Saturday, October 22, 2011

Practice Run

It was dark. and cold. and really really really early. Ralph and I dragged ourselves out of bed, and began to get ready, going through the motions in a silent dance of sorts. It was too early for conversation, but we knew the routine. Pour coffee, make English muffins, get dressed in running gear, get shot blocks and Gatorade. In and out of the kitchen, in and out of the bedroom, each of us having our own order of doing things. I prefer to get breakfast first, and then get dressed. Ralph is the opposite. We take turns standing over the sink and eating so all the crumbs and drips of honey don't get on the floor, but we are too tired to use plates.

All our gear and ready to go!

Dressed, fed and ready to go, I pull out or bag of winter gear and we both select a set of gloves. It's not "ice on your windshield" cold, but it was "see your breath in front of your face" cold. We head for the car where I immediately crank up the heat. Obviously the coffee has not worked its magic, I do not feel chipper, or awake, but rather grumpy and sleepy. I know it will all be over in a few hours. I know I will feel such a sense of pride when it is done. I just hate this part. This part where you have time to change your mind. Where you can decide to just go back to bed. Thankfully I know Ralph is counting on me and I cannot, I will not, let him down.

warm hands and fingers are essential!

ready to kick some 13 mile butt!

My favorite thing about training for the Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon in all the years I have run them, is the race course is literally in our backyard (now that we have moved its a little more of a trip) how can you not train on the course? As a beginner runner, knowing every turn, every hill, every curve of the road really let me let go and enjoy the run more than if I was always wondering "what's up next?". So I promised Ralph one of the things we'd get to do this training cycle was run the course. And it couldn't have been perfectly timed with his first 13 mile run.

So here we were, at 6:45am on a Saturday, headed down to the art museum to run 13 miles around the city of Philadelphia. It was a quick drive with no traffic, and early enough to get a great parking spot. Now or never.

We had covered 12 miles two weeks before, I knew Ralph was going to do great on this run, but I forget how intimidating a new distance can be. Even just a mile longer, it is unknown territory. And the first time you do it, it can be the hardest thing ever. We started down the parkway, and headed east towards the river. Sidewalks were empty and there were barely any cars on the road but the sun had made its grand entrance and it wasn't long before we were both nice and warm.

Amazing view of the Ben Franklin Bridge around mile 2.5

I talked a lot. I usually talked a lot. But was we ran along Columbus, the sun rising over the Delaware river to our right, I noticed Ralph was very quiet. I finally get him to admit he is psyching himself out, and is nervous. "It's just so far" he says to me, meaning I've been describing the course and its all so spread out he can't imagine covering all this ground and being in one piece in the end.

We run from one end of the city to the other, and back again. Before we both realize we are at mile 7, making our way up our first hill. The course takes us through our old college campus and we spend the next mile reminiscing about all the things that have changed since we graduated. It was pretty smooth sailing for a while. But then we got to...

... the second hill. Now since I've ran the course before I obviously knew there were two hills. But I smartly kept this little bit of information to myself. Ralph was sure to find out about it once he got there so why worry him? That hill I think was the hardest part of the run. It's curvy and long and just about kicks your butt. At the top we slowed down a bit to recover.

The last three miles of the course are on West River Drive, and take you straight back to the art museum. It can be pretty boring, there isn't much to look at other than the side of the highway and the river. It all starts to blend together, and it was at this point that Ralph was really ready to be done. But he kept going. Kept pushing. And even when he said "no faster than this" and "I hope I can finish it" I made him talk about things to take his mind off of running, like the new fish tank he is setting up in our living room. Once his mind was distracted he picked up the speed and it was tough to reel him back in.

And then it was over. Just under three hours, not even 11am yet, and we had finished running 13 miles. I don't think Ralph ever imagined the day he would set out to do something like that. I for one was amazed, proud, and also pretty tired. I hadn't run since last weekends 5k.

13 mile finisher!!! SO PROUD of this guy!

Our plans to run errands in the city changed to getting breakfast from Wawa and heading home ASAP for an ice bath. It's funny how quickly you can turn someone on to ice bathing once they experience how much it helps recovery. And once you've done one, you'll end every run begging to sit in a bathtub of freezing water.

Around mile 11, Ralph said to me he wanted to focus on shorter distances after this half, that he didn't like all this time on his feet. And for a moment I remembered what it was like training for my first half marathon. The first time I ran 13 miles was SO HARD. I felt like I might not finish. I wanted to stop more than anything. Now I can almost breeze through it even after skipping 5 days of running. I told him I don't care what he does, because I honestly don't, I just want him to be happy. But I promised it gets easier. Just like he can now go out and run 3 miles like it's no big deal, there was a day when that was REALLY hard. It's all relative.

What's your longest training distance? Can you still remember what it felt like the first time you ever ran it?

xx Sara

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