Insanity. What other explanation is there for waking up at 4-something on a Sunday morning to eat a bit of breakfast, walk the dog and get all of your running gear in order, so that you can go push your muscles to the limit for 18 miles? At any rate, that’s what I did this weekend.
My team was meeting up to run 8 miles around 7 a.m. in Marina Del Rey, in a popular parking lot where cyclists and runners meet up and park for free (a rarity in L.A. these days). I had planned it all out yesterday. I would get to the lot two hours before the team so that I could squidge in over 10 miles before meeting up with them on the route.
I hadn’t planned for it to be quite so dark near the docks at 5:30 in the morning. The road and lot were eerily deserted, as I pulled out my phone and started my running app. The pavement was dimly lit heading up to the running/bike path, and the world around me seemed oddly still, void of sound, even as I approached the water. Along the jetty, a rare tiny splash could be heard in the distance, but mostly all I could hear was the sound of my own breathing, searching for its proper cadence, adjusting to the environment and my shortened, higher-stepping stride. I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t think to bring a flashlight, or some kind of headlamp.
My mind always goes wild when I’m alone in the dark, and here I was again, recalling all of the very worst stories of female joggers going out and never coming back. My eyes played tricks on me in the darkness. Is that a serial killer lurking in the shadows? Nope, just a palm tree frond leaning against a post. Is that a pervert in the bushes? Nope, just a discarded trash bag. I pleaded with the sky to please start turning lighter soon.
The route I’d mapped took me through a tiny alleyway behind some upscale, beachfront condos, wound around them, and spit me out on a small, beachside path. I still couldn’t see anything. I used my phone as a flashlight to guide my way along the pathway, making sure to keep myself in the middle, so as to avoid stepping into the sand, twisting my ankle, and ending up a bloodied casualty of this attempt at distance running success. Finally, I saw some street lamps ahead, which briefly lit the path behind a very secured building (it looked like I probably shouldn’t have been running back there, but, oh well). A security guard eyed me warily, but allowed me to continue puffing along. I kind of had to pee, but I didn’t want to stop, for fear of losing too much time.
I wandered my way through a parking lot to a better-lit bike path closer to the water. The rolling waves made me realize that I really, really needed to find a toilet, in spite of the darkness, in spite of the time. I found a beachside toilet that was surprisingly clean and went in. It’s amazing how much anxiety can be relieved just by using a toilet. I felt way more relaxed afterward, and, bonus, the sky was looking just a tiny tinge lighter.
It’s interesting running on a bike path that you’ve only navigated on two wheels. I knew where I was, but the terrain seemed quite different while on my feet instead of in the bike seat. The hills seemed a bit steeper, the path a lot longer. Still, before I knew it, I’d hit Dockweiler Beach, then El Segundo, and the sky had gotten many shades lighter by the time I turned around at 5.7 miles.
As I headed back toward Marina Del Rey, the golden morning greeted me. The world was fresh, the beaches were all mine, save for a few early morning bikers and runners who had FINALLY decided to join me (sleepyheads!). The seagulls swooped against the sky in windswept patterns, and, even though it was overcast, the colors of the sun glowed in different pastels as a backdrop.
I don’t know if it was the beauty of the morning that fueled me, or the pure joy that I was no longer running in the pitch, but I easily picked up speed. Around mile 7, I still felt fresh, unwinded, and superpowered. Oooooh, so that’s what my coach was talking about when he said, “When you hit a certain point of fitness, you feel like you can run forever.” Aha! The magic fitness level. Had I reached it?
Getting closer to the start of the trail, I kept my eyes out for fellow TNT-ers. It was nearing 7:30 and I knew that they would be starting out on the trail at any moment, having gathered at 7 and gone through team business. As I neared the bike trail entrance, I saw some familiar faces coming around the bend. It was my team! Not only was it my team, but my specific pace group.
“Fancy meeting you here!” Coach Lisa called out.
Whoohoo! I couldn’t have timed it more perfectly. I was 10.5 miles in, and met up with my teammates to complete the hardest part of the run. The thing was, I felt great, absolutely fine, until about 15 miles in, when my strength started to wane. I grabbed some Gatorade at the TNT aid station around mile 16, and pressed on, but I fell behind my teammates a bit. My tired legs were no match for their fresh ones. I watched as they got further and further ahead of me.
My hamstrings were tired, but still mobile. It was nothing like what I had experienced in the past two weeks. When I finally hit the finish, I was reasonably tired, but not exhausted. My first 18 miler, natched!!!
Lessons learned here:
1) If you’re running in the dark, wear a headlamp or carry a flashlight.
2) Intense sun and heat can take a lot out of you. Running earlier in the morning can make long runs more bearable.
3) Running buddies can help you through a lot of tough runs. Even if your friend isn’t a distance runner, they can still help you through a long run. Time your long run so that your buddy can meet up with you at a distance they can handle, even if it’s only a few miles. Not only can they help you through those last, tough miles, but you also have something to look forward to before the finish, and a way to keep yourself at a steady pace so that you can meet your friend on time. I plan on meeting up with my buddies at mile 10 on my 20-miler solo run.