The thing about training for this race in the dead of winter is the unpredictability of the weather. Our first really long run of the season was in the aftermath of our first snowstorm in December. Our last long run before the race was scheduled for this past Saturday. We had planned on a 21 to 22 mile run at Salem Lake, but the forecast was calling for 10-15″ of snow through the night on Friday. As the clouds began to gather and the temperature dropped, it became clear that our long trail run was probably going to be impossible.
I was in Ingles with every other lunatic in Surry County on Friday afternoon and ran into Crystal in the nearly depleted bread aisle. “It looks like we might not get our run in tomorrow,” she lamented. It was definitely not ideal. If we waited, then our long run would be too close to race day, at least closer than we had hoped, and even then, with continued cold temperatures, the trails would probably still be covered. 22 miles on the road was not what we were hoping for. “Too bad we didn’t go today,” I said.
And that’s when the early signs of mental illness first reared their ugly heads. “Well, what time is it supposed to start tonight?” asked Crystal. A long run at the park and at night was not a foreign concept to either of us. We have met many nights in the cold darkness of the Elkin Park for longer runs; however, that’s when our long runs were more in the 60 to 75 minute range. What we were considering would take close to four hours, and with Crystal’s fragile foot, we needed to stay on soft surfaces. That meant 20 loops of the Elkin track in order to reach 22 miles. Quickly, we checked out with our groceries, hurried home, put together some fuel and water and waited for our husbands to get home from work to keep the kids. We met at 6:30 as the snow was just beginning to fall.
Now, 20 laps does not sound like much. Crystal said we should think of it as 5 x 4 laps, but believe me when I say, 20 laps is a lot. I’ve had a hard week this week for many reasons, and my energy has been low so I wasn’t expecting a great run to begin with; however, at 7.5 miles, it became very clear to me that this particular run would be one of those mental toughness workouts that suck so much while you’re doing them but that will serve you well later on… if you survive.
I felt like tee-total crap for the majority of the run, but there were moments in the stillness (because Crystal was kicking my ass and had left me at that point) that I felt such contented peace. I know that sounds crazy because in the same moments, I was suffering and longing for a warm bed, but when I took the time to look up, to see the snowflakes in the stream of light from the streetlamps, to see the layer of white across the gray branches, to see the moonlight reflected on the creek and to hear the complete quiet with only the crunch of snow beneath my feet, my mind felt completely at ease. I realized that when I was berating myself for falling further behind or whining to myself about my sore arches or bracing my shoulders against the cold, I was horribly uncomfortable, miserable in fact. But when I looked up and thought to myself, “Hey, it’s just a long run in the snow. Relax and enjoy it,” my discomfort and misery was cut in half. I think there might be a life lesson in that.
Ultimately, Crystal finished with 22 miles, her goal for the weekend, and although her ass was sore, I think she felt really good about it. I finished with 21 miles, having stopped to switch shoes and walk one mile, at which time I decided running was a better option than hypothermia. It was not the most fun I’ve ever had while running; in fact, it may have been one of the worst, and that was disappointing just because I had been sort of looking forward to it, but I still feel good about it because it’s done now, and I know I can do it. Hellfire, I think I can do anything after that. Under normal circumstances, with appropriate hemoglobin levels, I think another four miles would be… not easy… but certainly within my abillity. It was good for our heads. Crystal ran a decent pace and should feel pretty psyched. I ran a terrible pace but still feel psyched because I’m as tough as I ever was. It’s one of the only things I have going for myself. That and some really strong quads.
After we drove home, very carefully since the roads were only then beginning to turn white, I stood in a hot shower for a long time, ate a spoonful of peanut butter and crawled into bed. Rob, who had already been in bed for a while, said, “How was it?”
“It was terrible, ” I said and laughed. “21 miles in the snow.”
“You’re crazy!” he laughed. “Please tell me you didn’t run all of that on a track”.
“Oh, but we did,” I said as my eyes drooped closed.
Oh, but we did.