My friend Sarah, a veteran of several (fast) marathons, gave me this advice about long runs while we were training for the Nashville Country Music Marathon: “The point is just to get through them. You don’t have to feel good. You just have to convince your body that you can go a little farther each week.”
I repeated this advice to myself several times yesterday, during my last long run before the half marathon. It was an 11-miler, not one of the 20-milers required for a full marathon, but it encompassed all the same ups and downs, sense of motion and serendipitous encounters that make long runs special.
I ran somewhere between 10 and 11 miles of the race course, which starts at RFK Stadium in downtown DC. The route goes by the Capitol, the Washington Monument and the White House, and between the pretty sights and the warm, fuzzy feeling I got from appreciating my new home town, I barely even noticed the miles slipping by. I passed other runners who were also clearly following the course. I spotted forsythia and cherry blossoms blooming for the first time this spring. Life was good.
Then, I hit mile five. Within about two minutes, the following happened: Steve’s iPod died; I realized I’d missed a turn on the race course, and took myself farther out of the way to make it up; and I realized that this course includes some hills that will eat your quads alive.
I slogged through the next mile, which was one, big, long, nasty uphill. It was so hard, I found myself adjusting my race goals in my head, and telling myself that there’s no shame in walking. And I would have walked right then, except I had reached some neighborhoods that weren’t the worst in DC, but that also weren’t the best. Is there any better motivation to keep going than to get away from the guy who’s yelling, “Hello, mommy,” which you can hear loud and clear since your iPod died?
I had also realized I had to find a restroom, and quick. I was OK until the horribly suggestive “P Street,” at which point the situation became really urgent. I dashed into a sketchy-looking 7-11 and asked, breathlessly, if they had a restroom.
Here’s where the run took a turn for the better. The clerk looked at my sweaty, dejected face and smiled.
“Sure, baby. It’s not open to the public, but you look like you need it,” she said, and pointed me down a dim stairwell, to a bathroom that doubled as a utility closet.
I headed out again renewed, and determined to make the last three miles of the run my fastest. The uphill was over, and the gentle downhill that came next reminded me that I’ve trained on hills, and that they’re supposed to be hard. I had a slight scare when I thought I’d missed another turn. But then, the most amazing thing happened.
A van pulled up beside me, and three dudes got out, holding stacks of posters. They started affixing them to fences and lightposts. They read: “National Marathon Race Course. Special Event Notice.” For the next three miles, I roughly kept pace with the van. It was like they were tough-guy flower girls at a running-themed wedding, decorating the aisle with these magical posters confirming I was headed in the right direction.
After the first few stops, one guy stopped and said: “Damn, girl! You’re keeping pace with us!” I smiled. Hey, it’s better than, “Hello mommy!”
I figure I ran almost 11 miles, and certainly not less than 10.5 miles. It took me an hour and 32 minutes — way faster than my usual long-run pace, however you slice it. And you know how sometimes, you finish a long run and realize you could have gone longer or harder? When I got done yesterday, I felt like my legs were going to fall off. It was awesome.
Next up: taper week, baby! Let the slackerdom and sloth commence!