Wednesday, January 18, 2012

18 Miles Towards Mental Toughness

On Monday, I had my first 18 mile training run scheduled. On Monday morning at 7am when I needed to start in order to be done in time to go to physical therapy, it was 9 degrees. I refused to let that stop me.

The night before, I prepped all my stuff, loaded (or thought we did) two e-books onto my phone plus my music so that I could switch things up a bit to get me through, got my recovery stuff ready and went to bed nice and early. I slept in bed with my 5 year old so that my almost 3 year old wouldn't keep me awake all night begging to nurse (he's supposedly night weaned, he just doesn't agree). (Yes, we bedshare and practice child-led weaning. If that bothers you, ignore it and move on.)

Instead, my 5 year old kept me up most of the night as he asked about every 10 minutes if he could go into Mema's room to play as that was the plan in the morning so I could get out the door. After a night of no sleep, I grabbed my phone to check my playlists that my husband had finished the night before. Blank. Sigh. We tried a couple of things to fix it and finally gave up. I was stuck with my shorter long run playlist that I'd just have to repeat. Still holding it together, I ate my egg and toast and got ready to head out the door.

Husband trying to take pics of me with reflective gear and flash - tricky.
Ready to go.
My husband was my crew. He was amazing. He planned on meeting me twice to refill my water because I have a small handheld and wasn't sure how much I would need. Then he would pick me up at the end point. Plus, he was my camera man. Two miles in, my legs were burning and I realized I needed another layer on my legs. I called him and he met me with a pair of fleece pants to throw over my thick running tights. My eyelashes were covered in mini-icicles. I kept having to brush them off in order to fully open my eyes as they were freezing shut. I was fighting off an asthma attack and tears. He took one look at me and said, "Don't cry!! Your face will freeze!"
Covered in ice.
I wanted to give up. I wanted to cry. I had no idea how I was going to cover 16 more miles. But I kept going. My legs felt like bricks. I was weighed down by layers and layers of gear. My lungs couldn't decide whether they were going to revolt against the cold or cooperate. Within a couple of miles, I was taking a short walk break every mile or so. I saw my husband again around mile 7. My fuel gels were literally frozen. I had to take hard bites out of them if I didn't remember to warm them in my hands ahead of time. My water bottle spout had frozen shut.I had to take off the lid each time to drink my partially frozen Nuun. Again, I wanted to beg him to take me home. He just told me to keep going.

I began to think over and over again with every step, "I can't." The voice in my head was relentless. You can't even run a whole mile at this point. Why did you ever think you could run a marathon? You are so stupid. Just give up now. You can't count this as running. I watched as my average pace on the Garmin crept towards 13 minute miles. I plodded along. I realized that if I kept saying I can't then I wouldn't. I tried to stop the voice inside my head. Each time I heard I can't, I responded I can do hard things. I am strong. It became my mantra. (I thought of you, Ann.) I fought hard. The voice continued. You can't do this Jamie. You can't. I can do hard things. I am strong. Just give up. This is dumb. You are failing. I can do hard things. I am strong.

Somewhere in mile 12, I broke down. The running wasn't getting easier. My walk breaks were more frequent. I couldn't imagine going one more step. I stopped on the side of the road and sobbed. I called my husband knowing that crying as hard as I was, he would let me accept defeat. He didn't answer. I called my friend/unpaidandoverused running coach to beg her to let me quit. She didn't answer. I looked at my Garmin. My average pace was 12:58 minutes per mile. I had a quarter mile to go before I hit 13. Then there would only be 5 miles left. If I decreased walk breaks and just kept running, I could keep it under 13 minute miles which had become a mental goal for me. My long runs are usually 11:30-12 minute miles for reference.
Mist rising out of the valley as the temps rose from 9 degrees to a balmy (ha) 16 when I finished
And so I kept going. My husband came back one extra time before I finished to see me as it was taking me longer than we'd planned, and he wanted to make sure I had enough fuel. I didn't stop. I was mid-hill and focused. I was going to climb that hill. I just kept saying it. Climb the hill. Climb the hill. Less than two miles to go, and I knew I was going to finish. The hills were relentless (the beautiful area I live in is not flat). But I did it. I finished in 3 hours and 50 minutes. My average pace was 12:49, just 4 seconds slower than my average pace for my first half marathon. My mile splits were all over the place, but I finished.
Finishing as strong as I could
When I was done, I didn't feel joy. I didn't feel accomplishment. I wanted to say all sorts of things to myself. What were you thinking? You can't run 18 miles. That was pathetic. How in the world are you going to run 26.2? This is proof you should just give up. You've lost too much time. You've screwed up your training. You're done.

But I kept fighting. I focused on recovery. Eating. An ice bath. Getting myself to physical therapy. I avoided judging until I had time to process things. No, it was not my best run. Yes, it was slower than my desired long run pace. Yes, I took walk breaks which were not something I planned to do, and not just a few.
Done. My husband told me to smile for the camera. This was all I could do.
 But, I have to keep things in perspective. It was 9 degrees, the coldest temperatures in which I've attempted to run. We've had a warm winter so I've actually only had a handful of 20 degree runs. My body is not used to it. I was wearing lots of layers I am not used to. It was hilly, really hilly. My 16 mile run was down on a pancake flat treadmill. I had been avoiding hills for the sake of my injury and just began to work them back in. Oh yea, and I am running while trying to recover from an injury. I have missed a lot of training, and a lot of mid-week runs that help maintain the fitness to make the long runs easier. I did a long run progression of 12, 14, 16, and 18 with no step-back weeks. I knew it was a little crazy to plan that and honestly never though I could pull it off, but I wanted to be able to taper a little for the Tinker Bell half marathon while still fitting in two 20 mile runs (or a 20 and a 22) before the marathon. And I was mentally fighting a breakdown before I even got out the door with no sleep and a screwed up playlist.

Those things don't excuse my performance. They don't excuse my lack of training. I know I'm not in the place I wanted to be. But I did a 18 miler. I focused on mental toughness and pushed my through the absolute worst run of my life, and I refused to give up. I might not have been smiling Paula, but I just kept moving. For that I am proud.


  1. Hi! Saw your link on Twitter. My 18-miler was my WORST training run. I'm running my first marathon on Sunday. A friend of mine who's been running her whole life said 18 miles is always the worst, which I found interesting. I'm in So Cal and worried about starting my race in the high 30's, I can't IMAGINE running at 9 degrees. Seriously, that makes you a superstar. Who cares what your time was--you ran 18 miles in the freezing cold!! Here is my account of 18 miles that DIDN'T include freezing temps!

    Hope your next runs go well!

  2. Yay you! Who can smile in 9 degrees anyway! Congrats on sticking it out. So proud of you.



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