I learned a lot about myself last week, but especially during my long run on Sunday. It was the third time I'd run at least 16 miles and the first time I'd run that far by myself, completely unsupported. I need to fill in with a little back-story about my week first... After the Hyannis Half Marathon I was speaking with one of my friends who inspires me by his example. He's got a couple of marathons under his belt and has faced a lot of adversity in his life and training. He and my Coach's wife (an experienced marathoner in her own right) jokingly stated that they "might be done with marathons." Saying 13.1 was the perfect distance and that "marathons just suck."
Now, I know that they were kidding, but I couldn't help but think they were only half-kidding (most likely about being "done" with marathons). I finished the half marathon feeling extremely confident about my performance, training and ability. I felt like I was in a good place and would be perfectly ready for Marathon Monday (as it's referred to in these parts). However, after talking to them, I started to question everything. I mean, I trust my coaching and I'm confident in the training that I've put-in so far, I just have this nagging self-doubt that has been plaguing me my whole life, and it's starting to creep back in.
When I saw this same friend at work shortly after Hyannis, he told me his quads were killing him as they frequently do. Now, I know that my friend is in shape. I'm familiar with his work ethic and I know he's putting in the tough training hours. So, just trying to gauge where he is at I said "Really? My quads never bother me." I wasn't saying this to be a smart-ass, I just found it curious. He said his quads always kill him after long runs or races, and mine would eventually too. Now, I'm probably jinxing myself, but I don't seem to have a lot of the problems that most distance runners seem to complain about: no "shredded" quads, no black toenails, no blisters, etc. So, of course I began thinking... "Either I am just made for this endurance thing, or I am doing something wrong."
So, of course, me being me, I decided I must be doing something wrong. Never mind that I've been putting in the miles and the paces/workouts given to me by my coach since October, like a machine. He gives me a workout and I carry it out with the utmost precision. I haven't skipped or altered a workout, ever (well, there's been the occasional run that I've run faster than prescribed, but...)! Never mind that I map out my runs so that at the beginning of the last mile of every run I climb a huge hill on Birch Brush Ln. that rises almost 200 ft. in 0.35 miles. Forget the fact that even if I tried to avoid running hills like this here in Shrewsbury, I couldn't. Yet somehow I felt like I must be doing something wrong and if I didn't figure it out quickly, I would somehow fail in my attempt at running my first marathon (the Boston Marathon no less) in under than 4 hours. A goal I've only recently set for myself. Originally, I just wanted to finish the marathon, which has become somehow just not good enough. Go figure.
So, this is the mind-frame I entered into my training last week with. I noticed that most of my runs scheduled were 4 miles, and found that odd. But after my 4-mile recovery run Monday and a second 4-miler at my E pace on Tuesday, my coach had put-in a "Treadmill Hill Repeat" workout for Wednesday! However, he didn't advise me on what pace to run and I almost killed myself at my M pace with the mill on a 5% incline, and halfway through the 1st repeat adjusted it down to my E pace for the remainder. Thursday I set-out for another 4-miler @ E pace, but after I had charged up the hill in front of my house I decided it was too cold to run without my gloves and remembered I hadn't put my mail out when I saw the mailman coming. So, I sprinted back down the hill to get my gloves and mail. When I returned to the road, I decided I was going to tackle as many large downhill's as I could (which of course meant going uphill first) in this 4-mile loop.
I realized how much fun this was going to be when 5 minutes into my run it started snowing heavily. I had also decided to leave my sunglasses at home, so suddenly my 4-mile E pace hill run turned into an M pace sprint (I really just wanted to get home). Friday was a day off anyway. So, sticking with the mindset that I must be doing something wrong, I went to the gym and totally thrashed myself with an insane core/hips/quad routine (that I'm still sore from). Saturday was my M pace tempo run. This tempo run was my longest to date (8 miles + warm-up and cool-down). It ended-up being a beautiful day, sunny and almost 50 degrees! So I went out in shorts, but kept my long sleeve shirt, vest and Winter running hat on. Big mistake. I knocked out the run, but I almost knocked myself out in the process. I was really overheated and dehydrated afterward. i spent most of the evening trying to recover, rehydrate and replenish lost electrolytes. Ugh. Calves. Cramping. Badly.
So, Sunday morning rolls around and I decide to stick with the theme of the week and mapped out a 16-mile course through Shrewsbury and Northborough that included no less than 4 - 200 ft. climbs, and a couple of long, sweeping descents. Gathering my things together for the run, I realized that I had drank all of the Gatorade in the house on Saturday evening, and had been out of my Accelerade for a week. Ugh. Water was just going to have to do. I had my regular long-run breakfast of oatmeal with blueberries, walnuts, maple syrup and skim milk a couple hours before heading-out, 20 oz's of water, and a banana about an hour prior. I ate a GU 15 minutes before heading out (with some more water), filled my 2-6 oz water bottles and stuffed 3 more GU's in the belt pocket, figuring I'd be all-set.
I checked the weather on the news and then stepped outside. It was between 30-32 degrees, and the weather report said it would "begin" to warm-up this afternoon. So I headed out in my tights and wind pants, long sleeve shirt, vest, gloves and warm hat. Poor decision. After the second 200 ft. climb around the 5-mile mark I hit my usual "mental" wall. I pushed myself through this as I am very familiar with how to get through this one. Once I had talked myself through it, I ate my next GU and drank a little water and thought I was good. Around the 6.5/7-mile mark, I started getting hot. I took off my running gloves and my hat, and opened-up my vest. I noticed I was cooling-down way to fast while descending a hill into a headwind, so I put my hat back on but flapped the side up over my ears.
I was trying to conserve water (as I only have 2-6 oz bottles on my belt) yet also listening to my body and drinking when I felt thirsty. Unfortunately, as it got warmer and warmer, I found myself sweating more and more and feeling thirsty often. I finished my second bottle of water with another GU around mile 10, rolled-up the sleeves of my long sleeve compression shirt and began planning where and when I could acquire more water. I knew there was a donut shop somewhere around mile 11 and decided I'd stop there and grab a Gatorade. As I ran into the store, I realized I hadn't brought any money with me. Water from the restroom sink it would be.
After the third 200 ft. climb of the run I hit my 14-mile "physical" wall just like I did in the BP 16. The floodgates of pain opened-up and I didn't think I could go any further. I just kept telling myself "These runs make you stronger!" But, just lifting my feet off of the pavement one at a time was excruciating. It was at this point that the brief thought of calling for a ride crossed my mind. I decided to push-on remembering that the vail of pain lifted for me in the BP 16 right around the 15-mile mark. I downed another GU and the remainder of my water. At this point all I could think about was what lie ahead of me. My old nemesis, the Monster... Birch Brush Hill. I was determined to not let that hill beat me. I focused all of my energy on keeping one foot in front of the other until I'd successfully blocked-out the pain and slowly began to pick-up the pace.
When I got to the bottom of Birch Brush, my watch beeped off a lap and I knew I was about a mile from home yet staring a 0.35 mile, 200 ft. climb straight in the face. I felt a surge of energy as I went to the dark places that I have to go to mentally to push past challenges such a this. Every step up that hill I was vanquishing a demon from my past. With every step came a flush of emotion as I relived the pain of stolen childhood, and lost innocence. With every step I healed an old festering wound on my soul, or erased a scar from my heart that remained there despite the years of therapy. As I crested that hill and began running my homestretch I felt a huge release and it felt like over 30 years of weight lifted from my shoulders. As tears streamed down my face, I knew that I would be alright. I have become the conqueror, the survivor. I have taken back some of the power the monsters hold over me to this day. That last mile was only 10:30, but it felt like the fastest mile I'd ever run.
When I walked in the door and saw Isabelle's face, suddenly everything was right again in my world. When i started peeling off my layers of soaked clothing, and noticed that my black tights and compression shirt were covered in white salts I realized that I had probably been delusional from dehydration syndrome. I found it incredibly difficult to rehydrate properly after this run. It seemed no mater how much I drank I couldn't get enough. I've been craving salty foods all week, and I still feel thirsty. I've even been avoiding coffee (my lifeblood) like the plague this week. And as a side note: my quads have been properly thrashed! I vow from this point on to trust in my training, plan better, and try to not make the same mistakes going forward. This Sunday I will attempt a solo 18-mile training run. It supposed to be raining. Let's see what new lessons this one has in-store for me! I believe in working smarter, not harder. In fact, I'm headed-out today to buy a 4-bottle Fuel Belt and to try and pick-up some Gatorade Endurance formula so I can get used to it prior to running Boston.
I'm reminded of something Ray Zahab said (I think) in Running the Sahara: "Running is 90% mental and the rest is in your head!"