My running since the Atlanta Marathon has been weird. Really, really weird. I took a couple of days off and then did some easy runs over the next week and a half. I did a short trail run the weekend following the marathon and my foot started to feel achy towards the end of the run and immediately thereafter. I panicked and went doom and gloom immediately. Boston was only 6 weeks away!
As we all know, that ultimately didn’t matter.
I went through the next week with it off and on being weird. And then did a long trail run 2 weeks following the marathon which was good for my soul, but probably not the best for my foot. I didn’t want to spend the next 6-8 weeks in a boot so I finally admitted to myself and my coach that I could use some days off.
I took 5 days off any cardio and then did some easy cycling before attempting to run again. The foot started to feel better just walking around and I had a dry needling session with Chantal that hopefully helped. My coach had me alternating easy runs with cycling for the first two weeks back. No running workouts, just building back. Once I was able to do 6 days of running a week, I then added back workouts and tacked onto my long run.
In this time period was, of course, when Boston was postponed and everyone was ordered to shelter in place. Save for my dry needle session with Chantal, I hadn’t been in close proximity to another human besides Adam since the long trail run March 14th. Coupled with not being able to run higher mileage, I was definitely not in a good place mentally.
My running has mostly been meh in the return back. I am not necessarily concerned or worried about my races being postponed or canceled. As a lifelong runner, these are just things that make it seem a little more “worth it” every few months. But I was definitely stressing about work, about Adam’s work, and just the uncertainty of everything. I wasn’t having any breakdowns or anything, but I knew that all of this certainly was manifesting itself in crappy running.
And if I’m being honest, it was hard to watch so many of my friends thriving in their running. Tackling big challenges like streaks and virtual races and epic long runs. I was mad that I was sitting on the sidelines for half of it and struggling to find my mojo when I was finally healthy enough to run again. Which I understand that there is a certain level of absurdity in all that because I should have just been grateful to run again.
But I hate running on the hilly, concrete sidewalks at my house. I want to knock out my run right after work, but I feel like it takes me at least a mile or two to get in the groove if ever. And I missed being able to just run freely on the Greenway or other traffic-free paths. Everything just felt like it was an extra effort. I knew the biggest part of all of it was the change itself. I didn’t have the time to decompress after work on my commute. I didn’t have the bonus of the shade and quietness of the Greenway. I was stressed with every person I had to pass out for a walk or run themselves. And while it seems like this might have been the optimal time to use my treadmill, I really just needed that time away from my house.
Shortly after Boston was postponed, I realized that this was now the optimal year to run my age on my birthday. Except that pesky bit about the fact that I had been nursing this foot thing. (Sidenote: I think it must be tendinitis.) Since 2015, I’d had Boston on the calendar and running my age on my birthday seemed a bit ludacris, even for me. I’d do variations like. 3.5 miles or whatever, but I always thought it would be cool to do the actual miles. In 2012, I ran 30K on my 30th because I hadn’t yet entered the world of ultras.
Anyway, my coach and I talked about it and I knew that it wasn’t really in the cards for my birthday so I just pushed it off and said we could earmark for May. Then I signed up for his virtual race the weekend of the 25th-26th and of the 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon offered, I think anyone reading this knows which one I signed up for. I got my bib April 9th for the marathon and then had in my head I’d be running a marathon the weekend of the 25th-26th.
I spent the next couple of weeks plotting and planning my course. Should I do it on the treadmill? Should I run from the house and do a huge loop around my city? Should I do it on the track? I really hated the idea of any of these for various reasons, but I also knew that was part of the challenge. I went so far as to plot out a 26.2 mile loop that started and ended at my house.
But then 2 things happened. 1) My coach loaded onto my weekly workouts that he wanted me to run 13.1 miles on both Saturday and Sunday. I’m not quite sure why this terrified me as though anyone cared about how fast I ran either of these, but I just could not wrap my head around the potential of having to run one at “race pace”. In heavy training, I run more than that on any given weekend so it wasn’t necessarily the mileage, but rather, how fast I thought I’d have to run.
2) I really couldn’t shake this birthday run idea. The closer it got to the weekend, the more I really wanted to not only run the marathon distance, but beyond that. With my running being so meh lately, it seemed a little dicey, but I also just wanted to go out and prove myself to myself. I didn’t really talk about it to anyone except Adam because I wasn’t certain if I could hang out for that many miles.
I decided to go scope out Chattahoochee Pointe Park on Saturday’s run. It is a mostly flat path with wide berths and is a very nice, flat-packed gravel surface. Not the stupid pointy rocks of a typical forest service road and not the beach sand-esque limestone gravel. Honestly, the best kind of terrain for a long distance effort - what you give up in speed, you make up for in leg comfort.
The wide berth made it possible to run even with other people using it and not worrying too much about space. I knew that it would get a little more complicated as the day wore on and more people came out, but I was hopeful that the early morning walkers/runners would be sparse and cautious.
I laid out my nutrition and hydration on Saturday and gave myself enough options without it being overwhelming. Nutrition options were gels, fruit snacks, chips, Goldfish crackers, Oreos, and mandarin oranges. Hydration was water, caffeinated and decaffeinated GU Roctane, and a Coke.
I set my alarm for 6:15am knowing that I wanted to get going around sunrise. I got up and ate 3 pieces of cinnamon raisin bread with peanut butter and drank a cup of coffee. I let the dogs out and fed them and then got dressed and headed out.
The air was cool for late April in Georgia and I was really happy that I had picked nearly a perfect weather day to execute this plan. At the park, I pulled into the roundabout and placed my car hood near to the trail head, but without impending any pedestrian or car traffic. I set my box of nutrition and hydration on the hood of my car and laid out my extra music players, hat, sunglasses, and water on the seat of the car.
The first few miles would be the warm-up so as soon as my Garmin was ready and my first music player synced up to a podcast, I was ready to start. I listened to Lindsey Hein’s I’ll Have Another podcast in which she had a fun conversation with 3 of my favorite ultrarunners, Courtney Dewaulter, Maggie Guterl, and Sally McRae. It was lighthearted and kept me entertained for the first hour and a half of my run. I knew I wouldn’t want to try to follow a conversation in later miles so I opted to start with the podcast and then switch to music.
I definitely wasn’t feeling wonderful the first few miles. My legs felt kind of tired and by mile 4, I was yanking on the restroom doors (ack, locked!). I circled by my car, did the mini out-and-back, and then stopped at my car to grab some baby wipes. As I headed back out on my loop, I beelined for a place off the trail and into the woods where I lost a minute of my race, but felt immediately better. Unfortunately, in the spirit of “leave no trace”, I now had to carry my baby wipes with me for nearly a mile until I could dispose of them in my trash bag. Sooooo glamorous.
As with any ultra, my nutrition and hydration plan started off very well and then fizzled as the hours wore on. I took a gel around the 45 minute mark and then had a package of fruit snacks at the 90 minute mark. I started with the caffeinated Roctane first and then switched between water and electrolytes as the day wore on.
By the time I rolled into double digits, I was feeling much better than the first few miles and I had switched to listening to music from the most random playlist ever created by suggestions people left for me on my Facebook page. I’d smile when I heard a song that I could recall associated with whoever left it for me. It was definitely the most fun roulette of music for a long run.
At the halfway point, I spotted Martin and a couple of friends out for a run and we crossed paths a few times. They saw my box of hydration and snacks and knew this wasn’t just a typical training run. I fessed up to what I was trying to accomplish and of course, that made me even more hungry to set out what I had started. I saw Ron out there too and even though I wasn’t running with anyone, it was nice to see a few familiar faces.
Speaking of other people, I was pleased that about 95% of people were practicing social distancing and giving each other enough space while passing/being passed. I ran out into the grass numerous times to go around people, but didn’t find it cumbersome. As the day eased on, there were definitely more people, but I felt like I had plenty of space still.
Around the marathon mark, I started to feel a little bit of nausea and bonkiness. It was a little risky to open the Coke with an unsettled stomach, but I was hoping that jolt of caffeine and sugar would help. I walked about a minute or so to let the carbonation settle in my stomach and then told myself to just keep it super easy for at least a few minutes to make sure it stayed down. Luckily, this seemed to move things in a more positive direction.
I was now on a run 2 miles, stop and drink/eat 2 miles game plan. The little breaks helped make it easier as I still had nearly a half-marathon to go at the marathon mark. I was excited to be getting near the time that I could be in single digits of “laps left” to go though.
There was a cop that pulled up in the roundabout and pulled up alongside each car slowly as I neared my own car. I stopped briefly, headed to the mini out-and-back and he was pulled up behind my car when I came back. I mouthed “am I okay to be parked here?” and flashed the thumbs up sign. I’m assuming he was just running tags because he just nodded without rolling down the window. *insert shrug*
The weather continued to be pleasant, albeit windy. It didn’t really bother me too much as it definitely was keeping me cool on the sunny part of the loop. The shady part was almost chilly enough that I wanted long sleeves! I ultimately never used my hat (too windy) or sunglasses (too much shade).
Somewhere in the final 2 hours, the battery on my new Mighty music player died. And so I went to the iPod Nano for backup. It worked okay for a few miles and then it started acting all wonky so I switched to the old Mighty music player. I’m sure I would have been okay without the crutch of music, but it was really keeping my spirits up.
Around 5 miles left to go, I knew I could just walk it in and still have a respectable day. Luckily, I was feeling good all things considered and was still moving relatively well. Nothing was hurting other than just been “normal” tired from running for 30+ miles. My mapped out loop was a little longer than 1 mile and so I anticipated hitting the 38 mile mark about halfway through. I kind of thought about doing an out-and-back to end at my car, but then what’s a half mile walk to cool down? I grabbed my long sleeve shirt when I was headed back out for the last half mile so I’d have something to protect me from the sun and/or keep me warm.
Once I heard my watch beep for the 38th mile, I continued going another 1/10th of a mile to make sure I was solidly over the distance. And then I clicked off my watch and immediately started walking. There was no finish line, no medal, no one there to congratulate me, but honestly, I didn’t really need those things. It was a beautiful day and I was really proud of myself for tackling something in the middle of some pretty ho-hum running.
As I arrived back at my car, I grabbed my camp chair and a mandarin orange and called Adam to let him know I was alive and well. Then I sat in the shade for a short while, just relaxing and enjoying that sweet, sweet feeling of accomplishment.