Sometimes the oldest, most worn in items can be the comforting. Whether it be a favorite pair of jeans, (or in my case, my fiance's old sweats), a cherished pair of shoes, or the old trusty-rusty that never fails to start and get my ass to work and back, sometimes the oldies are the goodies. And in the case of facing the longest run that I've ever attempted since I made that first step out of the driveway 7 months ago, today I needed the comfort of a faithful route, sans surprises.
According to the "training plan" that I've been following, (and by that I mean, using as a general guide, as my nocturnal source of gainful employment isn't always the most conducive to following a strict, day-by-outlined-day plan), my long run was supposed to be an 8-miler. And since I work six 12-hour shifts starting tomorrow night, I decided that today was probably my best option. So this afternoon, I lounged around, resting and elevating my legs, drank a couple cups of rocket fuel, (double-bagged green tea, to those that haven't had the pleasure of tasting my preferred caffeined brew of choice), and down-loaded a few new songs to the old IPod before obsessively checking my Weather Channel app. Finally, at 3PM on the dot, I hit the gravel roads.
I ran in shorts and tee-shirt, and the warm 70-degree October air felt almost playful against my bare legs as I consciensiously kept my pace at a plodding 9-minute mile. The familiar old rolling hills felt like ant mounds under my optimistically chipper legs, (and this was despite running a hilly 6 miles the day before), and as I trucked happily along, the sounds of "Whoomp! There It Is!" playing background to the Fall breeze, I felt good.
Really good. Like...eerily good.
Coming up the final uphill climb, rounding the corner to start mile 2 felt awesome. The wind was head-on, but rather than starting an inner argumentative prayer dialogue with the Man Upstairs, I embraced the breeze as it played with the hem of my running skirt, cooling me off. Mile 2 is rather easy; a relatively flat course, with gravel to cushion my joints, and very little traffic to spook me, Mile 2 takes me gently out of my warm-up and eases me into my stride. My feet felt even lighter, the familiarity of every little divot, every little rock and walnut tree dropping little walnut babies helped to alleviate any niggling little apprehension that "I can't do 8 miles...what the hell am I thinking?!" The familiarity and proximity to the house also helped to calm me; IF I couldn't finish, at least I was roughly only a few miles from home.
In other words, less "walk of shame" distance to cover.
With Weird Al waxing poetic about an "Amish Paradise", I struck pavement to begin Mile 3. Miles 3, 4 & 5 held true to their faithful promise of reverberating solidity, no rocks to watch for, no free-roaming dogs, and lots of neighbors that know who my fiance is, and what he drives. (I have this irrational fear of 1: being kidnapped, and 2: being chased by dogs. In fact, my best friend bought me a pink can of pepper spray for my bridal shower). As I blew right through miles 3 & 4, I was really still feeling quite good. Still pretty awesome, in fact. Really digging the pavement, enjoying the way my Brooks Adrenalines took the pounding with stride, (no pun intended), and answered back with a resounding rebound, I floated through the final 2 miles of the first half of my long run.
Then...came Mile 5. I hit my half-way turn-around, (told you I stayed close to the house), and about a 1/4 mile into Mile 5 the pavement no longer seemed fun anymore, my "rebound" became a shock that echoed all the way up into my left iliotibial band and finished off my left hip like a struck tuning fork. And then to take my mind of the nagging little ache, I thought about the bacon cheeseburger and Pabst Blue Ribbon--
S@&! Hungry, too, aren't we?
So now with a sore IT band, and daydreams of a cheeseburger in paradise, I plodded along, still feeling my music, still enjoying myself, (for the most part), and still thankful that I was able to be out in God's creation, marveling over the vibrant, firey Central Michigan fall colors. Finishing Mile 5 was pretty epic; I didn't turn off to take my typical route, which would've ended in a respectable 6 miles.
But that wasn't what I was after today!
I made it through Mile 6 under the comfort of it being part of my trusty familiar route; every house, every tree, every change in the view over the horizon felt predictable and safe. And when I saw the road sign for Briggs road, I became happy and less in tune with my physical discomforts and more elated that I had just 2 more miles to go.
Going into Mile 7 wasn't bad at all. The first 1/2 of Mile 7 was pretty much run on knowing that "Oh my gosh--only a mile and a half to go!" Again, I relied on the familiarity of my route, the knowledge of what was up ahead allowing me to concentrate on other facets imperative to "making it through".
I focused on my breathing. While I do run with an IPod Touch, I only have the volume high enough to provide a little ambience; background noise, if you will. I can get lost in my music, but I like being able to hear my footfalls, my breathing, traffic, would-be kidnappers, and murderous canines. And today was no exception; I focused on every breath, and concentrated on landing my my mid-foot, trying to keep my steps quick and light.
Soon enough, Mile 8 loomed. Mile 8 was familiar, but not in a comforting, "let me hold you to my bosom, little runner"-kind of a way. Mile 8 is The Climb Back Home. Mile 8 is rolling hills, but a constant upgrade, so even while going downhill, I still have to propel myself UPHILL. Mile 8, in a word, is bitch.
So I concentrated on "Tootsie Roll", and beat it out!
Every big rolling upgrade I took on with the gritted-teeth determination of knowing that this, THIS mile is my LAST ONE! My aches and pains, my hunger, my dried slimy spit in the corners of my mouth be damned! I had this bitch, and I was going to slay the beast! So I picked up the pace; screw "mid-foot strides and quick, light turnover"! I wanted to finish strong! I called upon every ounce of energy I had left in my tank. I marvelled at the beauty of the trees, but only the ones 1/4 mile ahead of me. I didn't have the energy to sight-see like I did earlier, coming into my run. I counted the hills, knowing that after the first two, I only had the "triplets", as I called them. The final three big hills that I needed to conquer before I was done. In the distance I heard my in-laws' dog barking sharply, welcoming me home.
I called out to her. "Alicia-Dog, c'mon, pupster, bring me home!"
She bolted out of the woods, tail wagging, nose in the air, braying out her sheer happiness at running. Watching my familiar little friend, I suddenly found the last little bit of fumes that I punched through my injectors, and finished the newest, most unfamiliar distance I had ever completed. I threw my hands in the air, and finished the last 3 steps of 8 miles with a skipping high leap, elated, over-joyed.
Something old had taken me to something completely brand new.