My scheduled mileage for the long run this week was 20 miles, but for the 50k race, I need to hit just about 21 miles in under 6 hours and 30 minutes in order to make the cut-off. So earlier this week, I figured: let’s just go an extra mile to see if you can do that.
But, ah-ha, I turned 30 on Friday. I had friends over Friday night and had two (2) glasses of wine along with a full dinner and cake, but, being THIRTY now, I woke up hungover. That kind of low blood sugar, drained, mildly nauseated misery. I spend longer than intended in the bathroom, pack my bag, and convince myself to get going.
It turns out it was going to be a morning of buzzkills. In the haste of packing my bag, I forgot to bring my earbud. I forgot the bandana that I use to wipe when I pee. (I am reminded why I really need to pack my running pack the night before.) As I approached the trailhead with my stomach churning, I realized I’d eaten spicy food for lunch the day before. Hungover and spicy food? Which God do I pray to for GI distress?
I was 0 for 4 and I hadn’t even started the 21 mile trail run. And my right foot was giving me problems—the outside of it, right where the outer arch turns into the heel, gave me a mild zing with every step.
I’d eaten the usual: a bagel and a latte. This morning the bagel felt weird in my mouth, like the wrong level of salty. It was a sunny day and the high was supposed to reach 73 degrees. The latte felt like it was swishing around in my gut. Is this the run I puke on? I wondered.
This week’s run was the same trail as last week’s, for simplicity’s sake. (It’s not that easy to find 20+ mile trails that have the right elevation gain and no snow right now.) The Palouse to Cascades Trail is uphill from the trailhead but super super gradual. I try to jog parts of it, but the more I try, the more my stomach sloshes. Forget it. I’ll just walk. And walk I do, at a decent clip, turning off onto the Ollalie Trail and starting to go up in earnest. The good weather means the mountain bikers are more plentiful today, and I mostly leave my headphones out so I can hear the whoosh of them coming down the trail.
I try to jog some of the very short flat or downhill sections that come on the way up, but my stomach backs up into my throat. People talk about sweating out hangovers all the time, right? So this can’t possibly last all day?
It doesn’t. By mile 8 or so, I feel OK again. I pass some bikers trying to help a fellow biker with a flat tire. I decide not to try to summit Mount Washington (I don’t need the extra elevation gain) and continue along the Olallie Trail. I call out “Hey there!” over and over again, nervous about the idea of seeing an animal. The mountain bikers—two men and a woman, who I’ll call The Trio—pass me again, which lessens my fear. I catch up to them again as they navigate over a brief uphill snow patch.
“How are you doing?” one of the men asks.
“I’m doing!” I say. “How about you?”
“Well my heart rate is like 300 beats per minute and my cholesterol is through the roof,” he says.
“You, too!?” I laugh and make my way past them. Up ahead, the woman is still riding, and then she stops to wait for them.
When I reach my half-way point and turn around, The Trio is splayed out where the woman has stopped, with one of the men with his feet on the trail’s bank and his back on the ground, relaxing.
“Is there snow up ahead?” the other man asks. They’re planning to go until the snow stops them.
“No snow. I don’t think you’re going to run into any,”
“Oh man,” the man says. “I should have paid you to say the trail was covered in snow!”
I tell them I’m sure they’ll catch me soon and I start on my way back. The trail is mostly downhill, but it’s rocky and my feet are pounding. My shoes have been great—no blisters—but I’m questioning whether they’re too minimalist for long runs. If I really go for it, I’m afraid I’ll bruise my feet should I land on a rock. So I do what I can, shuffling down, down, down. I step to the side as more mountain bikers come up, I jump to the side as they come down.
One young duo passes me on the way up, and an hour or so later they pass me on the way down. “You’re making killer time! We were wondering when we’d see you again!” the woman says. My knees are starting to hurt, and I feel like I’m moving at a snail’s pace, so I appreciate it.
I jog by a mountain biker stopped at a viewpoint. “You’re running this thing?” he says.
“It was mostly a hike up,” I say. “And praying for my knees on the way down.”
Later, he’s coming down the mountain and stops. “How are the knees?” he asks.
“Sore!” I say. He asks if I’m OK, if I’ll make it. “Oh yeah,” I tell him, and then he heads on his way.
About four miles from the car, I head mountain bikers so I step to the side again. It’s The Trio, and they skid to a halt seeing it’s me. “How’s the downhill going?” I ask.
“FUN!” the woman says.
“That’s quite a hike you just did,” one of the men says.
Here’s a mental game I play on these runs: how many people say “have a nice hike!” versus “have a nice run!” To be clear, it’s a nice sentiment either way—I like the pleasantries of the trail—but when someone says “have a nice run!” it definitely gives me more of a boost. Only one person, the mountain biker at the overlook, called what I did running this time. But hey, at least I got one!
I’d escaped most of the day’s heat being up high but as I got back to the Palouse to Cascades Trail, the temperature had risen and it was humid. Since it was relatively flat/downhill, I tried to pick up my pace and somewhat succeeded.
But I didn’t make the 6:30 cutoff I was hoping for. Starting the day with a hangover didn’t help, and my legs being so sore on the downhill made it hard to go fast. Strava also suggested I spent at least an hour not moving, which must have been from saying hi, the few times I looked at a map, stopping to pee, and filtering water.
But hey: I didn’t puke. No catholes were dug (mostly a bonus because the opportunity for cathole digging was limited on the ridgeline.) And I kept moving for 21 miles. Sore, yes, but uninjured.
Long run distance: 21 miles
Long run elevation gain: 3,986 feet
Time: 7:05 (average pace: 20:16/mile)
Emergency poops: 0
It’s also worth saying that the story of the long run is also a story of the rest of the week’s training, too, and this week I was already showing signs of not being at optimal running effort. Tuesday’s run was scheduled at 6 easy miles but I cut it short. I felt beat, and I was moving slow, and the idea of climbing another hill at Carkeek sapped all the joy out of my body. I couldn’t get out of my head or how miserable this run was feeling. I have work to do, I kept thinking. This run is going to take forever. If I was just faster this wouldn’t be a problem. But I’m not fast. I’m slow slow slow.
I knew I had the 21 mile run this weekend, and I figured it was better to cut back a bit on weekday mileage than zap all of my energy (both physical and mental) early in the week. So I told myself: OK, today we’re going to run for time—one hour—instead of distance. One hour ended up being 3.7 miles. I bombed the last downhill which was fun, and then let myself go back to my car.
I think that was the right call, but also, it felt like I was letting myself down. I ran my scheduled run Wednesday, and Thursday, since I’d gotten my work done, I decided to try to make up for Tuesday’s miles by extending the run. BUT I was allowed to go as slow as I wanted. No racing the downhills, no pushing myself to go faster. A genuine, easy pace. So I did, and I made up the miles, and it put me at a 19:06 mile.
I’m not sure if I would have been better off just letting Tuesday’s miles to go or not. Running training feels like a constant negotiation my body, my mood, and a very chatty, a-holeish part of my brain. The loudest, meanest part essentially has one message all the time, every time, which is: YOU’RE SLOW! Whatever other accomplishment I may have made during the training week—bigger miles, managing to run up that one hill, finding a truly easy pace, having a good time—that voice is on the other side of it saying, “Yeah? You feel good about that? Well, you’re still SLOW.”
And the thing is—I am slow. Very slow! Especially when I’m building mileage and doing long runs and trying to keep an easy pace. I am not self-deprecatingly slow, I am factually slow. I know that mentally bullying myself won’t make me less slow, and yet the voice is still there, trying to remind me that for whatever I accomplish out of this running season, it will not be speed.
I am tempted to tie this up in a bow about overcoming that voice, but that’s not really what I’m doing. This week I’ll have run for some 12 hours. Like the rocky trails and rumbling tummies and sweat and heat and uphills, I am not trying to defeat the realities of this training plan. I’m trying to build the resilience to run alongside them.
Total miles this week: 40+ (or will be when I run this afternoon)
Total elevation gain this week: ~6700
Total hours training: ~12 hours and 20 minutes