Yesterday I ran 17 miles for my marathon training. The last long run I had done was on Feb. 6th. My second half marathon, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. I got a PR... beat my previous time by a whole 2 minutes. A huge margine for any runner. Then I headed to Ireland and Lebanon (still editing photos for the trip btw, I will post them eventually... I promise) and I didn't run for a whole two weeks. Then I came home and jumped back into work... jet lagged and emotionally overwhelmed by a bit of culture shock and processing through what I had experienced during my trip... running was the last thing on my mind. I ran two easy 5k's during the past week but it had effectively been an entire month before I had done any major amount of running.
Still, I was determined to continue my training and the 17 mile run was due this week. Since I hadn't run in a while and I knew this run would take at least a few hours, I figured I would need some inspiration... a beautiful place to run the longest distance I had ever done would make all the difference.
The trails this time of year are absolutely stunning. I can objectively say that the place I run my trails is just as beautiful... if not more beautiful than places I have been in Ireland. There is plush green every where you turn with waterfalls and overflowing creeks rushing alongside you as you run. It smells fresh and when it rains you can hear the sound of drops hitting the leaves above you... the trees shielding you from the downpour, a canopy of nature that conceals you from all the chaos that lies outside the forest. Life is everywhere you turn and you realize that running is a joy... a privilege in a place so breathtakingly beautiful.
The beginning of my run was hard... I could feel myself struggling to keep up with my intervals and I ended up needing to take more walk breaks than I would have liked. Around mile four I had made it passed the most hilly part of the run and I was relieved but also terrified when I realized I was exhausted and still had an entire half marathon to go. I stopped to take a few pictures with my phone and decided I would try and take it easy... hoping I wouldn't give into the desire to cut the run short.
By the time mile thirteen rolled around my knee started screaming in pain. I began limping as I ran and my intervals of running five minutes and walking one began to change to three minutes of running and two minutes of walking. I knew giving up was not an option but the feeling of defeat was starting to set in. By mile fourteen I began breaking down... pain shooting through my legs, my back and my knees. Everything hurt... my body was beginning to fail me and I instantly felt broken.
"How in the WORLD am I going to finish a marathon if I can't even do a 17 mile run?!" I thought as I limped through the muddy trails... rain pouring down my face. I began watching the other runners zoom past me, waving as they ran by. There is an unspoken bond between runners. We can spot each other from miles away. They're the ones with the racing shirts, compression pants, garmin watches... that determined look on their face as they tackle the trail. It has always been something I loved about becoming a runner... joining into that unspoken family of people who keep an eye out for each other. An acknowledgment that you are one of them... its usually something that makes me feel incredibly proud but this time... this time I was angry as I watched them pass me up... I had to continually remind myself that today it was about finishing... I was doing 17 miles and a 17 mile run is not about speed... it is not about competing... it is about endurance.
I finished that 17 mile run yesterday... it took me 4 hours and 16 minutes. That comes out to a 15 minute mile. According to the Jeff Galloway training method I am using.... in his book "Marathon: You Can Do It!" 15 minutes is a perfect training pace for someone who runs a ten minute mile... and that's just about where I am at. Considering that... I guess I did well and hey, at least I finished right?
Still, I can't seem to get this feeling of defeat out of my head. Running is supposed to be the one thing I can count on to give me strength... to make me feel empowered and alive. To give me the feeling that I can take on anything and conquer it with victory... but today I feel nothing of the sort. The runner's high never showed up for me... and now I am left with sore legs and a bit of a broken heart.
My body betrayed me... and for the first time running betrayed me.
Training for a marathon has been incredibly difficult and if there is one thing I have learned during this journey... is that grace is the most valuable thing I can have during this whole experience.
I may not finish every run with a beaming smile and a sense of accomplishment... but I can finish every run. Whether I limp my way to the finish or I run through it with my arms raised in victory... at least I will finish and really... isn't that what marathon training is all about?
Knowing that no matter how difficult it was... you keep going until you have run all 26.2 miles. And now matter how you feel at the end... you have finished... and that is true victory.