I’m big on firsts, on the novelty of newness. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t the part of marathon training I was looking forward to most: when every long run takes me to a distance record, to mileage milestones, to revelations about what I can do with a little time and effort. So on Saturday I woke up and thought: Today, I will run 18 miles, and it will be the only first 18-miler I ever get, so I might as well try to love it.
In our continued efforts to not get totally sick of Golden Gate Park, Pete and I drove south of the city to the 6-mile Sawyer Camp Trail. The map showed a .6-mile connector from Sawyer Camp to a northern trail, which would give us just over 17 miles; I had 18 planned and Pete anywhere from 12-20, so we figured we’d run the two trails and double back where necessary.
I last ran Sawyer Camp for my first 14-miler, and I still remember the rude surprise of the hill that starts around mile 4.5, briefly levels out, and then continues up all the way to the turnaround. At the time, it messed with my mental game to see my pace drop so precipitously; this time, I was happy for the excuse to take it easier. How marathon training changes things!
The one downside of Sawyer Camp as a long-run destination is that there’s only one fountain, just before the 6-mile mark. That fountain became a focal point, splitting the run roughly into thirds: 6 miles to the top of Sawyer Camp; drink; a 5.2-mile out-and-back on the connector and the Andreas Trail; drink; 6.8 miles back to the car. I figured each part would take me a bit more than an hour if I kept my pacing right, and I worked on really getting that into my head: You’re going to be running for three hours, so chill out and slow down, won’t you?
The first hour flew by in a haze of good podcasts and solid people-watching (and deer-spotting!). I refilled my bottle at the fountain and started phase two, along the dirt and gravel trail and down to the Andreas segment. The trail portion was short, and though the downhills made me nervous — I’d be just the person to twist an ankle at a time like this — the flats and uphills were energizing. I’ve been thinking about running more trails after Berlin, and the joy I got from this taste suggests I’m onto something there.
I’d almost caught up to Pete at the turn, and we high-fived as he doubled back on his way to 20 miles. After the turn I hit a little uphill, which was weird because I didn’t remember feeling a downhill, but when the path flattened out, I got a spectacular view of the water and the hills, and right then “The Bleeding Heart Show” by the New Pornographers came on my Shuffle, and I swear — it was one of those capital-M Moments, where everything is beautiful and I remember why I wanted to run a marathon, because I could just run forever, singing all the way home. I might have gotten a little weepy. It’s the endorphins, right?
Passing the fountain again marked phase three, and the hardest terrain was behind me; now it was all about seeing that 18. I stayed conservative on the long downhill and made it until about 2:30 before my legs started feeling like lead. But even in that, there was a victory: I’d had to muscle through 8 of last week’s 16 miles, so I knew I could tough out four this time.
At 2:50 on my watch, this officially became my longest run. I was just about out of water; my last segment was the longest and also the hottest, so drinking every 15 minutes as I’d done at the start wasn’t really working. I intended to find a shaded stretch to double back on for the extra .8, but my long-run-addled brain kept rejecting sections of trail as “too hilly” or “not shady enough” — and before I knew it I was at the end of the trail, looping back on one of the most exposed stretches. Well done with that logic. I had extra water stashed in the car and almost ran there to refill, but then I thought, “Oh, come on, it’s like eight more minutes” and just got it done.
I watched as my GPS hit 18 miles and kept running straight to the car, where I fished out my spare bottle of water, dumped half of it over my head, refilled that half with Gatorade, and walked back onto the trail for an attempted cool-down. I felt like every muscle in my legs had simultaneously tensed up. I made a half-hearted effort at stretching, watched Pete run in, and tried to figure out a way to get into the car without bending at any joints. I bet that was fun to watch.
Despite that questionable aftermath, I felt fine by the time we got back to the city — and especially fine after a Pastrami-Charmed Life sandwich from Ike’s, a handful of cajun potato chips, several more bottles of water, some quality time with the foam roller, and a highly satisfying ice bath. A marathon still seems a little absurd, but maybe there is something to this whole just-two-more-miles deal. This time, I needed fewer head games to get through; I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. And I can’t wait to see a 20 on my watch just a few days from now.
- Pre-run food/drink: pumpkin bread, 20 ounces of water with a Nuun tab. During-run food/drink: 30 ounces of water (first 10 ounces with half a Nuun tab); chocolate mint Gu at 1:00; three margarita Shot Bloks at 1:45ish, Island Nectars Gu Rocktane at 2:30ish.
- The Island Nectars was my attempt at taking a caffeinated gel that isn’t a fake coffee flavor and also wouldn’t taste like boogers (I’m talking to you, Pineapple Rocktane). It surely wasn’t good, but it didn’t remind me of snot, either, so: moderate success. But I don’t know that the caffeine did a whole lot for me. I wonder if I should have taken it earlier?
- More on fueling: I’ve never eaten three separate times on a run before — I’ve never run long enough for that to feel necessary — and I felt like I was eating constantly. But I also never got hungry or felt a substantial drop in energy, and my stomach stayed calm the whole time. I’ll likely try to stick to this schedule on future long runs but perhaps take my first gel even sooner, around 45 minutes in.
- The chafing. You guys. I made peace — or at least declared a detente — with my body quite some time ago, but if I could perhaps not have boobs for the next six weeks, I’d be a happier human. (And yes, I used Body Glide.)
- Weird aches after the run: both pinkie toes; my right shoulder. I do carry my water bottle in my right hand, but I’ve used it for almost a year and never had this problem. Maybe it just took longer to get blood flowing back up there?
- Final stats: 18.04 miles, 3:08:32 (10:27/mile average). Fastest mile (10) at 9:45; slowest mile (6) at 11:01.