On Sunday, I ran 14 miles. It’s the longest distance I’ve ever run, and through a good part of it, I was imagining the triumphant blog post I was going to write after I finished. “I ran the longest I ever had, and I hit all my time goals, and it felt easy, and going to take Miami by storm. Taperrrr!”
I can almost do that.
Sunday was my first time running at Sawyer Camp. I love Golden Gate Park, but I know all my regular double-digit loops a little too well, and I figured a change would do me good. My goal was an easy first 10 miles, then a fast final four. I wanted to know what I could get out of myself when I was tired. I wanted to have something to draw on for a final push to the finish in Florida.
The Sawyer Camp path is a six-mile out-and-back, and for the first four miles, it’s winding turns (tangent practice? my Nike+ had me dead-on with the mile markers the whole run, so maybe) and a slight uphill, but nothing too dramatic. The fifth mile is hell. OK, it’s not that bad, looking at the elevation chart; it’s something like 300 feet of gain in a little more than a mile. In the moment, though, my brain was yelling things like, “I wanted this run to feel easy, and now I’m dying over a 10-minute mile, and dear god why are we still going up?” And by my brain, I mean my mouth, because I was yelling all of these things and more at Pete, who didn’t seem quite as gassed as I was by the stupid hill and was valiantly trying to keep me on track.
I didn't have my camera, but Google Earth thinks it looked like this.
Somehow, that’s not where I quit (spoiler alert). We got to the top, and
we I got my head back on straight about how that was no joke of a hill and it’s not like I’m going to stumble over one of those in Florida. Probably I even got a little cocky, all “psychological crisis averted!” By the time we turned to loop one of the middle miles so we could make a 12-mile path give us 14, I’d gotten my second wind. We finished the first 10 around 1:33.
Then it was time for the fast four. We took a little break and goofed off and reset our music and got ready and then boom! We were off. I could see Pete ahead, and I knew I couldn’t stay with him and wasn’t really trying to, but I figured I’d keep him in my sights for as long as I could, and the first half-mile flew by. I was seeing numbers in the low 8s on my watch and couldn’t believe I could still move that fast.
The second mile, reality crashed down hard. I saw the average pace start creeping up. My thoughts were alternating between “Three miles! Less than 30 minutes! What can’t you do for 30 minutes?” and “This. I can’t do this for 30 minutes. I want water. I want to walk. And I have to do thirteen miles at this pace in two weeks, not four, so what’s the point anyway?”
And then I hit mile three. And the road was rutted and slope-y and the footing was tough and there was nobody around me, nobody to chase down or pace off or even watch, and those are all just stupid excuses for what happened, which was me totally losing my shit. No matter how many “trust yourself”s and “it’s not supposed to be easy”s and “just fight through it”s I tried — or how many “is this really what you want to be thinking about in Florida”s — I just. gave. up.
I paused my watch and pulled off to the side of the path. I probably yelled something inappropriate. I don’t honestly remember. What I do remember is feeling angry.
I also knew I had to finish the run. So after maybe 30 seconds of stomping around in the dirt, I got back on the road. The first half-mile after I restarted was still really hard, but I stayed steady in the final mile and didn’t lose any more time. I finished those four under 36 minutes (tantrum excluded), which is where I wanted to be. I probably even had enough of a time cushion to keep my watch running during the tantrum and still make my goal, which I obviously didn’t know at the time or I wouldn’t have been throwing a tantrum.
With a day’s distance behind it, I’m happy I was able to pull myself together and finish. But I’m bothered by how easily I gave in. Maybe it was too much pressure for a training run — but I’ve been trying to get myself used to pressure and to train my mind to fight. I wanted that one good “man, I was so tired and ready to quit, but I didn’t” experience to draw on when the going gets tough in Miami, and in the moment — even reminding myself, constantly, that that was the story I wanted to tell — I still quit, albeit momentarily.
Had it been mile 12.5 of 13.1, not mile 12.5 of 14, I wouldn’t have quit. I can tell myself that story. And I can tell myself that I still ran 14 miles in the time it took me to run 13.1 not long ago, and I can tell myself that I can hold back early in a run and speed up later, because no matter what else happened, I did manage that.
I’m still annoyed, though. And I’m annoyed that I’m annoyed, and have now spent this many words writing about how annoyed I am, because in the grand scheme of things — and even in the small scope of things that is my running life — this is Not A Big Deal. It was a training run. I still hit the times I wanted, overall. I felt good on 85% of the run, and I’m not even particularly sore from my longest run ever. I just wish I’d surprised myself with mental strength I didn’t know I had, rather than displaying exactly the kind of psychological assholery that I’ve been expecting. Better now than December 11.
At least I had a fabulous playlist to get me through.
“Tongue Tied” was the winner of this playlist. I first heard it back before Outside Lands in August, but when we saw Grouplove play there, I was underwhelmed and promptly forgot I loved this song. The new iPod Touch commercial reminded me of it over the weekend, and it’ll be making an appearance in Miami. The cheesy pop song batch (“When You Were Young” to “Since U Been Gone” to “Love is a Battlefield”) came right at the end of the first 10 miles and the start of the fast four, which was accidental but perfect. I hope the college friends who recorded “Searching High” would be touched (as opposed to embarrassed or appalled) by how frequently I run to that song. There were some losers (not the best Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Magnetic Fields picks, and Tilly and the Wall isn’t quite loud enough to get me pumped up), but a few of these will be rolling over to the big playlist that I hope I can call Songs for a Sub-2.
What are your best tips for getting through rough patches in big runs?