Saturday, April 7, 2012

#401: The Big One

Most sensible marathon training programs recommend a long 20 miler before your race. The theory is that if you can run 20, you can probably run 26.2. Because in the not too distant past I couldn't even run 1, I am unpersuaded by this hypothesis. Guru Galloway suggests a different approach. If you can run 26.3, then you can absolutely run 26.2. He hasn't failed me yet, so on Good Friday, I took his advice. Here's yesterday's log entry.
34°-56°. 26.55 mi/05:55:41 @ 8:04 AM. The Big One. Lime Pegasus. 2:00 run/1:00 walk. Stopped at all 3 YMCA's.  A little cold, but otherwise, a fantastic day for a run! Time to start tapering.

I realize that my enthusiasm probably gets monotonous. I'd apologize for that if it wasn't so genuine. But the truth is, I find something to love about every run. Here's what I loved about The Big One.

I was up at 5:30 with the dogs, so I spent some time on Garmin Connect revising my course for the day. The day before, I had laid out a huge circle: one that hit the biggest hill I know in Lexington at just about the same distance as the mountain climb in the Pittsburgh Marathon. That afternoon, I got in the car and drove the route, just to be sure I was familiar with all the turns. It was deadly dull. Lots of miles along Man O' War Blvd, the bypass that orbits about 3/4 of the city. There are sidewalks, which is a plus, but there are also lots of cars zooming past, and fairly new residential developments surrounded by privacy walls and other barricades. As I drove it, I noticed how uninspired I was feeling. It was like miles and miles of the same hill again and again. I did not feel eager to run this course, and I took that as a very bad sign.

Plan B was to plot a more urban course. No giant hill, but lots of rolling climbs through city streets. To keep myself interested, I chose a gimmick; I would run past all three YMCA locations in the city, starting and finishing at North: my home Y. 

I loaded the course onto the Garmin, and waited for the sun. Coffee and toast with jelly. Grease the feet and nips. Don the running togs. Hit the bathroom. Check the weather. 34... huh? 34°? What's up with that? We just went through the warmest winter in my lifetime and barely ever saw 34°! Now was  a puzzler. How should I dress? I knew it was going to take me between 5.5 and 6 hours to run this distance. By the time I was finished, the temp might be in the low 60's.  In that heat, tights and a jacket would cook me. I decided to tough out the cool morning temps in shorts, gloves, and a long sleeved tech shirt. Feed the dogs. Kiss Mrs P. Hit the road.

I tried to start out easy, but the shadows were long, the wind was cold, and running felt a lot better than walking, so I just kept going. One measure of the shock of starting was my heart rate. My pulse averaged 149 BPM that first mile, about 20 BPM faster than my average for the run. Early on it spiked at 169, which is my theoretical maximum heart rate. Consequently, I ran that first mile a minute and a half faster than my target pace. My heart soon settled down, and so did my split times, but it took me a while to really find a comfortable way to move through the chill.

The first leg was a 5 mile jog to the North Y. The Garmin quickly scolded me. In the fog of early morning, I had planned my course to go to the Beaumont Y first, on the southern end of town. By the time I realized this, I had gone about 2 miles, and did not relish the prospect of doubling back and adding 4 miles just to get back on course, so I stayed on Broadway, moving north. From here on in, I would improvise.

I reached the Y in about an hour. Way too fast. I stopped for a pee and to top off my water bottle. Said "Hi," to Coach Melissa who offered to come get me if I crashed on the road. I had one of my PowerBar gummy energy chews, scanned my card at the door, and headed off toward the High Street Y.

High Street is the downtown Y in Lexington. I moved south through neighborhoods that had seen some hard times. The houses needed repairs that no one could afford. The dogs behind chain link fenceswere tough and loud. The sidewalks were rough and perilous. I kind of liked running here. People on the street sometimes nodded at the goofy old white man jogging through the 'hood. I smiled back. It was actually a very nice leg of my trip. I reached High Street in good time, chatted with the girl at the desk. Scanned my card, used the can, and topped off my water bottles. Then it was off on the long trek to Beaumont.

"Bow to the Brow"
I jogged out Nicholasville Road, through the UK campus. The school is still hung over from Monday's NCAA men's basketball championship, and every gas station has a vendor selling over-priced tee shirts celebrating Gr-8-ness and "The Brow," Anthony Davis: an extraordinarily talented young man who is about to become a very rich one. I passed book stores and hookah lounges. Now and then, another runner passed me, sometimes smiling at the goofy old fat man jogging in the cold wearing shorts and little more than a pajama top. As I waited for the light to change at the top of the very long hill that runs from town to Pasadena Drive, I heard a car horn and someone shouted my name. It was Bob, my training buddy and fellow half-marathoner from the week before. He smiled and hooted encouragement as I trotted through the cross-walk. It was like a shot of energy for me as I started along the ridge that would lead me to the big Beaumont Y.

Beaumont Centre is an amazing facility. It's the size of a small high school, and has multiple pools, basketball courts, and more class rooms than I can count. A nice young man joked with me about all the monitors I was wearing as I scanned my card for the third time today. Along with the Garmin, I was wearing my Timex to beep the Run/Walk intervals, and the heart monitor was visible through the damp spot on the chest of my shirt. I guess I did look kind of silly. But then the boy had no idea what an odyssey I was on. I decided not to brag about it, hit the can, topped off my water bottles, and headed back toward North.

Transylvainia University
Like so many of Lexington's streets, the main north/south artery changes names several times. Harrodsburg Road becomes South Broadway, then North Broadway, then Paris Pike as it passes through town. I hit nearly all of them as I came through downtown around lunch time. Here I encountered other joggers, business people rushing to lunch, and a tourist or two in town for opening day at Keeneland, shaking their heads at the old hick running in the cold in his underwear. North Broadway passes Transylvania University, a beautiful old private college where the streets are lined with white ornamental cherry trees.   As I approached the North Y and my 20th mile, I thought about it being Good Friday. Was I doing some sort of penance run, an act of piety to remember the day? I decided that I was enjoying this far too much for that. Instead, I was running as an act of reverence, honoring the day by remembering the life I had nearly lost. I reached the Y at right around 21 miles. I was going to be a little short of my goal, so I needed to add some distance on the way home. More improvising. After topping off my water bottles and forgetting to pee, I headed for home and the hills of Versailles Road.

Pennsyltuckians say "ver-SAILS". There's one in Kentucky and one north of Pittsburgh and they are both pronounced the same way. Snobs in Lexington love to make fun of this, and I always ask them if they call Paris, KY "pear-EE." I really should work on being less of a wise guy. Versailles Road is not pretty, at least not in town. Bridges over train tracks. Old strip malls. Seedy motels. One of Lexington's toughest public housing developments. I jogged past a bus station where two guys with that rough urban redneck vibe were dancing the preliminaries of a fist fight. A friend drove by and honked. Another witness. I climbed the three big hills that lead to the last turn toward home, noting the moment when I passed 23 miles. Farther than I'd ever run before. At 25 miles, I swear I could hear crowds cheering, even if the only person around was a little Latino lady, squatting beside a table full of perfumes she was selling. We exchanged smiles and I have no idea what she made of me. I looked down and was pleased to see there was no blood on the front of my shirt. Aquaphor had done the trick. I was within a mile of my goal, and it felt like a victory lap.

How 26.2 feels
Somewhere around 25 1/2 miles, I heard a car horn and the voice I love best in the world."GO BOB! YOU CAN DO IT!" God had arranged Mrs P's schedule so she was driving home just as I was finishing my run. If I was tired after that, I didn't feel it. I watched her disappear up the hill and thanked God for such a woman. She's spent nearly 25 years saving my life in one way or another. Now, she was going to finish The Big One with me.

26 miles. 26.1. 26.2. I didn't want to stop. I wanted to go for 27. 30. 50. I understand now why some people burst into tears at the finish line of a marathon. It's a completely insane and nearly impossible goal that eliminates your fear of anything in the world. As I hit the stop button on my watch at 26.5 miles, I thought to myself that there was no challenge that could possibly frighten me. I was going to be able to run a marathon.

So that was The Big One. I won't be going that far again until race day. "The hay is in the barn," runners like to say. For the next four weeks, my runs will be about maintaining my conditioning, building my strength, and raising money for LIVESTRONG at the YMCA. A month from today, it will all be over. But then, I don't think this one will ever really be over. This experience has changed me in way I never thought would be possible. There's just no telling what other changes are waiting for me between  here and the finish line on the Boulevard of the Allies, right down the street from the newspaper where my father and his father earned their living. There's still a long way to go.

And I'm going to love every step of the way.



  1. Wow! What a great outing that was! A far cry from my angsty painful (failed) marathon training last summer. Your story almost makes me want to try again for 26.2 Thanks

    1. Go for it! I highly recommend Jeff Galloway to you, especially if you've tried before and wound up hurt. Be gentle with yourself, and you can do it!


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