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What Goes Through My Head During A 20-Mile Run
The scene: Saturday, Ali and Brian’s apartment. It is dark outside.
6 AM: My alarm goes off. Apparently I hit snooze. My bad.
6:40 AM: I wake up. I realize I didn’t hit snooze but rather hit “off.” It’s fine. What’s the rush, anyway?
6:45 AM: I realize my stomach hurts. Not Crohnsy hurts, just hurts. Feels a little puffed out, a little unsettled, a little gnarly. Rather than dwell on that, I eat breakfast (two wholesomely nutritious “granola” bars by the kind folks at Entenmann’s) and go about my morning long run routine. Bathroom, abs, play around on Twitter, procrastinate…the usual.
7 AM: My stomach is still feeling out-of-sorts, and I notice I’m very, very tired. All that east-coast-to-west-coast-and-back-again travel from this week has clearly caught up to me.
My legs feel heavy and my body feels sluggish. I debate going back to bed and moving my long run to Sunday.
7:35 AM: I crawl back into bed where Brian is snoozing. I tell him I don’t feel great. He suggests resting now and long running Sunday. I think about listening to him.
7:55 AM: I’m out the door, ready to attempt a long run.
So that’s basically how the day started, you see. I didn’t feel my best, but I certainly didn’t feel my worst. And guess what? I may not feel my best on Race Day November 4. And so I decided to try and power through.
I told myself I’d attempt six miles. If at the six mile mark I felt good, I’d knock out 20 miles as planned. But if at mile six I was hurting or having a really, exceptionally tough time, I’d call it and try again Sunday.
I knew it wasn’t ideal that my head wasn’t totally in the game before I even started running. Twenty miles is a long way to go without being fully psyched.
But then something magical happened: As I was walking toward Central Park, “waiting for satellites,” I met Robin.
Robin (who has a crazy-cute dog that looks like a happy little gremlin) stopped me and told me she reads my blog. She told me about her own struggles with ulcerative colitis and, eventually, Crohn’s disease as well. She told me she, too, loves working out. She told me about all the medications she’s suffered through, and confessed that her husband reads my blog, too, and that he has caught me (on more than one occasion, apparently) bolting into the Starbucks on 96th and Lexington (and I’m not a coffee drinker, so it’s clear what I’m running in there for).
As Robin shared her story with me, I had to hold back tears. I’m not sure if I was sad or happy or overwhelmed, but hearing about all she’s been through and all the crap she’s put up with was just the butt-slap I needed to do a mental turnaround with 20 miles on the horizon.
Robin and I parted ways and I told myself I was going to run 20 miles because a few weeks ago I couldn’t…and because, on that very morning, there are so many people out there who can’t physically get themselves out of bed or out of the bathroom to run one mile, let alone 20.
Color me motivated, man.
So yes, spoiler alert, I did make it through all 20 of those miles. They weren’t fast and they weren’t pretty. Here’s proof that they weren’t pretty:
But for the first time since, actually, one year ago today, I ran 20 miles. Here’s a little look into my crazy brain so you can get an idea of what I think about when I’m long running…
OK, I can do this. I’ll do it for Robin. I can’t believe the coincidence of meeting someone I have so much in common with as I’m mentally struggling to start this run. Cool. Thanks, Robin!
Aaaand I’m running! See? This isn’t so bad!
Hey! It’s Lindsay! She’s so fast and glamorous.
Look! It’s someone wearing an I Heart Sweat shirt! It’s Dahlia! I know her! Hi Dahlia!
Time to leave Central Park. I really need to leave Central Park. I do all my long runs in Central Park. I should go to the West Side Highway now. Yes, I will do that.
That stride up ahead looks muy familiaro, which is Spanish for “I’m pretty sure that little hottie ran in the Olympics recently…”
Yes, I’m absolutely sure that’s Kara Goucher running toward me.
Should I say something? Should I wave? Should I do a switch-leap? Should I try to chase her?
No. I shouldn’t do any of those things.
Smile politely, Ali. And keep running. You creep.
Yup. That was definitely Kara Goucher.
I am definitely not going to the West Side Highway now. I am staying in the park and I will be an Elite Runner Stalker.
Another really familiar stride.
OMG it’s my favorite stride.
It’s my favorite runner.
It’s Buzu!!! Buzunesh Deba! She’s the coolest.
Act cool, Ali. Act cool.
Seeing elites training in the same park I train in will never get old.
Which way is Kara Goucher most likely to run? Do I think she’ll go onto the Bridle Path? Or maybe continue along the lower loop? Nah, she’ll probz be up for the full loop of the park. So I will do the same thing.
OK, then. Guess I’m running some Harlem Hills. Haven’t done that in a while.
So this is the west side of the park. I’ve been avoiding this and now I remember why: These hills suck. They are hurting my legs! These hills never used to hurt my legs! Why am I so weak?! I’m not even on the big hills yet! Crap.
I miss Tyler.
Here’s the first hill in Harlem. NBD. Keep the pace steady, Feller. Don’t forget to breathe. You’ll be at the top in no time.
OMG. Familiar stride. Kara’s coming!!!
I’m saying something this time.
Definitely going to say something.
Should probably figure out what to say.
Uh oh, here she comes.
WHAT SHOULD I SAY?
[Finger point in Kara's direction. Lock in eye contact.] “You are awesome!” Kara smiles sheepishly and says, “Thank you.” That was nice of her to respond and not toss me into the bushes. Cool. Insta-besties!
Look at that! I made it to the top of the first hill, I pretty much hugged K.Gouch and I’m not dying. Mission wicked accomplished.
Buzu’s coming! Buzu’s coming! She’s so elegant. I love how she runs. Running this way was the best decision ever, even if these hills are shredding my legs!
OK, Feller, what are you going to say to Buzu? Come up with something original yet honest and memorable but also maybe hilarious. Can you handle all that?
OK, idiot, now you’re out of time because she approached so quickly. Say something!
[Finger point in Buzu's direction. Try to snag eye contact.] “You’re my favorite runner!!!” Buzu smiles. No response, but a smile was probably her way of saying, “I’m working really hard right now but I definitely want to get brunch with you later. KK, see ya then, love ya!”
That was awesome.
Hey! I made it to the east side! Happiness! Joy! Flat surfaces! I’m 8+ miles in and my legs are starting to get sleepy. But I was distracted by the runner celeb sightings and made it past the six mile mark. Guess I’m going for 20!
Time for some fuel. Fruit Smoothie Honey Stinger chewy chomps, you’re my favorite. I will scarf you down now.
Oh yeah, I’m supposed to take these with water.
Look! A magical water fountain! How brilliant and convenient!
Drink drink drink.
Hopping back onto the road. Watch out for people! There are so many people! Definitely watch out for that lady with the stroller and the dog because she is working harder than you are.
Wait…is that stroller/dog lady stopping? Is she approaching me? OK, she is definitely coming over here.
Her name is Jamie! Note to self: Remember her name. Don’t ask how to spell it because that would be weird. Assume it’s Jamie. Wonder if maybe it’s Jaimie, though. Or Jaymee. Or J-Me. Or Pjamie, where the P is silent. There’s no way of knowing.
Jamie/Pjamie is awesome. She has the digestive diseases, too! She is so nice! She is saying things that are inspiring me! She is making me want to run more!
Did I just hug her? Why would I do that? Why would I press my sweaty body up against a total stranger’s? Way to blow it, Feller.
Where should I go next? I’m not ready for the Reservoir. I save that for my final victory lap.
Maybe the Great Lawn?
Maybe a lower loop or 10?
Yeah that sounds good.
Where did Kara go? She should have come around by now. I miss her. We forgot to solidify our plans for later.
I’m getting tired.
My feet hurt.
My knees are tight.
My back and shoulders are sore. Why are they sore?
Every single part of my body hurts now. There is pain in my earlobes.
Buzu again!!! She is drinking from a special water bottle! I wonder what’s in it! I smile at her. She continues to drink her Special Water. Again, I forgot to nail down plans for later when we can hang out in BFF Zone. NBD, she’ll probz email me this. Not worried about it.
Soooo I’m still running.
A cyclist! I know him! HI BRIAN! I am waving like a maniac. Brian does not see me. Or he’s ignoring me on purpose. Let me shout his name so he sees me. “Hi Brian!!!” There we go. He waves. That was fun.
Look! Meggie and Jocelyn again! And Meggie gave me a High 5. I love hand smacking on the run.
Time for my final fueling. I’m 15 miles in and I could go for a fruity snack.
Chomp chomp chomp.
Ugh, need water to go with these. I hate stopping. It makes starting up again too hard. But fine. I don’t want to die of over-electrolyting or whatever happens when you don’t follow the carefully-printed instructions.
There’s a water fountain. I will stop at it.
Drink drink drink.
New friend alert! While sucking down some agua, I meet Gabby. Gabby is running the Hamptons Half Marathon on Saturday. It’s her first half, so quick, everyone wish her luck! I’m excited for her.
OK, Feller, it’s mental pep talk time. You’re hurting. You’re tired. If there were an actual wall, you would have smashed into it about two miles ago. Your pace was perfect and now it’s starting to slow. From here on out, don’t worry about the numbers on the watch. Stop looking the numbers and just get through the next few miles.
Good pep talk! Next time try to include some glitter if possible, and maybe a grand finale involving time steps and something Fosse-inspired.
16 miles! Only two to go and I’ve done what I did last week. And last week was great!
It’s time for The Reservoir. Bringing in the big guns. Or whatever. Let’s wrap this thing up. Enjoy the flat, soft surfaces.
This is hard.
I can’t wait to take an ice bath when I get home.
Yeah, it hurts, Ali, but remember how much worse things could be. Keep your perspective. You could be in the hospital. You could be Crohnsing. You could be doing long division, and you SUCK at long division!
The Reservoir is my happy place. The Reservoir is my happy place. Enjoy this. Keep prancing. Listen to the sweet sounds of “Gangnam Style.”
18 miles! Almost there!
19 miles! Time to leave the park and get your sore booty home.
Hey! What did I say about looking at the watch? You idiot. You never listen to anyone, do you?
The final stretch! Four more blocks until my front door!
WTF, this sidewalk is so crowded! Too many pedestrians!
The road seems significantly safer than the sidewalk. Break the rules, Ali. Run the final two blocks in the road alongside the parked cars. You’ll be fiiiine!
La la la, loud music! Happy music! Almost done my run!
Wait. Is someone yelling at me?
“Get out of the road!!!”
AHHHHH OMG OMG OMG I’M GOING TO DIE!
It’s a biker! He’s going to hit me! Shit! This is it! This is how I go! Someone invite Celine Dion and Buzu to my funeral!
Keep cool, Ali. Turn around and apologize to the biker as you hop back onto the sidewalk. He’s following the rules and you are not.
What. The. Hell.
The biker is Brian.
What an A-hole.
Brian starts laughing. Brian knew I was the runner. Brian was kidding around. I was terrified. I stop as my watch beeps signaling 20 miles, and I cry a little bit. Brian feels kind of badly. Mwa ha ha. Tears work every time. But I really did think I was going to die.
Yay! My run is done! I’m home!
“Brian, wait right here! I’m going to run into Duane Reade for some ice and then we’ll go upstairs together!”
Duane Reade is sold out of ice.
And just like that, I powered through 20 miles with mostly happy thoughts. The miles were tough. I had to fight through more than a few of them, and I kind of feel like last week’s confidence-boosting 18-miler was slightly forgotten with this week’s way-too-challenging 20-miler. But hey, they can’t all be easy, right? My overall pace was 9:09/mile, which is actually right where I should be…but the breakdown was ugly. The early miles were a little too fast and the final miles were brutally slow.
After the run, I took a 2-second shower, bolted to Fifth Avenue and caught the pros wrapping up the Fifth Avenue Mile. Brian and I got some food and then I slept all day. I woke up to eat some dinner and then went back to bed.
I continued “not recovering” on Sunday but waking up in the 5 o’clock hour to go to Brian’s bike race in Middle of Nowhere, Brooklyn (Floyd Bennett Field, outrageously far away).
I cheered loudly, he came in fifth place (and got his first medal!!!) and then we returned to Manhattan.
I ran six slow and happy recovery-or-whatever miles in Central Park and came home to Mr. Fifth Place And Sorry I Scared You On Third Avenue When I Yelled At You was in the kitchen making a 12-course brunch.
Life isn’t so bad when you’re able to stray from the bathroom.
Overall a pretty solid weekend of running and resting, and a total of 50 running miles for the week!
Oh and Kara, Buzu…call me, maybe?
SHARE YOUR CRAZY RUNNING THOUGHTS! We’re all a bit delirious by mile 18, right? And sometimes even sooner…like at mile two. Tell me what goes through your head while you’re out pounding the pavement. Make me feel less alone.