18 miles loomed on the calendar. Marathon training always starts to feel super real (and super stupid) when those long runs get into the upper teens. That’s why I put all of my required distances on the calendar months in advance. So that the number will be there, staring at me, when it’s time to start planning for the weekend. And that weekend included 18 (fill in a bad word or two) miles.
And unfortunately, the world does not revolve around my miles so there were other things happening in the city of Portland on Saturday. Including a major political protest and a counter-protest scheduled for the very same spot I would be running through a few times. As a liberal city, certain political groups enjoy meeting up here to get media and Twitter attention. Even if I felt safe running downtown, I knew that my family members might see the protests on the news and I wanted to be able to honestly say that I was nowhere near ground zero. My running had me make enough poor life choices (for example: marathons 1 thru 13). This was a time I could do the right thing.
Of course, the right thing can still be a poor life choice, depending on your perspective.
Instead of running four large loops downtown, Plan B had me running the two-mile loop at a golf course far from the protests. And for those of you who have not done the math yet, I had to do nine times around that course to get to my 18 (fill in any and all the words) miles.
The first three loops I did with my regular Saturday running partner. But she is much smarter than I am and does not run marathons. So, she was done when I was only a third into my morning. Every three loops I took a break my car to change my sweaty bandana, snack on some granola bar, and enjoy a few minutes of sitting.
The course I ran on was a bark-dust trail, with curves around trees and golf holes. Occasional signs were posted warning about the potential of getting hit by a wayward ball, or other ones that asked visitors to not feed the squirrels (no matter how much they begged). By the time I got to my final laps, the hills around the course felt like mountains. The miles were slow, and yet still felt strong as I went around each tree and up and down each “mountain.”
When I got to my seventh lap, I wanted to quit so badly. I started to craft a plan where I would stop at 14 miles, go home for lunch and a rest, and then finish the other miles later in the afternoon. It was so tempting. It would not have been quitting, technically, rather a very long pause in my 18 (stupid stupid stupid) miles. It was so tempting. And I knew that I would regret the choice before I even got home from the course. Each time I got near to my car, I sprinted just a little bit past it then took a short walk break for recovery. Temporary pain and struggle for another 40 minutes was better than the regret that would follow me home that day.
By the end of the 18 miles, I was 110% done. I had used all the energy my legs and mind had and was ready for the lunch and nap I’d been promising myself for miles. I felt exhausted and a little dizzy and a little loopy. And strong and proud and done with 18 (take that protestors) miles.
I’ve survived 13 marathons and one Ph.D. program. So…now what? I’ve learned through the journeys that it’s not about intelligence, speed, magic beans, or waiting for it to get easy. It’s about strength and perseverance. This year’s blog series will be about #WhatsNext after crossing some major finish lines, and preparing for new starting lines as a runner and a (not that kind of) doctor. I am #RunPhD.