I got a late start. I was up in plenty of time, Clare saw to that, but then I sat down with email and Twitter and Facebook and Coffee and Granola and the hour just got away from me. The drive took a lot longer than I expected. It was dark and a little foggy and by the time I arrived at 6:47, the rest of the Striders were long gone. I was relieved when two men in a car pulled up in the lot next to me. They were in running clothes, but were not part of our group. We exchanged greetings, and then went our separate ways. I turned on the little flashing lights that Mrs P bought me for night running, and started down Colby Road.
It was cool and comfortable in the dark. Maybe somewhere in the low 50s. I felt smooth and easy very soon, much sooner than usual. On the way home, I realized that this is because the first mile and a half is almost all down hill... which of course means that the last mile and a half is a heart breaker, but we'll get to that later. My breath came smoothly, three steps in, three steps out. I tried to stay slow, and thought I did a pretty good job. It wasn't until I got home and uploaded my run to Nike+ that I saw just how fast I had started out.
I could see nothing but trees and fence as I ran along. Occasionally a car came toward me. I tried to stay out in the lane long enough for the driver to see my jangling lights, then eased over to the side. There isn't much of a shoulder on most Bluegrass country roads. Usually there's just a ditch. I did not want to go exploring down there in the pitch black, 15 miles from home. The drivers all saw me in plenty of time and gave me a wide berth. They must have thought I was nuts. I suppose I am. Somewhere during mile 3, a magenta glow started to rise from the horizon ahead of me. Each time I came out of woods or to the crest of a hill, I could see the light growing as I continued east. "It looks like a promise," I thought as the sounds of animals waking up started around me. A lone cow lowed in a pasture. Some chickens stirred and a rooster did his rooster gig. Once or twice, a farm dog barked, checking me out, but not chasing as I jogged harmlessly past the gate.
Near mile 4, I looked ahead and saw a daunting climb. Three hills of increasing size rose before me like a roller-coaster. I remembered a mantra Jeff Galloway had mentioned in a podcast, and started repeating it softly to my self as I breathed out. "I love hills. I love hills." One step at a time, I found a way to enjoy every inch of them. Just before the crest of the last hill, around mile 5.25, I looked up and saw that the road was glowing gold. The sky was light by now, but I had not seen the sun yet. I could tell from the aura between the grassy banks on either side of the asphalt that I was about to see old Sol in all his glory. And glorious he was. I usually slow down a little to rest after a big climb, but now I was drawn toward the fiery warmth of the sun over the fields. Tucked into a little hollow at the top of the ridge stood a lovely church: High Point Apostolic. A perfect name, but an even more perfect message on the road sign out front. "When all my Strength is gone/ and I have no more Hope for tomorrow/ Lead me to the Rock." I laughed out loud as I spoke the words to myself. I wondered if the preacher could have known that a Fat Man would come running by on a 16 mile trek in the Saturday dawn. "Lead me to the Rock." I breathed. I remembered the days when my strength was gone. When hope felt more like wishful thinking than reality. I remembered the rocks God sent me then. My friends. My Mum. Mrs P. The theatre. When there was no way for me to get my little boat back to harbor safely on my own, God lead me to the Rock. And now he was doing it again. Right up and down the hills of Colby road.
Just past mile 6, I came to a big road. "Man! Am I in Winchester?" I didn't want to cross all those lanes of traffic, so I took a right turn along the shoulder and saw that yes, I had in fact run all the way to the next city. In my mind, I knew that it was only six miles from the starting point which was way out in the middle of nowhere, but I felt like a real marathoner for a while. There was a lot more traffic on the bypass. No more pastoral scenery. This was "Mall Land." Lowes. Walmart. Kroger. Rite Aid. Golden Corral. All the big boxes that are exactly the same wherever you go. You could have dropped me down on this road with a blindfold, and when I took it off, I couldn't have even told you what state I was in. So different from the distinctly Bluegrass pastures and farms I had just travelled through. I followed the highway as the cars zoomed by until my watch told me I had run 8 miles, then I turned around. I was eager to get back to the country.
I don't really remember much about the return trip. Only that I recognized very little of what I saw. One advantage of starting an out-and-back route in the dark is that everything looks new on the way back. I heard geese honking at each other. An Australian Shepherd woofed a warning when I ran past the goats who were safely behind the board fence and under their little black and white defender's care. Once a yippy little black dog of some kind actually ran out to the road and escorted me to the property line. I had my water bottle open and ready to squirt the little guy, but I was laughing so hard that I don't expect my aim would have been very good.
Climbing a very long hill, I looked down at my watch. 13.1 miles. I had just completed the distance of a half marathon. The last three miles were going to be gravy. I had two thoughts at almost the same time. First: I can absolutely finish this half in two weeks. Second: A full marathon, 26.2 miles, is a very, very long way. But then I remember when 5K was a long way. I remember when crossing the street was a long way. There's no telling how far we can run when we keep moving our feet.
I expected my energy to crash around mile 14. That was my previous long run, and that's how my conditioning has worked so far. When I extend past my longest run, the extra miles are hard and heavy-legged. That didn't happen today. Not even when I realized that I was going to have to climb most of the last mile. I kept remembering Melissa's motto from our training at the Y. "I don't quit when I'm tired. I quit when I'm done." So that's what I did. I ran to the end. 16.03 miles, just to be sure. I don't know when I've ever felt better.
The parking lot was empty, now. My lonely little Honda sat in the sunshine with a cool bottle of water and a soft, comfy seat waiting for me. I drove back to Lexington and stopped at Speedway for a bottle of chocolate milk and some Gatorade. Amazing, how fast you can chug a quart of chocolate milk when you put your mind to it. It was delicious. Then it was home to Mrs P, the dogs, and our friend Linda who spent the night here. I had some coffee and put this in my log.
55-65 degrees. 16.04mi/3:23:31 @ 6:50 AM. Colby Road. Red Pegasus. Intervals 5:00 run/0:30 walk. Splits: 11:54, 11:47,12:16, 12:04, 12:12, 12:20, 12:25, 12:22, 13:13, 13:00, 12:37, 13:08, 13:20, 13:22, 13:26, 13:33.
Now that I look at them, I can't help but marvel at how little of the story numbers can tell. This was a great run for me, in a lot of ways. But most of what made it great are things that you can't measure on a map. Life can be so fantastic when you put one foot in front of the other.
I just wish I could show you. I wish I were a camera.