Last Sunday, I geared up for my longest training run yet: the 20-miler. I had planned to meet some running buddies midway, but, because they did the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco the week before, they all decided, on second thought, they should opt out of this long run. Twenty miles solo seemed intimidating, but, come hell or high water, I was going to make it.
I’d mapped my run out along the beach, so at least I’d have a nice view the whole way along. I’d hydrated well on the days leading up, slugging down water galore, and a little G2 low-cal Gatorade on the day before. I felt prepared. I had a plan, sort of. I was just going to take it easy, concentrate on my breathing, and put in the mileage.
Marina Del Rey was well-lit this time, when I grabbed my hydration belt and set out on my pathway toward the beach. With the daylight came the early m0rning cyclists, whizzing past me in their spandex shorts and flashy, color-coordinated jerseys. Yes, I was running on the bike path, but, as there was no consistent walk route near the beach, I chose to take my chances, as often did other runners wanting to breathe some sea air instead of smog and exhaust for a change.
As luck would have it, the morning was overcast. Dark grey clouds stretched over the beach, providing perfect shelter from the energy-sapping effects of that big tan line maker in the sky. As I approached Mile 5, a few droplets of rain spattered my hat and shoulders. Light rain isn’t necessarily a bad thing while you’re sweating.
It’s kind of weird to think that the first six, seven or eight miles would be easy. Even saying, “first six” sounds both ridiculous and pretentious. In reality, sure, I was sweaty, I was exerting myself, but my body was used to it. I could just keep chugging along, hearing and watching the waves slosh up and down the shoreline, or catching excerpts of conversations from cyclists as they spun by:
“Well, he used to ride with us on Saturdays, but, he’s got a new girlfriend now, so…”
“They completely remodeled. I haven’t been over there, but…”
“Yeah, I used to take classes there, but I didn’t like the instructor…”
“Okay, top 5 most influential British bands; Go!”
Sure, not the most scintillating or scandalous chats, but enough to keep me going and wondering about every person who passed me. One female cyclist passed me wearing scandalously short shorts and thigh-high stockings, pedaling furiously with her booty high in the air. The two spandex-clad male cyclists approaching from the other side almost fell off of their bikes staring at her, and I almost fell over laughing (or I would have, but I was really only laughing in my head–smiling and chuckling knowingly at them as they passed me).
These little things were helping the time fly by. The night before, I was talking to a guy who said that he’d heard of a woman who had part of her brain removed and who was completely unable to conceptualize space and time, and so became one of the world’s leading ultramarathon runners. It had me thinking. I knew that a lot of the challenge of distance running was not necessarily physical, but also mental. If a person can just somehow lose themselves in the scenery, or in thought, in some kind of deep, trance-like state somewhere far away from logic, it could make distance running seem less daunting, more do-able. Maybe if we could just let go of our seriousness, our stresses, we could glide along forever, like Forrest Gump when he took off running just for the sheer enjoyment of it.
One thing you realize when you’ve run in one direction further than you’ve ever run before, is just how far your legs can carry you, and it’s liberating. Hitting Manhattan Beach and seeing all of the surfers taking advantage of the awesome morning waves, then Hermosa Beach’s long, long, loooong strand, with families, dogs, runners and cyclists enjoying Sunday morning, I felt triumphant. I wanted to tell everyone I passed, “Hey, I ran all the way down here from Marina Del Rey–and I’m running back!” Knowing it inside was probably enough.
I hit Redondo Beach and made my turn-around. The sun had started to poke through the clouds a bit and beam down its runner-melting rays. It wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with the sun on a long run, of course, but, on a 20-miler I really, really wished that it would tuck itself back into the greyness. Luckily, as I wound my way along the paths and into El Segundo, my wish was granted, and the evil glare retreated, for a while anyway.
Not to say that I wasn’t tired at points before this, but I didn’t really start to feel like stopping until about mile 16-17. Until then, I’d been pretty good at distracting myself from any soreness, fatigue or other issues. My legs complained and my super even breath started to quicken a little bit. Distraction was not working anymore.
I passed a campsite cooking their breakfast.Mmmmm, food! I’d forgotten allllll about the joys of food! Suddenly my mind was euphoric with images of food dancing in my head. I asked myself what I wanted after the run. After 20 miles, I could have anything, ANYTHING in the whole wide world. Any forbidden delight, no matter how fatty, sugar-laden, no matter how carby, it was mine.
“Milkshake,” my body replied, most definitively.
The delectable sweet creaminess of these milky delights painted pictures in my head, topped with fluffy whipped cream. Like a greyhound following a rabbit, I found it in me to pick up my pace, just to get a little bit closer to my sensory delight.
The sun decided to again come out of hiding with ferocity, just as I was turning the bend to finish off that last mile. Just a little bit longer and I could stop running, forreal. I would be done, I would taste victory, milkshake and anything else I wanted for the day.
I hit Dock 52 with a sigh of relief, and walked, walked, walked around the parking lot, to “cool off” my legs. Distance runners know an ache like no other. Coming off of a long run, my legs cannot be stretched enough to eliminate the deep, deep dull pain of hours of repetitive muscle use.
I stretched, hydrated again, and found the nearest milkshake spot. Cookies N’ Cream, and well, well deserved.