Monday, August 1, 2011

The View From Base Camp

400 mile club
I took the left off of Independence Avenue then turned again onto the gravel of the National Mall.  The sun was up now, stretching its rays over the city and mercifully burning off the morning humidity.  Sweat dripped off the brim of my backward turned cap and slid down between my shoulders.

It was here that I could see the end. The mileage count read 397 and each step chipped away at another tenth.  The adrenaline dropped in and with it, the pace fell.  I let the Washington Monument draw me toward it, and beyond it, the Lincoln Memorial...the last stop before crossing the last bridge back into Virginia to click off the last miles to mark 400.

A smile broke across my face as I took a brief moment to stare up at the Monument.  D.C. still manages to awe me even though I've left footprints along this trail for more than 20 years.

Emerging from under the shaded path that lines the reflecting pool, I tossed a quick nod to Abe, no time to talk today, and hoofed it up and over the Roosevelt Bridge.  Georgetown appeared to my right, Alexandria somewhere off to the left where planes traced the twisting contours of the Potomac.

I blew by two startled runners and bounded toward my imaginary finish line, where the tape waited for me to break it.  Then I clicked my watch, put my hands on top of my wet head and looked up to the sun.  Tomorrow, I thought, I can sleep.

Sixty days ago, I had no idea what I'd be getting into.  "Just run miles," my Uncle said.  Sounded sort of easy enough.  Four hundred miles to be exact.  Four hundred miles between June 1 and July 31.  But it became so much more than that.  And I learned a few things along the way:

  • Never judge how a run is going to feel until you're a few miles in.  Quentin Cassidy said two miles.  Somedays, the final seven miles of an 11 miler felt invincible, yet the first four nearly brought me to a halt.
  • Pulling your shirt off in the middle of a run lowers your body temp at least 10 degrees; well, it'll feel like it does, anyway.
  • There is no substitute for Gold Bond powder.
  • Standing under the hose after a hot humid run in nothing more than your short-shorts can steal your breath when the water hits you...and it causes quite a stir amongst the neighbors.
  • I. Love. Sleep.
  • It may be agonizing to get out of bed for a two-a-day but staring down 7.5 miles in the afternoon is somehow more doable than 12.5 all at once.
  • Sometimes 50 miles can feel like a "down" week.
  • Keep plenty of ice cream sandwiches in the freezer.
  • Beer.  Drink it.
  • You can conquer a mountain by hiking to the top and running down it.  You can belittle it by doing it twice.
  • There are days that make you think you never want to run again...that are immediately followed by days that make you feel like you will run forever.
  • You will run into people who have no idea what your name is, but know you only as "Runner guy" or that "Dude who runs all the time" and this is enough for them to strike up a conversation.
  • Lastly, it's near impossible to do a challenge like this without the support of your family and thanks to all of you who came on this journey with me and offered your kind words, jokes, and empathy.  And a big congrats to those who completed the challenge with me on Daily Mile -- whether it was 400 miles or whatever distance you chose, like my Rockstar friend Louise who swam 40mi!

So, now I've arrived at Base Camp.  Four hundred miles are stretched out before me. Some are sweaty, soggy miles.  Some are in the dark of night others in the haze of morning.  Some are frustrating.  Others are freeing.  Some are alone with my own demons.  Some are with friends.  Some had stacks of pancakes waiting for them at the end.

But there's not much time to enjoy them.  I'll of course add them to my mental lexicon when the going gets tough.  But I have many more to go to reach that craggy, cloud-swathed summit.

There’s a 1.4mi stretch of path along a 9-mile route that is essentially 1.4mi straight with one slight curve. It seems to stretch on forever. You can see the bend but it never seems to get any closer. I have to look behind to see how far I’ve come and I always like to take one last glance before I disappear around that bend to remind myself that indeed I did cover all that ground. It’s one last confidence boost to tackle the last miles.

Consider this the glance over my shoulder.  Ever onward....

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