Sunday brought me to Damascus Virginia and the Creeper Trail for the final 3 hour run before Goblin Valley. I set out to run 1:33 to the turn and then come back in whatever amount of time it required.
The Creeper Trail is very flat with only a slight grade in one or two locations so it is the best way for me to simulate the conditions of running in the desert next month. The fall is here and with it the cool breezes and falling leaves of the Appalachians. I hit start on the watch at 8:30 am and was off and feeling strange.
Trying my best to not try too hard at the start was weird, awkward. I've been racing a lot lately at some shorted distances and this caused the goal pace of 7:45 to feel painfully odd. Mile two saw an average pace of 7:30... better to back off!
I focused on relaxing my face and shoulders and allowing efficiency to creep in. The problem was, the more I relaxed, the faster I was moving and soon I had reached 7 miles in 50 minutes... obviously too quick for this day...
Soon after that I reached 8 miles and came across my first surprise of the day. There is the trail, just above the river was a large beast, a black bear of 500-600 pounds. He heard me crunching along the trail and quickly, powerfully charged of the hillside, snappy branches on his way. He reached a couple of hundred feet uphill and where the land levelled off stood and observed me, grunting and breathing heavily. I assume this was the result of the anaerobic effort he just put in and not his desire to consume me... if that were the case he'd not have run on like he did. So, there we stood. Me in the trail looking up at him and he looking down at me. I guess we were both having the same thought, 'Now what?' I did not want the situation to continue any longer than it needed to. I turned away from him and continued down the trail, being sure that I was not acting confrontational, or territorial in any way. He stood his ground and I ran off. A beautiful interaction on the planet Earth.
I continued on crossing trellised bridges. The trail crossing wide rivers and large fields of green. I spotted a flock of Canadian Geese and they honked something at me about health care and social reform. I immediately thought about what I was going to buy at Walmart on my way home.
I reached mile 12, my planned turning point and weighed the risk of going just 1.1 miles further, you know, for the full marathon. So, on I went. This section of trail climbed barely... so little that the return trip felt flat, or maybe that was simply my legs?
Still feeling relatively fresh at mile 16 I stopped to pass through a gate and was passed by a young runner. He blew on by and of course the competitive/ integrity trigger was activated. He was moving along at tempo pace, I was now committed to a full marathon have gone out the 13.1... now in the midst of mile 17. He stayed in sight but I tried my best to let him get away. After 4 miles he was standing and stretching on the mile post. He was halfway done... I assume in the middle of 8 or 10 miles. I still had 9 to go and was feeling the week behind me catching up a little... and those early miles as well.
After another 4 miles I was squarely in the cross hairs of pain and doubt. This being the reason for today's run I did feel a certain pleasure in the pain. The reflection of greeting oncoming trail users was helpful. My fatigue seemed to diminish each instance, and the breathing was not labored though I could feel the shallow breathe, the heavy legs and the queasy stomach. I kept drinking and drinking the Nuun infused water, helping to settle things a bit. 3 miles to go.
23 miles down and now I am shooting for steps building to quarter mile splits. This works for a mile and then I think about the Gatorade in the dispenser ahead, the COKE MACHINE!!! I reach it. I do not have the exact change, no dice. Filling my bottle up in the men's room I down the water and begin the shuffle back the final mile. The tightness is overwhelming forcing the walk but also allowing for a couple of conversations with walkers on the path. Total mileage for Sunday morning... 26.2. My first unaided marathon, and this time just a training run on the way to the fall's events.
The rest of the day allowed a Patriots win (a disappointing Red Sox defeat in the form of a Yanks sweep and clinch of the East...) and general overall laziness... of course with that lack of sleep combined with overwhelming fatigued related to extended efforts like these. The promise of sleep on Monday night sounds soooo good!