Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Anatomy of a Run

Sunday I went for a run- actually, the longest run I've ever done. 11 miles. For those of you that don't run, that's a long run. I am training for the Inverness Half Marathon on March 14.

In 2008, Mike went to Washington, DC for a summer internship and Opie and I were at home on our own for 3 months. Our lovely friends Molly and Todd suggested I do a 10 mile race with them. I'd never done anything like it so I said yes. I knew it would be good for my health, and I knew this would be a great way to tire Opie out. I figured I would train, do the race, wear the t-shirt incessantly, brag about my running prowess, and then never do it again. Little did I know this would set off a new lifestyle for me. Now, I buy running magazines, I ask for running clothes and running gizmos for Christmas, I talk about running to anyone who will listen.

I like running because my success and failure rest entirely with me. If I work hard, I see results- faster times, longer distances, and I feel stronger. It's something that's entirely mine. When I do well, it's because I worked hard. I can push myself. I can set myself higher standards than I've ever set- and there's a tangible result when I accomplish them. I love that running is almost always more about your mental strength than physical endurance. I love that it is so elemental. It truly is mind over matter.

I have developed various route for my runs- I have a 4 mile, a 6 mile, and a 10 mile route, all of which I can add or subtract small bits of to make a longer or shorter run. I go through phases on each run. The beginning phase is the 'awkward teenage romance' phase. First, I have to warm up,  muscles figuring out how to do this, not being able to believe that I am allowed to do this, adjusting my clothes (which I still haven't figured out how to get to stop riding up), fixing my gizmos into comfortable places. Once all this is sorted out, I realize that I am no longer happy and have to redo the whole thing.

The second phase is the good bit. This is the 'honeymoon phase'. It lasts anywhere from 2-9 miles. This is a lovely phase. Just go. My legs know what to do now, I don't even have to think. Everything is clicking. I am unstopable here.  I set my pace to my music, Chemical Brothers first, then Black Eyed Peas, then some Aerosmith, Ben Folds, and finish strong on Aretha Franklin. I find comfort in the consistency of this routine.

The third phase is tough... perhaps this is the 'midlife crisis' phase of my run. I dislike running now. I am almost home, and I just want to stop. I don't even have muscles in my legs any more, only lactic acid. I am questioning why I decided this distance was a good idea, why did I tack on that extra mile? I want somebody to pick me up in a car and feed me dark chocolate and take me home. 

The last phase is when I am home, creatively titled the 'home' phase. I walk in, exhausted, to my beautiful husband and dog, waiting for me. Opie licks my face as I try to stretch, and Mike gets me water or a gatorade. I shower, ice my knees, and rest with Mike. This is how it should work. This is when I like running.

Sunday, 3.5 miles in, my iPod suddenly stopped working. I was 3.5 miles in, facing a big hill, and without music. I haven't run without music in a year.  I didn't know what to do. Now that I am writing this, it seems ridiculous, but in my mind, this was a bit of a challenge. Ok, I thought. This is good. I will run and have to set my pace by how I feel instead of the beats. That's fine.

I started paying attention to what was going on around me, watching the houses go by, smiling at other runners, listening to the distant sound of the ocean, watching the clouds from the incoming rain storm, realizing that I breathe in exhaust fumes when big trucks go past... As I made my way down to the beach, I realized how beautiful it was. The winter ocean is incredible. It is green, angry and violent. It is unlike the oceans of my childhood, with their calm, patient waves. This ocean is insatiable. It is knocking wood barriers out of the way like they are twigs, it is rolling boulders onto the beach, even the seagulls won't go near it. There is a steady mist from the waves hitting the concrete barriers... the sun and wind are at my back and I just go. The other people on the beach are walking with their hoods up, bracing against the wind. I smile to myself, because I am not cold, you silly other people, I am loving the entire thing.

I get to the end of the beach and turn around. Holy crap. It's like the entire world changed when I got to the end of the beach. You know in scary movies, when the girl goes down a dark hallway by herself and pauses to take that last look over her shoulder, and when she looks back, there's the killer? That was this. That beautiful storm that was coming in- yeah, it's here now. The waves are no longer a romantic kind of angry, they are scary, and they are coming over the concrete barrier. The people with their hoods up are now smiling as they walk towards their cars, hugging their soon to be warm children, laughing to themselves as I run past- 'that silly girl, she looks freezing, and she doesn't even have an iPod. Bet she's American.' I am running through yucky sea water and litter, and am cold and wet. And as the weather does only in Aberdeen, the rain suddenly changes to hail/sleet/snow. A mix I call 'winter yak'.  I look down at my Garmin and realize, I still have 4 miles to go. I have to get home. I contemplate picking up the bus at a near by stop... I have no money. I could go to school and wait out the storm... I forgot my ID. I could call a friend... I have no phone. What was I thinking when I left the house? I have no way to do ANYTHING! Literally, all I can do is run home. Deep breath. Here we go.

I slog through the next 3 miles. I keep going because I know my shower is warm, and Mike is making chili for dinner. At the last mile, I have a short hill, then a long windy flat directly to my house. I get to the bottom of the short hill- all of a sudden, my legs reawaken. I didn't even realize they were numb. I start to go up the hill. I go hard, all I can hear is my desperate gulps of air and my feet hitting the the pavement. I get up to the top in no time, and am welcomed onto the flat. I start running- like really running. I can't believe that my legs still have juice. I am not in charge any more, by body is doing it all by itself. It is an amazing feeling. I guess this is the runner's high that I've heard about. I did my last mile in 7 minutes 44 seconds.

This is why I like doing this so much.


  1. This is beautiful, I felt like I was with you every step of way. It makes me angry that I had to do this in a gym tonight because my legs won't allow me to bask in this feeling. Well done you.

  2. this is great sliz. i'm glad you're writing. it makes me feel like we're having a conversation. and 7.44...dang girl. you do it. i wish i could find that space in running. i'm off to the gym tonight to start a regime and hopefully i'll find my "gym space"

    love you. love this.

  3. Very nice writing! For the record, I've restarted my running and I don't experience it anywhere close to this level.

  4. Woah! We need to be in the same city so we can train together! 7:45 - 7:50 was automatic for me up until 2 weeks ago when I just decided to stop running. No idea why. I just ran out of mental gas for it. But yesterday I put the shoes back on and got out there. Getting out the door is the hardest part.

    Are you on Nike+? If so, look me up and be my buddy. Keep running!