Unpredictably a foul disturbance of a mood blew in earlier this week and it’s been swirling around in a storm above my head. I couldn’t have forecasted it and according to radar there is no end in sight.
It’s been one of those weeks.
Of course, last night on a long run I lost it. Looking back now I see that I was operating on nothing but fear. Fear or failure, fear of what if I can’t do this, fear of what if I really am slow. Before I even took the first step I had already filled my head with fears. I might as well have not even started the run. It wasn’t going anywhere that I didn’t already know.
The run started around 5:30 pm. Sure, I can do my workouts at any time of the day. That is the benefit of working at home. But, after awhile it gets kind of lonely. It’s not that I need someone to hold my hand during a workout, I would just like someone else to be out there with me. To notice if I don’t make it back to the car. To share the sweaty ride home. To be quite honest, I'v had enough of training alone. I have done 6 months of workouts in my basement or by myself. I need people.
All day it was beautiful and sunny. But I was waiting for Chris to run. He is and will always be my training partner. I miss blowing my heart rate zones to hang on his rear wheel, hoping he doesn’t gap me by 25 yards in the pool or watching him disappear on the run. For tonight I had a great plan: let’s do the long run at Waterfall Glen and the hop on our cross bikes for an easy spin. An adventure! I couldn’t wait. But the moment we got in the car, we noticed two things: impending storms and a mess of traffic on the highway.
Over 35 minutes later we arrived at Waterfall Glen. We live about 15 minutes away. We sat on 3 different highways trying to go about 5 miles….88, 294, 55. I completely forget how fun it is to commute to workouts after normal working hours. It’s not fun at all! But immediately I fell back into the mindset of I just worked all day, drove 30 minutes to get to the workout and come hell or high water I will do this run.
Timely thought – because as we pulled into the parking lot it starting pouring rain.
A storm brewed outside, but inside the car was quiet. Without words, we were saying to each other that in between storms, traffic and tolls we were nearing what you might call “wit’s end” or the point at which you are ready to microburst yourself to say “FUCK IT LET’S GO DRINKING INSTEAD!” Secretly I had thoughts of myself in full running gear at a bar toasting to the storm with a glass of wine. Alas I convinced myself I needed this run. In this storm. On this course.
Twenty minutes later the rain subsided. Now or never, strap on the Fuel Belt and let’s go.
Waterfall Glen is a local gem. A crushed limestone path of 9.5 miles, marked out, winding through a forested area with rolling hills. I chose this course because it was marked. I don’t run with a Garmin and have no clue how fast (or slow) I go. Usually pace is irrelevant – it’s about the run, how it feels. But today I wanted to be sure I dropped the pace accordingly.
Foreshadowing: sometimes you should just stick with what you know – or what you don’t know.
We started the course the wrong way – that would be the uphill way and within the first 2 miles I was already feel like death sat it’s big ass on me. It was so humid I could barely breathe. The rain had started again. And the path itself was mushy. The first 2 miles were slow – for me – and confirmed not only by pace marker but by the fact that already Chris was pulling away.
The next 4 mile were cruising. Not hard but not easy. This felt great. One entire mile in fact was downhill. That would also be the only mile that I cracked an x:xx pace. Normally I can hit that x:xx pace no problem. Today it was like someone was poking me in the ass with a hot stick and still I was getting nowhere.
More rain. And then, a deep puddle. About 20 feet long. Chris takes off his shoes and walks through it. That, my friends, is how you catch path disease. I found a way to climb to the dryer, higher ground and ran the path parallel to the train tracks. Didn’t do much for the pace but at least I didn’t have wet feet.
Waited for Chris to redress his feet and then we were cruising along together. He complained about last running an x:xx mile. I told him that mile included his 100 meter walk barefoot walk through a puddle. But I also felt his pain. I could tell that we were both being mentally beat down by this run today. It doesn’t happen often and what you do during runs like this are choices and thoughts you’ll never forget….at best I would keep going. At worst I would break down.
This was not my best day.
Chris begins pulling away from me. I’m trying to keep my HR in a happy place without pushing too hard too soon so I let him go. He leads up on a wrong turn that added up to more than an extra mile. Or maybe not…according to my watch the 5th mile took me 16:53. With the way the run had gone so far – that very well could have been my pace.
Back on right course and it was time to start pushing the last 2 miles hard. Hard on a day like this is relative. The entire run had been hard. The pouring rain which now had my shorts sticking to my legs like cellophane was hard. The gravely limestone kicking up into my shoes was hard. The humidity was hard. The puddles making my shoes over-wet was hard. The Fuel Belt which right now felt like a bucketful of rocks attached to my waist was fucking hard. Can you actually “go” hard when all of the conditions facing you are hard? And if so, does that make the effort even harder?
Holy hell pushing to hard hurts. The rain was pouring and the only thing I could hear over the fat drops slapping the path were my feet stomping into the thick ground. Fast and fluid? Perhaps that was the rain running down the hills but not me. Slog, slog, slog…..and it hurt. I was cramping. I could feel the lactic acid just pooling inside of me begging me to stop. According to the mile marker I was giving it my all and still coming in at what I would call a too slow pace. What does it take to break x-f-ing-minutes-per-mile today? The thoughts started storming – if I can’t do it here, how can I do it in a race? Since when can’t I do something? What is wrong with me? All of a sudden the work seemed worthless, the thick air, the thoughts and…choke….I stopped.
I blew up in tears.
I had my moment and knew it was coming – the radar had said so. I tried hard to fight it off but at some point your guard is let down. I always tell my athletes to allow themselves to hit rock bottom. It’s ok, you’re human, you can hurt and get a little beaten. But always go back. That way you teach yourself that you can have your moment, recover and move forward again.
And so I must continue – one more wet mile to go. I start pushing hard again and see two geese in the path. They look pissed. But then again if I had to live in the pissing rain all day I’d be pissed too. I get a little too close and apparently did not run fast enough for even them so one of them flies towards me, into me and hits my leg with it’s wing.
That's it, I have screamed the “crazy woman in the forest preserve” scream. I fucking hate geese. I hate Canada for sending us their geese. I hate the rain. I start crying again. But I keep running. This is madness. I’ve been bushwhacked by a goose, I’m running as hard as I can and then…I see Chris running back towards me. He says, come on we are almost done. I want to tell him to go away. You know when you are in your place of hurt and you just cannot be consoled? That is where I was. And, he was keeping up with me going his easy pace while I was audibly breathing, huffing, and hurting out there. I was infuriated and just wanted to see the damn mile marker that said “9” or was it 10.5 or 11. It felt like 20.
Get me out of this run.
Finally I was done. I wanted to explode in tears again but instead told Chris I just wanted to finish the last 10 minutes of my run. By myself. In those last 10 minutes I shuffled so slow and just wanted to be out of the rain. I made myself finish more for mental toughness than anything else. I also just wanted a few more moments to cry. At this point I was so wet it didn’t matter if I added more to my face. Why more tears? At this point, why not. Something had to release the pain because shuffling after increasingly hard miles was not the pain reliever I was looking for.
We sat soaked and gritty from the path for the drive home. I let out my frustrations. Chris told me it was a tough day, the mile markers could be wrong, the path was too soft - he had some really good reasons for why it felt like a self-destruct. Of course I wanted to hear none of them.
This morning I looked back to the piece of paper where I wrote down my splits and HR – and I realized I didn’t self-destruct. I actually held a decent pace. And the HR shows. But what about the storm in my head? Yikes. That needs to be managed. Maybe that’s just the consequence of working hard – it hurts and sometimes you’re not sure if you can handle it. You become gripped by fear. It’s like the last few miles of Ironman where you feel like you are literally running for your life just to get out of the damn thing. All that in 12 miles of tempo descend.
Fear, failure – all of this stuff clouds our head into a storm of what ifs. The way out? Letting go, quieting the mind, exhibiting patience. It only took 12 miles to realize that. The good news is there are many miles to go. I will attempt this run again. I will not cry. I will break x:xx pace. And if I see that goose standing on the path? I will ship it right back to Canada where it came from. Take your stupid bird back and get out of my way. I've got a pace to hit.