14.0 miles @ 12:14 pace
On Sunday morning, I woke up early and headed out to the Endurance Sports Expo in Oaks, where I volunteered as a Team in Training Ambassador to man the booth for a couple hours. I fundraised and ran the New Jersey Marathon in 2012 with Team in Training, and I believe in everything this cause stands for, which is why I still try to help out as much as possible today.
I brought my running clothes so I could head out to Valley Forge afterwards, but changed my mind at the last minute and decided to head out to Wissahickon Park instead, since there are many more miles of trails there.
I stepped out on the trail at 1:00 and was immediately greeted with this:
Don't get me wrong, I like mud as much as the next runner. But I was really not in the mood for it on Sunday.
I proceeded to run the fastest 14 miles on trails I've had ALL training season. In terrible conditions. I should have been feeling fabulous and fast and-god damned-freaking-amazing for how strongly I ran. My legs were not sore. AT ALL. In fact, this is the first long trail run since I started training in December that my legs weren't aching in some way.
But I didn't feel amazing. I didn't even feel good. I felt downright terrible for most of this run. Because my head wasn't in the game.
On any normal run, I'll reach about 2.5 miles and my mind and body enter a zen-like state. The reason for running becomes immediately apparent, because I have somehow miraculously united my mind and body into a magnificent meditative machine that feels strong, confident, and unbreakable. This feeling is my version of the "runner's high" that so many people seek to achieve. It's not necessarily an intense burst of dopamine as much as it is a realization that this is, in fact, what I was born to do.
On Sunday's run, I never reached Nirvana. I repeatedly grasped for it as I trudged through thick, sticky mud. I batted away negative thoughts as if they were the prickly, bare branches reaching out to me on the trail. I forced my way through 20 mile per hour winds, hoping my efforts would be rewarded by some delayed gratification later on down the trail.
It never happened.
I ran all 14 miles in a mentally deficient state, cursing the teenagers crowding "my" trails, damning the cyclists who left deep ridges in the mud, and swearing at the wind that froze my gloveless hands for the last 7 miles. All the while, I ran swiftly up hills that I had to hike up on previous occasions, glided effortlessly down precarious declines, and turned switchbacks with ease. This mental/physical paradox did not escape me during the run, as I tried, to no avail, to bring myself back to the present instead of wishing for the run to be finished.
I cried when I finally got back to my car. I asked myself why? Why am I running? Why do I think I have what it takes to go beyond the marathon? Why should the girl who always hated running until 5 years ago become an ultrarunner?
Then I remembered a few similar training runs in past years. I thought of a 95 degree day when friends were inside with cold AC or at the beach, while I trudged along Kelly drive. I remembered a 9 degree evening last year when I was the only person out running on a normally busy bike path. It's funny how selective your memory becomes after you have accomplished your goal.
When I got home, I felt better knowing I pushed through the mental anguish of that run. I still don't know the answers to the questions I asked myself in the car. Maybe there are no answers. But I know one thing is true about this sport that has become a part of my soul: