Prior to yesterday's long run on the Boston Marathon course, I was nervous. Not so much for the distance, but my confidence was shaky. We all know that running is a physical activity, but I think we've all experienced the mental side as well. What is it about marathon training that seems to bring that side out more than usual? Is it the focus on the long run on the weekend? The gradual buildup of mileage week after week? The numbers you put on your calendar that you stare at all week? During the week, I enjoy the clarity and peace that comes to me as I run.....after spending my day teaching 85-115 hormonally-crazed and occasionally indifferent 13-14 year olds, the quiet time of running allows me to recharge my depleted mental batteries. I truly believe that time helps me to be a better person, a better friend, a better father, and a better husband, as it also dramatically elevates my overall mood.
The long run on the weekend is different.
It's long enough that once my mind clears, I begin to focus on things like my breathing pattern and footfalls......for a while, it becomes almost meditative (is that even a word?), as I enter a zen-like state of relaxation. I'm not sure if it qualifies as a "runner's high", but it certainly seems like a good place to be. Eventually, if the distance is long enough, thoughts of the physical effort start to creep in, as I gradually become aware of the various parts and places that are starting to let my brain know that I'm extending myself beyond the "norm". At that point, doubt also starts to creep in....."can I make the distance?"....."should I just stop at that Dunkin' Donuts, get a large iced coffee and just call it a day?"..........my goal is to push those thoughts off as long as possible.....and it also involves strategic route planning so as to reduce the temptation of Dunkin' Donuts (for those of you not familiar with New England, DD isn't quite on EVERY corner, but you're never more than a mile away from one....EVER!).
Yesterday morning, my charity team was running from Ashland to Boston College......about 18 miles, including the Newton Hills. The day dawned cold (about 28) and overcast. Considering that I'm still getting over a nasty cold, I wasn't too keen on going for a 3-hour run in the cold, but I was able to breathe without too much trouble, so I figured I'd get out and give it a try. We met at the Dunkin' Donuts on Rt. 135 in Ashland. There were only 6 of us, and very quickly, the group fractured....2 runners were VERY fast, and quickly disappeared up the road, not to be seen again. Another 2 runners were in the middle.....and then came the "caboose"......myself. Actually, I wasn't alone back there, as there another runner on her first team run who was back there with me. Mind you, I don't mind being the slowest, and for this particular run, I had planned to go slow. Knowing the distance and the severity of the hills at the end, I was shooting for an average somewhere between 10 and 11 minutes per mile, which I felt would be reasonable. Again, my primary goal in training for the Boston Marathon is to get to the starting line in Hopkinton on April 16th uninjured, so I've totally dialed back the "speed" (for me, "speed" is a VERY relative term!) of my training runs.
Ashland became Framingham.......and Framingham became Natick.........and around the 10 mile mark for the run, Natick became Wellesley......and there's a nice little hill leading into Wellesley College. I really started to feel it on that hill.......while the Boston Marathon course is well-known for its net-downhill profile, part of that comes from the ridiculously steep downhill in the very first mile. The remainder of the course has its share of rolling hills, nothing too steep or long, but there are a few. Anyway, it was fun running past Wellesley College, imagining all the screaming girls that will be lining the road on Marathon Monday.
I kept trudging along.....banging out 10 and 11 minute miles......taking short walk breaks every mile or so.......sticking to my fueling strategy (a GU every 4 miles or so......on this day, at miles 2, 6, 10, and 14)........and as Wellesley became Newton, we went though Newton Lower Falls and it dawned on me what was coming next......the infamous overpass at rt. 128. On Marathon day, the traffic will be diverted, but yesterday we had to dodge cars trying to get on the highway and others trying to get off the highway, which was difficult considering how slowly I was moving after 13+ miles, but I managed. The overpass itself isn't that long, but it's pretty steep, so I just kept moving.......our charity had a water stop set up nearby at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital, so I took on some Gatorade, tore open my last GU, and geared up for the hills just ahead.
Soon, I was passing the Woodland T-stop.....then the fire station became visible, signalling the turn onto Commonwealth Avenue and the beginning of the Newton Hills. Knowing that I had roughly 3 miles of climbing ahead, I did my best to relax, slowed my pace a bit, and really began to focus on just staying within myself. All along the route, we'd seen hundreds of other runners out training (many on the other side of the road running outbound, some of them inbound with us), but once you get on the Newton Hills, you're all in it together, so there's many shouts of encouragement and grunts of acknowledgement. I was passed by dozens of other runners (something I'm far too used to!), but I wasn't worried about that......I was going to do these hills at my pace, even when that involved walking. In fact, there was a LOT of walking....fact is, I was tired....dead tired......and the Newton Hills are HARD. They're not particularly steep.......but they're long.
And just like that, it was over. Our final water stop was in sight.......as I waited for the last team runner to arrive, I reflected on the run I'd just finished.
I felt tired and sore, but I'd gotten it done. This was the longest run I'd completed in nearly 3 years, the longest since my marathon in October, 2009. All my doubts prior to the run were erased, and my confidence was restored. I know I'm going to be able to run Boston next month......OMG, I'm running the Boston Marathon!!!
So the run was 17.66 miles.....3:08.....10:40/mile. Right on the average I had planned for.......altogether a beautiful day! Now on to the remaining few weeks of training!