The Big One
When it's time for the longest long run of marathon training, it's time to take the challenge personally. Get mad at it. Get down and dirty with it. Get mean. No way will 22 miles get the best of you. The seventh in a series of essays.
Posted Monday, 17 February, 2003
This is the seventh in a series of essays following columnist Hank Brown in his march to the Myrtle Beach Marathon. The first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth articles are also available.
Week eleven. This week is all about the Big One. Twenty-two miles. Friday. I am consumed by it. This is the biggest test, my last really long run before the Myrtle Beach Marathon. Friends ask me about my training, and all I can do is stare straight ahead and answer in monotone, "I'm running 22 on Friday, running 22 on Friday, 22 on Friday." I wish it were over.
My tempo run on Tuesday is excellent -- 40 seconds faster than last week. I'm very surprised, but not complaining. I've been watching the weather each day, keeping an eye on the key day -- Friday. On Wednesday the forecast calls for 2-3 inches of snow, very cold Thursday and more snow. Lows in the single digits Thursday night. What??? Single digits??? Highs only about 20 on Friday. Wind chills approaching zero. Ok, just throw a few more bricks on my wall of worry.
Unfortunately, the weather forecasters got this one right. The snow dumps on our houses, yards and streets. The frigid air follows. Kingsport looks like Cicely, Alaska, the little town from Northern Exposure... snow blowing sideways, people walking around in ski masks, and cars treading gingerly on icy roads. What's next? Dog sleds? Geez. Ok, so on Thursday I make an executive decision and postpone the 22 one day. The forecast for Saturday is a little less arctic.
This run is to be a test in more ways than one. In my previous long runs, I've been "wingin' it." In other words, I just walked out the door and ran. Yeah, I had ways to get water if needed, and even splurged on some Gatorade last time, but that was it. I like it that way. I like things simple. I'm a blue jeans and t-shirts kind of guy. I'd rather drive a manual transmission. Just give me a steak for dinner, forget the potatoes. But after two official bonks in my previous long runs, I figure I might need a few frills to get me through the latter miles.
So, Saturday morning I'm packing my bag like a boy scout preparing for an overnight camping trip. I have Gel. I have Gu. I have Kleenex. I have Vaseline. I have water bottles. I have Gatorade. I have extra gloves. I have a towel. I have an extra sweatshirt. My wife, Natalie asks if she should wait up for me tonight. Ha!
I'm packing my bag like a boy scout preparing for an overnight camping trip. I have Gel. I have Gu. I have Kleenex. I have Vaseline. I have water bottles. I have Gatorade. I have extra gloves. I have a towel. I have an extra sweatshirt.
The phone rings. It's my mom. "Are you getting ready to go run?"
"Yeah, in fact I was just heading out the door."
"It's only about 17 out. Dress warm." Even though I'm 48 years old, she's still my mom. She's also been reading my chronicle and has suddenly taken an interest in my training.
"I know. It's supposed to rise to the 30's today but I'm not counting on it."
"Well, if Myrtle Beach is cold, you'll be ready."
"Yeah, this has been a really cold winter. It's been tough training. Like I said, I'm not sure why I do things like this." Why did I say that last statement? I'm sure not expecting any sympathy. Like most moms, she's never been very understanding of marathon running. Don't get me wrong, my parents love sports, and they can watch baseball into extra innings, or a golf match from the first tee shot to the final putt, but to them, distance running is maybe one step less perplexing than X-Games street luge.
"Well, I guess it's like the guy who is beating his head against the wall," Mom responds. I know what's coming next... "When someone asked him why, he says because it feels so good when he quits."
Coming from my mom, I'll take that as a pep talk.
The course is the same as two weeks ago (the 20-miler)... back and forth on the 5.5-mile Greenbelt trail. That will give me a chance to leave all my stuff in the car, stop for occasional breaks, and try out this gooey stuff. I pull into the parking lot and immediately notice the trail is packed with snow. Please no. This can't be. Even though the roads have cleared from vehicular traffic, the trail has not even begun to thaw. I get out of my car to look as if a different vantage point will miraculously make the snow melt. It doesn't help. The trail is either white, fluffy snow, or shimmery, shiny ice. I can't play slip and slide for 22 miles. I have to go to Plan B.
I don't have a Plan B. I stand there dumbfounded. Obviously, I was not counting on this. I cannot defer another day. This IS the day. The sun is out, the wind is tame, and I'm mentally ready. Plus, I have all these rations I need to eat! On to Plan C.
On the drive home, I quickly map out a plan. I cannot carry all this stuff on my run so I decide to make my house the central break point. Over the years I have created dozens of running courses that start from my house... I might need all of them today. I drop off my gear on the front porch, click on my watch, and start running on Course #1.
Course #1 is a 7+ mile course "around town." My mission while running #1 is to figure out courses 2, 3, 4 and anything after that. After considering several options I finally patch together an itinerary that will put me at about 18 miles. I'll figure out the rest from there. Obviously, the distances will not be exact, but anything close to 22 miles today will be a winner.
One way to conquer a serious challenge is to take the challenge personally. Get mad at it. Get down and dirty with it. Get mean. I'm not going to let 22 miles get the best of me. Yeah, take that!
I'm Dirty Harry. Go ahead, make my day. No, no, I'm John Shaft. Who's the cat who won't cop out, When there's danger all about? You say this cat Shaft is a mean mother --- (Shut ya mout'!)
I'm Dirty Harry. Go ahead, make my day. No, no, I'm John Shaft. Who's the cat who won't cop out, When there's danger all about?
An overprotective dog charges from his yard. Wrong day, pooch. Wrong skinny-legged runner. I don't even break stride as I stare down the dog, "Don't mess with me today!!" Pooch retreats to front porch, tail between legs. Shaft keeps running... this cat Shaft is a mean mother...
The run is going well. I break at 7. The Gu is kind of weird, but I choke it down with some water. I return to my home base again at 12.5. I know the next segment, a 5.5 miler that will take me to 18 miles, will be the toughest. I'm trying to mentally prepare myself... Who's the cat who won't cop out? I notice a note underneath my water bottle.
It's from Natalie. It reads, I love you! I'm so proud of you!
I melt. Shaft just transformed into Mister Rogers. Her note is just what I need at just the right time. I can't let her down now. I chug down some Gel and Gatorade and set out to tackle course #3.
I'm feeling so good I have to make myself slow down. Don't want to bonk later. This course has a few hills near the end, so I'm starting to tire as I finish. But I'm at 18. I can do 4 more. Some more gooey stuff and water and Gatorade, plus a change of gloves, and I'm on my way.
I decide to stick close to home and run a measured 2 miles in the neighborhood, then turn around and come back. On the way out some smart-aleck kids start giving me some grief.
I just wave and ignore them.
"Whatcha doin?" I just keep running and don't answer, but they won't let up.
"Why ya runnin? Where ya goin?" Not today kids. Not me. Not when I'm closing in on 20 miles. My fuse has burned down.
"Hey, kids, just shut up." Move over Mister Rogers. Shaft is back! Shut ya mout'!
I make it to the turnaround in good shape, stop a second to stretch, and head back home... only 2 more miles. I'm slowing down, but I'm running. Keep moving, Brown. I should have a t-shirt that says "No Bonking." Not today.
I stumble into the driveway. Done. I'm wobbly, but I'm standing. I can quit banging my head against the wall now!
Natalie and her mom have been cleaning out the basement all day while I've been traversing the town. Her mom just happens to emerge as I limp up to the front porch. She looks at me like I'm the last man standing at the Alamo. I figure I better speak before she screams and runs away.
"Tell Natalie her husband is back. He made it."
She turns and yells down into the basement, "Natalie, your husband is home. He doesn't look so good."
"He doesn't feel too good either." I go inside, soak my foot, and welcome the warmth and comfort of the inside. I've been out there a long time. 22 miles. I did it!
Can ya diggit?
Next: Keep the Pace