I have completed my last long run before the NYC marathon. I’ve only run two marathons before this so I don’t have a huge sampling of data but this is how things go for me: I plan to run three 20-milers before the marathon but things happen and I only run two; I plan on running farther than 20 miles (maybe 22, or 23), but feel so satisfied/tired at the end of the 20 that I don’t; of the two 20-milers I run, the first is crappy and the other is triumphant. Funny that it always happens this way. I guess it’s just my way.
Since I loved the Honeoye Lake run and Amy hadn’t run it, we decided to do that as our final long run. It would be different than last time and from our last 20-miler in that it would be just us two with no vehicle support. We would add on two miles at the start (to make it 20) and possibly two miles at the end (to make it 22) which we might even walk. (You know how that turns out.) To simulate our race, we’d start at mid-day (our corral starts at 10:40, a time neither of us are accustomed to running).
In the morning, I had a banana strawberry protein smoothie but couldn’t work up an appetite for solid food. We set out a water stop at the halfway point that consisted of a jug of water, Gatorade, and pretzels. I packed three gels in my spi-belt, and loaded up my fuel belt with four 8-ounce bottles of Accelerade. We were good to go.
I like running with Amy, for one reason that we both always start out stiff and slow. Our first mile is often our slowest as we coax our bodies into motion. The second mile feels easier, and the miles get better from there. The other reason I like running with Amy is because we both do our own thing on these long runs. I’m better when I set an even pace and keep at it, stopping every two or three miles for fluid, every five miles for gel. Amy is recovering from a calf injury so she faithfully follows a walk/run plan. This works out well because Amy is just a little bit faster on the run than I am but I catch up to her when she walks. But this means that we don’t run together (except those first two or three miles). When we run together, we have a parallel experience, not a shared one.
The west side of Honeoye Lake is predominantly downhill so I relaxed into it, letting gravity and the call of Marine Drill Instructors (my “music” of choice for the early miles) move me along. By mile four I was feeling the need for energy but my plan was to have a gel at mile five so I pushed through. It helped and I told myself I could have another gel at mile 9 or 10. Nine came and my energy lagged but the plan for gel at ten resurfaced more firmly in my mind and I chugged on. Ten came and I knew our water stop was within the next mile, so I waited some more. Amy had passed me and I fell further and further behind. By the time we reached the last rise before our water stop, I was walking and sucking on the gel.
At the water stop, we drank and refilled our fuel belt bottles and ate pretzels. I’m off wheat (that small amount wouldn’t bother me) and we laughed about how baked goods no longer call to me but the box of donut holes had been whispering to me since I bought them as a “soft food” for Paul after his wisdom teeth extraction this week. The cupcakes a friend brought to my house had no effect on me but those donut holes were terrible flirts.
The east side of Honeoye Lake is rolling, the trees full of color, granting glimpses of lake beyond the trees and cottages. The Marines had finished with me so I plugged in my, um, eclectic mix of running music. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love,” I sang. The music and the nutrition pushed me on and soon I was ahead of Amy. We rolled those hills that way, me leading, sometimes singing, glancing back to make sure Amy was trotting along, doing her own thing. Later she will tell me that she pulled off into the weeds to pee, twice, and I never knew a thing.
I was better about my nutrition on the second ten miles. I thought of my friend Chris who sets her watch to cue her for refueling and even though I didn’t necessarily feel in need of fluid, I walked and drank according to the mileage. I took three Advil at mile 14, used my caffeinated gel at 16, drank 8 ounces every two miles, and felt pretty good.
There were few cars on the road, now that fall is solidly here, the day gray and cool – good for running, not for good for playing at a lake cottage. I don’t remember seeing anyone on the route back, save for two hunters unpacking camouflage gear from their car. I thought about how different this will be from running the marathon where I hear the route is packed with spectators. And the sights of New York. I think, although I’m not sure, that those factors will be enough to keep me running through the last unpracticed six miles of the marathon. Running two more miles on quiet roads through colorful trees won’t simulate the marathon.
As we neared the end, Amy and I ran a short portion together. I’m aborting the extra two miles, I told her, I was feeling good and it didn’t feel necessary, and she readily agreed to finishing up. She wondered where our turn was so that we’d head back to the car. Within a mile, I told her, but what I didn’t tell her was that half of that mile was uphill. I took off, wanting to get it over with so I could cruise to the finish. At the top of the last hill, I called to Amy, “it’s all downhill from here!” and took off running as fast as I could muster having run 19.5 miles. My feet slapped the pavement. I knew I should run lighter, that my form was suffering, but I also knew it wouldn’t last. Nothing lasts forever.
As it turns out, that last awkward mile was my fastest mile. My first ten miles averaged 10:30 (fast for me) and overall my run clocked in at 10:40 per mile. In contrast my last 20-miler averaged 11:10 and the last time I ran this route (although two miles shorter), I averaged 10:50 (which surprised and elated me). Last training run: longer and faster. It makes me laugh with satisfaction.
So here’s the part that separates me from “true runners”: I have no intention of running that pace during the marathon. I want to run slower. I’ve worked hard to get to the starting line: not just the training, but the fundraising, the aches and pains of an aging body, the distractions of travel, the challenge of finding the balance between work and finances and the future, and the constant adaptation of schedule and plans and goals. It’s been a long road to NYC, and the work has been done on the roads in Santa Fe and Tacoma and Lake Placid and mostly on the streets that make up my neighborhood and home town. It’s the preparation for the party: shopping through crowds so children are surprised on Christmas morning, prepping for the wedding reception so we can chicken-dance with laughter, writing the sentences, paragraphs, chapters so a book may form. Now the party is looming and I don’t want it to zoom by. I want it to last. I want to stop and dance if the music and crowds move me. I want to savor.
I don’t care about running fast. I like see my numbers after a run (not during) to get that sweet surprise of whether or not they match up to how I felt. Sometimes I struggle through short runs at a languorous pace, other times fly through a long run, none of it makes any sense, none of it matters, because the only thing that matters is getting from here to there. From Staten Island, through all five boroughs, to Central Park. With joy. Why wouldn’t I want that sweet joy to last until all gifts have been opened, all dances danced, the back cover closed on the book?
Now the taper begins which presents its own kind of challenges. The body and mind need rest and recovery. Like taking a nap before a big party. It’s all part of being ready for a good day of play in the Big Apple.