This marathon training season has FLOWN by. I swear it was just yesterday that I was doing my first 20-miler and saying “the marathon is SO far away, we’ve got plenty of time to get in race shape.” And now here I am, three weeks away from the Chicago Marathon: my 9th battle with 26.2 miles.
This past weekend was my final 20-miler before tapering begins. It was the 5th 20 miler of the season and also my favorite. The original Perfect Strangers crew – PS11 if you will – all promised to run our final 20-miler together before any marathon. And so last week, after a great dinner with the girls, we made our plans for Saturday. Not everyone could be in attendance: Kelly was sick. Bri was out of town. But Meg, Christi, Karen, Amy, Jaime and I all met at 96th street at 6am for our long run. The weather was perfect – 52 degrees. The humidity, though high, wasn’t an issue due to the cooler temperatures and we all reveled in the ability to wear arm sleeves (tubes!) or a long sleeved tee and of course, our signature tall socks.
I have a bit of a mental barrier about running far north into Carmel along the Monon, but pushed past it this weekend. We ran 4.5 miles north, turned around, and then continued down to 54th street before turning back towards our cars. Karen and Christi wanted to do 22 and Jaime could only do 9 because of a time commitment.
As we started in the dark, just a couple of knuckle lights lighting our way, I already knew this would be a great run. I was running with my best friends. Whether we see each other every week or not even every month, our conversation picks up right where we left it. It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s emotional. We talked about relationships and jobs and our bodies and of course, running.
At mile 6ish, we stopped on a bridge to take a picture with the sunrise.
When we dropped Jaime off at mile 9, I took my first gel. I bought a new variety this week and I can’t say enough about the Hammer Gel – Cinnamon Apple! It tastes like the middle of an apple pie and I am obsessed!
I told the girls I was going to try to stay around a 10-minute mile and that meant Christi and Karen were going to go ahead. They have some aggressive goals for Chicago so we wished them well and watched them surge ahead. Amy, Meg and I continued on. I felt slow, but felt good. My legs never hurt too much (sure I had some pain in my heel, achilles, hips, feet, etc but nothing major!) and I felt more energy than in the past. Even Meg commented that my mood was the best it’s been all running season.
At one point, I was discussing a video that Meg and I saw earlier in the week about crossfit. As we debated how “strong is the new sexy” and fake boobs, a man walking in front of us turned around “Ladies, I have to say your conversation is quite interesting. Can we extrapolate on these subjects?” He started running with us and for the next 2 miles, we ran alongside Martin. He is in his 50s and is out on the Monon every week with his friends (one of which is the blind man that runs on the Monon every Saturday). He has run 21 marathons (one of which was a 3:22!) and is from England. We talked about WWII and airplanes and good running form and marathons. His spirit was happy and we absolutely loved his company. When he said goodbye to us, we had the biggest smiles on our faces.
We stretched at McDonalds and continued south of Broadripple. We came upon a father who was pushing a stroller next to his maybe 2-year old who was running alongside him. We stopped and I asked if I could have a high-five since he was such a good runner. He pointed to a rock, I fastened his velcro shoes and then he gave me a huge high five. We then decided that Connor the 2-year old and Martin the 50-year old were the only men we would allow to run with us on Saturday. We loved them both.
Our breaks were not as frequent or long as in the past and our pace was pretty consistent. So many people commented on our socks and told us good luck or to keep going that we finally asked ourselves if we looked like we were really struggling and therefore needed the encouragement. But what we soon realized is that the cool weather just put EVERYONE in a good mood. Runners weren’t pouring sweat as in Saturdays past or dying of heat. We were all just joyful to be out on such a gorgeous day.
At mile 16, we took this picture.
And soon after Karen and Christi came up behind us. They had run an extra 2 miles with no breaks and had caught up to us! We wished them on their way as they were definitely killing this run. We stopped to stretch at mile 17.5 and met two other women who were running 20 that day. And when we hit mile marker 18, we turned on Gangnam Style. If you haven’t heard it, you will soon become obsessed. It’s the latest internet meme and is not just a catchy tune but has some awesome dance moves. We listened to it for an entire mile, on speaker as we passed people. Given the song is in Korean, we only know a few words (Sexy ladies!) but the tune gave us the boost of energy we needed.
At mile 19, we saw JD waiting for us. He had just finished 21 miles and wanted to run the last mile with us. So we had him take a picture of our Gangnam dance moves and we turned the music back on for the final stretch.
With only 50 yards to go, Christi and Karen found us. They had doubled back so we could all run together. It’s the Perfect Stranger way.
We rested at the 96th street park and told tales of our run. My legs were tired. But my heart was oh so happy.
We met Dana at Kilroys and enjoyed a post-run beer and breadsticks. She did 23 miles with 3 girls and killed it. Overall, it was a great day for everyone, including Bri who rocked out her final 20-miler in Michigan.
What I learned from this run is that my body is ready for the distance. My injuries are present, but not damning. And I will do 26.2 on October 7th. But it won’t be a PR. I am just a little slower than normal right now. The only thing I can attribute it to is my lack of during-the-week runs. I know I have let life get in the way of consistent training. This running season has flown by but I also haven’t made it the priority that I should have.
And I am actually ok with that. My 9th marathon doesn’t have to be my best. I got my PR last spring when I ran 4:15:01 in Champaign. This race is going to be about doing my best and having fun. Surely, I’ll fare better than I did last year in Chicago when I was injured and had to walk a lot. And after Chicago, I’ll make a game plan about what’s next. Though I am burned out, I am also a bit rejuvenated. Knowing that I am not in the running shape I want means that I want to work harder. And that’s exactly what I’ll do for Marathon 10, 11, 12, 13…..
Thank you to my girls for such a perfect Saturday run. It wasn’t my fastest. It wasn’t my best performance. But my heart and head needed those miles with you.