Saturday, July 10, 2010

Corners I Didn't Know I Was Cutting

Last night I ran twenty miles. So easy to type and yet so grueling to slog through. Despite the fact that I've not been afflicted with pretty much any of the ailments distance runners seem to complain about (get me some wood and I'll knock it, will ya?) a few dragons reared their heads last night:
  1. friction burns where the seams of my sweat-wet bra rubbed me raw;
  2. gashes in my ankles from the reflector cuffs that were meant to keep me safe;
  3. moments of shooting weakness through my kneesno pain, just a flowing feebleness demanding that I concentrate on the brain messages being sent to keep those legs a pumping; and
  4. a full-blown panic caused by technical malfeasance on the part of my otherwise revered pedometer program for my iPod Nano.
Numbers 1-3 speak for themselves, I think, but let's take a moment to explore number 4. I use a computer attachment for my iPod that's like a pedometer on steroidsI program in a distance I want to run, and in return a computerized woman's voice announces every mile I complete until she congratulates me on reaching my goal. It's been great. There's nothing like the thrill of hearing her bright voice call out "halfway point!" and knowing I'm free to turn back at any time. Because I had to calibrate the machine over a known distance when I bought it, I thought I could trust it, though I must admit that I'd noticed recently on my long runs that the 7-mile marker was shifting a bit, but no matter. I extended my run beyond the halfway point to compensate, and then didn't really worry about it.

But last night the Nano flipped it's rock 'n roll lid.

I knew that I'd built in a little wiggle room into my 4-mile loop because I like to leave some time to stop and walk at the end of the run. But on the first lap, it seemed like the computer had reached four miles far earlier than I thought it had any right to reach it. By lap two when the computer thought I'd gone more than 9 miles when I knew I'd only gone 8, I was out-and-out worried, and when I finished the fourth lap and my pedometer thought I only had .75 miles left to go instead of the roughly four miles I knew I had left, I was pretty demoralized.

Inside after my run, I traced my route on Gmaps pedometer to find that my four-mile loop was in fact 4.1799 miles. That means that in my five laps around this loop, I went 20.8995 milesnot the 24.62 miles my iPod thought I'd gone. When my blood ran cold it had nothing to do with the air-conditioned air hitting my sweat-soaked body and everything to do with a very simple question: how many of my training runs has my pedometer program completely muffed up?

Last night my nearly 21 miles took me about four and a half hours. But when I click back through old stats, I see that last week's "18" mile route only took me three and a half hours. So if I'm to believe I went 18 miles last week, I've also got to believe that it took me an extra hour to go two extra miles last night.

My husband points out that some of the time lag can be accounted for in hillsmy normal long-run route has only one hill in it while the loop I did last night had 20 (the four hills I went up five times ). Oh, come now. I've never said I was anything but slow-slow-slow, but there's no way a few molehills added an extra hour to my time unless I just so happen to be the love child of a giant sloth and a garden slug. I am not. Clearly my computer has been letting me down, and I gotta say learning that now is freaking me the hell out.

Yes, I ran almost 21 miles last night. And yes I jogged for four and a half straight hours, but learning that I may have cut corners I had no idea I was cutting makes me worry that I haven't been conditioning myself quite as thoroughly as I thought I'd been.

At the end of my run last night, I had trouble walking in a straight line. I had to shower sitting in my tub because standing made me feel nauseous. And I was so wiped out that my husband found me face down on our bed with my glasses still on and my body no where near under the covers. What if I was zonked because I haven't been adequately prepared for this distance? How is it I could work this hard for this long and still feel like a cheater?

But, but, but!

I'm reminded by the small, wise voice within that the real headline here is that I ran almost 21 miles and lived to tell about it. My inner runner has taught my inner writer so much over the last few months, but maybe now it's time for the writer to return to the favor. Realizing that the long runs I've done maybe haven't been up to snuff, well my inner writer has been there and done that. Because my inner writer has workshopped stories she thought were close to done only to have trusted readers tell her with a beautiful and firm kindness: No, sweetie. Not so much.

My inner writer knows how to dig deep. My inner writer knows how to find a way to go those extra miles she thought she'd already covered. And my inner writer knowsoh, how she knowsthat that the difference between quitters and finishers is quite simply about refusing to take herself out of the race.

So maybe I didn't run as many miles as I thought I did in the last few months of training. Maybe that's true. But last night I know I ran 20. 8995 miles with nothing more serious to complain about the than a couple of scrapes, some friction burns, and quads that scream uncle every time I try to go down the stairs.

But, but, but!

Last night I ran 20.8995 miles.
Tomorrow I'll run 5.
And on July 30, I'll run 26.2.

I just will.

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, an independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run (and quite frankly, her second wind) at

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