Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

One day, last October, I went out for a run.  I had been going for short jaunts for a few weeks at that point and was feeling spry and fit and pumped up.  Look at me go! I remember thinking, as I bounced down our front steps in my newly purchased lightweight Saucony's.  I said I was going to start running, and start I did, and run I do, and here we go!  Gonna just go pound out four miles like it's no big deal because I'm a runner and that's what we DO.  A quarter of a mile later, I was in agony.  The autumn air was newly cold and it seared my throat and lungs like a branding iron.  My legs were leaden, and since I hadn't dressed warmly enough for the fall chill, they refused to warm up.  Filled with my own hubris, I had flown out the door during the peak of morning rush hour in New Haven and the streets were packed with minivans and SUVs of families in the midst of the school drop-off loop.  I cursed the multitude of witnesses to my struggle as I limped around a corner and knew that there was no way I was going to gasp and pant and lead-leg my way through four freaking miles.  I doggedly looped a few more blocks while curse words streamed through my mind and my fingers froze into red popsicles around my phone.  I checked the mileage as I stumbled through the front door, hoping for at least a three.  What I saw instead - 1.8 miles.  I was barely sweating, my lungs were heaving, and I was pissed.  I'll never be a real runner, I thought, as I stepped into the (largely unnecessary) shower.

* * *

I mapped out yesterday's run before I headed out.  I don't usually do this, since I track the mileage on my phone and I just go until I've hit my target for the day (training for a half marathon - at least, when you're a novice like me - is a lot easier with a prefabricated training plan that lays our all your runs for the four months leading up to the race).  But since my phone was low on battery and I figured ten miles would take the better part of two hours, I was fairly confident the battery would quit before I finished and I wanted to have a plan.  I put on my no longer new shoes, the right number of layers, my trusty ear warmer and slipped out the door.  With a lot less bravado than in October, I can assure you.  Well, here goes nothing, I thought as I fell into my long slow stride that always feels too easy until I hit mile seven and then I'm grateful that I didn't go pounding out the door at 5k pace.  

The first two miles were fine, a scenic trot up a barely trafficked road at the base of East Rock mountain that included all the elevation changes I had planned for the day.  (When I planned ten miles, I planned ten flat miles - let's not try to eat the whole elephant today, was my thought.)  Then, the route changed.  My rapidly concocted plan before skipping out the door had picked eight miles of roads that were packed with cars, semi-trucks, and a sidewalk that I could now see disappeared in about fifty feet.  Used car dealerships, boarded up houses, and vacant lots were whipping by on my left while horns blared on my right.  I glanced down in time to sidestep a used syringe and thought, Okay, change of plan.  East Rock loomed next to me and the entrance road was coming up on my right - blocked to cars from October to May.  Fine, I thought, a little vindictively.  Fine, we'll do it this way.  The din from traffic faded rapidly as I headed up the at-first gentle slope into the trees.  Pretty soon, all I could hear were the rustling dry leaves kicked up by squirrels and a few early spring bird calls from above.  Three miles to the top, East Rock is not particularly huge, but rather a long arduous climb that may be a leisurely hike but is certainly a challenging run.  Rounding the last curve at the summit, two sweaty guys passed me on their way about to head down.  "You're still running?!" one asked me, incredulously, and I flashed only a smile in response, too spent for words.  I sprinted the last fifty feet, paused the GPS tracking, and took two minutes to catch my breath at the top.  I looked down at New Haven spread below me, found my house, and smiled.  Two hawks circled lazily at eye level, watching the mountainside beneath them for a careless mouse.  The highway was a dull and faraway roar and I could see halfway across Long Island Sound.  My heartbeat had already slowed and I grinned as I noticed that I wasn't even breathing hard.  I did this, I thought to myself, and something proud and happy pinged inside me like a far off, tiny bell.  "I did this," I whispered to myself, looking down at the mountain I'd just run, the five miles I'd just covered, and looking forward to the next five ahead.

Fine, I thought to myself, with a lot less snark.  So okay, we ate the whole elephant today.  Not only are we running ten miles but we're climbing a mountain in there too.  So what?  Let's get it done.  And I trotted off for my second half.

* * *

Athletes are notorious for never being satisfied.  If we didn't medal, we wanted bronze.  If we got bronze, we should have gotten silver.  And everyone knows that silver only means "not quite good enough to win."  So it didn't surprise me that as I idled under the hot water yesterday, I was lamenting how long those ten miles took me, and chewing on my lip as I thought about running the half in just a few more weeks.  A real runner would be faster.  A real runner would be better.  I rinsed my face and inspected my ankles and feet for swelling.  Hold up.  Last October, you could barely get out the door.  And suddenly, ten miles was enough.  It was plenty.  Because that elephant was just a tasty snack and I'm not getting up from this metaphorical table anytime soon.


Anonymous said...


Cait said...

Thanks so much! :)

Duchess said...

Bursting with pride right now! You are awesome girl!

Anonymous said...

Sounds excellent! Good work. Out of curiosity, what app do you use for logging your mileage on your phone?

Cait said...

So, I use Strava, but I know other people use Nike. The basic versions are both free and I have never needed the "deluxe" version. I love it. I find the GPS, speed assessment, and elevation data to be really helpful - not to mention, rewarding to look back on.