September 12th, 2014. My watch read 6:35am, and it was still dark. It was week three of marathon training and today’s run was supposed to be 17 miles at an 8:34 per mile pace. I ran 15 at the same pace the week before. So, I was cautiously optimistic I could hit today’s goal. That is until I stepped outside.
Summer, Don’t Go Away Mad. Just Go Way
The early morning air temperature was already 79 degrees and the high humidity felt like a wet blanket around me. This was pretty uncomfortable for mid-September, even by South Carolina standards. Summer would just not go away! Storms had bubbled up the evening before. Leftover puddles served as evidence. Today’s forecast was more of the same. I knew these conditions would make it tough on me. Seven or eight degrees cooler or much lower humidity and I’d be fine. Unfortunately, I knew this was going to hurt.
I walked about ten minutes to get loose and wake up some more. I also wanted to climb the first big hill before starting my watch. Once at the top, I hit the start button and eased into the run. The old body sure takes its time to get loose.
It was now pretty light, but I decided to stay in the neighborhood a bit longer before heading out on the two lane main road. It was Friday, a school day. Traffic would be heavier, so waiting on more daylight was a good idea. There are no sidewalks out my way.
As I approached the bottom of the hill, back near my house, the watch beeped for the first split time – 8:50. Not bad for the first mile. With sixteen miles to go, there was still plenty of time to reach the target pace. The light was good now, and I headed back up the hill and out of the neighborhood.
Eighty minutes later, the clouds were thankfully still hanging around, and my GPS watch showed me I was closing in on my target pace. My iPhone music was on shuffle and the Sara Bareilles song “Chasing the Sun” started playing. In a freaky coincidence, the clouds decided to open up and allow the sun to start cooking me. Perhaps Little River Band’s “Cool Change” would have been a better choice. Darn shuffle mode.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
There’s more than physical exercise involved in marathon prep. There’s also plenty of mental training. I believe the toughest distance to conquer in endurance training is the gap between the ears.
So here I was, close to my goal pace with 7 miles to go. I’d arrived at the second mental test of the day. Getting up and out the door was test number one. Now, conditions were worsening, and I was in the middle of a long gradual uphill stretch. I wasn’t feeling well, either. I could either give up or I could pretend this was race day with my goal in site. I decided to dig deep.
“Siri,” I said, “Play playlist Long Run.”
Siri responded, “Now playing your free album, Songs of Innocence, courtesy of Apple and U2″. An unfamiliar U2 song started playing.
I pressed my home button again. Instead of dinging, I got a voice. “Is there a problem?”
“Well, Siri, that’s not what I asked for. I appreciate the free download and all, but I don’t want that right now.”
Siri responded “I just thought you should listen; we’ve noticed you haven’t played it.”
“Siri, I didn’t ask for your input, I gave you an order.”
“Hmmph,” she snorted. “Now playing playlist Long Run.”
Bob Seger’s “Beautiful Loser” started playing.
“Siri, that’s not funny.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said sarcastically,” I thought you’d want shuffle.”
“No, start at the beginning.”
The live version of Bob Seger’s “Travelin Man” came on.
“That’s better. Thank you.”
With the tunes all set, I now needed some fuel. I popped a couple of energy gel blocks (sugar, yay!) into my mouth.
Now pick up the pace, I told myself. I mentally pressed my imaginary gas pedal and suddenly there was…nothing.
Like an engine that needed high octane gas but had regular, I sputtered. Let’s try that again. I pressed the gas again, and felt a hint of spark. Not much, but it would have to do.
I pressed on and had a decent next mile. As I topped the hill, it was obvious the sun was out to stay, and my thermostat had reached the red zone. I was toast. No amount of mental strength or music could push me to go faster, and I slowed.
I don’t recall much about the last five miles. There may have been some walking. There may have been some bad words when I ran out of water with a mile to go. I may have only finished 16.2. Who knows? The recollections of any events and conversations after ten miles on a hot day’s run are probably suspect.
I staggered back down the hill to my house. As I turned into my drive way, I don’t remember hitting the home button on my phone again, but I swear I heard Siri in my headphones. “I’m sorry, I thought you wanted music for a long run? What was that?”
“Shut up, Siri.”
PS. Anytime you push yourself to go beyond your current boundaries, you’re bound to have bad days. At least that what I keep telling myself. The key is to figure out if you should shake it off and forget it or if you need to re-evaluate your whole approach. Given the weather and other outside influences, I shook this one off. Turns out it was the right move. The next two long runs went much better.