Sunday, January 25, 2009

Running on Empty

There are two times when the existence of God is not questioned and all efforts are turned to constant prayer: when a plane is plummeting from the sky and in the final third of a long distance run, particularly when the runner has not trained properly or run in a long time.

Holy hell. I'm training (in the loosest sense of the word) for another marathon in March. I ran a 15.5 mile race yesterday as part of our local running club's Distance Series of training runs. The majority of the people running yesterday's distance are in far better shape than I and have been running much more regularly. This includes the 100-year-old man who lapped me. But more on that later.

Or maybe more on that now. I had several favorite moments yesterday. There were actually two races going on at the same time. Most folks were running the shorter race, 9.3 miles, in preparation for the half marathon in March. Those runners finished while the rest of us continued on for the last 6.2 miles. Those runners left the course and drove off to a local restaurant for celebratory beer and pizza. Favorite moment #1: being passed or "lapped" by people who were on their last stretch of the 15.5 mile race. In order for that to happen, they were SIX MILES ahead of me! Great for the soul. Favorite moment #2: many people took the shorter route off of the military base (the race's location) in order to get to the restaurant. Said route took them all past me as I was STRUGGLING and still had a good five miles to go. Only one guy waved. The rest probably looked away in pain. Favorite moment #3 occurred when the temperature began to plunge and the rain came.

It could have been worse, really. Rain-wise, that is. It was steady and cold but relatively light. And all I can think to myself during those moments is, "There's only one way out." And that's to run and get the hell to the finish line. I don't typically go on auto-pilot when I run and have rarely, if ever, experienced the rumored "Runner's High." I have fleeting moments when everything feels perfect: my body temperature, my breathing, my pace, my legs -- everything feels great. I always think at that moment, "Wow, I could do this forever!" And then about 30 seconds pass and everything goes to sh*t. But I keep on going.

For that, I'm incredibly proud. There were extended moments yesterday when I didn't think I'd have the strength to walk the last few miles, let alone run them. But then a good song would come on or I'd get some sort of internal burst and the feet would start going again. I spent a good 20 minutes looping "When I Grow Up" on my iPod because the beat of that song was literally the only thing keeping me going. I really did leave my body at that moment and turned into some sort of robot. The race course is mountainous for Southeastern Virginia and we had to hit two large hills repeatedly. I barrelled up the penultimate one thanks to that song alone. And multiple times when I had nothing left to give, when I was convinced I was going to collapse from sheer exhaustion, when my stomach was growling because I was completely out of fuel -- I just kept going. I encourage everyone to find something that brings them to that point. I can't explain the sense of accomplishment -- and surprise, really -- when you dig deeper than you've ever dug before and find some way to keep going. Quitting wasn't an option. This is a training run for me. It's just going to get harder as I add on the miles towards 26.2. But it will only get MORE difficult if I don't complete these training runs. They're for me, and the only person I'd cheat by not doing them is me.

I was in agony when it was over. I circled my car while drinking some water because I was afraid if I stopped moving my whole body would seize up. My toes started going and I knew cramping was imminent. Fortunately, my friend Donut gave me a salt pill, so that seemed to help. Getting into the car was a challenge -- who knew sitting could be so difficult? I felt so horrible, I was going to bypass the pizza and beer -- a dire indication of how bad I truly felt.

Fortunately, I started getting bombarded with text messages from my friend Celeste begging me to go to the bar. Now I know I'm somewhat fun to be around, but I'm pretty confident she wanted me to go because she knew I needed it and she wanted to check on me. You can't go through something like that and not hang out with your friends afterwards, swapping war stories. That's a huge part of why we do it too. We're in a club that very few people join. We know we're equally crazy and special. And we can talk about pooping until the cows come home. What a great hobby!

So thanks to the volunteers who hung around in increasingly worse weather so that I could get my training run in. And thanks as always to my running friends who help keep me going and share these experiences with me.

Hmmm, maybe I do experience the Runner's High, just not while actually running. :)


Karen said...

I don't run. Heck, I barely even walk. But I am impressed by people who complete their task at hand, especially if it involves physical activity. You have been an inspiration to me to get out there and do my walk today. thank you.

Celeste said...

OMG, great story. I do run and as a matter of fact I was there (the one that convinced you to enjoy that celebratory beer and pizza that you deserved for accomplishing such an amazing task). I've got to keep reading these - I laughed so hard only because I can picture you out on that course debating on how you can get to the finish quicker......maybe next time that HRT bus will come by:)