Whew. It has been way too long since I’ve had a chance to do this. It’s funny I go through spurts, about two months ago I had a million and one things to write about. I couldn’t get to most of them, as is usually the case and they dried up and died on the vine. As work and life got busier, there just wasn’t time to write and I just didn’t have much to say. I do keep in mind, however, that this isn’t about deadlines or trying to find a new career. This is for fun, for expression and if some of you enjoy it, all the better.
What broke the dam this time was my weekly long run. It is truly a long run these days. This week I did eighteen miles for the third time this summer. No matter how you slice it, eighteen miles is a long friggin’ way and yet on the balance I enjoy it. I won’t say I reach a runner’s high or anything like that, but the rhythm of the morning, the rhythm of the run is pretty incredible. I won’t bore you with a mile-by-mile break down, but I think a section-by-section shouldn’t be so bad.
I start out with a walk for two minutes, I cross a bridge and I see a great blue heron fly by and land for the morning in the river I live near. I get to the running, but for only twenty minutes, then another break. I think that’s one of the important parts of the long run, how to budget my energy. Trying to gut out a long run, never stopping just became an exercise in futility and frustration. As the runs got longer and I tried to gut it out, I just kept hitting the wall and slowing down. A two-minute break every twenty minutes and I actually cut my 18-mile time by almost ten minutes.
The first hour of the run is a pretty solitary affair, other than my heron friend. I run a pretty long way before my first turn and there is something about a long straight road. When I read Runner’s World about great trails and twisting and turning, I understand that appeal too, but a straightaway let’s me know I’m going somewhere, there is a horizon to chase. Looking to the distance is probably why on my last run I didn’t even recognize one of my dearest friends for a moment, I was too focused on the road ahead.
When that first hour is finished, I have my first Gu. It is pretty gross stuff, but it is easy to carry and goes down with just a sip of water. I learned my lesson after a fourteen-mile run, where I didn’t eat much at breakfast, nothing during the run and not much after except a grande coffee, a Coke and a string cheese. I had to have my wife pull the car over so I could get sick. Lucky for me the kids got to watch the whole episode too. Suffice it to say, it was not a pleasant experience all around. Another lesson learned and a hard one at that, eat right before during and after a long run. Even that isn’t a guarantee of not tossing the cookies, but it sure as hell helps.
I make the first turn and things start to change. I lot more people are out, in cars and walking their dogs. The Starbucks are busy and plenty of cyclists pass me by. I start to notice a few runners along the way as well, but it isn’t the running mecca that the lakefront is every Sunday morning.
When I hit the lakefront, it’s almost like being at a race. It feels like everyone is running. At this point I’m more than half way through my route so I feel pretty slow compared to everyone else, but it is nice to be among fellow travelers. I’ve seen a juggler almost every week, running and juggling at the same time and it just adds to the festival atmosphere I kind of feel when I’m along the lake. I must admit, the other folks running on this particular bit of lakefront aren’t the friendliest bunch. If I had to guess a little less than half of the people that I pass never even acknowledge my greeting. It’s not like I’m trying to hug them or anything, just a nod, a smile, my best laconic, “morning” whatever feels right at that moment. If a person doesn’t respond in kind the most common reactions are to look at me like I’m crazy, to look away or to give me a quick, empty stare. Whatever the response, I’m not going to stop saying hi. I truly believe that we runners are a community, perhaps a bit like a herd of cats, but we all do this out of something more than just exercise. I like that it adds to my identity, that it is a part of me.
After another long stretch, I make my final big turn. It’s about two miles from home and it’s the most twisting and turning part of the route. It also is ever-so-slightly uphill. Usually, I don’t think I’d even notice the incline, but at sixteen miles and change, it feels like a mountain. When I’ve passed the hill a couple more little turns, and I’m at the last half-mile of my route. No matter what I finish running. It might not seem like much, but again at the end of a long run it is a great feeling to push on to the finish.
When I reach my finish, I’m still a couple of blocks from home. I walk home and my neighborhood has woken up since I left. Traffic is up to speed, people are out doing lawn work and most of the interesting birds are already trying to beat the heat. I might go to Starbucks, but I’d rather just get home and lay on the floor for a little while. After a couple of long runs, when the kids weren’t home, I fell asleep on the floor which was great in that I felt pretty refreshed from the waist up. Unfortunately from the waist down I was one big cramp. The post run stretch is a good thing I highly recommend not sleeping through it.