For some strange reason, I still remember my most hellish training run.
It wasn’t, as you might think, a 23- or 24-miler under the blazing sun.
It was only 16 miles. On a soft towpath surface. In the cool woods. In the early morning.
But it felt like 50 miles. My legs hated it. They were heavy and felt dead. I had no bounce at all. I stumbled through the run, somehow, and then went home and collapsed.
All afternoon, my legs ached and screamed. Then, in the evening, they began throbbing. After dinner, I stretched on the couch in the TV room. But my legs ached so much that I couldn’t concentrate on the TV. It required too much effort. So I just stared at the ceiling and wondering what I had gotten myself into. It was so bad I nearly bagged my marathon hopes right then and there.
To this day, eight years later, I still don’t know why that run was so tough. But the next weekend, I headed out again for a long run, 18 miles, with a lot of trepidation. This time, the run went great. I relaxed in the swimming pool that evening, went home, and went right to sleep. And the next weekend, I ran 20 miles, as fresh as a daisy.
Today, for some reason, I thought about that hellish 16-mile long run in 2002, and how I almost gave up distance running.
Why? Today was a 16-mile day. And I wondered if I was up to it.
As I mentioned in my last post, the past week has been tough — vacation travel, brutal heat, a loud motel. It all added up to disaster. I went four days without running. When I got back home, I did two short runs, then planned for the weekend, hoping to get my training back on track.
Today was the day of reckoning. Could I run 16 miles like an experiened marathoner? Or would it eclipse my hell day in 2002?
I got up at 6:30, made coffee, nibbled on a banana and got my stuff together. I shuffled out the door and drove out to the towpath trailhead in Broad Ripple. My plan called for running 10 miles on the towpath and six miles on the paved Monon.
Thankfully, the weather was great — mid-60s, with a cool breeze. The skies were filled with dark-gray clouds. I could smell rain coming.
I took a last swig of water and began trotting south on the towpath — nice and easy at first, 9-minute miles.
The trail was a busy place today, with hundreds, maybe thousands of runners gettting in their Saturday morning licks.
I began to loosen up and get a good pace as I continued south, running to the end of the towpath at 30th Street. Five miles down, 44 minutes in the can. I stretched my legs for about 60 seconds, then turned around and began to pick up the pace.
Weird thoughts danced in my mind: old races, running friends, favorite marathons. And of course, the dreaded 16- mile run from eight years ago.
At about six miles, I saw a familiar face. It was Tom, a friend from work. We stopped and said hi. He was out for a 20-miler in training for a marathon over Labor Day in Colorado. We were both in the mood to chat, so I turned around and joined him, running toward 30th Street again.
Then we turned around and headed north again — me for the second time.
I noticed that Tom did long runs much differently than I did. He follows the Jeff Galloway method, stopping for a walking break every mile for about a minute.
I don’t like taking breaks that often, unless, maybe, I’m on a steep hiking trail in the woods, up the side of a ravine. When I’m on flat ground, I like to keep moving. Stopping once every five miles is plenty, if that.
After the third time Tom stopped to walk, I waved goodbye and ran ahead.
But it was fun to run three or four miles together, passing the time with a friend. And by joining him when I did, and retracing my steps, I had run an extra 2.6 miles on the nice, cushionary towpath. That meant that when I got back to my car at the north end for water, I would have to run less than four miles on the Monon, rather than six.
I got back to my car, 12.7 miles down, about 1:50 on my watch.
Then I headed south on the Monon, when the running traffic was much heavier. The Monon is the interstate of running trails in Indy, filled with runners, walkers, in-line skaters, cyclists and sometimes, people just standing around, talking.
I pushed on for about 15 minutes, passing back yards, playgrounds, and an occasional strip mall, before hitting 49th Street, where I turned around.
With less than two miles to go, I could feel my legs getting a bit heavy, but I held the pace, pushing on. No Galloway walking breaks. No talking on the cell phone. Just keep running.
I made it back to the parking lot, with plenty of energy left, but glad the run was done. Total time: two hours and 25 minutes.
I had forgotten to wear my Garmin GPS, so when I got home, I calculated my run with a mapping website. It was 16.47 miles.
This was a sweet 16 indeed, and then some. Despite a long, strange week, I was back on schedule. I could jump back into my training program.
And I’ll always have my memories of the Hellish 16. It’s still my worst training run ever.