54 days until the New York City Marathon.
It's Saturday morning at 6:15 am. My alarm is piercing my ears. But I can't seem to move. Every single part of my body hurts. And Friday was an off day from all this running.
I've been training for the 2011 New York City Marathon for more than two months now, but I've never woken up as sore as I did last Saturday. A 12-hour day of moving yourself out of a fourth floor walk-up apartment will do that to you though -- and make you seriously lax about writing up a blog post, too. (Apologies to all my loyal readers -- sorry, Mom!)
While many left Hoboken for one last summer weekend down the shore, I was packing up and moving into my new place on the other side of the mile-square town. As my rockstar moving team (a few close friends and family members) and I lugged boxes and furniture around, I joked that this was way better than my usual strength training exercises. But there was nothing funny about how I felt when I woke up the next morning. Did I mention that everything hurt? Even my fingertips!
How in the world was I going to manage a 16-mile run (my longest run to date) with my Team In Training group in the city? I laid in bed for a long time, contemplating going back to sleep and ditching it altogether. But then I thought, everyone talks about having these "bad runs," and I just haven't had one yet. It's true -- even for a beginner, I've been pretty lucky and my long runs have all gone well.
So that was why I got out of bed (oh, so gingerly) -- to have a bad run. I figured if anything, it would teach me some good lessons (or make for an interesting blog post). I started my pre-long-run routine and drank a few glasses of water, ate some peanut butter toast and grabbed a pack of tropical punch Clif Shot Bloks (one of my favorite things to eat during the long runs).
I don't know whether to blame the sore muscles or the fact that I had to backtrack to the apartment to grab my sneakers (I'm not sure how I thought I was going to run 16 miles in the flip flops I walked out wearing), but a few blocks from the bus stop, I was realized I was way behind schedule. Which was confirmed a few minutes later as I watched the bus that should have taken me to the city pass right on by before I had time to cross the street and flag it down.
After a few colorful words for that early in the morning, I sat down on a bench -- already exhausted, already defeated. The next bus was coming almost a half hour later, arriving at Port Authority at the same time my practice started in Central Park. I would be late. But I was going to have a bad run anyway, right? I simply accepted this tardiness as a sign that things were going to go south today.
Not surprisingly, it wasn't the first time I'd be late for one of our training runs, I thought as I finally hopped on the bus. Earlier in the season (it was PATH's fault that time), I was almost a half hour late to practice. Luckily, another runner showed up around the same time and we ran a lovely little four-mile loop together. Ah, I remember those days when I thought that was a long run!
After a delay getting into Port Authority (of course) and a delay on the C train (of course), I had the feeling that maybe I should have never left my bed. I entered the park at 72nd Street and who did I see running toward me? The entire Team In Training group, that's who -- off for the long run up through Riverside Park and the Hudson River Greenway. I shrugged, dropped my bag off at Bethesda and tried to estimate how far each pace group was ahead of me. Ugh, now my head hurts. Too much math.
Before I got ready to take off for the baddest run ever, I ran into TNT's Coach Barb and apologized for being late. In between yawns, I checked in with her about the 16-mile route.
"16 miles is an awful lot to run on your own," she said, noticing me rub my tired eyes. "Do you think you're up to it?"
"Of course," I said. Oh no, she's on to me! "I mean, I'm just a little tired. I moved into a new apartment yesterday and didn't sit down until like 10pm last night."
Her jaw dropped and she just shook her head. "No," she said. "You are definitely not doing 16 miles today! Your muscles are already fatigued and you're just asking for an injury." She told me it would be best, and totally fine, to break up this long run over two days -- do eight miles today and eight miles tomorrow.
Well that didn't sound like a good idea to me at all. Tomorrow, I wanted to go meet friends at the beach. I already woke up at the crack of dawn this morning. I was not going to do it again.
"But what if I'm feeling good?" I asked. "What's the route for 16?" If you can't tell, I was pretty determined to get this long, ugly, sure-to-be-painful run behind me as soon as possible. But at the same time, I didn't get out of bed and miss a bus to just run a quick eight miles.
"If you're feeling good," she said with a smile, "I want you to run eight today and get up really early tomorrow and run eight more!"
Okay, okay, I got your message, Barb. But as I grabbed my water bottle and took off down the road, I wasn't sure I was actually going to listen to that message.
Sure, I had previously accepted that I was ready for a bad run. Sure, I was tired. But my pride suddenly gave me a jolt of energy. The idea of not completing one of my long training runs in its entirety felt like a failure to me. And half-assing marathon training was not something I planned on doing when I signed up for this. At least I woke up enough to get my attitude back.
I'll just see how I feel when I'm out there on the road, I thought, fully intending to be out there for the full 16. As I ran through the streets toward the river, I was admittedly distracted, so I didn't even notice a fellow runner trying to talk to me at the corner of 72nd and Amsterdam.
"Hey, are you with Team In Training?" he asked.
I told him I was, explaining that I was late and was trying to catch up to the rest of the pack. Turns out, he was in the same boat. And we were pretty much the same pace. Looks like I found my running buddy for the day.
"How much are you doing?" Raj asked. He was training for his first half-marathon -- the Hamptons Half-Marathon on September 24 -- and told me he was planning on doing a very, very easy 12 miles for the day. A few weeks back, he faced a bit of a setback, injuring his leg when he -- I cannot make this up -- ran a long training run the morning after moving into a new apartment.
I literally stopped in my tracks. "You're kidding me." I said. "I just moved yesterday and was told that I should only run eight, but I really wanted to run 16." Maybe this was a sign. Someone was looking out for me up there. I got the message, guys. Loud and clear.
"Well then, it's lucky I found you today before you hurt yourself," he laughed. "You're doing eight. And I'll make sure of it."
And he did. We had a great run, chatting about our training and quickly picking off Team In Training run-walkers along the way, but as soon as we got to four miles, Raj stopped and said, "Well, it's been fun running with you, Emily. But you have to turn around now."
Apparently, I'd woken up enough to get my attitude back, but not my common sense. That came courtesy of Raj. It still hurt my stubborn pride a little bit to turn around, but when it comes to preparing for those 26.2 miles in November, I guess it's better to be smart than injured. And to always listen to those TNT coaches.
So I finished Saturday's run, took it easy that night (again), got up early (again) and ran north along the Hudson River (again). This time, though, I stayed on the Jersey side and made my way along the surprisingly beautiful waterfront path through Weehawken for an 8-mile run (again).
It didn't take long before my body felt sluggish and I could tell I was in a funk. It felt like I was in one of those dreams when your body just can't do simple things -- like ride a bike, or in this case, run. The four miles heading north were rough. But when I reached the turn-around point, something incredible happened.
I turned south and I suddenly felt good -- not great -- but good. How did I not realize that I had been fighting some serious wind for the entire first half of the run?
And then I got to thinking (this is about to sound very much like a Sex and the City monologue, if Carrie Bradshaw were a runner), maybe that's what this marathon training is all about. Some days, some runs, some miles, you've got to face that wind and climb up that hill. Other days, other runs, other miles, that same wind will be at your back and you'll cruise on those downhills. I guess you do learn some lessons when you're out there on a "bad run(s)."
When I trotted back up to my new apartment at the end of the run, I mentally checked the 16 miles off ... even if they weren't exactly how I planned on doing them.
Then, I made it down to the shore ... for one last summer hurrah.