With just two weeks before the Feb. 23 Maple Leaf Indoor Marathon, I wanted to do one last long run on Friday. The only question was indoors or out. It was still 9-below (with a windchill of -22) by the time the kids got on the bus after a 2-hour delay, so the decision was made: I didn’t want to be out several miles from home with nobody around to rescue me if I got into trouble.
So I headed to the Jorgensen Y, thinking I’d aim for 16 miles, or 128 laps. I was really pumped up, coming off my “conquering the 19th century” lap run earlier in the week and having read a New Yorker profile of endurance swimmer Diana Nyad the night before. Nyad, 64, sang songs in her head and counted to 100 in four different languages during her 2013 swim from Cuba to Florida. She couldn’t see where she was going even when conditions were perfect. All I had to do was run laps. It helped put everything in perspective.
Using my “time machine” lap-counting technique (backed up by my clicker), my plan was to start on 1809 and end on 1937. I felt really relaxed as I started out, noting the passage of each “lap year” without obsessing about how many were left. At one point I briefly struck up a conversation with a pair of faster runners, one of whom I’d previously seen wearing a shirt that said “89 kilometers.” Turns out they’re training for a 55-mile race in South Africa – and were already halfway through a 26-mile training run as we spoke. Needless to say, that really helped put my 16-miler in perspective! After that, we encouraged each other whenever we’d pass on the track or at the water fountain.
It seemed to help to have someone know my plans – that I was committed to running 16 miles. Then I ran into a guy from high school, who wound up joining me for a few laps, and I told him what I was up to as well.
“You’re going to be here all day!” he laughed. But it turns out Skip ran a marathon several years ago, and he was optimistic that I could do it – though nuts for attempting it indoors.
I was still feeling almost euphoric up through the 1870s, when I got a little boost from a chunk of a Cliff bar I was carrying in my gear belt. But the magic began to wear off as I approached 1889. Up til that point I’d been thinking of carving the marathon itself into 50-lap segments. But now I could tell I’d need to work a little harder, deal with smaller sections at a time. “Just get to 1901, and then you can refocus on the next goal,” I told myself.
Things had been going so well earlier that I’d been secretly hoping I could go farther than originally planned. It would be nice to make it past 1950, so that, looking ahead to the marathon, all I’d need was one extra 50-lap segment with a small amount left over. And then if I made it to 1950, another three laps would make an even 18 miles. It would be so cool to text that feat to my dad.
I made it to 1901, then decided to keep a “wait and see” attitude about my ultimate destination. Each “decade” was getting tougher, but it was hard to say how much was physical and how much was mental. I didn’t really have much farther to go, at least not compared to how far I’d run already. “Think about Diana Nyad,” I kept saying. “This is nothing!” Meanwhile, my inner whiner piped up with this unwelcome observation: “You’ve been running for almost three hours! No wonder you’re tired!”
Around 1940, I felt like my legs were giving out. I got a drink and walked a lap, then started up again. Suddenly I felt fine again. Or close to it, anyway. “I’ll just run until 2:45, when the kids get off the bus and text me they’re home,” I thought. If I wasn’t to 1953 by then, I should be really, really close. Being able to tell Ben I was on the last lap of an 18-miler was way more appealing than giving up.
I struggled again briefly around 1944, feeling queasy, but then suddenly it was 1945 and I knew I was practically there. Just 1 mile to go. My feet kept running around the track, but in my head I was on the road, just a mile from home. I picked up the pace. It felt good to go a different speed, even if it was faster.
Finally my clicker registered 144 laps – 1953 had arrived at last! I sent out that text I’d been envisioning for so many laps, then hustled through some quick stretches so I could get down to the vending machine for some grape juice and pretzels. I was craving salt big time, and wasn’t fully satisfied until I polished off a McDonald’s fish sandwich a short time later. (This run makes me think I’ll want more fuel toward the end of the marathon than I had on hand here. There are supposed to be tables in each corner of the track for runners to store their water bottles and snacks, and I think a container of honey balls would work nicely.)
Even though I didn’t stretch as much after this run as I should have, I felt pretty good the next morning, with surprisingly little stiffness and soreness. Even my troublesome heel felt basically OK. The hardest parts of the run now seemed like maybe they hadn’t really been that bad after all.
That’s what I’m going to tell myself, anyway, as I begin the tapering process leading up to the race.