It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m parked on the couch after running my farthest distance to date: 18 miles. Actually, it was 18.2 miles before I stopped my brand-new Garmin and walked the last .75 mile home, but that’s slightly besides the point.
Things got pretty hard out there today. I almost cried at the end because of the stew of emotions, but managed to hold on until I got home (a girl my age likes to cry in the privacy of her own home, not on the trails of the city in which she lives).
All signs pointed to “Go” when I started this morning. I slept wonderfully and the headache that dogged me all day yesterday was magically, wonderfully gone. The temp was a cool 45 degrees at 7 AM and there was a low-lying fog covering Louisville, Lafayette and much of the Boulder Valley. I strapped on the Garmin 305 for its maiden voyage, filled up my new Nathan hydration vest for ITS maiden voyage, applied sunscreen to my face, donned my bright pink shorts, lightweight running gloves and a longsleeve, and set off on the route I mapped two evenings prior. This was going to be a road run, a scenic tour of eastern Boulder County that would loop around North Boulder and ultimately have me running up South Boulder Road to McCaslin, gaining 400 feet in elevation at mile 15. That’s okay though, I was prepared for it and looking forward to the challenge.
The first mile was slow, as usual, averaging a 9:14 pace. Once the body was warmed up the pace dropped into the 8:30 range, and stayed there for the next five miles. I felt great, sipped from the water pack, and cruised along. The mist was heavier along 95th Street, and there was a Bike Jam taking place along the route as well. I crossed the street and ran on the other shoulder so as to not get in anyone’s way, though the shoulder facing incoming traffic was smaller and not as smooth.
I turned onto Valmont and my heart sank. There was no shoulder on this road and the mist was even thicker. I had to remove my sunglasses because they were fogged with water, and twice I moved off the pavement onto the weedy shoulder so oncoming cars with headlights blazing wouldn’t fly me like Supergirl into nearby fields. I pulled over for my first pee break and assessed my situation. I was five miles into the run on a road that wasn’t safe to be on. What to do?
I remembered that Whiterock trail was just a little ways ahead. It’s an eight mile loop, though hard with steep and continual hills. At the trailhead I glanced at the Garmin and saw I was at 5.6 miles. Doing the math, 5.6+ 8= 13.6, then I could do the last 5.6 home, putting me at roughly 19 miles. Not ideal, not the run I had planned, but definitely the safest choice.
And so I started the eight miles of Whiterock. The first mile was good, then my pace totally fell apart. I hit the hills and went from cruising paces of 8:43 and 8:35 to 9:47, 9:38, 9:42, 9:19, 9:14, 8:57, 8:49, 9:15. The heart rate alert was having a hissy fit and beeped incessantly, telling me that I was in Zone 5. Well DUH. You try running at pace up a big hill and keeping your heart rate in Zone 4. I turned up the music and pretended that I couldn’t hear the beeping since I didn’t want to stop and fiddle with the buttons.
At 60 minutes I stopped to pee again (see, I was well hydrated!) and eat a gel of unknown flavor or age; it had been in my hiking pack for two years and the colorful packaging was completely worn off, leaving only a shiny silver pack that resembled something astronauts might take into space. A little GI distress reared at that point, and I was glad to take a moment before a passel of women came running by. They must have seen the bright pink shorts in the tall weeds, though from the lack of smiles or “hello’s”, apparently they’ve never had to pull over and answer nature’s call. Weirdos.
The hills of Whiterock keep going, and going… and going… The footing can be difficult at times too, because of the culverts that run through the middle of the trail. Sometimes it’s single-track, sometimes it’s wider and flat, but never is it easy. I remembered the first time I ran it with the ladies on a Saturday Morning; I had never run eight miles in my life, and was beat by the time we hit mile 6. I wanted the run to be over so badly that I actually whined and uttered the words “Are we there yet?” to the closest friend at hand. She looked at me sympathetically and said, “Just a little bit further, it gets flat soon. You can do it.”
I replayed the scene in my head a few times, reminding myself that I was a lot stronger than I was when I first ran Whiterock, and that this time, I really COULD finish the run. I glanced at my watch and saw that I had just passed mile 9… only 9 more to go. I wanted to scream “ARE WE THERE YET????” I wanted my cell phone so I could call someone to come get me. I wanted to cut the run short and promise myself I would finish the miles later in the afternoon… just not now.
But I couldn’t call anyone. I left the cell phone at home because the battery was almost dead. Plus, there was no one to call. The house was empty, the kids were with my Mom, and I was on my own. I started talking to myself, and it wasn’t pretty, but it was what I needed to hear. Suck it up, woman. You’re tired, you didn’t mean to run hills like this today, and you’re cranky. You still have water, fuel, and you’re fine. You’ve been through two natural labors and childbirths, the first labor lasting 40 hours. You’ve run 80 minutes. That’s nothing compared to the pain you’ve experienced, pain that you COULD NOT get out of. You can do this. All you’re doing is running. This is nothing compared to what you’ve done in your life. And you don’t need someone to save you. Save yourself. Keep running.
So, I ran. There wasn’t a smile on my face and my heart wasn’t light with happiness. This was a “dig deep and find that inner strength” moment, and I was digging deep. I pulled over again to answer another call of GI distress, though this time I was thrilled to see that I was just slightly out of view of an older gentleman with a camera.
I got back onto Valmont after Whiterock’s 8-miler, and started to backtrack home.
The fog had burned off, and the sky was clear. Most of the bicyclists had cleared out, and now the streets were filled with the usual Sunday-morning riders instead of the mass of Lycra’d humanity speeding along in anticipation of their post-ride pancake breakfast.
My pace evened out for a bit on Valmont, and I had a hint of relief from the hills. “Okay Lara, you can do this, just 5 more miles and then you’re home.” Talking to myself helped, though apparently I forgot to mention that there was ONE MORE HILL, and this one was over a mile long.
Now, I don’t know what Heartbreak Hill in Boston looks like, but I had a vivid mental image of it looking similar to what I was facing. If I ever actually get to run the Boston Marathon, I swear I will have something to say to Heartbreak Hill because there are enough hills in Boulder County to sink the ego of any runner, this one included.
I ran. I plodded, I almost crawled, except I would have torn up my knees and delayed the process of actually getting home. Running seemed to be the best answer to getting to the top of the damn hill and off the shoulder of the road. Keep running.
At the top of the hill I finally acknowledged the incessant beeping of the watch’s HR alert, and slowed to a walk. My heart rate was high, I was out of steam and ready to pull over and cry. I had run 16 miles, and life sucked putrid things like forgotten Easter eggs half-buried in the dirt of a plant that never needs water. I stopped under a huge shady tree and ate my Justin’s Classic Almond Butter packet that packs a whopping 200 calories in a little squeeze pack, hearing Coach Gwen’s voice in my head telling me that I waited too long to eat and now I was bonking. I know, Gwen, I know. Now I know. She tells me to eat at 45 minutes and then every 15 minutes thereafter. I laughed when I first heard this and flippantly said, “Great, I’ll graze my way through a marathon.” What she’s really telling me is that MY body needs more fuel than other people’s, because I have so little energy reserves, and that to get through long runs (and a marathon) I have to constantly feed the beast. I have to get better at fueling while training.
After my fuel break I hit the sidewalk again and slowly reeled in the last two miles. I had a huge urge to keep looking at my watch to see if I was “there yet”, but resisted because OBVIOUSLY, I would know when I was there because I would be, well, there. Keep running.
Until finally, thankfully, I was there. I slowed to a walk at 18.2 miles, and walked the rest of the way home. My self-esteem had hit a new low. Could I honestly run 26.2 miles? What if I couldn’t do it at Goal Pace? What if I messed up and come in later? Who would I be letting down? Will they be mad at me because I wasn’t as strong as they thought I was? Maybe this is a stupid idea and I should just quit.
I scrolled through the average lap paces and was surprised to see the numbers. As crappy as I felt, the numbers looked decent, with an overall average of 9:07/mile that actually included ALL the hills of this impromptu route. I was shocked that my trip to mental and emotional depths didn’t seem to affect the pace much.
I don’t know that I’ve learned a lot, but I know that the longer I train, the more I’m getting out of it. I don’t know if I’ll actually make it to the California International Marathon on December 5. But I’m mining some serious issues that have sat on the shelf in Lara-world, and for what it’s worth, I guess now is as good a time as any to see what I’m made of.