Michelle’s son (and my surrogate toddler) Noah left at the beginning of this past weekend to stay with his dad in Colorado for the week, which gave us the privilege of lots and lots of uninhibited adult time. This meant wilderness camping, hiking….at our pace, canoeing….at our pace, running and biking….at our pace, and so much more. We intended to make the most of it.
On Friday, we drove south to the entrance of Dean Wilderness and rumbled along a pitch dark, rocky road that took us about 10 miles into the deep woods. We set up camp by the lights of my car, made ourselves a fire, then set to roasting an entire bag of Vegan Dandies Marshmallows, which probably wasn’t the best idea considering the next morning was my long run, but once we started we lost the ability to stop. It was worth it.
The next morning we woke to the sound of shotgun fire from the next camp over and took our lazy adult time making instant oatmeal and tea before setting out for a run and ride. It was my 20 mile day and I was pretty excited to run it all in the middle of the wilderness, even if it was on the rocky road we drove in on. We started off at 10:30 with the sun already beating down and the humidity hovering like a low ceiling that keeps you claustrophobic and uncomfortable. I figured I’d run past our camp 30 minutes then turn around and run 30 minutes back, passing the camp yet again and retracing our drive in for 30 minutes before making the final turnaround. The problem was, I didn’t really know what terrain snaked past our camp.
I started the run off pedestrian while Michelle rode alongside me with a camelback full of water and a gatorade I stuck in her bag. Everything was going smoothly as we moved over a handful of rolling hills, then things took an interesting turn for the immediate better, but future worse, as the road started to descend before leveling out, then descending again, then leveling out, then continuing to descend again and again and again. Like I said, in the immediate the downhills felt just great, but I knew in less than 30 minutes I was going to have to go the other way, and that wasn’t going to be very fun. The final minute of the first 30 involved a severely steep drop that added the final insult to injury when I turned around to climb it right back up. So that’s what I did.
Slow step after slow step I lifted my body up the severe grade, even passing Michelle as she struggled to pull her bike up the hill (though her dude-ness won’t allow her to get out of the saddle, so it probably took her longer than it could have). Then soon enough I hit the next hill, and the next, and the next, and the next as we made our way back to the camp. I took some pulls from my gatorade to help replenish some of the fluids I was losing in exertion and the heat, then soon enough the road leveled out and we came through the camp entrance and continued on. I looked at my watch when we hit camp and it read 1:01 and change.
“Nice!” I uttered outloud, considering that I ran only slightly slower on the uphills than I did on the downhills going out, even though I didn’t feel like I was really pressing the pace at all.
We continued past the camp and hit the same rollers that we drove in on, which in hindsight, were considerably steeper than I had initially remembered on the drive in. It was dark out, so I hadn’t really gauged what I would be running the next morning. Regardless, I continued on out the road and although worked to catch my breath after the crest of each hill, didn’t really feel all that bad considering the heat and terrain. That all started to change really quickly though.
Soon enough, at the top of each hill I struggled to catch my breath as my heart rate continued to forcefully pound away, and after each hill it took longer and longer to recover my breath, further depriving my muscles of such necessary oxygen. After not too long I started to recognize the minor warning signs of break down. My legs weren’t lifting so high anymore and wobbled a bit more on my missteps. Catching my breath became more and more of an effort. I started to hunch ever so slightly.
Before we even hit the turnaround I said to Michelle, “Man, I don’t know if I’m going to make it all the way back. I’m feeling broken.” I hoped I was exaggerating.
I counted down the minutes to the turnaround and started my way back into the rollers, feeling more fatigued than ever. Soon enough, those small signs of breakdown turned into big signs. When I stopped to tie my shoe I noticed my laces and shoes were absolutely SOAKED in sweat and when I made the effort to start running again, it was almost like I was the frozen tin man. My body was shutting itself down as my mind wouldn’t let it. Still, I managed to keep trotting on and found myself dipping into my mental tricks to keep pushing through. I looked at points ahead and told myself “just make it that far” then picked another point ahead and did it again. I imagined running Chicago quickly, being cheered on by friends. I imagined running strong. I thought about the form of professional runners I admire and emulate. But nothing worked. With each step my confidence waned and I couldn’t believe I was on the verge of stopping.
I looked ahead and saw the comfort of a stretch of flat road that turned and disappeared behind the trees. But the only thought that came to me was, “I don’t want to know what is around that turn.” And suddenly, without seemingly any physical effort of my own, my body stopped.
Now normally, when I stop running there is a sort of euphoric feeling that surges through every tired muscle of my body saying, “Thank you.” Not this time. I put my hands on my knees and realized I was having difficulty holding the strength in my legs. My breathing continued at running pace and when I looked at my shoes, they seemed to sink into the distance before coming back into focus and then sink again, as if my pupils were pulsating. This wasn’t good.
And it was only 1:37 into the run. I managed to muster enough strength to start walking and regain composure, but getting back to running was going to be more difficult than I thought. I walked for about a mile before attempting a very slow jog, but I only made it so far before I had to start walking again. I felt bad as Michelle circled around me on her bike, offering desperately appreciated sips from her camelback. I was officially broken.
Finally, after pulling myself together I regained enough strength, both physical and mental, to slowly jog the rest of the way back to camp, but it wasn’t pretty. And even with the walking and pathetically slow pace, when we reached the campsite again, I stopped and put my hands on my knees like I had finished a half-marathon. This was nuts.
I drunkenly stumbled my way to a camp chair and sat down, staring off into the distance trying to regain composure and savor the feeling of stopping running. After about 5 or 10 minutes of that I stood up to stay loose and change out of my clothes, and when I got up I felt a weird warm dripping sensation on my legs. I turned around to find the camp chair filled with a good 12 inch puddle of sweat, maybe about 1/2 an inch deep. Michelle, who can handle lots of gross dude stuff scrunched up her face and stared at the chair…..”THAT is so disgusting.” I was more fascinated personally, but I supposed I could understand her reaction.
So finally, we rested up before changing into cleaner clothes and driving into town for some lunch. We followed that up with a decently paced 8 mile hike and 6 miles of canoeing the next day. I was sufficiently exhausted at the end of tha weekend.
This is the encouraging thing about this whole experience. Yes, I completely broke down on that run. There is no denying that, but there were a lot of factors that I believe played into the breakdown, such as an extremely labor intensive week at work, the heat and humidity, lots of decently sized hills, and a pace probably too fast for both the weather and terrain. Regardless, I broke down, but even better, I came through it.
Even after the rest of the exertion that weekend, I didn’t get injured and I recovered well. I took Sunday off due to everything else we did, but was back at it on Monday, putting in a hard 10 miles in the hot sun again. Normally, with an effort like that in the past, I would be out for at least two days and slow getting back into after that. But things are different now and being able to recover from an effort, and subsequent breakdown, like that is a telling sign of my fitness and the strength of my body. So yeah, I would have liked to finish that 20 miles, but in all this was an eye-opening experience and I feel even more prepared to take on the efforts that lie ahead leading up to Chicago. Let’s hope these involve both a good recovery and successful workout.
Log – Tuesday Night Terror!
3 mile warmup
3 x 2 mile w/ 1 mile recovery jog in between
pacing – 5:15, 5:00 / 5:06, 5:10 / 5:01, 5:08
3 mile cool down
Breakfast – cereal w/ soymilk, 2 small health muffins, yogurt w/ jelly, coffee
Lunch – Pasta w/ awesome sauce and peas and spices
Dinner – Udon noodles w/ thai peanut sauce and brocolli
Snacks – Coffee, Water, Banana, Apple, Clif Bar, Clif Shot, Luna Moons (testing energy gels)
A Perfect Murder – Unbroken (can’t get enough!)