Monday, November 9, 2009

Feeling the Heat

At mile 11.5, I knew I was in trouble. The gatorade sloshed around near the bottom of my bottle, maybe three more generous sips left. The sweat started to crust around my eyes and forehead. My head started to get a little fuzzy. I had officially entered the house of pain...with four miles to go. That's when the bargaining began: Just make it to the top of this hill then coast down the backstretch. Just get to the shade, it's cool in the woods. Just pull back the pace, but not to a walk. None of it really worked.

Cue the berating: you can't make it four more miles, sissy? You ran an effing-marathon a few months ago. You're going to run Boston in April? Not bloody likely. And so on and so forth....

Finally, acceptance. I ran/walked the next two miles (mostly walked) and felt good enough to run (jog) the last two.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. You see, it's November here in Northern Virginia. I ran intervals in long sleeves last week. It was cool. It was chilly. It was glorious. Over the years, I've found that given the choice between heading out for a slow ten-miler in a half foot of snow or slogging through a six-miler in the August Virginia humidity, get out a second pair of socks, bundle me up, and smear the chapstick on, because I'm going snowshoeing. There were others who cherished yesterday's stray warm day. I cursed every step.

Sit out on the porch with a cold beer. Drink your morning coffee with the Sunday Post on the deck. Soap up the car. These are all commendable pursuits when the mercury rises to 70-degrees. Do not put running on my list. I walked into work today and had this conversation about three times:
"It was beautiful this weekend wasn't it? What great weather for your 15-miler. No? Why are you looking at me like that? Ok, ok. I'm sorry I asked. It's just that it was sooooooo gorgeous."

Perhaps to some it was. And trust me, I realize I'm complaining about 70-degree weather -- in November -- and I'm probably alone. One of my friends says she thrives in the heat. I cannot relate.

My grand plan was to head out to Manassas Battlefield. I romanticize this loop. In fact, it's one of my favorite places to run. It's certainly a demanding, hilly loop, but there's something about running over the footsteps of history, where Confederate and Union soldiers probably ran for their lives. My favorite section is the final mile back up to the visitor center, but, that it's the final mile is not why I love it. You've in been in the woods climbing and descending for a little over a mile and the quads and lungs are starting to burn. You know the clearing is coming but not soon enough. Then you run past a cemetery and do a quick check to make sure it's not for you. Finally, rounding one last turn, there's a break in the woods and you emerge onto this expansive field that unrolls before you. Cannons line the top of the ridge, aimed back toward stone bridge. A surge of adrenaline spurs me on as I storm across that field, imagining the cannons firing behind me.

Today, however, the romance had died. Normally, I run the loop three times and just enjoy the foliage and what I imagined to be a cool fall run in solitude. Instead, I barely found a parking space. The sun beat down from a cloudless blue sky. I looked ridiculous wearing a long sleeve t-shirt over my running gear. I broke a sweat while stretching. Still! I shook all this off and started thinking about the fall colors, the deer I'd probably see, and the sheer exhausting satisfaction I'd get from completing my first long run in some time.

I started out past the second line of cannons and descended into the woods. Driven by optimism, I didn't make a face or the unmistakable "get the hell out of my way" cough at the family who insisted on walking four abreast across the trail, carrying walking sticks, and hiking packs. No! You let them enjoy their day, I said. As they moved aside, I tossed them a wave and carried on. Not 100 yards farther, I nearly rolled my ankle on a branch covered by all the dead, brown leaves that should have been on the trees for me to enjoy. Apparently, all the leaves fell when I was on my exotic safari in Kansas City last week.

And the run pretty much continued in this fashion. I've had crappy starts like this before, my first loop nearly bringing me to my knees only to be followed by a negative split, loop of my life on round 2. Today, though, was not one of those days. I kept telling myself it was an exercise in perseverance, a character building run that I could draw from in future races. That may be true. However, I think the odds are I'll think about this run and think, "Man, remember that hot day in November and how AWFUL that run felt."

I got home and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening moving from one place in the house to another, eating, then falling asleep.

At one point, I managed to drag out my laptop and hit up The ten-day forecast looks favorable asthe low will once again descend into the 40s, and I can look forward to packing away the summer gear in just a few days. To Old Man Winter, I say, "Come on in, the cold is just fine."

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