August 20,2011 - I ran a new “farthest” distance and met terrifying monsters along the way.
I’d run 20 miles a few weeks earlier as part of the Galloway training group preparing for the Portland Marathon in October.
Twenty went fine. How much harder could 23 be? Enough that it might as well exist in another realm of reality. It was brutal. Brutally brutal. Painfully brutal. Walking the last 2 miles to finish brutal.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The day started just fine. After an early wake up with a couple eggs and toast and a cup of coffee, I met my team at 6am at the downtown Portland Foot Traffic running store. We split into our pace groups and headed out into the cool morning.
Everything was fine until the sun began blazing and the miles wore on. The first few miles actually felt great. I was excited at the prospect of running so far, farther than I’d ever run or ever thought I could run.
But as the miles piled up jogging around the waterfront, then down to Oaks Park and back and down again, I stared to flag.
My right ankle and shin had let off a small twinge from the first few strides and as the hours wore on the pain got louder and louder. I popped a few ibuprofen which helped a bit but not much.
At 18 miles I started to fade.
Our pace group had faded to me and Dr. Linda, an extremely fit OBGYN for Kaiser, and Ashley a 28 year old speedster who joined us with fresh legs at mile 16 or 17. A couple of the other runners, including physical therapist Phillipe, stuck to a slower pace. I would soon learn how wise his decision was.
We headed down the Springwater Corridor for our second and final loop and the ladies chatted as if we were strolling down a golf course. I dropped behind them and tried to keep up. We ran for three minutes then walked one minute. Ran another three then walked one.
I found myself breathing harder and harder at each break. Earlier I’d caught my breath quickly and felt fully refreshed after the short break as we took off again. This was much different. I noticed my shoulders were tight and my arms heavy. The chatting was too much for me to join in --- it took too much energy to talk. I tore into my Nutrilite energy gummy bears and some goo. It helped a bit but soon I was dragging again.
I later looked at the Garmin watch and heart monitor read out on my computer at home and found that around mile 18 my heart rate started a climb that was new and troubling.
For the first 5 miles it beat between 140 and 148 times a minute. By mile 10 it was beating 161 times a minute. By mile 18 it hit 174 beats a minute. The max came at mile 19 with 179 beats a minute.
And that’s where my mind and body said STOP!
A monster threatened me from inside.
I felt discouraged, full of pain and on top of that general doubt about whether I’d even be able to finish.
I had no idea what was happening with my pulse. I just knew I was getting really, really tired and not feeling well. And then I started getting chills. Not all the time, just every once in a while. I knew that was probably a bad sign since everyone else was sweating, as I had been a moment ago before I’d stopped.
I put on my ipod. I prayed. Anything to distract my brain.
I’d run all day with two water bottles. Five hours of sipping and re-filling when ever possible. No need for bathroom breaks, my body was using every ounce. Now, one was empty the other a quarter full. I started to sip more frequently. I’d survive these damn miles one way or another.
Soon, I had to tell my partners I was bushed and could not take off at the end of our walk break. Ashley suggested another minute of rest which was fine with me. They dropped behind me, to pick me up if I collapsed, I think. Or maybe just push me out of the way so other runners wouldn’t trip.
I ran a bit more then asked if we could run for 2 minutes and walk for one. Ashley and Linda agreed. But at the end of the 2 minute walk I knew I was toast. I told them to go on without me, that I’d have to walk for a while to get my strength back.
Linda and Ashley pretended like it was no big deal and insisted they’d stay with me. My guardian angels would make sure I made it back. I appreciated it.
Eventually we made it back up the trial to to fire station along the esplanade. We stopped to fill our water bottles and saw the fire fighters were washing their truck. I went over to ask if I could use the station’s sink faucet but could not for the life of me think of the correct word.
A firefighter led me inside and I splashed cold water on my face and over my head. It felt wonderful!
Back outside I told Ashley and Linda I could probably run with them across the Hawthorne Bridge and back to the Foot Traffic store.
They said nope, we were walking it in which was just fine with me. I’d never run 23 miles before and I guess, technically I still haven’t.
It was a painful and humiliating lesson on not pacing myself correctly and getting cocky about the distance. As I checked in back at the store, I learned Phillipe had finished long before I dragged my exhausted body back to our starting line. He'd already left and the other runners said it looked like he had simply gone for a walk around the block.
This rookie will never make a pacing mistake again (I hope). The monsters are nothing to fool with at 23 miles.