As of today, there are 55 days left until the Columbus Marathon. I am in week 17 of my extended 24 week training plan, I believe. To be honest, these are the dog days of training, and it's only because of my type A, meticulous spreadsheet habit that I even have any idea what's going on right now.
Last weekend was a big one for fitness at Next Gen House. Not only did Mark become a triathlete, but I had my first 20 mile run. The illusive 20 miles that everyone says is where the "wall" resides. I had always thought I'd run into walls running before, and I had somehow managed to Kool-Aid man through them and push.
But I think those previous walls were only piles of rocks to step over, because for the first time this weekend, I ran straight into a concrete wall that knocked me over and made me ugly cry for the first time in the two years I've considered myself a runner.
So that's what a wall feels like.
I actually considered waiting to write my next training update until after I completed another 20(+) miler, you know, to make it seem easier than it actually is. But that's not real. It doesn't let you know how hard this is. Sometimes I like to think that if something is possible, it's not really hard. I am admitting to myself that this marathon is an Everest for me.
The run was from the North Side to the Waterfront and back. It was just a dream last year - it seemed like the impossible journey - so many miles. But we did it. First 10 miles were great. Miles 10-12 sucked all available energy out of me, and from that point on it was, well, awful. I was fighting tears for 12-14, desperately trying to talk myself out of a panic that would make my asthmatic lungs clench up. At 15, I asked my friend to please talk to me, if she had any available breath, because I couldn't pull my mind out of its self-destruct sequence. (And to her eternal credit she did.) The voice that says "I can't breathe, I can't do this, I have come so far and am about to fail, 26.2 is impossible, I am a joke."
For the last few successful long runs, I've been doing a 60 second walk break at each 2 mile increment. It's done wonders for my heart rate. On this run, by mile 16 I had to go down to one-mile increments, and I finished 18 and 19 by walking at half-mile increments.
When my GPS read 20, I slowed to a staggering walk and started weeping. Not just a few tears, but that ugly cry with noises that you didn't know you could make. I don't even really know why I was crying in particular. It was a huge release, probably of tension I had been holding in for, literally, hours. Probably days. Probably this whole training cycle.
I read a lot of articles and essays about bad runs - like the ones that make you physically drained or pukey. But I rarely hear about people who just weep when they are done with a bad run.
But after a few days have passed, I am ready to rise up and get those shoes back on and hit the miles this week. I actually have two step-back weeks in a row, each 13 miles, one with the Montour Half Marathon, which was my first half marathon ever last year. I have two more 20(+) milers to get that confidence back that I was flying on after a really good 18 miler.
After all, one does not simply stroll up Everest (or Mordor). I've finally realized that it's okay that this is really hard for me - the hardest thing physically I've ever done, and probably with the exception of grieving, the hardest mentally as well. While I watch a lot of really inspirational runners chasing their 8:30 or 9:30 averages for the Columbus Marathon, I'm chasing a 13:00 average. Yes, a lot slower, but it also means that I'm giving the run the best I can do for 4+ hours. I'll be happy to finish Columbus in 6 hours - to finish at all. And that's okay.
This summer, I've run farther than I've ever run before, all over my beautiful, wonderful city. I'm wearing out shoes and burning through rolls of K-tape. I'm pushing my body and my mind and I know it will be worth it if I stick with it. The hard things always are.