Goodbye, 20-something miles. See you again in three weeks.
Today we peaked. Completed our last long run, momentously, in record heat. Forgot all about trying to run the first half slower than the last because I had too much fun chatting for the first 9 miles with people who ran faster than me. By the end, I had no motivation to push past 20. So that’s as close a look as I get at 26.2. It remains enshrouded in 6.2 miles of mystery.
I’m four weeks away.
What lies ahead: a 20-mile run, lots of hills, and possibly a visit from Heather.
This is peak week. I’m going to enter the jaws of the infamous Presidio and Clement Street hills that lie at miles 6-10 of the marathon course, just waiting to chew us all up with a 250-foot climb for a mile on one, and a 150-foot climb for nearly 2 miles on the other. Better the devil you know, I say. Then I’ll tackle the last and longest run of the training season. As a reward, my beloved honoree may make a Bay Area appearance the weekend before the race. Heather has healed well and is currently undergoing the post-treatment “testing circuit.” The hope is that the worst is over, and if so, she will come visit. Fingers and toes are tightly crossed!
What I’ve left in the dust: an incredible 18-mile run and a decent finish at an impromptu half-marathon.
I set out on the 18-mile run with low expectations. But on that glorious Saturday morning the sun shone bright and I swear angels flew overhead and sang while the bunch of us wove through 3 pristine bayside towns in Marin. It was one of those rare perfect experiences that completely reaffirms my love of running. To move on foot and be free. To feel the crisp air and bask in the open sun. To take in views of marshes, lagoons, the bay, the city skyline, a peregrine falcon perched on an electricity wire. To listen to the sound of early morning stillness, water sloshing around the pier, children playing soccer. It’s a gift to be able to experience the world on such simple terms. We’ve all been there in some way — on a walk, run, bike ride, hike, or drive through some beautiful countryside. The run also felt like a resurrection after my 15-miler that went south. How uncanny that it happened on the commemoration of 9/11, this lesson in perseverence and rebirth.
Yesterday I ran the Lake Merced Half Marathon on a lark to make up for a missed workout the day before. It was a DSE Runners event and they’re a great bunch of folks. How could you not love a running club whose motto is “Start Slow and Taper”? Two of my favorite running pals were also at the race. We mused over how once a upon a time (18 months ago), we spent 14 weeks training for a half-marathon (my first); and now we roll out of bed and run that distance for fun. My friends ended up placing second in their age groups. I finished in 2:02:45, including 3-4 stops at aid stations to drink water and munch on cantaloupe and Clif Bars. We’ve come a long way, baby.
And now for a moment of levity.
So much for the good. Let’s keep it real and hash out the bad and the ugly of marathon training too.
– Compression bras. As if I weren’t flat enough.
– Having my glutes cramp up from sitting in an ice bath.
– Wondering every time the phantom knee burn strikes whether THIS will be the run where I’ll finally blow out my knee.
– Gasping for air while running at altitude, as if my lungs had holes in them.
– Gasping for air while running in 100% humidity, as if I had a gas mask on.
– Continually wrestling the demons that say, “This sucks – I’m gonna stop” and “I’m bored” and “Ow, this hurts! I have to stop” and “I don’t really feel like doing this today” and “I hate this!” These mental battles are the biggest challenge of all.
– Consistently missing out on my husband’s Saturday morning pancakes because of a long run.
– Attaining stalker status at my neighborhood running store. I go there so often, they know my full name. Pretty embarrassing.
– Clearing my nose mid-run (“Thar she bloooooows!”). Paula Radcliffe, female world record holder for the marathon, once squatted on the roadside to relieve herself in front of hundreds of spectators before going on to win the London Marathon. At least I haven’t disgraced myself to that extreme. Yet.
– Last but not least, coming home stinky post-run. I never thought I could sweat so much or reek so badly. Even my kids won’t come near me. On second thought… this may be a blessing in disguise.
“When you run on the earth and run with the earth, you can run forever.”
~ Tarahumara proverb, Born to Run
I’m reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and the timing couldn’t be better. Within the first 20 pages I drew enough inspiration to last me the entire week of training. We are sharpening now. Pushing the weekly mileage past 30 and beyond. And I’m feeling it.
A week ago I ran the farthest I’ve ever run (15 miles) and sent my legs into a state of shock. Sirens went off when I passed the 13-mile mark (my previous limit). The mid-day heat didn’t help. My legs screamed, “Oh no you don’t!” and for the last 2 miles I literally had to slap my quads and tell them to giddy up.
Three days after that humbling experience I hit the track for a pyramid workout (400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1200, 800, and 400m with 45 seconds’ rest between each). I was at our old high school track in Pennsylvania. I noticed an older man jogging slowly but determinedly around the loop with me. Around my 10th lap, I noticed he looked familiar. By the 14th lap, I realized he was one of my best high school pals’ dad. I decided to wait for him to finish his workout so I could say hello. I turned the other way for a few minutes and by the time I looked back, he had already jogged off the track and up the hill towards his home. He must be well into his 60’s, yet there he was doing intervals at the track. The mark of a true Army man. My friend’s dad was a career Army officer and he sure put my wimpy 41-year-old self in my place that day.
Let’s face it: pain is part of running. This is a huge lesson for someone like me who has never pushed herself hard enough to feel sore after any run that wasn’t a race. These days I feel sore pretty much after every run. And these days I run 3 or 4 days in a row.
Why put myself through all this if it hurts? I’m not always certain of the answer, but when I looked at this plaque before I left our high school track, something clicked…
It’s been so long that I almost forgot about the plaque. Fred was our high school classmate who lost his fight against leukemia a few months before we graduated. He exceled at many things, including football. When he came out of his treatment he actually played a few games before leukemia took him back. Why did he subject himself to this grueling sport when he was recovering? Because any pain you experience while pursuing something you love is nothing compared to the pain of being stifled on a sickbed. Pain is sometimes part of the joy of living.
This quest to “run forever” is for you too, Fred.
Two months til the marathon. Two months to the day.
The past two weeks saw me hit rock bottom in terms of attitude. I got to the point of feeling like I was going to vomit and telling myself that I hated running, I didn’t want to do this anymore. It was on a tempo run (the bane of my running life). At 6,600 feet.
On top of being a mile above sea level, there was the challenge of training alone. Seven-thirty in the morning and barely fifty degrees? I dragged my butt out there alone. Yasso 800’s at the track? I found the local high school track and ran those laps alone. I am pretty sure I didn’t push myself as hard since there was no one to pick off and pass, or try to keep pace with. No Coach Gigi saying she wants me to shave off 5 seconds on the next round. But I did it.
The silver lining was that I got to run my 12 miles alongside Donner Lake, a deep blue expanse surrounded by evergreens and skirted by a rocky shoreline. I drank in the golden late afternoon sun until a blanket of gray overtook the sky, and got back to the car just before the thunderstorm broke. The air was crisp and moody and perfect. It was magical.
It’s amazing how one happy experience can be enough to vanquish all the unhappy ones and give you the will to go on. So onward I go… to double my long-run mileage over the next 8 weeks.
Turning point weekend.
Ran my first double-digit distance of the season: 10 miles. Around mile 6, the pesky numbness in my left toes came back which I was able to alleviate by loosening the laces over my instep. But then I got hungry. And then I felt queasy. And on top of that I began to sense some tightness on the sides of both knees and a crunchy pain in the ball of my right foot. I was ready to stop. But walking the remaining 4 miles really wasn’t appealing so I kept going. And before I knew it, I crested the Fort Mason hill, felt no discomfort, and had 9 miles behind me…
Got my first taste of marathon excitement. Came upon runners at the 20-mile mark of the San Francisco Marathon today. Witnessed the dazed eyes, the slack limbs and yet that forward motion that spills out almost involuntarily. That’s going to be me in just 3 months, I told myself. That’s what I’m doing the weekly 400 crunches, 45 pushups, and 60-second plank holds for. That’s what the 10x400m at excrutiating speed is for. And I felt a strange thrill rising.
Watched my sons hold their first charity sale. They sold chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, and books they’ve outgrown and donated all $27 toward my fundraiser. My six-year-old said it was the highlight of his day, and that’s a day that included a pony ride, bouncy houses, and a playdate with one of his favorite pals. Makes mama so proud!
Heather is done with treatment and healing well. At last report she has gone out shopping with her sister and to the movies. Fingers crossed that she has seen the last of radiation and chemo and that the post-treatment tests come out well in a few months.
Survived 3 weeks of training in high 80’s temps and 100% humidity in coastal North Carolina. I realized I was becoming bored with my routine and so it was nice to pick up some new tricks while on new terrain. Did some swimming (harder than expected), running on the treadmill (quite pleasant to crank out intervals in air-conditioned comfort), and tennis. Ran the Tri-Span 10K in Wilmington, NC, with my sister-in-law who is training for the Marine Corps Marathon. It was a sweet little event (only 300 runners) but had plenty of challenges (humidity and 3 bridges) and lovely perks at the end (fresh cantaloupe slices, sesame bagels). I finished in 56:15 — not terribly fast but it was a 10K PR and I placed 5th in my division.
But the most exciting development is that I’ve topped my fundraising goal at 3 months ahead of the race! It is said that true generosity is when you have nothing and give everything. I am deeply humbled by everyone who has donated to this fundraiser at a time when there is so little to spare. Your generosity is an inspiration. Thank you.
No more procrastinating. This is the week I will add spinning into the mix. Heather is actually a spin goddess. Apparently she wore crazy costumes when she led class. No costumes for me, but I recently unearthed the NAVY t-shirt that she gave me 2 decades ago when she was at the Naval Academy. Perfect homage to my friend who is now really suffering after 5 weeks of treatment. Hang in there, Wonder Woman. You can do this.
My friend Heather is in her fourth week of chemo and radiation. Last we connected, she was doing stellar. She looked fabulous, sounded upbeat, just felt more tired than usual. You go, girl!
Buddy runs kicked off this week. Despite an ear infection, did an easy, comfortable 3 miles with a nice group of gals. Yes, time flies when you run with others. But who knew that running can stave off ear-related disequilibrium? When in doubt, run. Just do it.
Track also began. My 2-mile time trial was supposedly 14:50. I must have missed a lap. I’m calling it 16:50, yielding a projected marathon finish time of 4 hrs 17 mins. Now let’s see what 4 months of speedwork brings.
The mohawk challenge was completed in just 6 days. Thanks, friends!
First prescribed run on my own yesterday. A massively uncomfortable 4 miles at 6,600 ft elevation (in Tahoe). Cursed myself for signing up to run 26+. Ate multiple servings of marionberry cobbler over vanilla ice cream to make myself feel better.
On the fundraising front, the Facebook mohawk challenge is on: I once had a mohawk. It was a present to myself in 1983 in antipation of losing hair from chemo. Only about 5 people have actually seen it because I wore a wig in public. If I reach $2000 by June 30, a photo will go up on my FB page!