Quote of the Day: “Last week I helped my friend stay put. It’s a lot easier than helping someone move. I just went over to his house and made sure that he did not start to load shit into a truck.”
- Mitch Hedburg
Only twice in my life have I ever gone farther.
Some will say I’m an idiot (they would not be alone). Some may have an inkling of what it took but most won’t. I don’t care. It was a goal and here I sit, at the end, successful.
Today, I ran 40 miles. The logistics was this: a five mile route out and a return trip to my car for a total of 10 miles. I did this 4 times.
The advantage to this was that I could resupply every 10 miles and it broke up the run into manageable chunks.
The disadvantage was that I’d have the opportunity to say “enough” every 10 miles.
I set my alarm to get up at 0545 so I could get out of the house by 0630 and to the back gate by 0700, starting the run at 0715.
Last night I made a run (pun) to the store to get a bag of ice, 3 gallons of water, some sports crÃ¨me, two Red Bulls, and what I thought was a special treat; Klondike ice cream sandwiches. (Funny what you can talk yourself into when you convince yourself you will be burning something in the neighborhood of 9000 calories the next day.)
When I got the stuff home, I discovered there is a difference between “Klondike bars” and “Klondike Ice Cream Sandwiches.”
My reaction: SONOFABITCH!!!!
Carrie’s: uncontrolled laughter.
Along with the stuff above, I also brought two cups of applesauce, some raisins, a warmed-up serving of Campbell’s Vegetable Beef soup in a coffee mug, a PBJ cut into fours, a bag of grapes, a half dozen Gatorades, and a box of Gu packets. Also two pairs of extra socks, two towels, a washcloth, Vaseline, four Aleeves, four 800 Mg tablets of Motrin, and two eight-hour Tylenol tablets.
For breakfast, I downed a bowl of oatmeal like I always do: spoonful-gulp of water- swallow before I taste anything. Result: a bowling ball of water and oatmeal sitting in my gut.
I also stopped by Starbucks and got a tall mocha (remember, 9000 calories today).
I was right on time all morning and I started out the run at exactly 7:16. My intention was to concentrate on the five mile leg I was on and try to complete it as close to 50 minutes as I could. I figured that it would average out to be about an hour per leg so I was looking at 8 hours of running.
Each time I returned to the car, I called home. The first half was pretty uneventful and I was feeling fine. When you’ve accepted that you are going to do 40 miles, the first 20 is not the problem.
The weather was perfect: cool, overcast, and a chance for scattered showers that hadn’t showed up to this point.
At mile 10, I ate a quarter square of PBJ and let me announce that there is nothing better on the face of the earth than a bread, peanut butter, jelly combination when your body is starting to need fuel. It was like a solid mass of God smiling.
And if that was the case, the warm VB soup was God laughing.
My first big mistake was heading out after mile 20. The advantage to returning to the car every 10 miles was that I could fill up my Camelback with water and grab a Gu for the turn-around point but for some reason, I totally forgot to grab another Gu to hide in the little key pocket of my running shorts. So I would have to go from mile 20 to mile 30 without any help.
Miles 20 to 25 was a sweat-fest. The sun had come out and I found myself suddenly soaked from head to foot. My white Under Armour (Protect This House!) shirt sucked to my torso and there was constant drippage going on from the brim of my hat. It proved to be my slowest leg, the only time I needed the full hour to get to the turnaround.
Once I got back at mile 30, life was not good. I knew that this was the test of tests. This was the point that I would want to quit the most. I had done 30, I was crushed physically, I was sick of running, and I was sitting in my car trying to come up with the fortitude to get back out there after a tough, tough battle.
I called Carrie and had to put the best face on it. I didn’t want her to worry but I really didn’t want to go back out. I never considered NOT going back out, though. Because if I did, it wouldn’t have been an accomplishment that I completed thirty but rather than I failed to do the last ten.
But I really didn’t want to go out there. I delayed and procrastinated for over a half hour, trying to convince myself it wouldn’t be that bad.
Many times I’ve discussed that moment in running that you can’t prepare for. When you are broken down and it’s either sink or swim. Either face up to the challenge or let it get the better of you. I was at that point.
But I think that was secondary to the fear that a bigger moment was waiting out there where I would be severely tested. A moment that put this one to shame. This moment’s big brother. A beast out on the course that was waiting and that I would have to look right in the eye and hope that I wouldn’t blink. One I would have to face after over 30 miles of wear and tear had broken me down to the raw materials I was made of.
I wore my soul on the outside like a windbreaker.
As I laid in the backseat, trying to muster whatever I could, I thought that this must be the feeling of waiting in a tent after a combat patrol, knowing you have to go back out there. There were guys who were really facing that TODAY and here I was, safe and sound at TBS trying to find scraps to get back out on the RUNNING course.
That helped immensely. I found a spark I needed to get back out there and get this shit over with.
I am not ashamed to admit, emotions start to go haywire when you run this far. Your body chemistry is a scrambled soup and your mind is tired of dealing with constant stress. Although I didn’t hallucinate, I can see how easy it could happen.
But I was not immune to emotion and it happened out of nowhere.
On my iPod, I had been listening to Mitch Hedburg who is a comic I like. I downloaded some of his routines and thought it would be a welcome distraction. It worked, although sometimes I had to stop because laughing out loud and controlled breathing are sometimes not compatible.
But this was not the part that got me unexpectedly. Because I set my iPod on random, I never know what I’m going to hear next which is sometimes good, sometimes bad. More often, it provides a welcomed unknown to the run that chips away at the endless repetitiveness of running long distances.
I heard the sounds of a bagpipe warming up and recalled that I had put a version of Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes on my list of almost 1000 songs. This was the first time I had run across it (excuse the pun) and I thought, “Cool, bagpipes.”
I’m part Irish. My paternal grandmother was named Marilee McCumber and had red hair and all. I never thought I had enough Irish to make a difference and always chalked up my emotions from hearing the bagpipes as just the way it affects all people rather than speaking to any blood coursing through my veins.
I was doing OK as the mournful sounds of a single pipe played the tune but what I didn’t realize that this was just an introductory.
To get the full affect of what I’m about to explain, you have to listen to the song and right at 55 seconds into the song, it happens.
I was running, enjoying the sound of bagpipes when all of the sudden, the song changed. There was a pause and then the tune resumed but this time, it sounded like a few more bagpipes joined in and in the background, an organ joined in too. It sounded like a chorus of people humming though and the combination is something near spiritual. The resonating pipes and the accompaniment filled me up like an empty glass until it was overflowing.
As I said, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I was emotionally sideswiped by this. Suddenly it was like I was in a church and every note hit my exposed soul like a sledgehammer.
It was probably the best part of this day and one of those moments you can’t really explain but you hold in your memory long after the pain of the run has healed.
By the time I got to mile 35, I was feeling oddly good. Getting out of the gate at mile 30 at my car was tough but there was not the epic battle I expected once I got out there. In fact, miles 20 to 25 were much worse than 30 to 35 but I was never comfortable. I made it out there in 54 minutes but I was still convinced that the last 5 miles would be something near death.
This time I didn’t forget my Gu packet and downed it knowing this was the last of what I had to help me and that it was time to “leave it out on the course.” I was in the final stretch and although all my reserves were long gone, it was time to dig into the crevices of my soul and bring out everything I could eek out for the finish. I was simply too tired to be stressed if that’s possible.
Starting the last 5 miles, I was confused. I had been through every single emotion today but this was not right. My feet were not killing me. I had not cramped all day. Unless I was delirious, I could run what felt faster than a 10-minute pace. This isn’t right.
At about 7 Â½ minutes, I was within site of the one mile mark and realized I was going to be under a 10 minute pace for mile 36. It was this thought that was bouncing around in my head when the sky opened up and a torrential downpour came tumbling down from the sky. The weather report had predicted scattered rains today but this was the first time it had rained at all.
At first I welcomed it because it cooled everything down. My main worry was if my underwear got wet, my chafing would go from bad to blood (hey, I was on mile 35. I don’t have to justify any thoughts at this point). I also thought that if my socks got soaked, my feet would get torn up.
All these minor worries suddenly became moot when I started to get scared, and I mean little-girl-screaming scared, about the lightning.
The image kept going through my mind of a story about me going 35 miles and then getting struck by lightning. I was worried that it would strike me and I would be instantly killed, never knowing what happened. Here one moment, gone the next.
I tried to put this out of my head but there was lightning in the sky and I wondered if the trees on the side of the road were close enough to make me NOT the tallest structure in the general area. How close is “in the general area?” I didn’t know and I didn’t think that lightning consulted stringent rules in the matter.
I had to take shelter so I walked over to a grove of trees by the civilian shooting range I was running near. I stood in the tree line for a few moments as the rain started coming down in sheets. To tell the truth, I was more worried about my iPod getting wet than anything else. I had visions of it shorting out and me scrambling to get a new one bought and set up before my marathon on May 6th.
It was this thought that convinced me to take shelter in a bathroom. It was one of those wooden structures you find while camping: two little rooms, one with a piss trough and one with a row of toilet seats built into a wooden shelf.
Luckily, it was not used much so there was no rank smell. It was dirty with dust and cobwebs but it was dry and a place to sit.
I didn’t know what to think. Was this a blessing because I was in a dry place out of danger or was it God’s joke to interrupt the last 4 miles of a 40 mile run?
I sat there for almost a half hour wondering what to think. It was a contradiction: I was in a toilet house but there was a diffused light coming through high screened windows that gave it an almost church sanctuary feel. It was pouring outside but the light mixed with the dusty dry air inside created an even more “spiritual” look. There was silence except for the rain coming down.
In my depleted state, I couldn’t decide if I was seeing too much into this. I was, after all, sitting in a bathroom during a rainstorm.
When the storm passed, I got back on the road and it was considerably cooler. The sun was peeking through so everything glistened with wetness and the edges of the clouds were kissed with golden highlights.
I should have expected it, but I didn’t. I was rested and as I ran, I felt refreshed. This was something I had never experienced and something I had never expected. I came out for mortal combat with these last 10 miles and instead, I almost felt that God was rewarding me for what I had persevered through up to this point.
OK, Jason, you passed. Here is my gift to you for the ending.
I finished the last 5 miles in 53 minutes, only 3 minutes past a 10 minute mile. A 10:36 pace.
I’d like to say the run ended in storybook fashion and when you consider that I went 40 miles, the distress I felt in the last 1 Â½ mile IS storybook. But it was not void of pain.
I could smell the barn, as the saying goes. The last 1 Â½ is the TBS PFT course and I am so intimately familiar with this stretch of road that I know every bump. It took me about 15 minutes to cover this stretch but in the elongated time warp that is mile 37.5 to 40, I couldn’t seem to get the run over with. It felt like I was on my treadmill as my sense of time completely went out the window.
All I remember is that I was going to hear one more song before I got to the finish line and I hoped it would be a good one because I had long lost the simple ability to reach back and push the button for the next song.
It ended up being “Every Breath You Take” by the Police and I thought “Good ‘nuff. It has the word ‘breath’ so I’ll take it.”
Suddenly, it was over. There was no crowd, no big emotional ending. In fact, my main thought was to take inventory.
OK, I didn’t cramp.
My legs are very tired but my knees and ankles are fine.
My feet are tender but no hot spots. No blood. No blisters.
I have some chafing but nothing debilitating.
My neck hurts.
My shoulders hurt.
My back hurts.
I had a touch of nausea at one point but stomach’s fine.
My epiditimitus was no factor.
My temperature was normal to the temperature outside.
Good, I can go home.
I stopped at 7-Eleven to collect my carrot. About the last 10 miles, I got it in my head that a mega-Slurpee consisting of layers of Coca-Cola and Wild Cherry flavors was just the ticket. I had rewarded myself of this particular treat a few runs back but the difference then was that I was really hot after the run and this time, the rain had cooled everything off to where I actually had goosebumps.
But after 2 hours of jonesin’ for a Slurpee, I wasn’t about to deny myself.
I got to the store and found that I could walk a lot more normal than I expected. My white polyester running shirt had an inexplicable brown hue in the front from what I can only guess were layers of salty sweat. I didn’t care what I looked or smelled like, I was going to get my Slurpee.
As I paid for it, I listened to the banter of the workers and for the first time, felt that I was different. I had just run 40 miles. It was just a normal day for these people. I couldn’t explain to them what extended mental and physical rollercoaster I had just been on. They would not understand. They couldn’t even understand enough to understand their ignorance of it.
I called Carrie on the way home and had two requests.
A subway club.
A plate of nachos with beans and tomatoes.
When I got home, she was gone so I hoisted out the cooler and emptied its contents. I got the rest of my gear out of the Pilot and made my way inside, amazed I had the energy and ability to actually do what I was doing.
I showered which was a mixture of rapturous delight combined with the pain of water mixed with sweat-salt running down my back right into the chafe zone.
Pain, folks. Unadulterated pain.
After I was done, I got into clean, comfortable clothes (and of course, Boudreaux’s Butt Paste to the rescue) and ate until I was sick. I tried to take a nap but the aching in my legs was such that sleep was not possible. I was profoundly tired but could not sleep.
In fact, I tried to go to bed again at 1:00 but Carrie and I laid in bed talking until 2:30. Finally, at 3:00, the draw of the leftover Subway sandwich was too much and I did something I have never, ever done: got up in the middle of the night to eat.
I still couldn’t sleep so I sat at the computer until 5:00 AM. Of everything that happened today (yesterday), this was the most unexplainable.
I guess there should be some overall summation of what 40 miles means. When I ran a marathon last month, I couldn’t imagine running another mile. When I ran 36 recently, another 10 feet seemed unattainable. Now I ran 40 and can’t imagine going farther, although I’ve done 50 before.
This was the line of thinking I entertained when I realized that there are 100 mile races and even 135 miles races under the worst conditions imaginable that I aspire to some day. Although 40 miles would seem to most to be an epic endeavor, if I could barely make it, what about doubling that? Tripling it?
What is wrong with me? How can I belittle “only” 40 miles like that?
Because that’s the way I work.
So I have to force myself to not do that. I ran 40 fu^%$ miles today. Forty. I did it because I got it in my head that I would do it and at 0545 I jumped out of my bed knowing that the day had a lot of pain waiting for me. But I got up, I went out there alone, and from the depths of only myself to help me along, I reeled in 40 miles.
I did it and you can sit there and scratch your head and map yourself onto me and wonder why the hell I would put myself through it. You can take your values and your abilities and try to judge me for what I choose to do but if you do, don’t you dare judge me in a negative light because it’s something that you can’t/won’t do. I don’t want to hear it and I don’t expect you to understand. What I DO expect you to understand is that it was a monumental challenge by my standards and I achieved it today. Maybe for you, that would be something less epic but still worthy of respect.
No one forced me.
No one pushed me.
No one pulled me.
Nothing would happen if I failed.
Nothing would happen if I quit.
Nothing would happen if I succeeded.
No one would put a medal around my neck at the end.
All I have to show for it is aches of Biblical proportions.
But I did it. I have no proof but I don’t need any.
Come to think of it, I should have started and ended this blog with one phrase:
40 miles today.
Free Advice for Today: “Some things need doing better than they’ve ever been done before. Some things just need doing. Others don’t need doing at all. Know which is which.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.