Sunday was the day for my high-water distance 21 mile NYC Marathon prep training run. I always try to do three runs in the twenty mile range before a marathon. Usually something like 20 miles, 21, then 20. Sometimes I do three, sometimes I do two but three is always the plan to begin with, at least.
After my first 20 miler two weeks ago and the leg destroying 15.5 trail running last weekend, I was as curious as all of you about how this would turn out. My right shin was still a bit tender from the trails at DwD last weekend and both quads had been complaining like sweatshop workers from this week’s track work. And like a good sweatshop supervisor, I ignored them and told them to work harder anyway or get turned out on the street.
Once you've built up your stamina and overall conditioning for regular 17-18 mile runs, you know that the first 15 miles of a long run are no sweat. Well, not no sweat literally but figuratively. I’m a sweater by nature. I sweat a ton. Sometimes I have to change my shirt after going #2 in a poorly ventilated restroom. Three miles in to any distance, I look as if I've been dipped in magic waters.
But the hard part comes in those last 5 miles. Everything else is just biding time until you get to about mile 15-16 and then the legs want to start chiming in with their opinion about this whole twenty mile run business. Funny thing is…it is never the cardio that gets me. My breathing is nice ‘n easy; my hair, moist but impeccably well-coiffed; pecs, buoyant and inviting. Legs? That’s where the trouble starts. The one constant through all the years – somewhere around mile 17 – has been the soreness in the legs. Marathons have rolled by like an army of steamrollers. They’ve been erased like a blackboard, retrained, and erased again. But leg pain has marked the time. The entire preceding paragraph is all my invention by the way.
Twenty miles is the distance that exposes your body’s weak spots. For most of you, that probably means your jaw or looks or sense of humor hurts. For me, that right shin and left hip and quads were aching. When you enter the twenty mile zone, it’s payback time for any pre-existing weakness you were able to cover up on shorter distances.
As I limped into the house and barely managed to stop myself from curling up on the floor and sucking my thumb for an hour, I poured a nice tall glass of chocolate milk. There is nothing better tasting after a long run than chocolate milk. It’s like having Blatz beer injected directly into your veins.* Try it and see. As I gulped it down, I noticed my daughter peering at me strangely, as if I was James Earl Jones that just wandered into the house. I was seated at the table rocking back and forth and stamping my feet. Oh, the right shin wanted to cramp out and I was battling by the second to keep it stretched and loose. I've had a shin cramp one other time – during the marathon leg of the Goofy Challenge – and it took out the calves and feet with it as my entire lower leg turned into a pretzel. I smiled meekly and croaked “I’m fine” in between convulsing and stamping feet. I must have looked like a Crystal Blatz addict.
But the 21 miles were accomplished. After a half hour of torturous leg pain, my body gave in and me and my stupid marathon plans won again. In two weeks time, as I set out for my last 20 miler, I’m sure I’ll have completely forgotten about this run. So load up the canon and fire off the 21 Run Salute! Stand on an aircraft carrier 8 years prematurely and declare Mission Accomplished! Crush a case of Milwaukee’s finest! Whatever your preferred form of celebration.**
But the celebration shall be short-lived. The marathon waits for no one. It does not care about your tough training runs or leg pain. It cares only about the distance and the people who dare to run it. It reminds us of all that was once good, and that could be again. And people will come, reader, people will most definitely come.
I came up with the preceding paragraph entirely on my own.
* "Crystal Blatz"
** For me, it was actually standing around a soccer pitch and watching the filly knock in 4 goals (and hit two other crossbars, arrrgghhh) in a 5-1 victory over one of the better club teams in southeast Michigan. Like how I added a soccer update in there?! Buried it right down here in the asterisks so you’d have to work to get it this time. Clever, no? Don’t worry, soccer season ends in less than three weeks.
Ian introduces himself at Bottle Fed Parents today. You might remember him as the guy who used to call himself Vanilla and leave snarky comments here before I chased him out of run blogging. Go there and give him a gentle pat on the back and a "Nice job Buddy!" like people do to the slow kid. Go ahead and pop over for a visit to the BFP.