An impromptu half marathon

Saturday 14 February 2015

Training for Rome Marathon (for real this time)

Week 5 of 10: Day 31

31 days to go

Sitting on the couch, resting slightly aching legs on the coffee table, I’m trying to recall this morning’s run.

What I remember best, I think, was the effort it took getting out of bed at 5:30. I was very grateful that the run was at 6:30, not 6:00, as it gave me an extra half hour to sleep. And I’m a bit ashamed to admit that, as there is a motivational video I watched on YouTube where the narrator says ‘some of you want sleep more than you want success’. It makes me cringe when I hear that. I get so little good quality sleep that quite of then that is exactly the truth – I sometimes want sleep far more desperately than food, water, work, money … Or to be able to run a marathon. And it was those words that got me out of bed a few minutes later.

Not unusually, it had been a restless night. I got to bed at about eleven, when the Significant Other was snoring up a tempest, then I heard The Kid come home at midnight, and wrestled the dog for space on the bed. It was hot and I couldn’t get comfortable, and I was feeling a bit anxious about the run. I hadn’t run all week and had been under the weather. I was worried about having lost condition and, because I’m nursing this cough, was worried that I would be out of breath and struggling.

But that stuff is all by-the-by, really. The task at hand was to get out on the road for a long run.

The scheduled Embark Training run was to be 13 km – starting at the bottom parking lot of Tafelberg Road, up that nice ‘n’ steep hill that takes you around the hairpin bend, and then all the way to the end of the tarred road, to where the gravel road begins. Once there we get to take a slug from the communal bottle of water and head back to the parking lot.

My plan was to then continue running towards the circle, down Camps Bay Drive, into Camps Bay, and home along the beach road. This was to give me a bit over 20 km – I was hoping for about 25 km. Ambitious for a first run after being sick but our training days are fast fading into the past tense.

Now, I don’t know what circus came into town and stole all my monkeys, but, yet again, I was quite wonderfully unencumbered (not that I believe that monkeys should be in circuses, by the way). A sizeable hill loomed up ahead and, without the usual ‘Oh gosh this is going to hurt I’m never going to make it to the top’, I simply got going, made it to the hairpin bend and carried on running. My head was filled with thoughts – as I recall there were some genius ideas amongst them – but I have no idea what I thought about. What I do know is that I didn’t think about how far I still had to run before I could walk or, even better, stop. If anything, I was looking forward to the turnaround point, so that I could turn around and get started on my real run – the extra distance I was going to do beyond the training group’s 13 km.

The run felt easy. Sure, it was only about 6 km to the turnaround, but the road isn’t that easy – or, to be precise, it hadn’t always seemed easy. The first time I ran that road with Embark, I threw up at the 5 km mark. It was part of the Kloof Nek Classic, which I ran a few weeks ago, and, as iIwas running along this morning, taking in the cool air and looking out over the city, only half of it luminous in the early morning light while the rest of its still slumbering in the mountain shadow, I did think about how good I had felt during that run, and started getting a whiff of a pattern emerging here.

The road ahead

The road ahead

The run was easy because I ran it easy. But I have not always had the option of making a run easy. Most of the time I have had to talk myself through it and tell myself I could keep going when I really believed that I just didn’t have it in me. But this morning I could choose to run easy and still not be at the back of the pack. Miracles!

The run back had me feeling light and happy. I took a picture of the city and picked up the pace a little so that I could find the ladies’ room at the lower cable station – I was desperate and wasn’t spending the last kays on the way home feeling uncomfortable.

The view of the city waking up, seen from Tafelberg Road

The view of the city waking up, seen from Tafelberg Road

Firstborn daughter had taken the lead by the time I got out of the ladies’ and had made her way past the parking lot and was waiting for me at the circle. Then we had a negotiation. I had never said we were running down Camps Bay Drive, she insisted. I had definitely said we were running down Kloof. Nope. I did not. Kloof is too steep a downhill (for today) and too little distance. she insisted that I was changing the goalposts and said I could go that way but that it was too far for her to do today. And she needed the bathroom.

So we went down Kloof instead. And there, on my little light run down a glorious 3 km hill my knees started hurting. What?! No! No-no-no-no-no! Nooooooo! WTF! Both knees. ITB. I lengthened my stride, stretching my legs out behind me, to try to ease them out. Still ouch. I stopped for a moment to give them a rub and then carried on going. What else was there to do but push on?

At the bottom of Kloof I thought we could turn right and run along Lower Kloof, which would give us a few more gentle inclines and the option of taking on another hill if we headed up to High Level.

But Firstborn Daughter said no. She had no more hills left in her legs. So we headed left towards Camps Bay – more downhill and more unhappiness in the ITB – and back home along Clifton. but first a detour through the La Med parking lot to check if the ladies’ room was unlocked. But it was all battened down and on we ran towards Clifton Fourth Beach, where there was sure to be relief. I paused my Garmin and stretched my legs a bit while I waited for her to find a facility that was open. She looked miserable and desperate as she went from one side of the parking lot to the other, being directed by an elderly fellow who was waving his bony finger in some vague direction.

Eventually I saw her making her way back up towards the road, looking not much happier – she seemed to be determined to look unhappy for the duration of this morning’s run – and on we trudged. We were at about 16 km now. I wasn’t too happy about the stop, as I could feel my legs had stiffened a bit. But it would be 18 km at the Ambassador Hotel. I thought about how long that stretch had seemed before, but it’s only 2,5 km from the La Med parking lot. Who would ever have known?!

‘I’m running to 20 km,’ she said, ‘and then I’m walking the rest of the way home.’

I had just come to the same conclusion – I think it might have been the voice of a monkey that had been left behind.

‘Have you got your second wind?’ I asked. She seemed to be suddenly running quite a bit faster.

‘My battery is dying,’ she said, meaning the battery of her Garmin, and started pulling away from me.

I was a little bit amused by her obsessiveness but do understand that if your Garmin doesn’t log your 20 kays, they never happened. I let her go. I’m not in a race against her.

I ran past her as she should stretching her legs at her 20 km mark, and called to her that my Garmin wasn’t reading 20 km yet. I had paused it at the turnaround and had forgotten to switch it back on again. I had about 500 m to go before I could log 20 km. But then, as I got to 20 km, I thought I may as well run myself a little half marathon while I was at it. So I just kept going. I got to 21,1 km and stopped the clock.

And that felt pretty damn good. How completely bizarre?!

I remember running this stretch last year, when I had decided to do the Cape Town Festival of Running half marathon. It was from this pavement that I could see the finish arch up ahead. It was the first time ever in my life that I had run a full 13 km without walking, and I had felt so pleased with myself. After about 15 km I started flagging and needed to walk, and then I had to will myself to the 18 km mark, and then really talk myself through the last 3.1 km to get to the end. I had felt very pleased with myself on that run. I had made a huge leap in my running ability. But some time after that my training had got interrupted. How much further would I have been by now had I just managed to keep the momentum going, had I not let the pressure of work get in the way?

But, even though it’s impossible to regain those lost weeks of training, I can still feel that I have progressed since that run. Today I ran the full distance. I have never run a full marathon – at some point I have always had to walk. And the first half of the run was over a tough course.

My watch tells me I ran my fastest half marathon at 2h25, which is not bad, given the hills at the start, but it is also not an accurate reflection of what an official time would be, as I paused the clock when I dashed into the ladies’ room at the lower cable station, and paused it while I was waiting for Firstborn Daughter to find relief. The total amount of time spent out there, sipping water, shooting the breeze, taking pictures, peeing and waiting around included, was 2h42. But I’m still okay with that time, because it was a nice, easy half marathon. Previous runs of the same distance had left me shattered. Today I am still a functional human being at the end of a 21,1 km run.

And it looks as if I’ll be the one walking the dogs, as the Significant Other, who did not heed his own advice and went for a run after he had told me ‘there is nothing to gain by running when you’re sick’, has been struck down by man ‘flu.

PS: I didn’t walk the dogs. The Significant Other hauled himself from the bed to drive me back to my car, which I had left in the parking lot at the start of our run. We took Sam along and walked him on a cycle track on the mountain. So I added another 4 km walk to my day. My IT bands hurt on every downhill but I think a few kilometres of walking after a run is a good way to ease out the legs.

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