Having never run before last year, I have encountered many things in this running journey that I thought I could never do. Completing a 5k, 10k, Half Marathon; me?…. “yeah right.”
Much to my surprise, I HAVE completed each of the above distances several times even, while posting halfway decent times to boot. Yesterday’s training run for my upcoming Two Rivers Marathon on March 26th, however, would put both my mind and body to a test even I wasn’t sure I could complete.
The 20-mile training run along the canal path in Rochester, NY started off like most of my other runs, a quick pre-run selfie with my girlfriend Ann Marie who decided to bike the distance to make sure I had no problems and then we were off. The weather was beautiful, especially for Upstate NY at the end of February. The temperature was in the upper 40’s and I was pumped!
Knowing I had completed my last half marathon at a 10:04 min/mile pace I had every intention of pacing myself at around 12:00 min/mile – with a couple of simple goals being to just finish and to complete the run safely, as my prior attempt at marathon training last year came to an abrupt end with my 16 mile training run resulting in a thrown out back.
The first mile passed, 10 minutes and 37 seconds. “Slow down” I thought, still feeling great. Mile 2, 10 minutes 26 seconds… not exactly slowing down. I remember two thoughts crossing my mind early in the run, “I need to slow down,” and “this must be how a race leader feels” in regards to having my girlfriend biking behind me.
Around mile 5, I realized I had made a big mistake. I packed plenty of fuel for the run but somehow managed to forget the water before leaving the house. “No worries” I told Ann Marie, there are plenty of water fountains along the route so I should be ok. Except, after all, this WAS still Upstate NY – and we WERE at the end of February meaning they had all been shut off for winter.
Before we knew it, we had finished the first 10 miles of the run. I took a minute to fuel up with a couple Gu packets and then we were headed back knowing an out and back would “guarantee” a 20 mile completed run.
Shortly after beginning the 2nd half of the run both calves started to tighten and cramp. I knew it was the lack of hydration as I hadn’t experienced this during any previous runs, even my 5 completed half marathons.
Without sending my girlfriend ahead to find water somewhere I wasn’t left with too many options. But, there was still plenty of untouched snow lining both sides of the path the entire duration. It’s crazy the things you think of on long runs. I would NEVER even consider eating snow and here I was seriously wanting to do just that.
By the time I hit mile 12 I knew what had to be done to make sure I’d finish this run. So off the path I went – and there I found the most delicious, ice-cold water I’ve ever had in the form of melted snow. Just “don’t eat the yellow snow” I remember thinking as I downed a handful of this wonderful “treat.”
The next few miles followed the same pattern. Run a mile, grab a handful of snow to eat and start running again. It got me through mile 16 or so, and my legs started to feel much better.
Then things got really tough. “I only have a few miles to go” I thought. It wasn’t working. I had to sit for a few minutes. I seriously considered letting her get the car and pick me up from the rest area as there weren’t too many more road accessible stopping points along my finish.
I thought about my grandpa who passed a few years ago. He’s a former NYS Trooper. His toughness, even in his later years, has gotten my through many runs. ‘I HAVE to finish this.” I thought about the caramel iced coffee sitting in the car waiting for me. I thought about the charity I’mME who I am fundraising for*. The work they’re doing in Haiti to break the orphan cycle. The children. I decided right then that whether I ran, walked, or crawled, there was no way I was hopping on that bike or having a car whisk me away from this challenge.
The last 4 miles were some of the toughest I’ve ever run both physically and emotionally. They certainly weren’t pretty. I maintained the run/eat snow walk pattern and pushed on. I remembered thinking how this run was both something I was ashamed of and most proud of, all wrapped into one.
I found a second wind, albeit in very small bursts. “You’re not really slowing down when you’re running” I remember Ann Marie saying. All I knew was that with each painful step I took I was closer to being done with this. And then I could see the parking lot in the distance.
I gave it everything I had that last half mile. I wasn’t going to leave anything in the tank at this point. And somehow, if even for a quarter-mile or maybe even less, I recorded a 6:34 pace for those final few paces. And then it was over.
I had just completed a 20 (point 02) mile run at a 12:25 pace (not including my rest break)! And like every runner before me and every runner who will come after me, I uttered the words “I guess if I could finish that run, the marathon is only 6.2 miles more.”
*If you’d like to contribute to my fundraising effort for I’mME to help their fight to break the Orphan Cycle, Click Here!