I’m training for my first 50-miler and two fall marathons right now. Those things don’t go together, really, but I’m trying to make speed and mileage play nice together in some kind of masochistic training plan. It’s been sickeningly rewarding to pound out marathon-pace miles and feel myself getting faster in summer’s most humid days. In practice, my plan has me trail running and long running and longtrailrunning and doing speed work over and over again. Add in lots of healthy eating and drinking and foam rolling and being tired like I haven’t been tired before — both mentally and physically — and then rebounding in time to put in more fast miles. The training plan was working great on vacation. Michael and I went to Portland and Tahoe. We got engaged ON A RUN in Forest Park. I had access to beautiful trails, loads of recovery time, eight hours of sleep every night. Perfection.
But coming home around midnight on Sunday last week was a doozy. The week started with jet lag and two consecutive nights of five hours of sleep. At work, we had the biggest product release I’ve been part of on Wednesday, and I had a 5K race on Thursday. Came in first female and fourth overall! But that meant my legs were less than fresh for any long-running.
By the time I made it to the start of what was supposed to be a 25-mile trail run on the Appalachian Trail on Saturday morning, I was already beat. When Dan proposed this route, I warned him I’d be slow. I’m a pretty cautious trail runner to start, but factoring in the planned 6,600 feet of climbing we’d be doing, I wouldn’t be going quick at all. This run was supposed to be about moving forward at a comfortable pace for 25 miles. I’ve done that, what, 50 times at least probably. Usually on roads and definitely without so much climbing. But sure.
The run started off in a fairly sane place. A gravel road dumped us out on to a trail that seemed not too steep or technical. I started to kind of get into a groove. The climbing started. I was fine. I was running/jogging/hiking. I kept climbing. Still fine, but I was behind my group. That was fine. They could wait. Then around mile 7, when the first downhill part started, I started to cruise downhill. Felt pretty good. But I lost my footing and ate it. I bruised my left leg pretty bad and, worse, reopened a gash on my elbow that I got trail-running in California that was just starting to heal. That fall really shook me up. My legs weren’t fresh, I felt terrible for dragging the group down to my hiking/jogging pace, and we ended up cutting the 25-miler down to 20. We did see a bear on the run. So there’s that?
By mile 12, I was in tears for the second time, with my elbow wrapped in my tourniquet Buff, blubbering nonsense and feeling sorry for myself and wondering why I even run. I vowed to drop out of the 50-miler. I took that back. I vowed to never run trails again. Took that back. Definitely vowed to do a make-up run on Sunday if my legs would cooperate at all. I vowed to find better shoes with bigger lugs and come back to conquer this stupid thing some day. The trails became more runnable again, but I was cautious and mad. I fell down again but landed on my ass that time. I fell again and landed on my hand, not bad. I’m getting better at falling.
My trail-running group (of two) was fine with a shorter run, or they said they were. Writing about it now, I’m still pissed at myself for dragging us down. I feel the way I felt when I started running trails — like I should just give up because I will never be good at it. That feeling will pass, and I’ll get better at this part of it. Technical trails are simply my biggest weakness right now.
On Sunday, I dusted myself off, put bandages over my scrapes and bruises, put on my road-running clothes and headed out the front door. For the first three miles, I worked through Saturday and convinced myself I could actually run, damn it. By the time I crested the hill to Mount Pleasant at the end of 19 steady miles, everything had clicked back in to place. It felt normal and right and like home. I put in 101 total miles last week. That’s one of those hard-fought high-mileage weeks I’ll gladly take, even if it wasn’t pretty.