OK. Now I'm ready for China.
Today was a test of my own willpower in my ongoing evolution as a late-life running convert and I beat The Voice, that pathetic voice that says, "Just do the two loops and 11 miles." I heard that voice perhaps 40 or 50 times at Central Park this morning. I ran three loops, totaling 16 miles, in the ING New York City Marathon Long Training Run #1. It was an untimed, unscored 7 a.m. event that is run by New York Road Runners like a typical long race, complete with volunteers and with packs of pace groups, with the option of running up to 20 miles (four loops).
(Thanks to my friend nyflygirl for being one of the pace leaders, nice to meet you.)
You guys know how good that makes you feel, when you are absolutely certain that something is going to be "just good enough," and then you just go for it and refuse to give a damn about the blisters on your left foot or the searing pain in your right patella tendon or those objections raised about your business plan or jealous "lionesses" who try to tear you down or literary agents who tell you that your book manuscript is not as good as the proposal? It's all the same. There are two choices in life. Listen to that voice and "settle" on good enough. Or think like General Patton used to think: "You gotta will the body to go on! The mind will say that's good enough!"
Today was one of those days.
It was a perfectly overcast morning, humid and hot, billowing clouds forming on the Manhattan horizon and somehow holding their watery load. I rained on myself instead. During the course of my run, I must have dumped water over my head 20 times. I played "Free Bird" that many times, too. You will think I am slightly insane, a bit of a Lynyrd Skynyrd fixation perhaps, but that is how I roll. The first loop, instead of Shuffle I started with Free Bird, and then I started running Lynyrd Laps. A Lynryd Lap is when you just keep hitting Back on your Nano Red mounted to your left bicep (one still burning from Hep A and B shots; Tetanus/etc on the right), letting it play again and again as your own pace metric, knowing it's about a 10-minute song. It got me up the dreaded North Woods Hill in the upper-left corner of Central Park at the very start of the run, and it got me around the whole first lap. During subsequent laps, I would have stretches of self-doubt and each time I would go to Free Bird.
I ran the first lap (6.1 miles) with my Nathan Fuel Belt, filled with water, GU and apparently 40-pound weights, and after that lap I stopped on the 102nd Street Transverse to abandon it. I stuffed it into my new black ESPN bag in the baggage check area, and then proceeded to lap 2, feeling incredibly lighter, truly a Free Bird now. This is when you hit the three gently rolling hills proceeding south on West Drive, and during that stretch I was eager to settle for the 11 miles, just two laps. My feet were already soaked. I was starting to blister up on my left foot, on the ball of the sole and on the toe next to my big toe (poor second toe has no name, and it also has no toenail at the moment, given that the black nail caused by my April St. Louis Marathon finally fell off last week...common for marathoners). At that point, I lost the 10:30 pace group.
I was running on my own now, which was dangerous, because I do this all the time and I know that if I run by myself, I risk suddenly looking down and noticing that I am walking. "OMG a 1-degree incline! Better walk!" I hate when I do that. Today I was trying very hard to focus on my form all the time, leaning slightly forward and pumping relaxed arms. Still, how would I do with no group? Then the 11:00 pace group suddenly swarmed me from behind, and I hung with them for most of the second lap. Now it was back at the 102nd Street Transverse.
Cat Hill, I hate you. But today I beat you.
At that point there was not even a hesitation. I had run the first lap for 6 miles, and the second lap for 5 miles (the top 1 mile/hill is removed after lap 1). The third lap would be the same as the second, 5 miles, for a 16-mile run. The fourth lap, if one so chose, would be only four miles, shaving off the bottom loop at Central Park, bringing it to 20. Some runners were at that point, but my training program does not call for that yet. Plus, I have a 14-hour flight to Beijing coming Tuesday and I did not want to be paralyzed in pain with tight seating. I decided to go for that third loop, I went back to Free Bird, I put down more Gatorade Endurance Formula, another Powergel (available at 102nd), and made it happen.
It was there that I wound up running alongside a woman who was running her first marathon, with Team for Kids. That is how I began one year ago. I told her that the highlight is going to be race day itself, when being with TFK makes you feel like a VIP. Your own buses, your own tent, complete with private portapotties. I will miss that. She was up to $1900 raised out of the $2500 requirement, and I gave her some fundraising tips that worked for me. We passed the time talking for a mile, and every little bit helps. I said "Hi for third time!" to a volunteer, and kept on. Every now and then, packs of faster runners would fly past, and you would know they were on their fourth lap, heading for 20, and you were working on 16. That was just fine with me. I was in a lot of pain, my left Achilles hurting, running on blisters, right knee really tender, but I was blocking it out and refusing to give in to The Voice.
It felt good to get past Cat Hill for a third time. It felt good to get back to the Start/Finish area, to compliment other runners on a job well done. We're all there for the same reason, to find something deep within ourselves that we never knew was there before. It is an ongoing discovery, one I have been happily making since I changed my life in December 2006 and replaced KOOLS with ASICS and became a marathon runner.
I took a taxi home. I stopped and bought two bags of ice. I went into Alice's Teacup next door and got my customary buttercream-icing cake slice. I slid down into a painful icebath and lasted longer than I ever have before, this time nearly four minutes, and it felt so good to get out that you actually loved going through the pain of getting in. And I had the classic rock cranked on the TV in the living room as I relaxed, knowing today was a small victory on the way to what hopefully will be a sub-5:00 NYC Marathon and a life of Constant and Never-Ending Improvement (CANI). Tony Robbins taught me that. Thanks, Tony.
Olympics update: I fly Tuesday to Beijing, meeting the U.S. Baseball Team there, and enjoying sights and food and silk shops until the Aug. 13 baseball competition begins at Wukesong Stadium. It will last until Aug. 23. Opening Ceremonies are Aug. 8, Closing Ceremonies and Men's Marathon are Aug. 24. I depart on Aug. 25, arriving back in NYC on Aug. 26. It is going to be a tremendous adventure, and here's to great success for not only the whole U.S. contingent but also for the Beijing Games in general. Nothing beats a great Olympic fortnight. This will be the first one I am experiencing in person, and I'm ready.
I will be leaving the BlackBerry off the whole time, and my email is on the profile here. You can also follow me on Twitter @marathoner