Sunday, April 4, 2010


When I went to bed on Friday night, I tried to do so with a clear mind, but, pardon the pun, it was racing.  My final long run loomed just 8.5 hours from the light going out.  All week I tried telling myself that however it went, I was ready, illustrated by my "crushing" 20-miler the Saturday before.  The mercury's been climbing all week and an 18-miler in 80 degree weather is not my ideal scenario for rounding out the dubbed "Marathon Training" part of my program.

I've spent the week convincing myself that "It's only 18 miles" essentially saying, "The final mileage doesn't start with a 20."  But 18 miles is still 18 miles.  It's a lot!

Beyond that, I've been logging some serious time on the Runners' World/Running Times Boston site.  The race prep, post-race sections are great, but I was after the course advice.  All I've heard from friends and read in articles is how much this race beats up your legs.  It's not the uphills, it's the downhills.  It's the uphills because of when they come.  It's the potential for good weather, for bad weather.  The inevitable thoughts of "what have I gotten myself into" and "have I done enough" crept into my head.

I started to express these to my wife yesterday and she had the perfect reply, "It's going to be hard.  It's a marathon.  It's Boston."  I must have given her my own version of Mattie's head cock when she's intrigued because she let a beat go by, then, "But you're ready.  You've done the work."

And so, I drifted off to sleep, a belly full of rigatoni, and my racing outfit laid out for me to complete the 18-miler I've looked at as the pinnacle of this program.  

When this all began 14 weeks ago, I flipped through and dreamt about this run, knowing that all the work will have been behind me, and this run would be the last hurdle to the final two week taper. 

Who doesn't love a good taper?  You're in top shape.  You're cranking out easy 5-7 milers like they're a joke.  Confidence is high, and, my favorite, you get to pound carbs.

The alarm went off and I hopped out of bed at 8:00, having given myself a little bit of sleeping in time, but still early enough to hopefully beat the tourists out to the mall and the sun from glowing full blast.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my breath when I went out to get the paper as well as a blanket of gray clouds blocking out the sun.  Goosebumps raised on my bare arms and legs, and I thought this could work out just fine.

Gravelly Point teemed with bikers, joggers, and runners early on.  I waded through them to the least disgusting of the porta potties, "emptied the tank," and set out.

The Mt. Vernon trail is a meteorological oddity.  You could go through several changes of clothes because each section of the trail has its own climate.The wind blows in hard off the Potomac, pushing you sideways as planes fly overhead, close enough to think you could jump up and touch them...or they're going to land on you.  But running out toward Old Town Alexandria, the wind dies and the air gets stale and dank.  I could still see my breath but felt the Virginia humidity already clinging to me.  Cue the self-doubt.  

When I reached my turnaround point, I saw the Capitol poking above the river at what seemed like hundreds of miles away and knew that I'd have to get to it...and back during this run.  Still, I felt life returning.  I tried not to think about the fact that I was supposed to finish the last six miles of this run at marathon goal pace, which would start just before hitting that white dome on the horizon.

At mile 9, I headed across the Roosevelt Bridge, the Kennedy Center and Georgetown to my left, the Jefferson Memorial and 14th St. Bridge to my right.  I strode smoothly past the clogged lanes of traffic trying to get in to see the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom and I groaned inwardly at the thought of navigating through the tourist hordes.

I trotted down the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial and set out down the reflecting pool, the entire Mall laid out before me.  I dodged long lines of tourists stretched out five and six across with little regard for looking where they were going.  As I scoffed going by, I noticed by pace quickening more out of frustration to put distance between myself and them than any cue to begin the "fast finish."

I rounded the Capitol and felt the crowds thin out the farther from the Jefferson Memorial Tidal Basin.  But, I prepared to head directly into that storm.  I worked my way up Independence Avenue, periodically jumping into the street to avoid the throngs of slow moving, camera clad invaders.  

To my horror, the trail around the tidal basin was choked.  This dashed any hopes of taking my usual route around it.  Despite living in this area for more than 20 years, I've never been down to see the Cherry I know why.

Suddenly, I found myself running down a foot wide median on the exit ramp to go over the 14th street bridge, but it provided the room I needed to get by.  Running out of room, I darted through a school of out-of-towners and back onto the grass.  

I stole glances over at the Cherry Blossoms, and truth be told, it is a remarkable site.  Pink blossoms ring the Tidal Basin.  A strong breeze shrouds you in a brief blizzard of pink pedals.  Despite the masses, it still gives me that, "Ah, D.C." feeling.

I trekked down the backside of the FDR Memorial and worked my way back to Lincoln.  When I hit the Memorial Bridge, I had two miles to go.  Two miles to tapering.  

I ran a quick mental check: Legs good; breath good; body good; head good.  And felt the extra kick of adrenaline drop in and tingle every end of my body.  I took off buzzing down the trail, passing strollers, joggers, and even bicyclists.  I clicked the watch and felt the burden from the night before leave me.  I big smile creased my face as I picked my way back to the car, stretched, through on a dry shirt and blared "Dance to the Music" with the windows down.

When I returned home, I moved into the kitchen, a satisfying stiffness starting to settle in my legs, and went to check off this final run and get a glimpse of what was left.

My program is broken up in phases: Base, Pre-Marathon, Marathon, and the last I expected to be called "Taper."  Instead, McMillan puts a great spin on it.  The final phase is called "Peak."  And I think it captures exactly what I was (and should have been) feeling.  The next two weeks are time to refuel, reenergize, and unite 14 weeks of workouts.    Taper sounds like you're winding down.  Peaking means you've reached the pinnacle.  You're at the height of your training and as my Uncle said, you've put the "edge on the sword."  

There's a note that goes along with the start of the new phase: You now enter the Peaking Phase to rest the body/mind but keep the engine revved for racing!

The machine is ready.

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