18 miles, in the bag!
This morning, Natalie and I met at the Conshohocken train station for a run along the towpath that connects Manayunk to Valley Forge. I had a few reasons to worry.
First, I was still reeling a little bit from the dismal 16 miler two weekends ago.
Second, I was pretty sure I wasn’t 100% yet after last weekend’s race.
And third, Brent and I went out for a celebratory dinner last night to a new Benihana that just opened not far from us (he’s been excited about this since he saw the first signs of construction. I learned yesterday that this ‘may be [his] favorite chain restaurant.’ Who knew?). Not only did this mean that I would be eating something out of the ordinary the night before a long run. Somehow, I decided that it would be a good idea to pair that new food with a drink. I rarely drink on regular nights, and never have before an 18 miler. I had the saki sangria and hoped that the 60 ounces of water I downed as a chaser would be enough to cancel out the effects of the alcohol.
So, I was a little bit anxious when we headed off at 8:30 today amidst the packs of runners, bikers, and St. Patrick’s Day pubcrawlers seeking to get an early start on their debauchery. We started off around a 9:00 pace and ran comfortably toward the city for our first out-and-back of the day. We made it back to our cars 7.5 miles later, gu-ed up, and then took off in the other direction. We were going to run toward Norristown, one train stop (and four miles) to the west, but quickly decided to veer off on an extension path that the park service built a couple years ago to connect the strip malls of Plymouth Meeting to the wonders of the tow path.
This little four-mile diversion was quieter than the main trail, but also followed a trash-ridden dry creek bed, the outer edge of a golf course, and a six-lane highway. Not that the tow path is a picturesque wonder – until you get toward Valley Forge National Park, you’re generally running by condos, new construction, and rear entrances of gas stations – but this Plymouth Meeting extension was pushing it even for us. We turned around at the Ikea, ready to get back to our usual biker-clogged route.
Natalie took this picture of me as I finished up the last tenth of a mile out-and-back while she stopped for a water break. It makes it look like I was running far out ahead of her the whole time, but I definitely wasn’t!
Natalie was a total rockstar this morning. Five weeks after having a baby, she gutted out a quick 14 miles – her first real outside run in months.
We got back to the train station at mile 14 and I was still feeling strong. Such a relief to follow a crummy long run with a great one.
As Natalie sat down to stretch, I pulled out my IPod Shuffle to set off for the final four, only to realize that I had uploaded a playlist that consisted of three NPR podcasts and disc one of the Teach Yourself German CDs that Brent and I got in preparation for our summer adventure. This would have been just fine for a normal IPod, but I had forgotten that a Shuffle does exactly that – shuffles through the tracks in random order.
I stashed the headphones and took off back toward the city, pushing the pace a bit and feeling groovy. I turned around at the two-mile marker, and quickly came upon the park ranger that I had passed on the way out several minutes earlier.
“How many miles?” he asked as I said hello.
“It’ll be eighteen when I finish,” I called back. “One and a half to go.”
“Eighteen?!” He yelled back incredulously.
I smiled all the way back to my car, taking it up another notch and finishing the final half mile at a sub-7:00 pace. The ranger’s reaction reminded me that what we all do isn’t normal. That it takes commitment. And strength. And probably a little bit of nuttiness.
On my way home, I stopped at 7-11 for a bag of ice, intent on finishing up my morning with one of Aron’s infamous ice baths. I turned on the cold water, exchanged my running clothes for my blue montbell parka, and waited. When the tub was filled, I emptied the 16-pound bag, took one last deep breath, and stepped in.
By the time I lowered myself into the frigid water, my whole body was shaking. The dogs came into the bathroom and kept me company, Lupine shivering himself in sympathy (or perhaps anxiety, after witnessing my reaction). I settled in and watched the clock, waiting for the ten minutes to pass.
Around minute 8, I thought about quitting. But then I remembered the park ranger, and my commitment to being ready for the Jersey marathon. And I remembered Natalie. If my friend could finish a fourteen-mile run five weeks after giving birth, I could grit my teeth for a ten minute ice bath.