A blog by runners. For runners.

Get 'er done! 20 miles complete.

I've just returned from the longest run of my training for the San Diego Marathon and I'm thrilled to report I made it all the way around with no walking. Ok, I walked the last 5 yards to and from the water fountains along the way but I got it done. That was the message I told myself at mile 17 as I turned for the final 3 miles. “Get 'er done”.
I left the house and it was breezy and overcast at about 53 degrees as I headed South from Addison down the lake front. The first few miles I paid close attention to my pace and made sure I pegged it back when my iPod Nano Nike+ reported I was pushing faster than 9 minutes per mile. My goal for the run was to finish and my strategy was to avoid going out too fast and try to stick between 9 and 10 minute miles all the way.
Just past Navy Pier I came across a crowd of pink shirts as a horde of walkers proudly marched for what appeared to be a Mothers Day breast cancer walk. Great job to see so many people out exercising and supporting a good cause. The shear number of walkers meant some creative ducking and weaving as I headed toward the museum campus. In front of the Field Museum we parted company as I turned left to run along the lake front to the Adler Planetarium. That marked my 7 mile marker so I turned around to run back. I had the wind in my face pretty much all through the first 7 miles so I was hoping to get a nice push up the path as I headed North again but alas that crazy Chicago wind had whipped around and appeared to be cutting across me from the East.
Just past the chess boards at North Avenue beach I took advantage of the bathrooms and some water before cutting over the bridge over Lake Shore Drive. The bridge seems so innocuous but the gentle rise slowed me to a trot before I reached the top and shuffled down the other side. The 5 miles back up to Addison flew by as I day dreamed about the week ahead, taking water breaks every 1.5 miles at this point. At Addison I glanced up at the apartment windows for signs of life but could only make out the silhouette of the cat looking on, exhausted from her morning of lounging in the sun which had burned away the clouds leaving clear blue skies.
I made the decision shortly after Addison to change my plan for the remaining 6 miles. At Irving Park I would tackle the hill rather than run around it. At the base of the hill a slight diversion was required due to the arrival of two soccer fields they had marked out the last time I came by this way. Steadily pumping my arms and lifting my knees I made it to the top of the hill and raised my arms, partly to check my form and partly in triumph before chugging down the other side past the Wilson parking lot where my fellow Team In Training members had probably celebrated finishing their 20 miles yesterday while I waited 2 hours at Weiss Memorial Hospital. I've had a headache every day this last week in the same place and my doctor thought a CT scan would be in order. Early indications from the radiologist suggest it's all in my head :-)
After the high of making it to the top of a hill at mile 15 I found another water stop at Montrose and caught my breath. Setting out from here I was still motivated by my success and it was easy going but very quickly the reality of the distance started to set in and I felt myself slowing down. I knew there was a water stop less than a mile away from here so I gritted my teeth and willed myself to reach it with the promise of another break. This mental part of running is the most challenging from me. A quick check of my body suggests that all is well but mentally I'm convincing myself that something must be hurting and I can feel a part of my brain saying stop.
I reached the water stop closer to 10 minutes per mile than 9 but running nonetheless. I took a well deserved chug of water and checked the iPod to see how much further I had left to the turnaround to send me home. 0.4 miles to the turn so that means 0.8 miles to get back here for more water and to gobble down more of the Clif Shot Bloks I neglected to mention earlier.
I know conventional wisdom says don't try anything new on race day and while this wasn't a race it was a pivotal run in my training schedule so I was a little wary. However, when you forget to buy the nasty orange Gu (that nearly makes you hurl as you run anyway), you get desperate. The Adidas shorts I wear have a neat little zipper pocket in the middle of your back and they just fit one packet of the Shot Blok perfectly so I thought why not. The first couple I had tried to eat around mile 8 left me looking like a dog eating peanut butter. The gummy consistency became tougher due to the cold wind whipping around me and I probably spent a mile trying to dislodge them from my back teeth with my tongue. The next two were a little easier due to the warmth of the sun shining on my back and making them a little less chewy.
Okay, back from the long digression, I set out from the water stop with 0.4 miles to the turnaround back South to Addison and for the first time in the run my legs were the ones telling my brain that they were tired. My calf muscles were the first to scream and my quads quickly followed suit. I could feel my quads shaking a little as I ran from the stress and I began to doubt my ability to make it 3.2 more miles. There have been times when I've been in this situation before as a runner and I've taken the easy way out and added a walking break but with 0.6 miles to the next water stop and a slight break how could I stop now. I pushed on to the the turn and as I checked my foot down to mark it a phrase popped into my head. “Get 'er done!”. I trudged back to the water stop and drank deep while I chewed down the last 4 bloks for an energy boost with my new mantra repeating in my head.
I set off again in the knowledge that it was just over a mile to the next water stop before the big hill and as I ran along a new torment or perhaps a hallucination plagued me. Over the sound of my iPod I could hear the chime of bells, almost like a music box, or was it? An Ice Cream van? Over my right shoulder cruising alongside me in the parking lot was a blue and white Ice Cream van. Sweet temptation. Don't worry, I'm not nuts despite the CT scan and I can assure you that the van was real. I was glad when the path took a turn under a bridge and my new nemesis had stopped to serve some desperate children. In reality, the van had been such a distraction I had barely noticed the running and I had already reached my next and final water stop.
A triumphant gulp or two later I actually raced away towards the hill once more. Go around or go over? It certainly felt good to hit the top and it had a soothing effect on my legs last time after all the flat running offered by Chicago's lakefront. Up the hill it was and once more I beat a path past the soccer fields, up and over to the 1 mile from home marker.
Nine minutes left. This felt so good to be nine minutes from the end of a 20 mile run and I set myself a new goal. Half a mile from the apartment I would hit the power song button on my iPod to help my cruise to the finish. I listen to “Damn, it feels good to be a gangster” by the Geto Boys after hearing it in Office Space. I know it's a strange choice but mentally it relaxes me as I think of the movie (if you haven't seen it, stop reading, go and rent it and watch then return). Another benefit is that the beat keeps me at just under a 9 minute mile pace and it's really good for stretching me out at the end of a run. 19.46… 19.49… 19.5 boom… “Damn, it feels good to be a gangster”. Yes. It does.
I realize I may have lost many of you at this point but those of you who have run any kind of distance will understand how emotional you feel when you realize that you are going to do it – finish what you set out to accomplish. At 8.46 per mile for the remainder of the run I was flying past the softball fields, past the tennis courts towards our apartment building now so close and welcoming. “Congratulations, you have finished your 20 mile run” interrupted the ladies voice on the iPod, and even better, Paula Radcliffe piped up to congratulate me on my longest run! A few sips of water by the tennis courts, some stretches and then back home for a shower. What a great day.