Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode X

Saturday, August 15

“It’s just distance.”

This is what my brother tells me when I admit that I’m nervous before we head out to run this morning.

But this is the 15-miler, and it’s one both he and my buddy Jeff have warned me as being a particularly trying run for first-time marathon trainees, even though, as per the training calendar pattern, it’s only two miles more than my previous frontier two weeks ago.

I’ve worked out a path which takes Adam and me over a familiar seven-mile loop, though we’re running it in the opposite direction for a couple reasons: First, it means when he veers off and heads home, I don’t have to turn around and double back over a mile I’ve just run. And second, it means I’m not doing two climbs of the hill which that mile includes.

The second loop of the run is a shortened version of our established 10-mile route into North Canton and back.

What I’m trying to do, of course, is fool myself. The first not-quite-half has now become a routine run for both of us, so that’s fine. And my thinking is that when I’m out there on the second half alone, I get to celebrate the small joy that I’ve excised two miles from the middle of it.

When I mentioned this to Adam on Thursday, he smiled. “It’s still going to suck, you know.”

It’s just distance.

It’s light but still a few minutes before sunup when we start out.

My goal is still to manage a nine-minute pace, and the first three miles pass quickly while Adam and I talk.

Around the outermost point of the loop, we’re running east and come around a bend into an absolutely jaw-dropping sunrise. There’s a haze to the sky, and just above the horizon is my favorite Red Rubber Ball sort of sun, just starting to brighten to the point where you can’t look at it and see the edges distinctly. And there’s a distant cloud bank positioned just so that from its upper reaches, high enough that they’re in a place where the sun is already yellow and bright, a ray of white light spreads and widens over our heads.

To our left are rolling, low expanses of tall, deep green corn. Bands of thick white mist stretch motionless across the fields.

“Now there’s a postcard,” Adam says, reading my mind, and we don’t speak much over the next few minutes.

At about the five-and-a-half-mile mark, I squeeze down the first of the two gels I packed for this run, and wash it down with water.

Oddly enough, I find that I don’t even remember running up the big hill that marks the beginning of mile seven, maybe because I’m already thinking ahead to the second half of the run. Adam hands off the stopwatch – I decide to just keep it in my left hand this week rather than trying to stuff it in my belt – at right around the one-hour mark, so I’m a little bit ahead of the pace I’m trying to set, but I know the next eight miles are going to be tougher.

They are.

I take my second gel just past 10 miles, and I’m feeling, well, if not spectacularly energized, then certainly at least okay with where I am. My knees and calves are starting to ache periodically, but the lungs are feeling good, and mentally I’m in the game.

In fact, I disappear into The Zone for a few minutes, and when I come out the other side, I realize I’m on a stretch of road I’ve never run before: This is the shorter route, remember? I was totally on autopilot there for a bit.

The change of scenery occupies me for another half-mile or so, and then I swing back east onto familiar paths. The sun is high and warm now, and I know the nightmare miles are coming up, so I try to make sure I’m cruising comfortably: not pushing for speed, but making sure that I’m not relaxing and slowing down too much, because I want to make good time while I still have the energy to do it.

The air is still now, and when I pass the grassy expanse between the shopping center and the drug store on the corner, I can hear the insect buzz rising like a sonic version of gentle heat waves.

Just after I hit the 12-mile mark and turn north, a couple things go through my head.

First is a familiar thought, looking at the traffic light at the next intersection: “That thing is a mile away.” (It is. We’ve checked.) This is followed by steeling myself for that mile to feel like four. (It usually does.)

Then, though, I realize that with a dozen miles behind me, I am at the same point where, two weeks ago, I was heading into the last mile of a half-marathon distance feeling utterly spent. I’m not wind-sprinting or anything here, but I know I feel better than I did a couple Saturdays back. (Later, I will wonder how much of this is actual reality and how much of it is mental, since there’s no way I can afford to feel, with three miles to go, like every step is a challenge.)

Passing that traffic light puts me over one more frontier, and with two miles to go, I start to consider how I’m doing time-wise. My goal of nine-minute miles means I’ll need to finish in two hours and fifteen minutes, and now I’m starting to think I might not make it. Although Adam and I have found that during the week we can get our final miles in well under eight minutes, I am now starting to feel these two new miles weighing on me. Time starts to pass in disturbingly large chunks for what I’m thinking should be short, quick segments from one street to another, and when I turn east and see the sun over that damn hill in the final mile, I look at the stopwatch and see 2:06:30.

I’ll have to do an eight-and-a-half minute fifteenth mile, and son, that’s just not happening.

I switch up my breathing a little just to distract myself from the climb, which is taking so much effort it actually feels like the air in front of me is pushing me back. Although I manage to keep my legs up and my strides decent, once I’m actually over the crest, I want nothing more than to just freaking stop, and this is the hardest part of the run.

And then sweat just starts to pour into my eyes, more than I’ve ever had happen before, stinging bad enough to distract me from the pain in my legs. While I’m taking my glasses off with one hand and trying to use my shirt sleeve to clear my eyes with the other, I’m still slogging along, and by the time I can blink my vision clear and get my glasses back in place, I have reached the top of the downhill stretch that ducks through a tree tunnel for few blessed moments, and the worst is behind me.

I get enough momentum for a nice little breeze and some long, freewheeling strides, but when I get to the end of our street, I look at the watch and see that 2:15 has just ticked past. My goal now is just to get up the road in an even 90 seconds.

I make it in 89.

Walking home, I finish up the last of my water and realize that there’s not much left of the 20 ounces I had with me when I set out. I drink another tall plastic mugfull as I’m filling the bathtub with the faucet on its coldest setting. I don’t know that I’m looking forward to this cold bath, but I’ve seen it recommended in training books, and Adam said he started icing his legs on runs of 15 miles or more.

I don’t have a big bag of ice on hand, so I empty our freezer’s ice bin into the tub, put on my swimsuit (come on, it’s cold) and step in.

I’m surprised at how good it actually feels on my feet, which I now realize are a little bit sore. Same thing when I ease down and get my legs stretched out. After about five minutes, as I’ve gotten used to the temperature and am, in fact, wondering if this is cold enough, my right hand dips into the water and it’s freezing. It feels like a totally different sensation than the soothing water on my knees and feet.

Later, after I’ve showered, I sit down to figure out my actual pace. Time: 2:16:29. Distance – checking again on the Gmaps Pedometer – 15.2 miles.

Fifteen point two. I’d forgotten about that little bit of distance padding, which means my actual fifteen-mile mark was somewhere at the end of our street and –

I pop open the calculator: 136.5 minutes divided by 15.2 miles.

My average works out to 8:59.

August 16, 2009 - Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , ,


  1. Never heard of the ice water trick. Did it help?

    Comment by Ivan | August 17, 2009 | Reply

    • Well, even though I was still a little sore on Saturday afternoon & evening, it wasn’t “wince-with-every-step” bad, and I was back to normal on Sunday. Considering my two-mile runs used to leave me aching for a day or two afterward, I feel pretty good about my progress.

      Comment by jrbooth | August 17, 2009 | Reply

  2. […] I was 10.28 miles in, so I was averaging about 8:37 per mile. Considering how I felt at the end of last week’s run, where I was totally drained and barely managed to keep my pace under nine minutes, I was […]

    Pingback by Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XI « Cornfield Meet | August 22, 2009 | Reply

  3. […] a rough run, of course: 15 miles on the schedule. When I did my first marathon, I remember the 15-miler as a really significant challenge, and even though we did 14 last week, I found myself dreading […]

    Pingback by Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Week Eight « Cornfield Meet | April 9, 2012 | Reply

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