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Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Weeks Ten and Eleven

The past two weeks have been rollercoastery in many ways that had nothing at all to do with my marathon training, but which absorbed so much of my mental and emotional energy that it took a toll on my running.

Week Ten (April 15 – 21) started off with an untimed four-miler on Tuesday – I didn’t bother with the Garmin, since it’s been unpredictable – and it felt really good just to be out there running without even the ability to glance at my time or pace or distance.

The next evening, I was scheduled for an eight-mile pace run, which I wasn’t looking forward to, given my Week Nine struggle with a seven-mile pacer,  But I carbed things up with a pile of noodles at lunch and found myself facing a gorgeous evening for a run when I got home after work. Warm enough for shorts, cool enough to wear long sleeves and not worry about overheating. I let myself get out to a quick start (7:43 first mile), and realized I still felt pretty good, so I figured I’d keep pushing while I had the energy. Two miles in, I was pleasantly surprised to see my overall pace still just under the 8-minute mark, so again, I’m thinking the better I can keep these early miles, the more of a cushion that gives me down the stretch. At three miles, I was at just over 24 minutes, and now I’m starting to kind of wonder what the hell’s going on that I’m feeling so, well, good. After four miles, I’m at an 8:06 overall pace, and I slow for my planned 60-second walk – even so, when I start up again, I’ve only added three seconds to my overall pace. Over the second half of the run, I watch my pace climb steadily, but I’m still feeling remarkably good, and my accumulated pace never goes above 8:13 per mile. In fact, when I hit the seven-and-a-half-mile mark, I decide to power things up and see if I can get my overall pace back into the eight-minutes-and-single-digits range – and I do: Eight miles, 8:09.

I’m floored. And I’m ecstatic. And it just feels so damn good that on Thursday’s four-miler, I don’t care when I discover that my calves had seemingly taken out a strength advance to pull off that eight-mile time the night before, so I’m just out jogging and enjoying the road.

What happens Friday and Saturday is this: Real life. The weather turns cold and rainy. We drive across the state to spend Saturday at Kelsey’s regional gymnastics meet – which is awesome because she places three times, including a third-place podium spot – but it means I miss my scheduled 17-miler. We get home fairly late, go to bed, and I am wholly unmotivated Sunday morning, which is still cold and rainy, and I never get out to run that day either.

This marks the first time I have ever completely missed a scheduled run while training, and paired with some other real-life stresses going on, it fuels a couple days of motivational crisis: Do I even want to do this marathon? Is my heart really still in it? I’m still not sure about either when Week Eleven begins, but Tuesday night, I make myself go out for my scheduled five-miler, and although I think this gets me back in the saddle, there are more scheduling conflicts and demotivational moments on Wednesday and Thursday, so I miss TWO MORE RUNS.

And now, I think, I am really up against it. Saturday, April 28, I am supposed to run 18 miles. Since my fantastic eight-mile pace run, I have missed three of four scheduled sessions and only put in five of my scheduled 35 miles. Time to see how much damage I’ve done, and whether I have time to recover.

The 18-miler and I, we have a history. Back in 2009, my first 18-mile run set a bar for Worst Run Ever that surpassed even the full marathon I ran a few weeks later. Many times since then, I have pushed myself through low points by thinking, “Wow. I feel like crap. But I don’t feel as bad as I did during that 18-miler in ’09, so I’ve got that going for me.”

Friday night the 27th, I carbed up at dinner and went to bed on the early side, knowing if I was going to do this, it would have to be early, since we were facing afternoon rain, and we had things to do in the afternoon. As with the last time, I was also facing a solo run, since my brother would be heading out pre-dawn due to a mid-morning track meet.

So: Up at six a.m. Some cereal, some toast, and a PowerBar. A single cup of coffee. I load up my running belt with gels and water. It’s overcast and in the mid-30s, and the high is only in the mid-40s, but it’s not raining, so it’s actually good running weather: I can get by with a sweatshirt, hat and gloves and not worry about sun or heat.

And out I go, at about 6:55.

And back I go, at about 6:57, because I forgot to bring my inhaler.

And out I go, 19 seconds after 7 a.m.

I’m utterly unconcerned with time – although I do expect to come in at under three hours, which I barely, barely managed to do on my Worst Run Ever. I just need to see if I can do this, and stick to my plan of 60-second walks for water and gel every 4.5 miles. That’s how I’m looking at this – four 4.5 mile runs. Just in case the Garmin decides to conk out, I look at my route map and memorize the spots at 4.5, 9, and 13.5 miles.

I am slow from the start, but I don’t care. I’m not pushing my lungs, and all I want to do is keep my legs moving. The first quarter of the route goes by smoothly, and just past 4.5, I eat a gel and drink some water and walk for just under a minute. Then I focus on the next 4.5.

These miles pass more slowly, since there are longer turn-free stretches of road and more hills, but at about 9.5 miles, I have another gel, wash it down while walking for a minute, and then tell myself that I’m more than halfway done.

I’m in mile 10 when the Garmin shuts down. Oh, well. I know where my next water-and-gel-and-walking marker is.

It’s about this point where my knees start getting that numb sort of ache, which sounds weird, maybe, but there it is. It’s getting harder to lift my legs and stride out the downhills, and harder still to push them uphill.

I turn the Garmin on just to see what time it is, and I make a note of exactly where I am at my two-hour mark. (Turns out I was 12.5 miles in and averaging 9:36.) Although I have run distances of 13.1, 14, and 15 miles this year, my legs are starting to feel like jelly, and I blame those missed runs and missed miles.

Past 13 miles, I eat my last gel and drink while I walk, and it’s soul-crushing how quickly this minute goes by, even though I know I’m three-quarters of the way done. The next mile is much more hilly than I remember, and it really wears on me. In 2009, this stretch actually almost drove me to tears. The next three miles feel like a dozen. By the time I get to the big climb that marks the beginning of mile 18, it is all I can do to just keep jogging. My lungs are fine, but the knees and calves and ankles are just screaming at me to freaking stop, and maybe more painful than that, I’m getting close to the three-hour mark.

I reach my driveway at 2:56:48. Not nearly as much of an improvement over the Worst Run Ever as I was hoping for, but considering the lost miles and my strategic walking minutes, I’m OK with it.

It’s eight-and-a-half hours in the past, now, and my knees feel shredded, but thinking ahead, I realize that even so, I’ve run 26.2 miles once before, and this run convinced me I can do it again.

April 28, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 4 Comments


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