Cramps and Victory . . .

Me looking very cankley about 8.5 miles in to
my run while the 7:35 AM sun still hung low.
If it is Wednesday, I'm talkin' 'bout running. This week is a little bit different. This post, you see, is about the day I started to feel slightly confident about my running.

Let me set the scene . . . Sicily. 1928. I kid.

This Saturday, like every Saturday for the last nine straight weeks (acknowledging that I had to push my Saturday run last week to Sunday), was the longest distance I have ever run in my entire life. The GoRun Wichita people really, truly DO know what they are talking with the Start2Finish prep program. Never more than you can chew - always enough to have you ponder the strength of your teeth and the resolve of your jaws. 

This Saturday was NINE miles. Nine. For some reason, from the minute I put it on my calendar, I've been scared. Everything from two miles to six miles seemed possible. The seven and eight mile marks were dicey and I knew they would be challenging but I had the knowledge that there was "over half way there" in both those and that would make them exciting. By ten miles I would be so accustomed to running it wouldn't matter. NINE miles was odd for me. Nine is just a long, long distance with no benchmark to make it exciting.

I woke up early and hit the trail long before the sun came up, as always. I had a (somewhat) unique strategy to manipulate the running paths to my benefit (there are four mile, three mile, and two mile path options - I planned to run all three only repeating a few hundred yards of scenery (I hate repeat scenery when I'm cranky, sweaty, out of breath, and in public)).

I can honestly say - from the very first stride - I felt confident. I was sure that the disaster of last Saturday would not be repeated. I knew it was going to be a good, honest, fair fight between me and Sedgwick County Park.

The first mile flew by. The second didn't seem to take much longer. Before I knew it I was 3.5 miles in and was sweating just enough (the air was cool, the breeze soft, and the sun shaded) to remind me that I was running but my breathing exercises are finally to a point where I'm not afraid of suffocating anymore. I crossed the four mile mark. One path down.

I started on to the second path (just 50 minutes in to my run (yes - I was setting a personal speed record)) and ran right past my Start2Finish buddies who were just congregating for the morning. I zipped through mile five. In mile six I realized I had YET TO STOP RUNNING . . . I had not yet broken stride for a single stride . . . no walking. A record in and of itself. Also - my iPod (randomly enough) -  had repeated Ya Hey thrice to my great pleasure.

This was my greatest run to date and I knew it. I was present for it. I was ENJOYING it. I started mile seven realizing my days of fearing running were probably past me. I was still not good at it. I'll never be "a Runner" and I'll never love it but I was at peace in the status that some good weather, a good set of songs, some comfy shoes, and some fresh asphalt could all combine to make me enjoy the process. I could do this. I was doing this. I finished mile seven. Sooooo close, I thought (nearly 25% of the run left, in reality). Then, it hit me. I had to pee. Really bad. I wondered how long I'd had been just ignoring the urge.

I made a silly choice. I stopped to pee. It could not have been more than a minute or so and it was at about 7.5 miles. Upon my first stride (always the right foot, by the way), I felt a burn in my right calf. Is this a charlie horse? Am I cramping? Is this real life (David After Dentist forever, fools)? Uh oh.

I'm just 1.5 miles from running NINE. I've yet to walk any distance not in a public restroom (I literally ran to the door and ran my first (right foot) step after opening it again). I realized in that moment that I had made just one, simple, foolish, HUGE mistake . . . I had not had anything to drink in two hours and nearly eight miles of running. My body was dry and I think the pee took the last of my fluid reserves with it.

I took the next half mile with nothing more than a limp - it was as ugly as the first half mile I ever tried to continually run. I turned the last turn (at the end of mile eight, start of mile nine) for the homestretch. I made it a quarter of way and my left leg started bitching at me too. I was running like a person that had stumbled upon a bee's nest. Arms and legs just thrashing about. NO calm to be found. Posture was garbage. Focus was gone. Air sucking and blowing. NO way to behave. I pulled out my cellphone (no - not to call 911 - but to check my stats). I was less than a mile from finishing the longest, fastest run of my short running life. Noooooo!

I sat down on a fence post and rubbed my legs. I asked the running universe to conspire in my favor (I can't ask G-d for any favors on Shabbat). I stood up and figured "Screw it - I gotta' finish" - and I did. Victory was mine. Through the cramps and through the torment (or fire and flame to quote Vampire Weekend). I ended NINE MILES at about 14:05/mile (I would have been closer to 13:30 without the bathroom break and cramping that added six or seven minutes to my last miles). This was nearly amazing. This felt great. This was a set of legs that needed some of that delicious, delicious Powerade Zero I had in the car. I learned a few lessons in those hours (the biggest one being how important drinking DURING long runs really is). The second being that I can run nine miles. 

I feel more running confidence now than I ever have. I'm more ready for the half marathon than I thought I might with THIS much time still to prepare and improve. I am finally at a point where I can say to people "If I can do it - you can probably do it" without feeling like a fraud. I can't WAIT, candidly, to try my hand at TEN miles NEXT Saturday (we have a perhaps too easy (Is this a trap, Kevin?) SIX on the schedule this week). I'll live in the glory of nine miles for 14 full days. I wonder how long the glory of 13.1 will last?