Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XV

Saturday, Sept. 19

When I went outside this morning, it was still dark.

And not that “pre-dawn blue” kind of dark: Night dark.

It was just before 5:30, and just a shade over 50 degrees.

I’d been more or less awake since 3:45, having gone to bed just after nine p.m. in anticipation of this morning’s run: The 20-miler. My longest training run. The last frontier before race day.

Adam was running the first 10 with me, and he needed to be back home as early as possible, so he suggested the super-early start.

I had some peanut butter toast and a Power Bar while I filled up my water bottles, and actually walked out the door before Jenn, which is saying something since her day shifts start at 6 a.m.

Walking out into the street, I looked up and saw a magnificently clear, moonless sky.

Orion wheeled high – the first time I’ve seen him. I mentally marked the official end of summer.

Waiting on Adam’s front sidewalk, I looked straight up at the Pleiades, and as I did so, a yellow-orange shooting star fled west to east just past the Seven Sisters.

I think I actually said “Yesss!” out loud, and gave a mental fist-pump.

To the east, just over the treeline, Venus was startlingly bright. Brighter than I think I’ve ever seen it, maybe.

And suddenly, I was strangely psyched and excited for this run, like when I’d done the In Like A Lion midnight run with Keith back on March 1.

Adam came out put on his reflective vest and grabbed a flashlight to carry. I clipped a blinking red light to the back of my belt, and without preamble, we set off.

Except for a quarter-mile stretch of well-lit sidewalk along a nearby housing development, we ran that first mile in real darkness, between woods, then along cornfields and horse pastures, and there was a newness to it; a “sneaking out” feel, like camping in the backyard and going for a walk in the middle of the night.

It took a couple whiles for my calves to warm up: They were slightly sore after just a couple miles, but it went away, as I’ve come to expect.

In the fourth mile, we came to a traffic signal and turned left. With no cars or streetlights around, we noticed just how bright a green light really is, casting our shadows long ahead of us.

In mile six, past the well-illuminated parking lot of a shopping center and back into darkness, we passed a trio of runners heading the opposite direction on our sidewalk. After they passed, I said to Adam, “Crazy people.”

It started to get light not long after that. By the time we were at mile seven, most of the sky was pale blue and it was glowing peach on the eastern horizon.

More than a third of the way through, I thought, and it’s not even dawn yet.

Of course, I also realized I was closing in on the last of my shared miles: Just shy of the halfway point, I was going to turn north and begin another 10-mile loop, while Adam headed home.

He offered me pointers, counterbalancing my optimism with his experience.

I broke down my remaining loop for him: 4 miles north, then head east a bit, and then I’m picking up a road we’ve run regularly, and at that point, there are just four miles left. It breaks up nicely, and mentally, I’m ready – there is no longer any doubt in my mind that I can do this.

“Just remember to keep walking that fine line,” he said, “between that attitude and knowing that it’s going to suck. When you get to mile 18, it gets better because you know you’re almost there, but watch out for the ones before that.”

And then he’s off, heading home, and I’m jogging north.

It’s still a gorgeous, cloudless morning. I’m more than 12 miles into my run before the sun is high enough that I’m running in its full light, sending a shadow several dozen yards in to the field off to my left.

The route takes me past the high school I attended, and the attached middle school, where Kelsey goes. There’s a row of trees on the south side of the middle school, and they reach almost to the top of the building, blocking the third-floor classroom windows.

I remember being in those classrooms and looking down on those trees.

Turning east, I’m on a road where one of my friends was in a bad bicycle accident as a kid. Flew over his handlebars and wound up with his jaw wired shut for awhile. I wasn’t there, but our dads took us to a preseason Browns game around that time, and I remember him cheering, teeth stuck together.

And then south again, on a road that runs along the backyard of another friend’s childhood home. His parents still live there. I snuck one of my first beers – stashed behind a tree by an older brother – in that backyard.

Around this point, I was 15 miles in. Three-fourths of the way there, and feeling pretty good. Nowhere near the agony of that 18-mile run two weeks ago.

Still, Adam was right: The next couple miles weren’t painful or a real struggle, exactly, but they just seemed to pass awfully slowly.

And then, after cresting what I knew to be the next-to-last sizable climb of the morning, I realized that the next few minutes were my Frontier Zone. Somewhere between the top of that hill and the intersection I could see ahead, I would pass my long-distance mark and be in new territory, two miles from completing Saturday Number Fifteen.

When I got to that stop sign, I felt like cheering.

At this point, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve climbed the hill that marks the start of the final mile from this direction. But the climb itself differs a bit each time. There have been days when it vanished because my mind was elsewhere, and there have been days when every step felt like nine. I’ve done it with my eyes shut or glued to the roadside stripe because I didn’t want to see how far off the top was, and I’ve run at it head-on without taking my gaze from the house that sits up there.

Today, I was just plain excited, and if the hill didn’t exactly glide effortlessly beneath my shoes, neither did it leave a painful muscle memory. It was just another stretch of pavement, and then it was behind me.

Final time: 2:58:48. Distance: 20.07 miles. Pace: 8:55 per mile.

That’s slower than I want to run the marathon, but a full minute per mile – and a minute faster overall – better than the 18-miler, and enough for me to feel like I’ve finally buried that one.

I’ll spend the next couple weeks on shorter runs and working on picking up the pace. But until race day, every distance on the calendar has already been done.

One frontier to go.

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , | 1 Comment


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