21 miles, and a few lessons learned

I ran 21 miles yesterday. In the most surprising and unexpected way, it was a life-changing experience. When I was done, I knew that I had become a marathoner.

Throughout the past four-plus months of training, I have had my doubts and my fears. I have had good runs, and I have had too many bad runs. I embarked on this journey with the presumption that I was probably capable of running a full marathon, with hard work and persistence. Yesterday was the first time that I truly, unreservedly, absolutely KNEW that I could do it. No more having to reassure myself that “I CAN DO IT.” I believe it now. I live it now.

It wasn’t the most auspicious day for my last long training run. There was an 80% chance of rain, and lots of it. But what is rain to a Pacific Northwesterner? I had a long-planned date with the trail!

The sky looked very gloomy as I prepared to leave the house. I gave careful thought to my attire for the day. Although the trail is mostly paved, I expected to encounter puddles and mud so I decided to wear my old trail running shoes, which I figured still had a few good miles left in them. I’ve taken to running in a bike jersey, because they have large, open rear pockets useful for carrying and accessing the running essentials: water, food (pretzels and Shot Bloks), and my trusty iPhone. I don’t know why shirts made for runners don’t have big pockets!! In any case, CFL had bought me this awesome Mirror Pond Pale Ale jersey from the Deschutes Brewery pub when we were in Portland, and it’s now my go-to running shirt. I sort of feel like a triathlete when I’m wearing it! So I put that on, and brought a light rain jacket just in case.

The moment I parked at the trailhead, the sun came out! Suddenly it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day after all. I could have tied the rain jacket around my waist, but I decided to leave it in the car. I figured since my planned route for the day was two long out-and-backs, I could come back for it if necessary.

Off I went, through the trees and down along the waterfront. I hit a little mist at 2 miles or so; no big deal, and it soon stopped. At my first turnaround at City Pier, people were strolling and sitting on benches.

Coming back, still dry, I realized around mile 7 that I was already a little tired. I recalled that I’d run each of my three “short and easy” runs during the week just a bit faster than I’d planned. In other words, I hadn’t even done a mini-taper before this longest-run-of-my-life. I wasn’t as well rested for this run as I should have been.

LESSON LEARNED: the taper really is that important.

As I approached my starting point, I decided that since I was already a little tired, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to run all the way back to my car. Something about running back to the car makes my mind think that I am done running, and it’s a psychological drag to think about leaving the car again to go off and run some more. The rain was still coming in on-and-off misty showers, so I wasn’t that concerned about needing my jacket. I turned around early to begin my second out-and-back and planned to make up the miles with a double-back somewhere along the trail.

The good news at this point was that I began to feel better. The soreness that was threatening me earlier had vanished, although the soles of my feet were now getting rather achy. I realized that these trail running shoes were done and that I’d need to buy and break in a new pair immediately, just in case it’s rainy on race day.

So I’m now about 11 and a half miles in. It started to rain. Hard. Down along the waterfront the wind was picking up, blowing the rain into my face and pushing the standing water across the trail. There weren’t any more walkers or cyclists out there.

I turned around again at 14 miles and resolved to beat it back to the car as fast as possible. My bike jersey was completely soaked through (despite those claims to “assist in body temperature control by pulling moisture from the inside and pushing it off the outside”). My compression tights were soaked through. My socks were soaked through. You get the idea. What’s more, I was worried about ruining my iPhone — while it was completely encased in its Otterbox, it was sitting in the open rear pocket of my jersey.

Up to this point, I’d only made one on-the-clock pit stop. I’d assumed I’d take a walk break somewhere around 15 miles, but at that point all I wanted to do was get back to the car! At 17 miles, I threw myself into the car, unzipped my jersey (grateful for both that full-length zipper and the fact that my running bra is opaque), and slithered into my rain jacket. I grabbed a blanket and tried to towel myself dry, but it was hopeless. I tossed my bluetooth headset aside and pulled on a knit beanie. It took me all of five on-the-clock minutes, and then I was out of the car and off to run the last four miles!

Two miles out would take me through trees for one mile and then one mile of waterfront, and then I’d return for the last two miles. But after a couple hundred yards of waterfront I was well-soaked again, so I turned around once more and decided to do the rest of my miles going back and forth through the trees.

By that time I was running pretty slowly. I figure I was carrying at least a half pound of rain water. But I was still running! I hadn’t taken a single walk break, and suddenly I realized that I wasn’t going to. I was going to run all 21 miles. I’d had enough of being out in the downpour and I wanted to be done. I especially wanted to be done when I saw a couple of large falling tree branches. Enough was enough!

So I finished the 21 miles in just over 3:52, which is just over an 11 minute pace. A little slower than I’d hoped, but all things considered, it was an awesome run. I’ll try to avoid losing five minutes changing clothes during the race.

LESSON LEARNED: a lot can happen with the PNW weather over five hours. If there is any chance of rain on race day, I’ll tie my danged rain jacket around my waist! And I’ll wear that new pair of trail running shoes that I’m going to buy.

I didn’t bother to stretch afterward. I got in the car, turned up the heat, and beat it for my warm dry house and the promise of a hot shower.

Driving home I was overcome by a quiet elation. I’ve done it! I completed my last long training run under hellacious conditions. The hard work is now all behind me. It’s TAPER TIME! And I now fully appreciate what that means!

With respect to my what-to-eat-on-the-run dilemma, I still don’t have that dialed in. During yesterday’s run I took exactly one sip of water (consuming additional water was completely unnecessary!) and ate two pretzels and one Shot Blok. I had done an outstanding job of carb loading the day before, and I never got hungry. I never felt weak from lack of nutrients. There was no wall for me.

Could I have run another 5.2 miles yesterday? I wouldn’t have liked it, but I think I could have done it. At this point I have every reason to believe that on race day the adrenaline and crowd support are going to carry me through just fine.

I’m going to run my first marathon, and I’m going to do myself proud on race day. Knowing that is so surprising and so very wonderful.

One step at a time!


Posted on September 23, 2013, in Running and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. Breaking the 20 mile mark is a massive one. Well done.

  2. Wow!! Awesome job! Good luck on your marathon! 🙂

  3. Ok so I just stumbled upon your blog and I am so thankful I did! I have run multiple halves, and have another one coming up next month — but you have inspired me to try and push that full distance. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for so long, but I’m not confident in my little body to hold up for such long distances.

  4. Congrats!!!

  5. Fantastic! I’m so thrilled for you. What a great confidence booster before the big day!

  6. Congrats! Knew you could, can, and will.

  7. Hooray, Lori! You really are marathon-worthy now! I am really impressed with the level of thought required to take into consideration weather possibilities on race day! It’s interesting to read about the thoughts you are holding even while running, like noticing your shoes aren’t providing enough support, and thinking ahead that you’ll need to break them in before the race. It’s nice to read these details, because it gives me insight into the dozens of little (not so little) measures you absolutely need to consider and calibrate because every second counts in a race! You are so well prepared now! I’m really rooting for you!!

    • Debra, thanks!
      Over the course of 21 miles I had lots of time to think about many things! Actually, one of the things that pleased me about this long run was that I never lost my mental focus. I was able to continue thinking clearly about where I was, how I was doing, what I still needed to do, and how I would go about doing it. I think mental stamina is as important as physical endurance, and the other day I didn’t run out of either. I hope things go as well on race day.
      I’ve already ordered the new shoes! 🙂

  8. Excellent! Great achievement! That 20 mile mark IS a big milestone. You’ll do great in the marathon.

  9. Just wanted to add to the chorus of folks cheering you on. Amazing job!

  10. So here I was thinking, gosh, I wonder how she’s doing, and I pop over here to find you’re DOING GREAT! I’m very happy for you, and I’ll be sure to check for the updates after the big race! Congrats on getting this far – I’m sure you’ll do great!

    • Wow, BUMD — what a surprise! Thanks for your good wishes for the race.
      I just popped over to your blog and I see that you are alive and well and up to your usual adventures as well.
      If you visit my other blog slowhappyliving.com you can see a lot more of what I’m up to these days. Life goes on in the most amazing ways!

  11. Good morning! My name is Shaheed, I’m a sports reporter with CHEK News in Victoria. I’ve come across your blog and find your story quite inspirational! We would love to feature your story on our news and share it with our viewers as you are doing with your blog. Would love to chat. Please email me your phone number. My address is: sdevji@cheknews.ca.

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