It snowed here in Indianapolis yesterday and all night, letting up only late into the morning. All over town the call went out, “Snowpocalypse! Snowpocalypse! Clear the shelves of bread and milk! We need french toast and perishables in the event of total destruction!” It snowed 8 inches….the day before my 20 mile long run.
I woke to find a pretty significantly thick blanket of white stuff disappearing the demarcations where sidewalk and street once sat. Everything blended into one flat surface of beautiful fluff. This, to any normal person, would be a pretty decent indication that one should go back to bed and skip the run or at least wait until later in the day when visibility and a clear path of travel might show itself.
I am not a normal person apparently.
I steeled myself for the effort the night before and laid out all my winter running clothes, topping the ensemble with my Solomon Speedcross 2 shoes….which are the best winter weather shoes you can find anywhere, ever. That is my non-objective opinion, that is truth. After a bit of peanut butter covered toast and a cup of earl grey tea I ventured out into the snowy landscape, which I quickly came to understand that I had severely underestimated the extent of. My first step off my porch sunk me up to my calf. I looked into the street to find a somewhat plowed area and shuffled through to it, managing to get a stride once I hit a more traveled lane. Then I hit the wind. A stiff, sideways, unrelenting wind that cut right through both top layers I had put on for the cold air. Figuring I would warm up once I got going, I pushed on up the cold, dark, icy street, making my way to our local rail trail that, although I figured would be sufficiently covered in snow, might not be impassable.
I was wrong.
I turned onto the trail and felt the quicksand like sensation of my feet sinking and sticking in the snow. Add to that my exposed ankles absorbing the frozen snow, and the northerly headwind that bit right into my chest and I instantly had second thoughts. I thought back to my facebook post the day prior where I made mention that the weather was never too bad to run 10 miles in and felt those words choking in my throat. “But this is 20 miles” I tried to rationalize to myself. It didn’t work. I made it about 400 yards up the trail and realized that 5 straight miles of this was NOT going to happen, my inner disaster alarm sounding loudly. I turned back towards the partially plowed road and tried to come up with Plan B. Of course, instantly, I debated scrapping the run. “My quads are sore, they need a break.” “I’ll do it later today.” Etc. etc. I knew that if I waited to run later…I simply wouldn’t. I was up and it was either now or never. My pride got the best of me as I debated calling it a day on the way home, finishing the scheduled long run with a whopping two miles. I couldn’t do it…I just couldn’t, so I told myself I’d run towards the inner city canal to see if that surface was more navigable, that way I’d at least have 6 miles in the books if that was a no-go, so that’s what I did.
I worked my way down the nearly deserted morning streets, soaked with slush and ice and headed towards the 3 mile canal loop. As I neared it I felt my pace pickup, anxious to see if this run was going to continue on, and sure enough, the city plows had cleared the walks late enough into the evening that although the footing wasn’t incredible, it was at least good enough to continue on.
I worked out the mileage in my head and realized I had to run 5 loops of the canal to get my mileage in, which didn’t exactly sell me on the joy of the effort, but at least I had no reason to back down now. And things weren’t THAT terrible really. I mean, the surface was either drifted snow, foot soaking slush, packed ice, or ankle-twisting rutted snow and although the wind was at my back for half the loop it was smack dead in my face for the other half, but at least after one loop I realized I could continue on the whole way.
Each loop then became a mental game of anticipation, waiting for the tailwind to push me down the canal, and then dreading running right back into it the other way. And as the loops repeated over and over again I realized how difficult it was to lose myself in my thoughts as EVERY SINGLE STEP was taken with a focus and concentration necessary to keep from twisting my ankle or slamming hard on the ice. Oh, and my quads hurt.
The thoughts in my head crept in again, “Coach said 16 – 20, so technically I could cut this short.” “My legs probably could use a break.” And suddenly, the effort got so rough and uninspiring that I was consumed with that rare, distinct and familiar thought that I experience most intently during a tattoo session, “Why in the hell am I doing this to myself?” But I do. And I have my reasons. And I kept going.
Then all of a sudden the pain in my quads disappeared and was replaced with a weighted fatigue, probably generated by slogging through the snow drifts and using extra effort to keep myself upright. And the mental effort became that much greater, even when I was down to two and then one loop left. This run, whatever it may have been affording me physically, was now about mental strength and I pushed to keep running in such absurd conditions, knowing the last 3 1/2 miles were going to be straight into the headwind I had been fighting all morning. I hit that headwind and started making my way home, slowly…very slowly, but surely.
And the mental effort never got easier, until maybe the last block or two, but damn did I know I accomplished something awesome when it was all said and done. 20 miles is never a simple task, no matter how routine it may be, but to push through such absurd conditions and complete the effort when just 1 mile in I was about to call it quits will offer me immeasurable benefits when I need them most. That’s what this absurdity is all about. Like suffering through a tattoo, when it’s all over, it’s so worth it. And I’ve got a souvenir of which the benefits will long outlive the pain.
Do something awesome today friends.