Some days as an endurance athlete, you feel amazing. You dance up inclines like someone half your weight. You add on an extra few miles because your legs just feel so damn fresh. You feel like someone should be filming you because you’re crushing it as much as anybody in those outdoor adventure videos on Youtube. You are pretty sure that you missed your calling as an Olympian (if only mom and dad had seen your potential instead of pushing you into whatever team sport you spent your high school and college years playing).
Yesterday was not one of those days.
Maybe I should have seen it coming. After all, an 18-mile run after work was always going to be dicey. Hell, an 18-mile run at any time of day is dicey. But I naively thought, I’ll be fine. It would be just like riding two hours after work. I do that all the time.
Things got off to a bad start when, walking home from the office, my stomach wouldn’t shut up. Not just hungry moans. Uncomfortable, GI tract-is-dealing-with- something protestations. An orchestra of gurgling. Given the fact that running triggers the worst of my GI issues, I made what I thought was a brilliant decision: instead of 18, I’d run the 13 I’m supposed to do this weekend. Then I’d do 18 this weekend. Perfect! Problem solved.
Except it wasn’t. A bathroom trip once I got home didn’t provide much relief. I ate an ear of corn and some peanut butter because I was hungry. Probably not a great idea either. By now, I was sensing that this wouldn’t be an easy jog, and I delayed for a few minutes, further crunching my window of light.
Finally I left the apartment, wearing a long-sleeve cotton shirt, thinking it was chilly. It wasn’t. Damn. I rolled up my sleeves as I jogged north on Front Street through clouds of midges swarming in the slanting sunlight. I looked at my watch. 7:45 pace. Okay, not terrible.
As the miles ticked by, I fell further behind. 7:55, 8:00, 8:10, 8:35. I wasn’t going uphill, or into a headwind. I was just going slow. I could feel my colon bouncing around, could hear the food sloshing in my stomach. I was breathing hard and my legs felt like they were burdened by ankle weights. I stopped at an overgrown baseball field, behind a dumpster, in a bathroom at Wildwood Park. Nothing helped. Something deep inside my body, between my stomach and my spine, kept jangling with each step.
Somewhere around mile five my goal became just to finish. Around mile nine, my goal became just to get home before dark. The sun had disappeared over the horizon in the west and the remaining light in the sky was rapidly fading. I abandoned my planned 13-mile route and took the shortest route home along Cameron Street, wishing I could speed up and knowing I couldn’t. Birds flitted and perched on telephone wires, settling down for the night. I slogged on, now with kneecaps that hurt more than they’ve ever hurt after less than 10 miles.
Finally, mercifully, it was finished. I ambled into the parking lot and turned off my Garmin, sweaty and defeated. Total distance: barely 11 miles. Time: fucking slow. I crawled into bed and resisted the temptation to doubt myself, doubt my ability to complete this marathon in a respectable time, doubt my overall fitness. Am I getting worse? Am I getting slower? Have I been training too much, or not enough?
But enough of those thoughts. Who knows what it was. Probably some combination of tiredness, poor timing, and a GI flare up. And maybe, as frustrating as it may be, sometimes you just don’t have it.