What do you think about when you run?

Saint’s sister asked me yesterday what on earth I think about when I run stupidly long distances like 20 miles, which I did for the first time of this training cycle yesterday morning.  Since I had just walked in the door from finishing the run and cooling down for a few minutes, I was still in that weird, oxygen-to-the-brain-deprived, endorphin-driven mental state where I can’t get myself to stop talking, so this is what I told her:

For the first few miles, I thought about how long unfamiliar roads are: when I’m on a new route and I know that I have a new road to spend some time on, 1 mile always feels like 3. It’s never 3; it’s only ever 1. But, just because I’ve run a road before doesn’t mean I’m still not delusional about its length the 25th time I run it. (see: Monument Avenue in Richmond. I keep expecting it to shrink, but it never does. Hrmph.)

From miles 7-12, I thought about how unfair it is that I never think once about pooping or needing to poop on any run shorter than, say, 12 miles. I swear it only happens when I’m going really long and have absolutely no idea where a bathroom or Porta-Potty is. Yesterday was no exception; I knew I was in trouble when I started seriously thinking that it would be okay to duck down an alleyway and discreetly fix the problem. Thankfully, I remembered that there was a Starbucks on my route near mile 12, and I was in enough distress to convince myself that it really would be morally OK to walk in there and use the toilet without buying anything. The good news is that these miles flew by because all I could think about was poop, but they also dragged a bit because all I could think about was when I would be able to take a poop.

For miles 12.1-12.5, I thought about what a freaking awesome idea that pit stop was. Holy crap, I felt so much better. (no pun intended)

For miles 12.5-18, I thought about the following things, in no particular order: It’s hot in this sun (it was maybe 50-55 degrees throughout the run, but the sky was cloudless and the sun was bright), and I am going to get burned (I did, a little bit, but not lobster-like). I want a Cookout milkshake when I get back. Do I remember all the words to Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage”? [Answer: I don’t, but more than I had thought.] No, wait, I also kind of want a sandwich from Chiocca’s – no, I want both that AND the milkshake. Things hurt. I have to stay strong. I have (seven, five, three) miles to go. Why do people name their kids what they do? Why did my sister pick X instead of Z for my nephew’s first-name first letter? How does the designation of in-laws work? Take Saint’s mom’s siblings, and their spouses – to her, they’re in-laws, but what are they to each other? How is this going to work when we get married? Do our sisters become in-laws, or does it stop with me and him? [I’m not kidding, that was a good 30 minutes of thinking that very much helped me out] Oh my God, I have to do another one of these runs in two weeks? Dafuq? Oh hey, it’s Munchkin time [the Marine Corps Marathon hands out Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins at mile 23, and I wanted to try them on my 20-milers to make sure it was okay to eat them three miles from the end of my run. I ate these a little early – at mile 15 – but dear sweet baby deity, they were a GODSEND]. I think somehow I STILL haven’t managed to take enough water with me [I went through two 16.9-ounce bottles]. OH MY GOD THIS ROAD NEVER ENDS AND I KNOW THIS FROM EXPERIENCE AND ALSO THAT IT IS MOSTLY SLIGHTLY UPHILL BUT IT STILL SUCKS also partially because there is no shade on it and I am hot in the sun. Hang on, two miles to go? Oh shit, I’m actually going to finish this. Oh man, this run is almost over!

For miles 18-20, I thought about what a stupid idea it was to design my route so that the last two miles were sharply uphill. Actually, it was mostly mile 18-19, but still: my legs were not happy with me at that point. It took me until here to really wonder: if my legs were this sore and tired on a 20-mile training run that I was taking slowly, how in the hell was I ever going to run that plus 6.2 more at a faster pace for the actual race? Two seconds later I mentally bitch-slapped myself, reminding me that this run was happening on purposely-tired legs that have been through 13 weeks of training and that the race will find me on fresh, rested legs that will have been well-cared for by that time, so shut up and stop doubting yourself already. At mile 19, I started to think that it was just about time to get on home and watch some football. At mile 19.5, I started grinning like an idiot, and felt kind of sad: it was going to be over soon, this crazy long run of mine. At mile 19.8, I garbled something resembling “I don’t want to run over your puppy!” at a guy whose leashed dog veered right into the path of my feet because no one – myself including, because I was basking in the moment of being awesome – was paying attention. At mile 19.9, I thought about how much it would suck to get hit by a car so close to the end, but also that it might not feel too bad because it would take my mind off the pain in my legs. At mile 20, I slowed to a walk and started laughing, and thought: “BADASS. Beer. Hmm, yes. WAIT OHMYGODFOOD.”

This morning, I woke up and thought, “Wow, that was some of the best sleep I’ve had in weeks.”

This afternoon, I’ve been thinking: I only get to run 5 miles tomorrow? I get to do this, again, in thirteen days. And then I get to taper, and then I get to run a marathon again.

I think that’s pretty awesome.

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A tiny update: feeling better, and a kindness.

I had some trouble getting to sleep last night because I couldn’t stop coughing, but when I woke up, I felt pretty okay, and thus felt also okay with my plan to run. Because it was horrifically humid out, not to mention said cough, I took it extraordinarily slow, but damned if it didn’t a) feel awesome to be out again [yes, I know I only missed one day] b) help me feel a ton better by the time I was done. I think tomorrow I’ll run my scheduled 5, taking it easy, but also skipping my regular gym session afterwards – that will allow me to a) sleep in a bit longer and b) focus my efforts on the run.

Next week, though, it’s back to lifting after my Tuesday-Thursday runs. I kind of miss my old-man friends there.

I forgot to put in my last post that something cool happened on my long Sunday run this week. I was in Richmond, where I ran my first marathon last year, and since I had a scheduled 18-miler, I decided to run parts of the marathon course because hey, why not? I’ve re-run one particular stretch of it a few times because it follows the James River and is flat and lovely, especially when the sun is rising over the rocks in the middle of the water. This stretch was part of the 18-miler I did, which also took me up a very long and gradual hill – and past the fire station where I got the hand-breaking-high-five from a firefighter last year – and then over a long bridge that allows some excellent skyline views of the city itself. For some time on the run, I thought I was completely alone; I hadn’t seen anyone for miles, and was enjoying having the road (mostly) to myself.

When I crossed the bridge, I pulled off the sidewalk into the shade to take a gel and drink some water. To my surprise, three men came running up the sidewalk not too far behind me. One went past, but the second slowed down, got my attention, and hollered: “Hey, GREAT RUN! I’ve been watching you for a while. Keep it up!” – and off he went. Someone followed not long after him, and it took me a second to holler “hey, thanks! Have a great run too!” – and then I immediately thought: Who is this guy? How long has he been following me? Have I really been having a great run? Huh, I guess I have, because I feel great. Hey, where’d he go? I want to catch up to him and be friends with him! I realized this was silly, so I finished my break and ran back on my way.

Three days later, I’m still thinking about what this random stranger said, because it’s really stuck with me; he has no idea how much those words of encouragement helped me (I was at mile 14, and really wishing I was done because I was hot and hungry and didn’t have enough water with me, oops). For the rest of the run, I kept thinking: yeah, great run! Great run! Badass, you got this! It sounds so silly, but it absolutely helped get me to the end of those 18 miles. So, thank you, large burly runner-man with awesome sunglasses, for your help. If I see you in Richmond again, I’m going to high-five you.

Random acts of kindness: they can go a long way. I’m not normally one to tie it to a particular day, but given that today is, well, today, consider passing one on to someone. Tell ’em it’s from me.

So, how’s it going?

This is more a self-directed question than anything else, mostly to set me up to answer it. But, if you feel like telling me, I’d like to know how you’re doing, too.

Since my last post, I’ve:

– watched the Nationals beat the Phillies, 8-5, in a comeback win fueled by Jayson Werth’s 1,000th career hit;

– ran a good chunk of the Mount Vernon Trail near D.C., which was awesome because I got to watch planes take off from National Airport for a decent part of the run [Warning: gross thing coming up];

– tied my shoe too tight on that run and gave myself a zombie toe (wherein blood collects under the toenail; Google it if you really want to see what one looks like); I let it go for a week, couldn’t take the pressure any more, drained it, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and was pretty irritated when it flooded with fluid all over again the next day – so now, I just have a zombie toe full of dried blood that does not hurt but looks nasty;

– ran 15 miles in the rain one cool Sunday and – much to my surprise – really enjoyed it;

– went to the Central Virginia Craft Brewers’ Festival and tried several delicious beers, not that I can remember any of their names now (oops), but let me tell you, this part of the state makes some damn fine libations;

– in that vein, happily welcomed a new brewpub to town that I hope will continue to make delicious offerings, if their first go-round is any indication;

– began YET ANOTHER school year, in which I apparently will not have time to blog, but that’s okay – being busy with dissertation stuff is good;

– played a couple of rounds of golf / had some practice at the driving range, in which my shots were not terribly awful and in some cases even traveling straight and/or in the air;

– visited my family for Labor Day weekend, which was hot but full of beer and dancing and grilled meats and boat-time;

– aaaaaand last but not least [screech] [thump] caught a really nasty cold that has temporarily thwarted my MCM training.

I’m in that meaty part of marathon training composed of heavy-mile weeks, and this past weekend I peaked at 44 – which is the largest amount of miles I’ve ever run in one week in my entire life – and it’s interesting this go-round, because I remember how hard it was last year, when I was writing about this more often as I went through it for the first time. I don’t really feel the need to document all of that this time, because not much about it has changed. It’s still hard; there are still mornings when I want to give up and fling myself down on the concrete and take a nap [but I don’t because it’s 4am and I will probably get hit by a car], and there are nights when I wish I could go hang out with friends [but I can’t because I have to be in bed by 9pm], and there are aches and pains and sorenesses that won’t go away unless I just flat-out stop [which I won’t because, deep down, I love doing this]. But, it’s much easier to manage this time, because I’ve been through it before and I have a better idea of what to expect, and a better idea of how to recover and protect myself properly.

I also feel more confident about being able to finish this marathon faster. My pace runs have all been hovering right around the 10:00/mile mark, which is right where I want to be, though I’m not sure I can hold that pace over 22 or so miles. (My m.o. for any race longer than a 5k is to start out slow, excruciatingly slow, and then ramp up to race-pace and, with any luck, have enough left to hit negative splits in the second half.) It’s easy to hold for 8 miles, but 22? I don’t know. I feel like a better and stronger runner this time through, and I feel more mentally prepared and much less freaked out about the whole process, which I know will help me on race morning.

But this cold. This cold! I missed a workout for the first time ever in any of my training this morning, and I had to actively tell myself that it was and is okay for me to miss one stupid 5-mile run and gym session because missing one day is not going to completely derail my entire 18 weeks of training. It’s funny, given how much I tweaked last year’s marathon plan I was not nearly as freaked out about all of that messing around with the schedule as I was about missing this one stupid run. I think it’s because I’m a better and smarter runner now that I think, well, if I stick to the plan that’s been working for me, I’ll have a great race! Thing is, precisely because I’m better and smarter, I also am more willing to listen to my body when it tells me no no no please don’t today. And this morning was the first time that it said that, and I said, I will listen to you, because I know that it is you and not my trickstery brain trying to tell me I’m lazy or unwilling to do this. [Trust me,  I know the difference; that moment when the alarm goes off at 2:45am and my legs try to tell my hands hit snooze! We’re tired!, my hands, being closer to my brain, know that my legs are trying to usurp my brainpower and make me be lazy, so the hands win – the alarm goes OFF, out of bed I go.] What did it for me – and I’d suspected last night that this was going to be the case – was that this cold has moved down into my chest, and I now have the lovely death-rattle of crap skeeballing around in my lungs before it gets expectorated. I had nose- and sinuses-only symptoms starting Friday morning and going through Sunday evening, so I did my 8- and 18-mile runs on the weekend as normal, and I felt fine, even a little better because the running cleared a good deal of the congestion out. But when I finished Sunday’s run, I felt a tightness in my chest that I knew spelled trouble, and sure enough, Monday morning I woke up and knew what was coming. I did a shortened and very not-intense cross-training session Monday morning, and was prepared to back off and run just an easy, slow 5-miler this morning, but when I crawled into bed at 8:30 last night and set my alarm for 3am, I had a sneaking suspicion I was going to say nope! and turn back over for 2 more hours of sleep before work.

That’s exactly what I did, and it feels weird to have done so, but I plan to just pick up where I left off anyway, and do an easy 5-miler tomorrow morning, provided I feel better. This is a ramp-down week anyway, where I was only scheduled for 36 miles, so minus today’s run, I’ll still make 31 for the week, which is not bad. [Next week I get my first 20-miler of the schedule, which will be wheeee so much fun!]

But I just want this crap out of me and gone already. Not least because I’m going to a bacon and beer festival on Saturday and I REALLY want to be able to enjoy myself as much as possible. 😛

So, that’s how things are going here. How about on your end?