Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Weekend Report: Some Long Runs are Longer than Others

My friend Meredith is training for a trail half-marathon this fall. A local training group meets on Saturdays to do a long run on the course, so Mer thought it would be a good idea to meet them and familiarize herself with the trail before the race. She invited me to come along, and obviously I said yes – I love trail running, and any excuse to get off the sidewalks of DC and the Rock Creek Park bike path is an irresistible opportunity.

We drove 45 minutes into Virginia to meet at the trail head at 8:30am on Saturday. This strikes me as entirely normal - I come from a family that thinks nothing of driving over an hour for a good run (I know, I know, at least we recycle!).

We met the group of about 20 as they were about to leave. The leader explained the course markings, announced 8 and 13 mile distances, and off we went.

Thirteen miles is long for me, but nothing to be too concerned about. However, I was tired on Saturday. Not just running tired, orbig-night-last-night tired, but entire-week-of-sleep-deprivation-plus-hill-repeats tired.

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, this run turned into a bit more of a challenge than I was expecting. The trails were minimal, and covered with a layer of last fall’s leaves plus a latticework of roots. For a lot of it, we were running horizontal to a drainage system – meaning that we went steep-downhill to a creek bed, then steep-uphill to a ridge, then steep-downhill into another creek bed, etc., etc. (you get the idea). It was hard to get into a rhythm because I had to constantly adjust my pace and stride for all the freaking hills!

As I neared the parking lot, I looked at my watch (who am I kidding? I was looking at my watch quite often on this run). It was at 71 minutes. “Wait, what? That can’t have been 13 miles…” Alas no, it was not. I learned the sad truth from one of the organizers. “Those of you who are done, please sign out, those of you going on to do the next five, the trail is right there, out and back,” she said over a cooler of Gatorade.

“Are you freaking kidding me?!?” I shrieked (in my head). I was tired. I’ve never been quite clear on what runners mean when they talk about “bonking” or “hitting the wall” on a run. But I do know that I was bonking into all kinds of walls that day. And only at 8 miles! Perhaps in the future I should do more than a handful of granola for breakfast.

But my pride and self-respect got the better of me. Eight miles does not a long run make – I forced myself to keep going and do the add-on. “Just a mile, and then you can turn around,” I told myself. “Ten is good, just do ten.”

The second half of the trail was much nicer, and I ended up doing 12 (may as well, right?). Overall, mission accomplished. I got back to the parking lot shortly after Mer had finished her intended 8 miles, and we signed out and thanked the organizers.

“So that was a terrible idea!” Mer announced as we got into her car.

“Oh my gosh, I know,” I agreed.

“Freaking hilliest run EVER,” she added.

“It was like the hardest 12 miles I’ve ever run!” I commiserated.

Mer: “My mom is going to hate doing that half-marathon!”

Me: “Dude, I don’t know how you’re going to do it, glad it’s not me.”

Mer: “Yeah, I don’t know about this, maybe it was a poor choice…”

We paused and let that sink in. “So are you going to their next training run?” I asked.

Mer: “Yeah.”

Me: “Alright, I’ll come with you.”

Another week, another long run…