The Other Side
I said in my last post that I’d see you all on the other side of 20 miles.
Well, I made it! Though the trip was a tough one. Honestly this was one of the hardest runs I’ve ever done. Definitely the most difficult of this marathon training cycle. Coming off the endorphin-fueled runner’s high of my 18-miler from two weeks ago, I definitely did not expect this run to be such a challenge. Sure, 20 miles is more than 18, but it didn’t seem too huge a jump upwards when I thought about it in the abstract. In reality though, those two extra miles were everything.
From the very beginning of this run, I wasn’t really in the zone mentally or physically. I kept having to stop for things — first my ipod kept uncliping from my waistband and I had to fix it, then I needed to make a bathroom pit stop at the FDR memorial (Really nice bathrooms there, BTW. Never again will I use a Starbucks bathroom now that I know there’s such a clean alternative right on the Mall!) I ran the first 10 miles by myself, with a few fun podcasts (Joy the Baker and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me) to help entertain me. Joy and Peter Sagal kept me smiling, but even at this early stage, I wasn’t feeling too hot. I kept thinking how much longer it would be until I was done.
Luckily, for the next section of the run I looped back to campus to pick up a friend who promised to accompany me for a few miles. K- was recovering from a pretty bad cold so she was only feeling up to about 3.5 miles, but having her company made a HUGE difference. We ran over the Key Bridge and did a beautiful loop of Roosevelt Island, and K- got me from having 10 miles left to do to having only 6 miles left to do in pretty good shape. I was sad to say goodbye to her when we got back across the bridge. For some reason, even at 14 miles, a distance I’m used to running on a pretty regular basis, I was feeling mentally and physically drained and ready to throw in the towel. I wasn’t actually hurting anywhere in particular. For some reason, 20 miles just felt like too much, too far. I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to keep going for another 6 miles. But as I waved goodbye to K-, I looked at my watch and told myself, “Only one hour of running to go. You can do this, Sarah.”
Those last 6 (well, really 6.4) miles were definitely not pretty. I ran 3 miles out and back along the Capital Crescent Trail, because I figured that the CCT is my home turf, and if I was going to rally my confidence anywhere it would be there. I was slow, my form was bad, my feet really hurt, and I kept closing my eyes in an attempt to zone out enough to not think about how much further I had left to do. I kept talking myself the entire time, saying things like “Just hold on” and “You know you can do this.” I think that I might have scared the runners I came across between miles 17 and 18, because I spent the vast majority of that time repeating “I can do it. I can do it” out loud to myself over and over again. When I reached the mile marker that told me I had one mile left to go, I tried to dig deep and pick up the pace a bit, if only to get to the end more quickly. I don’t know if I was actually running any faster, but it felt like I was giving that last mile everything I had. When I finally finished I sat down on the side of the trail and cried for a minute. Not because I was upset or hurt, but just because I felt so mentally and emotionally drained from that run. Three and a half hours after leaving my dorm room, I had finished. I had kept going when I didn’t want to and when I didn’t think I could. I didn’t stop and walk. I didn’t let myself turn around early. I did what I had set out to do.
I don’t know if you’re supposed to feel this way after a training run. Reading back over this post, it sounds more like a race report than anything else — all about mental toughness and not wanting to keep going. This wasn’t a race and I didn’t HAVE to keep running. I knew I wasn’t feeling great, and I could easily have stopped after 14 miles, postponed this particular long run til next weekend. But I’m glad I didn’t give up, even though sticking with it took a lot out of me. You never know how you’re going to feel on race day, and this run taught me how to motivate myself even when I feel like I can’t keep going, how to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Now I’m not quite so scared about “Hitting the Wall” or losing focus on race day, because I’ll know I’ve been through that before and I’ve developed strategies to get myself through it. I’m still nervous (I can tell you about the crazy marathon nightmares that I’ve had, but that’ll take a whole other post!) but I want to look back on this run as something that I can learn from, and if it taught me anything it’s that I CAN push myself and I CAN accomplish the things that scare me. I think it’s a lesson worth learning.
Congratulations on making it this far! I know that was a long post — hopefully not too boring though. Have you ever had a really mentally difficult run? What strategies do you use to motivate yourself when you feel like you can’t keep going?