Saturday, September 5
I swear, my hand cramped up just trying to put the ‘X’ through the box on the training schedule after today’s 18-mile run.
Today sucked. Hard.
I only had to go two miles farther than I ran a couple weeks ago, but it took me almost three freaking hours: 2:59:47. That’s a pace of 9:53 – almost TEN MINUTES – per mile. PER. MILE. I did my 16-miler in 2:18, for Pete’s sake.
Here’s the thing: I saw a tough run coming, but I didn’t know how bad it would be. Truth is, pretty much everything I could have done wrong in the 24 hours leading up to this new frontier, I did.
For months, I’ve known this one was going to require a rescheduling, since Friday night was my 20-year high school reunion at Salt Fork, and I didn’t anticipate being up for 18 miles through the park in the early morning and then driving home before noon.
So, not wanting to give up either my day of rest before or my two-day rest period after, I decided I’d just make this one an afternoon run, heading out at 4 p.m. when the day would at least be starting to cool off, but still giving me enough time to be home before sunset.
It seems a logical enough shift, but what I failed to do was adjust any of my pre-run preparation, and coupled with the reunion, at which I was up until nearly 4 a.m. and awake again at 7:30, these missteps added up to a horrible, horrible run.
Food Fail: Friday night’s dinner was excellent: Ribs and cookout fare. But I didn’t stuff myself, and other than a post-midnight slice of pizza, I really didn’t do anything to pack in a store of carbohydrates. My recent Fridays have all been about lots of pizza and pasta. Saturday’s breakfast and lunch weren’t incredibly substantial, either: A small-to-medium plate of two biscuits and sausage gravy before 9 a.m., and a stuffed pepper at around 1 p.m.
Sleep Fail: I was coming off a night of barely four hours of unsound sleep, and my post-lunch nap hoping to rest up for the run wasn’t a good one.
Basic Planning Fail: Even at 4 p.m., it was still 80 degrees, with not a cloud in the sky. Realizing I should be prepared for all sorts of weather and that’s not super hot, it’s obviously never been that warm when I’ve started a run, so I’ve never done real distance in that kind of heat.
I had a PowerBar just before heading out the door, and I took three gels and my 20 ounces of water in the belt bottles.
I could tell from the first few steps outside that I really, really didn’t want to do this, but once the running starts, stopping is essentially not an option: I have to look at it that way, and at any rate, on the occasions I feel like this, it usually passes after a mile or two.
Although the first two miles went by at normal pace, during number three, I had to fight off a slight side stitch, which I haven’t had in a long time. And this was the easiest thing I did for the next two and a half hours.
Halfway through mile six, I was actually wondering if I was going to be able to complete this run. Not even a third of the way in, and I felt just physically wiped out. I mean, I’ve been miserable on some stretches of these runs – the last mile of the first frontier back in week four comes to mind in particular – but questioning whether I had the ability to complete them hasn’t happened at all.
And I never really got a good second (or third, or fourth) wind: The whole run was just varying degrees of pain and suck, with long shadeless stretches.
I distracted myself in different ways: recalling the reunion and thinking about how to write about it; considering of what sort of tattoos I’d get if I were going to get post-marathon celebratory ink (Latin inscriptions of “It is not this day” and “time” or “memory” came to mind, as did “Look at the clock,” a line from Crossing Decembers.); staring ahead to the patches of shade and trying to soak in the slightly lower temperatures they offered on this afternoon of long, shadeless stretches.
The ten-mile mark (at which point I was already lagging, at a 9-minute pace) was near home, and running through it knowing I had another eight miles out-and-back to go actually put the thought of crying into my head.
Nothing about this second loop passed quickly. Every intersection or landmark lingered on the horizon, every hill got higher, every step felt weaker.
This was a run against doubt.
At one point, out on a narrow, isolated road between fields, I realized that while everything in my body was screaming to just stop running, where would that leave me? Still three or four miles from home, at least, and that’s a bad walk if you’re miserable, and it would only make the afternoon longer.
I wish I could say that these hours were mentally rewarding and helped me sort things out and clear the cobwebs the way they often do, but trying to draw my thoughts away from the agony was as exhausting for my brain as the run itself was for my body.
Eventually, I was a mile from home, and still jogging.
Everything hurt. Maybe even my eyelids.
Knowing I had about a two-tenths of a mile cushion, I considered pulling up short just after turning onto our street, but what would be the good? I’d still have to walk home, and I was, at this point, out of water, so I’d only be making it longer until I could get a drink.
I pushed my pace, just barely, the last 50 yards or so when I realizet that if I didn’t, I was going to actually take more than three hours on this run.
I made myself not stop completely once I hit the driveway, walking in circles for a minute, going inside and grabbing some water, then going back outside to stay upright just a bit longer.
After a bit, I tried to take my ice bath, but couldn’t stop shaking, so I just went for the hot shower, Motrin, orange juice to get my blood sugar up (I didn’t even want to freaking think about eating yet), pajamas and the couch for some Mythbusters.
Feeling just flattened and discouraged, I thought about the exchange my daughter and I had when I had half-staggered through the front door immediately after the run.
She was sitting on the couch, looked up and just said “Good job.”
“Ugh,” I replied. “It took me three hours and it was TERRIBLE.”
“Did you fall down?” she asked.
“Did you stop running?”
She repeated, with emphasis, “Good. Job.”
And I am reminded that some days, just finishing is enough.
A couple weeks ago, Jenn and I were talking about my then-upcoming 20-year high school reunion.
So, she asked me, if my three or four closest Lake High School friends – and the only people from that point in my life whom she has really met – weren’t going to be there, who was I going to hang out with?
I had no answer. And this kind of sat funny in my stomach and brain the rest of the night, so I let it wander around in my head the next morning when I went running.
Why am I going, exactly, I wondered. I’ve generally stayed in touch with those closest of my high school friends, and even the ones who aren’t nearby it seems like I still get to see every couple years. Online, I’ve casually kept up with a few others and renewed a few acquaintances.
I didn’t go to the 5-year or the 10-year reunion, and the 15-year get-together was just a bring-the-kids super-casual cookout behind the old elementary school.
This one, though, I’d been looking forward to since it was announced, which I guess isn’t all that surprising, since I’m frequently nostalgic and a regular fare for the taxi drivers down on Sentimental Street. (See Ranger, Night.) And while I find it relatively easy to think generally favorably of high school the further I get from those years, I also know that many of the best moments were spent with friends who weren’t coming to the reunion. (And yes, I do vividly remember the sucktacular times as well, but they seem to matter less and less.)
Part of it, I think, is that where I grew up, the place I always called home even when I lived a thousand miles away for most of a decade, is a big part of who I am. Maybe it’s partly because once I started first grade, my family never moved from our house south of Hartville, and I spent my entire childhood in Lake Local Schools. Even as I’ve gotten older and the world has gotten bigger, the easier it seems to be to connect with those people who shared this particular corner of it for awhile.
And there were at least a couple people coming to the reunion who I knew I wanted to see, even though I had no clue whether those catch-ups would be five minutes of stilted small talk or the hours-flying-by sort of conversations that are awesome and fun.
What I wound up telling myself while I was out running that morning was this: Don’t be left wondering.
I’d much rather be there, I told myself, than not go and then wonder if I should have. If it sucks, it sucks, but I find that sort of thing far easier to put behind me than a case of the Coulda Shoulda Wouldas.
So this past Friday morning, I squeezed in one more work-week interview in the morning, and then I generally fidgeted about the house and get ready for the overnight trip to Salt Fork State Park.
Not long after lunch, I hit the road.
To get myself in the proper state of mind along the way, I’d piled the passenger seat with CDs loaded for an All-Eighties drive.
The soundtrack for the drive south (GORGEOUS afternoon), radio loud and the windows open the whole way:
Selections from Journey: Greatest Hits (Digression – Other than being fascinated by their video game, I can’t say I was actually a Journey fan in the 1980s. Yes, I knew their music, but I never owned an album or recorded a Journey song off the radio or MTV. It was only during a Spring Break trip to visit Adam in 1991 that I realized how much Journey I’d absorbed in the 1980s and how strongly it pulled me back to those years.) – Any Way You Want It, Faithfully, Ask the Lonely, Separate Ways, and (duh) Don’t Stop Believing, which was cued up for my initial acceleration onto I-77 southbound.
Selections from U2: Rattle & Hum (because I couldn’t find my Joshua Tree CD) – Desire, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Pride (In the Name of Love)
Selections from John’s Homemade Late-Night Solo-Driving CD No. 1: The Buggles: Video Killed the Radio Star, Pet Shop Boys: Always on My Mind, New Order: True Faith, The Kinks: Come Dancing, The Hooters: And We Danced.
The drive flew by, and when that last song ended, I had just exited the interstate for the two-lane state route to Salt Fork, so I just shut the soundtrack down and thought.
I got to the resort a little after 3 p.m., with not quite three hours until the reunion was scheduled to start. Put my stuff in the room, walked around a little bit, considered taking a swim, didn’t, and then plopped in a rocking chair looking out over the pool and kind of zoned and maybe half-dozed for awhile.
I never stopped wondering what to expect.
Walking back to the room, I ran into the first of my former classmates in a stairway, and the minute or two we spent saying hello eased my mind somewhat.
I went out and sat on the balcony which faced a grassy hillside and the woods just beyond. After a bit, a deer came out of the woods and was eating the grass along the treeline about 100 yards away.
A little later, people on the balcony above me started throwing corn chips and bread to a buck and two does which had come right up to the building and were close enough to my porch that I could see their ribs and whiskers and hear them crunching as they ate.
Every so often, I would walk to the exit near my room and look out at the cluster of picnic tables for the reunion and see if anyone was out there. I can’t exactly say why I was nervous, but it still seemed a very real possibility that the whole night would be a stutter-step of short, uncomfortable reintroductions and me wondering why the hell I was here anyway.
A few minutes past six, I decided to head out. There were a few people out there now, though I couldn’t recognize anyone from a distance. I made a beeline for the bar, because I knew I could use a beer here. And while I was standing there, I spotted a guy I was great friends with for a couple years coming toward me, grinning. And just like that, I got the feeling that the night was going to be OK.
And it was OK plus infinity over dinner and beer and music and drinks and the next almost nine hours. (Incidentally, I thought it was incredibly fitting for our Class of 1989 to have a “don’t-dress-up-we’re-having-ribs” kind of reunion. It just fit well.)
The specifics of these people and moments and talks are not what matters here, because nobody’s recollections will be the same, and we’ll all attach our own significance or lack thereof for better or worse.
What I’m keeping is this: Twenty years out of high school, we’re all in such different places, not just geographically, but socially, vocationally, politically, mentally, emotionally, and parentally, and yet this one slice of a single day was a great reminder that we once lived and breathed in the same time and space, and that even if we didn’t occupy specific moments in each others’ lives, having a small corner of the universe in common is not an unimportant thing.
It was after three a.m. by the time I got back to my room, and I decided to have a glass of ice water and sit on the steps outside and kind of exhale and wind down. The picnic table area was in darkness, and the place was mostly still.
Exhausted as I was, I had trouble falling asleep and staying there.
I was up and showering at 7:30 a.m., and I brewed a bland cup of room coffee to take on a walk around the lodge and scout out breakfast. I hadn’t figured on running into anyone, really, given the late night most of us had, but I bumped into a classmate and her husband, and the three of us wound up eating together in the restaurant and talking about school and life and kids and home (they still live in the same area, too). That we weren’t even close when we were growing up was wonderfully irrelevant.
After breakfast, I walked around a little more, ran into a couple more people here and there, chatted and said goodbyes.
For all the nerves I’d had less than 24 hours before, I was finding it kind of tough to leave.
I packed up my stuff, checked out, and sat back on one of the lobby couches overlooking the pool and had parting conversations with people as they came through, even spending a long time talking to a few people I hadn’t gotten a chance to say hi to the night before.
A little after 11 a.m., I walked out the side door to the parking lot, got in my car and headed home, windows down, late summer air swirling.
The plan for the drive back was to ease the mental adjustment by shifting the soundtrack back toward the present.
But you know what?
I put Journey in again and turned it up as loud as it would go.