Well, my first 17 mile run is now in the past, and I am still loving the marathon training. I was originally going to do the 17 miles Saturday morning, however decided that my sons birthday party was more important and knew I would not be able to help make his party a “hit” if I was too tired from running. I didn’t have a very good lunch because the birthday party was hamburgers and hot dogs, so I waited to have a better dinner prior to running. Because I wanted to allow myself plenty of time for the food to digest I started my run at 8:00 PM. (Yes, it was already dark.)
As I started out I quickly realized that leaving this late meant I would running under street lights for the run, but thought nothing of it since I am usually an early morning runner and usually start when it is dark. After a quick stretch routine I was ready. It only took me 1/2 mile to get into my zone, which surprised me because on morning runs it usually takes me 2 to 3 miles. I was thinking that this run was going to be a breeze, and quickly settled into my 8:45 per mile pace. I remember thinking that I may need to start running at night instead of mornings if they were going to be so easy. I ran my 11 miles the week before at the 8:44 pace, so didn’t think to much of it and I felt much better on this run than I had on that one…so far.
I continued to run and was really struck by how great I felt. Was it due to running in the evening, due to a great day, or did I not do so terribly on my diet earlier in the day? These were all thoughts that kept me busy for the first 6.5 miles, where I reached Hagen Ranch Road. It was at this point that I needed to turn and run for 3.5 miles on the twisty, and VERY dark, stretch of road. When I planned the route I had not taken street lights into account, and I quickly realized that this was going to be a very unfriendly stretch of my run.
I am not afraid of the dark or anything like that, and it was a very clear night so the sidewalk was illuminated quite well from the moon and stars. That was until the first car drove towards me. I was completely blinded by the oncoming headlights and was forced to tilt my head toward the ground using my hat visor to block the light. After that is seems like every few seconds there was another car that forced me to run while looking down, which I hate. It was then I started thinking about my situation. I am running on a remote street in south Florida surrounded by water from canals and drainage ponds. This is alligator heaven, and when cars came I could only see 4 feet in front of me. Not good. I was really managing to freak myself out with thoughts of stepping on a gator as he crossed the sidewalk to make his way from one body of water to another. Luckily I did not encounter any creatures and finally reached the 10 mile point where street lights started again, and I felt much better.
Now that I was in the light I could more clearly see my HRM and realized that my pace had slowed a bit. I was now running around a 9:30 pace, but still felt pretty good other than slightly upset stomach. I am wondering if the maltodextrin in the HEED sports drink, plus the maltodextrin in the Hammer Gel was too much for my stomach to handle. I will continue to test, but may need to switch back to Gatorade as my primary hydration on long runs when I use the Hammer Gel. Short runs up to 8 miles where I drink HEED without gel do not give me any troubles.
As my time reached 2 hours I started calculating how far I have run. Thinking I must be close to a 1/2 marathon range I took inventory. I still felt very good, was still running at a pretty good pace, and as an estimate I was under 2 hours at what I thought was a half marathon distance. This made me feel pretty good since I will be running a Halloween 1/2 marathon in a couple of weeks, and being under 2 hours is where I would like to be. (Later I looked at the map and realized that I was actually at 12.25 miles on the 2 hour mark, which is still a 9:45 pace. I’ll take it for my first 1/2 marathon.)
Then it happened. It didn’t take long for my system to hit a wall though. At 2:05 I really started feeling drained, and it settled on me so fast that it really surprised me as I fought to maintain my pace around 9:45. I realized then that the next 4 miles were going to be very difficult, as I was fading faster with each step. I took another drink from my CamelBak, it was not cold anymore, as I ran past a 7-11 quick shop wondering why I didn’t keep a couple of bucks on me to buy some ice cold Gatorade. Doh!
At mile 14 I was really dragging, and could not see the next traffic light ahead where I would be making my last turn in the route. I hate it when there is nothing in sight to use as a target creating a little accomplishment for me to obtain. It was at this point I decided to walk a bit and try to regain some strength as I got to the point where I could see the elusive traffic light. However, walking did not help one bit and still seemed to drain me further. After walking 1/2 mile I gave another push to run as I was able to view the light only another half mile ahead. My knees felt stiff and my feet felt like lead weights as I continued to shuffle along the best I could.
It sucked that I could only run along at a shuffle. In my mind I had energy, yet my legs didn’t want to listen. As I reached the traffic light and made my turn to the home stretch I took a couple long drinks of my sports drink feeling slightly defeated. I realized that I had another 2.5 miles left to go, and the first mile of it was complete darkness. (Note to self, do not pick streets with no lights when running…again!)
To reiterate, I am not afraid of the dark or the boogie man. However, the negative psychological affect of running in total darkness is something that I had not calculated previously. Yet I managed to run most of the distance despite the driving urge to quit. I have never felt so drained before in my life, and I still had not reached 16 miles. How on earth am I going to run 10 more miles on marathon day? If I feel this bad at 16 miles how will I be able to face the wall at 20 that I keep hearing about? These were the thoughts that came to mind in the darkness as I shuffled along trying to reach the next cross street where the light started again.
Finally I made it to the light and was forced to stop while waiting for the crossing light to change allowing me to cross the street safely. After what seemed like a full minute waiting I started jogging across the street. Wait, what is that? I didn’t need to shuffle anymore! My feet are actually leaving the ground as I run, yes run, again! I was pleasantly startled as my body allowed me to start running again, though probably at a 10:00 pace. (I had shuffled/walked at an 11:00 pace for the last 3 miles.)
For another half mile I continued at this newly found pace and crossed the last street before arriving at home. This meant that I had one last mile to push, and that is what I did. I gave it all I had and raised to a 9:45 pace for the last mile. I have no idea where this strength was coming from, but I was pulling it from somewhere. I had only one thought in my mind. I need to reach the lights ahead that marked a gas station that was my final point to stop running. It was my 17 mile marker, and I could still make it in less than 3 hours. When I finally reached the stopping point I was exhausted, and walked slowly the last 1/2 mile to my home where I jumped in the pool for a relaxing cool down. I had made it.