Tuesday, September 4, 2012

There's a fine line between dedication and insanity

My training plan had an 18-miler scheduled for this past weekend.  Since I was flying out to North Carolina early Saturday afternoon, I had a dilemma:

Option 1:
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.


Option 2
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 knew it was going to be a tough run so I tried not to think about it.  I figured I would just slow my pace down.  I started the mantra of telling myself that what was important was that you covered the prescribed distance - how quickly you did so didn't matter.

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.

Thank God.

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


  1. You chose a tough year to train for a marathon. The weather has not been kind to you. But your friend Mark is right and your motto is spot-on. Time doesn't matter. Just getting across that finish line is what matters. So, yes, it's a little crazy. But that's why we do it :-)

    1. Thanks, Erin! I've been telling myself that if October 7 has good weather, then all will be forgiven with the brutal summer. =D

      Us runners really are a little (or a lot) crazy, eh? But I've learned so much from hearing about your own marathoning adventures and other race experiences (hello, Ragnar!) So it's good to know that what I'm going through is normal!!!! =D

  2. I love your attitude! Even when your run wasn't going 100% your way, you were still determined to do it. (That determination is what gets you from mile 20-26.2) And I love the quote at the end. True dat! Great post!*

    1. Thanks, Amy! Now that I'm in the toughest weeks of training, I have more and more respect for the amount of dedication it clearly took for you and every other marathoner out there to actually do this. It's hard to comprehend going through this whole training cycle ever again, and you've already done it twice! It's very inspiring for first-timers like me!!!

  3. UGH! That was the set up for a BAD run! Which sucks, since you were somewhere new and it could have been really cool and the weather had cooperated and the course had been better. LOL. Your porta pottie story reminds me of the time I found a construction porta pottie on a race course and was SO HAPPY to have found a place to go. And yay for the Hilton!

    I am happy you are looking at this now that you did it, yes it was ugly, but why wouldn't hard things be? Don't give up on yourself! We certainly aren't! First marathons can be intimidating, but you are putting the training in - you can do it.

    And so happy the knee and hip behaved!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Thanks, Kim! It's so true what they say about what doesn't kill you makes you stronger... and that you learn a lot from these experiences, indeed.

      Isn't it amazing how heavenly a dirty, smelly portapotty can be in those moments of dire need? LOL. And yes - if it was easy to train for a marathon, everyone would do it, right?

      I keep thinking about what you said about when you did your 20-miler, you knew that you could complete the full marathon. Since every piece of advice you've given me so far has been spot on, I fully expect that I will feel the same after the 20-miler - and I can't wait. =)

  4. Wow, sounds to me like you can put this one behind you and feel proud of getting it done...you are going to do just great girl!Glad your knee and hip pulled through with no problems...it is hard to run in the heat and humidity, especially in a new city!

    1. Thanks so much, Shannon - I really appreciate the confidence and the support! Here is hoping and praying that the knee and hip continue to behave themselves for just a few more weeks. And it really is amazing how much havoc the heat and humidity can wreak upon all of us - I've become much more forgiving now of how we progress during bad weather. Sigh...

  5. As insanely tough as that run was, look back at it with nothing but pride!! Running 18 miles is something that very very few people can do, and you did it...in extreme heat too! AMAZING!! Most importantly, your perseverance and determination played a huge role in completing the miles. You know what that means right? You have the mental strength to make it through those 26.2 miles (after all, running is a mental sport)! You rock :)

    1. Thank you thank you thank you thank you! Very much appreciate the confidence and support. I'll tell you, though, the heat and humidity has really got me feeling gunshy now about having to ever go through something like that again, though, you know? Here is really hoping that marathon day weather behaves itself!