Do the 18-miler on Saturday morning at home in Chicago amidst familiar surroundings, hydration resources, and weather... but have to get up at an even more ungodly hour than usual to do it and know that I was under time constraints to finish, plus be utterly exhausted from running but then have to head directly to the airport and travel for the rest of the afternoon.
Do the 18-miler in North Carolina on Sunday morning amidst completely unfamiliar surroundings and zero knowledge of local resources, but be more relaxed without time constraints and the ability to lie around for the rest of the day following.
I ultimately went with choice #2.
True to form, when making choices there is rarely ever a perfect choice.
This run ended up being the most challenging training run I've ever completed, by far.
I was so wiped out from several very rigorous workweeks and the travels that on Sunday morning, I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in. Being on Eastern Time and therefore losing an hour upon arrival out here did not help matters. I woke up around 8:30 AM and was on my way out the door at around 9:15 AM. As I was getting ready to head out, armed with my handheld water bottle, I checked the weather forecast. I was dismayed to see that current temperatures were already in the mid-80s, and with the massive humidity the real-feel temperature was 94 degrees.
I had looked up some running routes through the Runner's World website. The area of the Outer Banks we are staying in is close to Route 12, which is basically an oceanfront road that runs along the entire Outer Banks coastline. I thought I'd do a few out-and-backs along Route 12, where I'd come back every 5-6 miles or so to refill my water bottle.
Getting started, I slowed my pace by a good 60 seconds per mile, but was still feeling the effects of the stifling humidity. The original plan was to go out about 3 miles and then come back for a water refill. But I actually wasn't feeling too bad around mile 3, and still had about two-thirds of my water bottle's contents at that point. So I decided to go out to about 4.5 or 5 miles before coming back.
Route 12 turned out to be a more challenging route than anticipated to run through. It is a 2-lane road with no sidewalk, almost no shoulder, plenty of obstacles along the shoulder (garbage bins, driveways with cars parked right up to the edge of the road, other runners/walkers/bikers, etc.), lots of traffic, and zero shade. It was almost entirely residential, as well, which meant no places to stop for water. There were also buildings on both sides of the road, which blocked any semblence of a breeze coming off the ocean.
I got to mile 5 and paused to take a GU before turning back. When I took the GU, I ended up drinking most of the water that I did have left in my bottle. Oops. Why didn't I realize this earlier? I had another five miles to get back to where I was staying with not much water left.
The effects of the sun, heat, and humidity started hitting around mile 6. I tried not to think about the fact that I still had about 12 miles in total still to go, and kept just plugging away. I also needed to go to the bathroom, but amidst all the residences there weren't really any places to go. It was miserable. I slowed down even further during that stretch. I was contemplating how I could have gotten myself into these predicaments, and alternating between feeling sorry for myself and being plain old annoyed at myself.
|Ah yes, that would be me.|
Around mile 8.5 I saw a portapotty along the side of the road. I had never been so overjoyed to see a portapotty!!! It was incredibly smelly and dirty, but I didn't care.
Around mile 9 there was a Hilton hotel. This was like an oasis in the desert for me. Potential water fountains!!! I walked in, trying to look nonchalant, and was overjoyed to feel air conditioning. I glanced around the lobby, and saw a big dispenser of ice water sitting at a table nearby.
I tried not to knock anyone over as I darted over to refill my water bottle. I immediately drank half of the bottle, refilled again, took a GU, and refilled one more time. I think it was the best water I'd ever had. Ever.
I then spotted some bathrooms. Woo hoo! I went in and splashed some cool water on my face. Huge sigh of relief.
My huge thanks to the Hilton for quite possibly saving my life!
I lingered for a minute or two in the bathroom, just enjoying the air-conditioning, then forced myself to keep going.
I made it back to where Adam and I were staying, where Adam was getting worried about me with the weather conditions being the way they were. By that point I was at about mile 10.2, so I still had almost 8 miles to go, and it was starting to get close to noon. Adam suggested that perhaps I cut the run short for the day, especially since I'd gotten such a late start. I did consider it briefly, but since I was already more than halfway done at that point I was determined to finish. Adam wasn't thrilled, but I promised him that I wouldn't overexert myself.
I took some salt capsules, drank some orange juice, refilled my water bottle again, sat down for a few minutes, then headed back out again.
|Well, it all depends on how you define "crazy."|
The first two miles after heading back out actually weren't too bad. I took a different path this time, following a paved bike path and a shaded trail. It was much less stressful than the oceanfront road. Then, the fatigue started hitting again so I slowed down and began walking more and more. I eventually bottomed out with a ratio of two minutes running, two minutes walking. It was ugly, and it took me about three lifetimes, but I finally got through the full 18 miles.
Surprisingly, my nagging left hip flexor and wonky left knee didn't bother me much during this run. I'm not sure if it was because I was running on asphalt instead of my usual concrete (asphalt is supposed to be softer than concrete), or if the heat had anything good to do with it, or who knows. But whatever the reason was, I'll take it.
As soon as I got back, I refueled, took an ice bath, and then a shower. My head was hurting and I was in a relieved daze. I camped out on the couch and mindlessly watched some baseball, while unconsciously wondering how in the world I would ever add another 8.2 miles to what I had just done.
|Well, it all depends on how you define "crazy."|
The requisite meltdown didn't occur until about an hour and a half later. It was then that I started crying and once again contemplating my own sanity. Adam comforted me by reminding me that most people probably get scared when they are training for a marathon, and to trust my training plan. He reminded me of the extreme temperatures and humidity in which I had just run, which I am no longer accustomed to and will hopefully not have to go through again this season. He also reminded me that on marathon day, there would be race support and crowd support to help get me through it. Same with my peak 20-mile training run, which will be done through the CARA Ready to Run 20-Miler.
In short, this training run was probably the hardest it'll ever get - and now it's over.
It wasn't until much later that night that it hit me. I covered 18 miles. I just set another new personal distance record. In searing heat and humidity.
A few months ago, the thought of running more than 13.1 miles was so daunting I couldn't bring myself to think about it. But now I'm actually doing it. And never once during the training have I had to vomit or crawl in order to make it happen. (OK, maybe that's not setting the bar very high. But still.)
I've talked to my friend Mark many times about his marathon experience. I asked him if it was really feasible to jump from the 20-mile peak long run in training to 26.2 miles on race day. I remember his response very distinctly. He said, "Yeah, you can do it. You might have to take some walking breaks here and there. But you just keep going and you'll get there. And you'll feel great afterwards."
Now I understand. And with this horrible 18-miler now behind me, I am fully realizing that it's the end goal that counts. It might redefine the meaning of ugliness. But that's okay, because what's important is crossing the finish line in one piece, no matter how long it takes to get there.
My new motto:
"Style points don't matter. A win is a win."
-- Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin