud, “Holy shit, that’s beautiful”, and of course had no idea that there was someone in an adjacent parking lot who heard me and made a noise at me like I was crazy. I didn’t care; I meant the words. It really was something.

And that got me going for the rest of the long run. Finish Loop 1, stop at the house for some water, carry on. The sun rose and then was osbcured by fog and clouds, which didn’t burn off until I was actually turning for home for the last time to finish my run and cool down, so not only was it not as awfully humid as it has been, but it was also not sunny, which pretty much ensured awesome running conditions. I eased into Loop 2, and before I knew it was making my first stop at Dunkin’ Donuts. Onward to Loop 3, and another stop at DD. Begin Loop 4, when it hit me that I’d been out for a really, really long time and was wondering when I would be done because damn, 17 miles is really, really far. I still had my headlamp on – it was acting as a great sweatband, which is the sole reason I didn’t take it off even though I knew it looked stupid – and not only was it not dark at all but it was also getting to be time for the football tailgaters to be in full swing, so I knew it was almost time to finish up. A mile from home, I got that stupid perk in my stride that says run faster, you’re almost home, so I did. The usual sore parts of me were sore and whining hey, can we go home and get stretched out now?, but I was so happy that I didn’t care that they were nagging at me, and by the time I made that turn for home I was booking it. And grinning like an idiot. Because it meant two things: one, that 18 miles was just one more mile than what I was doing and that, in the grand scheme of things, is nothing, and two, 20 miles later on isn’t even that much farther than 18, and that suddenly seemed totally possible, which meant that the full marathon distance also suddenly seemed possible. For the first time in my training, it occurred to me: Hey dumbass, you’re actually going to DO THIS, and it is ACTUALLY POSSIBLE.

What a fucking feeling.

(Sorry for the cursing. Sort of. Not really. I was stoked. I’m GETTING stoked just writing about it…)

And then I was done and at home and walking it off and laughing like a fool. And then I stretched, rinsed off, and went to inhale peach-topped pancakes and catch up with a dear friend. And it was all fantastic.

5) I said this was a post with firsts, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t note (WARNING: GROSS NASTY THINGS COMING) that the 17-miler was not only my first run at that distance but also my first run in which I finally, FINALLY, got the runners’ shits. I’ve heard time and time again of people being out for long runs and being seized suddenly with the urge to poop, not to mention actually pooping themselves in the middle of these runs. Given my wonderful track record with all things digestive, I figured it was just a matter of time before I joined the club, especially also given the number of times I’ve farted on long runs and wondered whether or not it was merely a fart. I know it sounds ridiculous to actually want this to happen to me, but it’s somewhat logical: I’d rather it happen to me on a long run for the first time, instead of during the marathon, so I know how to deal with it should it happen during the marathon itself. Also, I’ve never puked on a run or even after a run, and I feel like I’m missing out on countless other milestones that make you a “real” runner.

Happily, the 17-miler did not disappoint me: 8 miles in, I was hit with the most inconceivably strong urge to fart that I’ve ever had in my life. I mean like all-hands-on-deck-situation-critical-evacuate-NOW-to-protect-loss-of-life-and-property strong. I gave a test toot, and immediately realized that this was no farting situation. Oh no, this was, in fact, It. I started laughing; I’d just left my house, and was now nowhere near a toilet. So then began the game of just how long can I hold this? I might add that Dunkin’ Donuts has a toilet, which I certainly could have used, but I wanted to tempt fate and see if I could make it all the way to 17 without pooping myself.  (I know this is not healthy. I know that if this happens again I will not be so lucky next time. Shhhh.)

You’ll be happy to know (if, dear God, you’re still actually reading this) that even though that turd indeed made a good and compelling case for its immediate dismissal from my bowels, my will triumphed, and I made it back to my house unscathed. (Unscatted?) However – and come on, you HAD to see this coming – as soon as I opened the door to my house and walked in, my brain shut off and my body screamed “GET TO THE TOILET RIGHT NOW OR THERE WILL BE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES”. How does my ass know I’m home every single time? Amazing thing, the human body is. This time I did not ignore it, and all was well with the world.  And I had a virtual notch in my belt as a runner – the only one that I really want, so I’m content to stop notching there.

okay, GROSS NASTY THINGS ARE OVER. Come back… please?

6) Okay, this is my last first thing and last bit of this post. This Saturday brings several firsts with it: first half-marathon outside of Virginia, first half-marathon in North Carolina, first race ever where I know nothing about the course other than the route map available online. I’ve never seen any of these roads or even been to where the race is, which is totally new to me and a little uncomfortable, but to the point where I see it as pushing myself outside my comfort zone and enjoying the simple experience of running someplace new. This is also the first time anyone in my immediate blood-related family will have seen me run a race, which I’m really excited about, not least because my nephew and nieces will be there with signs (so my sister threatens :)). I don’t think they know how much it helps to have support at any level, be it in the form of a note saying “way to go!” or a high-five at the end of a run; they think I’m crazy, and by and large they’re right, but it’s going to be pretty great having them there to support and love me anyway.

Except, maybe, if I fart on them.

Post-race report will come when it’s said and done! I hope you can enjoy the cooler weather this week as I will. 😀

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