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Sixteen Rainy Miles

November 19, 2012

About this time last year, I wrote about the inherent difficulty in running the middle miles of a race. But I’m reminded that training seasons have middle miles too, those slogging weeks when nothing particularly exciting is happening, especially on the long runs. The excitement of circling the race on the calendar has long subsided, and the thrill of saying “I’m running twenty miles tomorrow,” has not quite set in. Yet most weekends the challenge of the long run grows, and, with it, the monotony of the routine, from the pre-run prep to the recovery. Yes, the middle portion of the training program can be burdensome.

And it’s here that Little G and I find ourselves, watching our long runs stretch from 14 to 16 to 18 miles as the weather outside changes from hot and humid to windy and unpredictable. Our weekly patterns have changed as well; we’ve gone from charging the bridge to running short intervals to sharpen our speed. Our conversations on the run have morphed; we’ve already started obsessing about what we’ll wear on race day, fearing cold temperatures may require us to wear long pants for the duration of the race, and fearing that we’ll lack appropriate weather to practice in.

This week’s run was a 16-miler, and we were tasked with running it at a quick pace, somewhere between 9:30 and 9:45, or about 15 to 30 seconds faster than we ran our long runs before PT H put us on her training schedule. Under her tutelage, aiming to keep a slightly faster tempo for our long runs, we’ve averaged just under 9:20. We knew that the pace was going to start getting increasingly tougher as the long runs got longer, but we also know we’re well under her target pace, and we have a lot of wiggle room before we hit the bottom of her assigned range. We could run each mile almost 30 seconds slower and still be in range.

We’ve been starting very early–say, 4:30 early–because we’ve discovered we like having the road to ourselves, and we also like being done with the whole thing super early. So, even though we were both running woefully late this Saturday, it was about 4:40 when we were pointing our Garmin Forerunners at the sky, double-knotting shoelaces, and making sleepy small talk, and just a few minutes later we were setting out.

We hit the beachfront road doing our new chatty long-run pace, about 9:15-9:30, and stopped for water about two miles in. I mourned that it was cloudy, because I’d hoped we’d see a few shooting stars as Tempel-Tuttle passed. But, sure enough, there was no one else on the road, and our conversation was lighthearted and varied. And then, almost immediately after our water stop, the skies just opened up. The rain came in buckets, all at once. One moment we were running dry, under cloudy skies, and the next we were soaked through, running under raindrops that hurt as they struck our skin*. We were struck dumb for a moment. Then I said, “Memories of Gasparilla,” and Little G said, “It’s good training,” and we tucked our chins and ran on.

At the 3.5-mile mark, we stopped to take our first gels and use the bathrooms (alas, they were locked), and Little G wrung her socks and insoles out. We decided to wait a few minutes, thinking someone would come and open the bathrooms pretty soon. That didn’t happen. We made conversation, half-heartedly hoping someone would happen by and offer us a ride home. That didn’t happen either. We watched the rain fall onto the palm trees by the light of the streetlights, convinced that, eventually, it would slack off. That, also, did not happen.

After a long wait, which only served to turn us into shivering, blue-lipped messes, we knew we only had one way out. We considered every possibility and decided we’d run on home, finishing 8 or 10 miles at best and getting together later in the afternoon to do the remaining miles.

But, as we put in our steady miles toward the cars, the rain eventually stopped, and the sun came out. We made it back to the cars with 12 miles on, and though time was getting very tight (I had to be home in time to get the Boy to his soccer game), we decided to finish the run, just so we could have it in the books. The result: the last four in 8:35, 8:55, 8:45, 8:25, which brought our overall pace for the day’s run to 9:20, even though, running through ankle-deep water, we’d made a conscious decision to slow down our pace (even having made that decision, we still ran only two miles over 9:45).

We have two more weeks of this middle month of training, which includes two truly fast-paced mid-length runs (9:15-9:30) and one 18-miler. We’ve done three interval sessions, and have one remaining. I get to run my one and only fall race on Thanksgiving Day, and have high hopes for myself as I run for the chance to score a fresh apple pie.

And, then, soon enough, it’ll be December, the month of tempo runs and twenties, and our last hard push until the taper. I’d forgotten, I think, how much I love the beginning of hard training, the thrill of the goal, and the excitement of setting high expectations for myself. But I’d also forgotten about these middle weeks–these long, windy days of endless, somewhat joyless runs, of checking the schedule and checking runs off, one by one.

In the middle . . . In some ways, I think it’s where my race gets made or broken, by how well I can keep my act together in the middle miles. And I’m trying to remember that, in these middle weeks.

*Studying the historical data for the day on Weather Underground, I found out later that we had over two inches of rain fall in forty-five minutes. And then the rain stopped. Just. Like. That.


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