On the morning of May 2nd, I ran the longest training run of my life. A 22-miler. Only five training runs stand between me and the starting line of the Vermont City Marathon.
After fourteen weeks spent trudging through shin-deep snow, staring at a concrete wall while ticking off treadmill miles when there was too much snow to attempt trudging, rearranging my schedule to make dates with the track, cursing at the track while frigid wind whipped me in the face, and pushing myself to run paces and distances I once thought impossible, I feel like I've built enough mental toughness to will myself across the finish line if it means I am crawling on my hands and knees.
The strange thing is, not once in this training cycle have I felt the urge to give up. In fact, in spite of marathon training consuming my life and testing the patience of my incredibly supportive husband, it has all gone alarmingly well. I have not missed one training run. On rare occasions I've struggled to maintain a pace or felt frustrated with a particular run, but on the whole each run has made me feel strong and confident. I've been so conditioned by hearing marathon training horror stories about pain and injury and "hitting the wall", I just kept expecting that at some point the wheels would come off. I awaited the inevitable terrible long run that would make me doubt my ability to take on this big challenge. But that moment hasn't come.
When people ask how marathon training is going and I reply, "It's awesome.", I almost feel like something is wrong with me for feeling so positively confident. Like they're expecting me to tell them how terrible and grueling it is. The truth is, while it's certainly been hard...it's also been fun. That's right. I just wrote that marathon training has been fun.
Last Saturday morning when I set out for 22 miles, my aim was to run at my planned marathon pace. The training plan I'm following called for me to run 30 seconds-per-mile slower than planned marathon pace, but I know that "dress rehearsals" work really well for my mental game, so I wanted to make this feel as much like the real marathon as possible. I wore the sports bra and socks I plan to wear on race day. I carried the handheld water bottle filled with an electrolyte drink and packed the same fuel I plan to eat on race day. I arranged the playlist I plan to listen to on race day.
I jogged out from my apartment in Cambridge and followed the Boston Marathon course out and back. It was cool and crisp and partly sunny and a little breezy and perfectly beautiful. (May I please have the same weather on race day?) I knew the marathon course would be straightforward to follow because there are few turns and that the carriage road along Commonwealth Avenue would be wide and open with few stoplights. I also knew that I would hit Heartbreak Hill at mile 15 of my training run, which is the exact point in the Vermont City Marathon where there is a big, challenging hill. Like I said, dress rehearsals work for me.
And I survived. And I had fun.
There was this one moment, just after I'd made my turnaround at the overpass for Route 95, where a tiny seed of self-doubt planted panic in the pit of my stomach. I suddenly felt so far from home, and very quickly the pit convinced my brain that my legs hurt and I'd be sick and, this was too fast, and, Oh Shit, what would it mean if I needed to walk? I was at mile 13. I shook my head and took a deep breath and told The Blerch to shut up. I had run 13 miles nearly a dozen times at paces faster than this, and I'd been just fine. Within two minutes, the wave of panicked insecurity passed. I felt great for the rest of my run.
My body shifted to autopilot around mile 20, and I had to make a very conscious effort to remember to look both ways before crossing busy intersections. This is kind of an important thing to do in downtown Boston. It was though my legs were willing me home, and somehow I managed to pick up the pace so that my last mile was my fastest. I arrived home with a film of salt dried on my cheeks and a grin plastered across my face.
The aftermath of the first-ever 22-miler:
Now there's not much work left to be done. My job now is to trust my training. I am ready. Let's do this.