Sunday, January 22, 2006

Thirteen Miles

Saturday was my longest training run on the schedule – 13 miles, practically a half-marathon, minus a measly 0.1 mile.

On the way in the pre-dawn to the starting site, my stomach flipped a few times with nerves while my mind ticked off potential pitfalls. Should I have switched out my shoes by now? Did I eat enough breakfast and should I tweak my standard meal (honey nut cheerios, soy milk, toast, peanut butter and chocolate soy milk)? Were there going to be any spectacular, humiliating bathroom emergencies along the way?

I huddled with a friend in her car until the last possible moment – the temperature was perfectly tolerable, in the low 50s, but a bitter and constant wind caught us all by surprise. And then the group directors lead us all to the ersatz start line and what had been a mass of people quickly stretched out into a ragged line along the dark road ahead of us. We cheered for ourselves, for the marathoners running 21 and the halfers like myself tackling 13.

Our route was mostly along an interstate access road, along a section that we’d never run before. This turned out to be a blessing, because without familiar landmarks, I couldn’t mentally calculate and analyze and countdown my progress – I just had to keep running. I expected to hang with my friend Amie, who has kept pace with me throughout the training program, both of us perpetually, and blithely, bringing up the rear. But from the beginning, we both kept pace with three other women in our group, sometimes chatting and laughing, sometimes thinning out into a pace line, which buoyed my spirits, as it felt like we were working in unison, lockstep in silent camaraderie.

As has begun my habit, I took an electrolyte caplet and half an energy gel after an hour. I’ve come to understand that my body is pretty regular – without fail, at mile 5 or 6, it’s time for bathroom break, this time at a chain restaurant along the interstate. I lost about 10 minutes here, and also separated from Amie, whose pace had slowed. I’ve wondered about this on race day – we’ve become friends, and I feel a sense of loyalty to her, but sometimes our pace is exactly compatible and other times it’s not. Should we agree to stay with one another, or should we each run our own races? It’s something to discuss.

Regardless, the group of three other women had pulled ahead at the bathroom break. I “sprinted” for about twenty minutes to catch up with them, on what I later realized was the most hellacious part of the route for most of the runners – a steady incline directly into a headwind. When I finally caught them at a water stop around mile 7, a gnawing hollow of hunger had opened in my stomach, a dive in energy that would dodge me through the rest of the run.

My group had pretty much run out of talk at this point. At mile 9 I took another electrolyte pill and finished the other half of my gel, grabbing some gummy bears and delicious orange slices from the water stop, along with some animal crackers. Still, I felt like I could sit down right there and eat and eat and eat for hours on end.

My energy solidified for a few miles, up more hills, still buffeted by the winds. The final turn was in sight, and the pit of hunger was back. The last water stop didn’t have any food, but I downed some energy drink and instantly regretted it as it bottomed into my stomach, twisting into a cramp. Now it was just me and one other woman running together. We had two miles to go, along a windy, gradual climb that seemed to continually round a curve. It was a cruel sight line: we couldn’t gauge when the finish would appear, and this proved to be the biggest mental challenge of the run. Another friend running the 21 miles told me later that she felt like a deep depression set in at this point in the route. My energy was completely gone by then, and only sheer stubbornness and the fact of running with another person kept me from stopping to walk or take a nap. My left hamstring had tightened up in the last few miles and the soles of my feet ached.

But then the finish appeared, with a few of the early finishers (including those who had already finished the 21 miles. Sheesh!) cheering. I was feeling lightheaded and my left arm was tingling oddly. A few steps more, and we were done, in almost exactly three hours.

I felt tired, and quietly satisfied. And hungry.

This is what I ate almost immediately following the finish: more orange slices, pretzels, a sausage taco, a slice of chocolate cake, a bagel with lox, tomatoes and cream cheese, and coffee.

Now I know this half-marathon is something I can handle. I also know that I need to fine-tune my fueling strategy, get new shoes and be careful not to drastically change my pace during the race.

And I think I’ve also found that I really like longer runs. Eight miles seems a perfect distance, a mileage that allows me to hit a rhythm while avoiding precipitous drops of energy. I’m thinking that after the half in Austin I’ll try to incorporate one long run per week into my cross-training plan. That would be an ideal, but I’ll have to work on the motivation aspect of that plan.

The best thing about this weekend’s training run is that I feel absolutely confident that I’ll finish the race. And that makes all the difference between anticipation and dread.

Update: The job decision has been delayed, so I have no news to report. But thanks for your insights. I still don’t know my own mind (or heart, or gut) regarding the issue, which has always been an eternal problem of mine when making decisions. I always seem to consult with everyone else except myself. But I did cry, which may not seem like a big deal, at least not until you consider that the last time I cried about anything other than a movie or book was five years ago. So, there’s that. An emotional breakthrough!

One thing that I’m always walking around telling people is that “I’m not ambitious.” I still think this is true, that the ambitions I have don’t mesh well with traditional ideas of career paths and professional success, but I also think I may be using this line of reasoning to not do much of anything, including pursuing some of those alternate paths. So look to this space for some musing on those alternate paths, which have always seemed so pie-in-the-sky, but are maybe more in reach than I’m willing to apprehend.


At 8:31 AM, Blogger Lara said...

Woo Hoo! You are so ready! It'll be a good idea to talk to your training partner about how you each plan to run the race so neither of you waste energy wondering or feeling guilty or resentful.

You know, this job situation could turn out to be a real crossroads in you life. It seems that you're not just thinking about simply accepting a different position, but about who you are and what you want create in your life. That rocks. Don't be scared :)

At 2:22 PM, Blogger chaos said...

My advice: run your own race. If you have trained together and have both agreed to a certain pace, then go for the joint run. But be upfront--if somebody can't keep up, the other is free to go ahead. Congratulations on the sucessful long run! Rock star!

At 6:54 AM, Anonymous Annalisa said...

First off - Glad you're back and holy crap! Great job on your long runs! I am going to have to get out there for a longer one this weekend and you have inspired me.

About the job stuff - Your other post said something about not being ambitious in a traditional, career oriented way, and I guess I was thinking about that, and about Brent's comment about what we do for a living and how it affects us out of work hours. While I think that is true to some extent, I call bullshit on the idea that what we do defines who we are. If your job is some boring office job, like mine, then that is definitely the case. If you're a teacher or PDA or something, then it's probably different. My point is that your savings and investment stuff is probably worth sticking it out for 10 months. 10 months isn't that long, and besides, you can use the time to figure out what it is you really want to do, practice interviewing, researching companies, etc. I think that the one thing I've learned about working in corporate America is that it's a good means to an end, and that you need to fill your life with art, and music, and running, and all the things that really define who you are, because honestly, a company in today's market will shitcan you in a heartbeat and not even think twice about it. Cynical, I know, but having been through the dot com boom and bust, it's what I've seen and experienced first hand. Anyway, just some food for thought.

You're going to kick ass in your half!


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