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36, One At A Time

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

Quote of the Day: “To every man, there comes in his lifetime, that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered a chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talents; What a tragedy if that moment should find him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.”

- Sir Winston Churchill

I really don’t know how to explain what I did today.

I will just blurt out the fact.

I ran 36 miles today.

I know I will lose some of you because of the sheer number of miles that is and as I’ve written about before; the “why” and “how” of such a feat often overshadows the accomplishment. The incredulous reaction for even running that far is common and puts me in the “nut” category before they try to wrap their minds around the fact that I actually did it. And it was hard.

But I’m not writing this for them. I’m already “gone” in their eyes so the rest of this is for those that are actually interested in what it is like to cover 36 miles in a day.

OK, why did I do it? Well, I have a marathon on March 19th and my training plans normally call for the last big run a couple of weeks before followed by a tapering off period to rest up for the marathon. This was that weekend and while the schedule only had about 22 miles, I had lengthened that last year to go a full 26.2 miles.

But a couple of months ago when I was prepping my training schedule for this marathon, I decided I should go real long. I don’t know why but I just had a drive to push it way out there. Add that to the fact that my 8-mile loop was shut down due to bridge construction which meant I was forced to the 9-mile-straight-out and 9-mile-back routine. So my round trips went from 8 miles to 18 miles.

I wanted to do more than 26.2 and the thought popped into my head: out and back.

Once it was there, I could not ignore it. This is a quirk of mine I’ve accepted. And that I have suffered many things as a result of. When it gets in there, I HAVE to accomplish it. That’s why I have to be careful of what I think about.

This is what got me into marathoning in the first place. And ultras. And back to back marathons a week apart with a 50 miler tacked on two weeks later. The ultimate example is the Badwater which is the only one on the list I have yet to accomplish. Yet.

Anyway, I got it in my head that I needed to go out and back and out and back for a grand total of 36 miles.

Simple as that.

After two days of computer work, I was ready to get out of the house but I have to admit, I was a little scared. I had only gone longer than a standard marathon distance twice in my life, both 50-mile races and that was years ago. I had been busy geeking on the computer and had not run since Tuesday (on the lame excuse of saving up energy for the big run.)

I really didn’t have a plan that differed than my normal long runs but I knew I had better get enough fuel in me so Carrie made me eggs and toast before I left. I figured that would hold me the first half and then I came up with the idea of a PB&J for the carbs, protein, and sugars. My plan was to gobble it down with raisins, some applesauce, and as much Gatorade as I could stomach before taking on the second 18 miles.

The weather was ideal. It’s supposed to get cold tomorrow but today was only supposed to see a little wind that never really showed up. The entire day was running weather and it was one huge relief because I had enough to deal with in sheer mileage.

I started at 0830 with a full camelback, 3 packets of Gu, and a can of Red Bull.

You cannot even start to think about the entire distance so to stay sane, I only let myself break it into halves. This was going to be two 18 mile runs that just happen to go back to back. Out there and back, that was it.

Furthermore, I tried to only think about the 9 mile leg I was on. Just get out there in 1 hour and a half.

Lastly, I considered the short term at one mile increments. I do the 9 minutes of running and 1 minutes of walking which works out to be 10 minute miles. This way, I cover about 1 mile every cycle and get a nice little goal and break at the end.

You ask how I did it? That’s how. You have a mental plan of how you are going to run the distance. If it sounds complicated, it isn’t. It becomes repetitious after awhile and you don’t even have to think about it.

It’s unbelievable how easy the first nine miles are when you have dialed in that you are going to do it 4 times. I was very fresh at the end of 9 miles and marveled at the ease, knowing this would change drastically. I took a break and drank my first Red Bull, knowing that when I hit this spot again, I probably wouldn’t be in a happy place.

On the way back, the first pangs of fatigue started to show up. This worried me because I had a hell of a long way still to go. But I tried to keep my head up, my form good, and on pace. I made it out to the 9 mile gate in an hour and a half and back in the same time. I was on schedule but the worst was yet to come.

Again, I was stunned that I felt so good at the end of 18 miles. I could feel I had done a good patch of running but I wasn’t ready to hobble home like I normally am after such a distance. The mind is an incredible thing.

The wind had kicked up a little so I got into my car to rest and eat. Like Carrie had thought, my mouth was too dry to properly enjoy the PB&J but with enough Gatorade, I was able to down half of it.

Folks, I don’t even LIKE PB&J sandwiches but it just seemed to have the right combination of the things I needed.

I did have the raisins and applesauce but that was all I could stomach so I refilled my Camelback, stuck another Red Bull into the pouch, and headed out.

My legs felt a little rubberish and it took about a mile before I could even run with some semblance of comfort. My gut was full of food and a lot of Gatorade but I waited it out and sure enough, my stomach settled.

At about the 6 mile mark (or 24 total), I realized that I had actually kept my 9 and 1 cycle going all this time. It normally starts to break down at the end of runs and since this point was well beyond most of my other “end of runs” I was shocked that I was doing so well.

I made it out to the 9 mile gate in 1 hour and 45 minutes, only 15 minutes slower than normal. Not bad for in essence finishing a marathon. I was tired to be sure but I was lively enough to know that I would finish. Hell, I HAD to finish because I was nine miles away from my car and I had to get back there somehow.

The real drama of this run was the last 9 miles. I had avoided all manner of cramps up to this point and on the way back, that was my biggest worry. Running is 90% mental and 10% physical but that 10% can stop a run immediately.

Before embarking on that last 9, I drank my second Red Bull, retied my shoes, stretched, and off I went.

Well, sorta. By this time, my form was shot and I was barely clearing each foot. My stride was a shuffle and I had to keep reminding myself to keep my head up. But the sight of even the smallest hill crushed my will to live and it was a defense mechanism to just duck my head down and trudge forward, counting on ignorance for my bliss.

I have run this route literally hundreds of times but two things conspired to mangle my internal distance measurement. First, my mind was Jell-O so I started to have trouble remembering how far it was to the end despite my normal awareness based on terrain features. What I realized is that most of the time on these runs, I base my distance calculation on the time. Since I run approximately one mile per ten minutes, all I have to do is look at my watch, do the math, and I know where I’m at and how far I have to go.

So the second factor was that my 9 and 1 routine not only went out the window, it flew away in the sky until it was a little dot. Then soundlessly popped, the remnants floating to the ground in the distance.

The combined effect was that I had no idea how far I had to go to the end and I was almost delirious. OK, I WAS delirious.

I stumbled to the side of the road to go to the bathroom and I was worried to see that my urine was a of the thick, dark variety, indicating dehydration. I had drank so much liquid that I don’t know how I could have ingested more. It was about this point of contemplation when my right hamstring suddenly knotted up without warning.

Instantly, I stuck my leg out to stave off the wicked cramp and it was like a battle of wills. I was keeping the worst of it at bay but it was fighting to cramp.

“NO! YOU BASTARD!” as I hopped around flexing my leg. Even in my pain, I had the sense to realize I was hobbling in the wrong direction and I thought, as long as I’m moving for whatever reason, it might as well be toward the finish.

That’s the kind of sick thoughts that come in your head after 30 miles.

I beat the cramp and got moving again but it threatened, just below the surface which made me nervous for the rest of the run.

With about 5 miles left, my right leg gave out. What do I mean? I mean it just went away, like it was taking it’s football and going home. It was like a palsy and when I put weight on it, it was like a doll’s leg, just crumbled.

This only lasted a second or two but scared the bejesus out of me. Shortly after, it was replaced by a shooting pain starting at my lower back, right side, and followed a line down my right buttock and all the way down to the back of my knee. It wasn’t a cramp, it felt like one huge sore muscle.

“We’ll, you can’t expect to run this far and not have some serious pain at some point.” was my thought.

At one point, I had this big long conversation with myself (yes, normal behavior when you have 7 hours to kill) about tackling a big feat like this. When it got hard, I mean REALLY hard, I told myself this is what the big deal is. I mean, people are scared of things like this. Closely related, they respect those of us that actually put ourselves through it. But there is a cost. It’s cliché to say that if it were easy, everyone would do it but it’s this very pain, this consequence of very real, very intense mental and physical pain that defines why something like this is tough and why not many people tackle it.

That’s all good to garner that respect, awe, bragging rights, whatever you want to call it but the fact still remains that it still takes that anguish. You can’t just SAY you did something. There is a price that must be paid and when it got really, really tough out there, I realized THIS is what I have to endure to be able to say, yeah, I ran 36 miles.

It’s almost a realization.. “God, this hurts. Oh, this is why no one does this.”

There was a gate at about the 4 mile mark and I obsessed on getting there. The problem was, I totally misjudged where I was so I had expected to see the gate at the next turn. But after that turn, all I saw was a big uphill straightaway with a turn on the top.

After I scaled that, I thought for sure I would see that gate.

I didn’t.

This happened a few times and it was taking a definite toll on my mental state. I was ready to cry, I was ready to scream. I grit my teeth and tried to handle it but in my state, I was not equipped to handle disappointment, however self-induced.

When I finally saw that gate, the emotional well-spring deep inside me was indescribable. Much like Wilson in Cast Away, it was an insignificant, inanimate object that became more important only for the importance I gave it. I actually grinned ear to ear.

By the very end, I was running when I could and walking when I had to. I was trying to shuffle the downhills and straight-aways while walking the uphills. My time was not going to be pretty but at this point, it wasn’t about the time.

The last mile and a half had to be presentable because there were cars on the road and I didn’t want anyone stopping to offer assistance. I was dressed like a runner but one look at me would broadcast that I wasn’t doing much running and I rather looked like I needed medical attention.

The end was very anti-climatic. The last ¼ mile is uphill and I managed to run (OK, shuffle) it. Coming across the line, I stopped.

No big celebration, no possibility of fathoming what I had just done. Just sweet, sweet stopping.

Nine miles in 2 hours, 16 minutes.

I got to my car, opened the door, and my cell phone rang. It was my wife wondering if I was still among the living.

“Barely. I’ll call you back. I’m OK.”

I had to keep busy, keep moving. I made it a point to put everything in my bag rather than having it strewn all on the inside. That way when my wife helped me out of the car, all she had to do was grab a bag.

When I got close to home, I called Carrie again and she met me in the driveway where she helped me out. I went through my normal post-run routine but I wanted to experience an old tradition I started with Sir Phil back in 29 Palms. We would go on Sunday morning runs through the desert and make it back just as the sun was getting deadly. Before we left, he would put two beers in the freezer so they were near frozen when we got back.

Once we returned, nearly fainting with heat and exhaustion, we would grab the beers and in his air-conditioned house, down exactly one beer.

Because our metabolism was cranking at full tilt, the alcohol would hit our system almost instantly and like a train. This would last for about 15 minutes but again, because our system was still operating at blazing speed, we would metabolize the alcohol out of our system right away. So we got this intense shot of well-being and numbness for a short period of time and then it was back to normal.

I once made the mistake of having a second beer and that screwed me up for the rest of the day. Never again.

So I grabbed a beer after today’s run and in celebration, held it to my lips and let the sweet nectar flow.

It tasted like SHIT!

What I forgot was that after long runs, my senses are all screwed up. This was not a factor with the Sunday runs with Sir Phil because although they were intense, they were not multi-hour.

This phenomenon manifests itself in different ways. My sense of smell is heightened after a big run and I seem to smell ammonia. Not just a hint, like smelling salts right up my nose.

My vision is oozy, too. Like I’m still running or like some kind of optical illusion where my peripheral vision is oozing forward and back.

Today, I discovered that beer has an awful taste when I’m in this state, so much so that I accused my wife of defecating in it before she brought it to me. She assurred me she hadn’t but thanked me for the accusation.

So here is the final tally:

Distance covered: 36 miles
Total time running: 7 hours
Number of Gu packs consumed: 5
Number of Red Bulls consumed: 2
Number of PBJ sandwiches consumed: ½
Amount of water consumed on the run: 140 ozs
Number of Gatorades I consumed before, during, and after: lots
Boxes of raisins consumed: 1
Number of applesauce cups consumed: 1
Number of blisters incurred: 0
Permanent damage incurred: 0 (as far as I know)
Number of songs listened to on iPod: ~105
Post-run meal: hamburger stew and crackers
Amount of nap time after run: 0
Time I WANTED to go to bed: 7:30 PM
Time I ACTUALLY went to bed: 12:30 AM

Free Advice for Today: “Every day show your family how much you lovethem with your words, with your touch, and with your thoughtfulness.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

9 Comments - Join in the conversation below

  1. WOW, that is shockingly incredble! What a monumental accomplishment! I loved the quote of the day, too; hope the pain you experienced wasn’t sciatica — that killed off my own personal craptastic running life years ago — I am in serious awe of the mileage you put in just there because it sounds both sick and incredible — badwater lite?! or maybe Miller Lite in your case?! — and the story about the original beer experience in the desert had me howling. Love good stories about how to manipulate your own metabolism for fun and profit. Exactly why I love my double espresso – viscous consistency only, please — in the morning — it’s the caffeine hit for the day, tiny but medicinal. Good for you — that was just an unbelievable accomplishment. How very cool…

    Comment by Lily — February 28, 2006 @ 2:38 pm

  2. I’m going to start a little thing I like to call “Marathon Sleeping” in which I’m quite good at already. I’ve been training since December, but I’m pretty sure I could sleep the entire time it takes you to run that big marathon you have coming up – no matter what time of day.

    Comment by Killjoy — February 28, 2006 @ 2:42 pm

  3. Okay cousin you just made my 3 1/2 mile walk, 30 minutes on the eliptical, lifting and core training I did yesterday sound pretty pathetic! I am in awe at your accomplishment. Congrats and I wish you well in training and the race. I would like to train like Killjoy if I just had the time!!!!

    Comment by Sharon — February 28, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

  4. ok first of all, are you INSANE?! you’re going to give yourself an over-use injury!! seriously, as someone who doesnt think its crazy to run 36 miles…. HELLO!!!! what are you thinking?!!!

    VIPER. what.. i… ughhhhh. you have the most random training routine of anyone i’ve ever MET! you’re friggin batty.

    good job finishing, and all that, but really?! just.. ack.

    Comment by a.maria — February 28, 2006 @ 6:20 pm

  5. Lily,

    Thanks for the nice comments. I think the leg revolt was just a temp thing because of the distance.

    And this reminds me, tomorrow is Weds which is my designated Starbucks visit. MMMM, venti mocha.

    Comment by Jason — February 28, 2006 @ 6:26 pm

  6. Killjoy, are you saying you are trying marathon sessions in bed?

    Comment by Jason — February 28, 2006 @ 6:28 pm

  7. Sharon,

    Thanks but I was also paying pennance because your little sister handing me my ass the other day for judging people and their abilities.

    Comment by Jason — February 28, 2006 @ 6:31 pm

  8. a.maria, now THAT’S the kind of reaction I love.

    Exasperating fellow runners and concern for my health with a little shot of name-calling.

    Thanks, you know me so well.

    Comment by Jason — February 28, 2006 @ 6:32 pm

  9. [...] A couple of weeks ago when I ran 36 miles, I got the same question over and over and over again: why? [...]

    Pingback by How Did I Get Here? » Blog Archive » Tearin’ Up 18 — March 13, 2006 @ 8:30 pm

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