June and the Micro-Ultra Marathon

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A beautiful start, to a beautiful restart in life

June was a big month for me.  The closing of a door, and the subsequent (and fortuitous) opening of more than a dozen other doors…  It was an emotionally taxing time…and it made settling on a race or making plans for the rest of the month difficult.  So I settled on the idea of going out on my own and running a marathon some where around my home.  The more I thought about it, the better I liked the idea of not paying for race entry and dealing with race day nerves this month.

I didn’t think I had the energy for the race-day nerves at the time.

I came up with a run route – proposing to run from my home out in the sticks at the edge of some horse farm country, to my husband’s workplace on the far side of Downtown Cincinnati.  The route, if run as a straight, point-to-point route would give me 16.5 miles.  I figured with some looping through a couple of sub-divisions and an out-and-back for a local park along the first half, near my home, I would be able to get the distance up to 20 miles before I got into the neighborhood of East Walnut Hills (If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the area in the Flying Pig Marathon after the big climb where the marathon and half marathon races split).  Overall, the route would involve some short, but steep hills and rolling hills along the beginning miles, followed by a long downhill and some flats heading through town to the river.  After the bridge, it would be all climbing, heading up through Eden Park and toward the office.  Then, if I played it right, I’d only have to do 3.1 miles toward the square at Hyde Park, and then back to the office.

My friend, Minh (You’ll remember this fool.  He’s the guy that hopped onto the original run from my home to my husband’s workplace a couple weeks ago) said he’d like to try and run this “marathon” with me.  I set the day for a Thursday, and the start time for 7AM – So Minh and I could “sleep in” but still try to beat the storm…uh…I mean heat…yeah.

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Minh rolled into the driveway early, and was sporting a race bib and a goofy grin.  A last check of the weather for the day (the night before we were staring down rain storms starting around two hours into our run) and a re-check, as we confirmed the prediction: sunny skies the whole day; And we were off ahead of schedule.

The first miles went by easy.

We rolled along happily chatting.  Sweating like it was our job, but happy.  We looped two subdivisions, and we made the detour to the park to refill some water and take in some nutrition.  We rolled down the long hill into town and stopped at a McDonald’s for another refill and a pit stop.  Some lady asked me if we were “walking very far” and I smirked as I said, “We’re running a marathon today”.  She was not impressed in the least.  She took a long drag from her super-sized soda, glanced at the counter waiting for her food, and said to me, “Well.  Try to have fun.”

Thanks, Lady!  We were having fun….  not, necessarily at the same time any more, but we were.

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I was happily churning along, only bothered by the heat…Minh was…not.  And a few minutes later, the tables would turn…

I had ice sloshing around inside my hydration pack, and it was making all the difference when I took a pull on the nozzle.  And yet, coming into 13 miles and the City of Covington, I was starting to drag.  I was feeling a little woozy, a little grumpy, and very, very hot.  I wanted nothing more than to stop running and just walk out the rest of this nonsense.  Hours later, while cooling our systems with a well-earned beer, Minh would confide that he knew I was “going through it” from mile 13-16 because I became very, very quiet.  I didn’t realize that I made a noticeable impact.  For my part, my mind was loud.  It was screaming with numbers, pacing, distance estimates, water estimates, and trying to gauge if I was really overheating or if it was just in my head.  A break.  That’s what I needed.  I needed to step out of the sun and heat, cool inside and out for a moment, and then see about moving on.

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I’m not sunburned…nope.  Just Irish.  Minh described it as “Translucent skin, and all the blood rushing under it”… that’s why I’m all red.  Irish.  I’m telling you.  We’re the real “vampires”.

At mile 16(ish) we stepped into First Watch, just before crossing the river.  Dripping sweat into puddles on the floor if we stood in one place too long, Minh and I refilled our waters again.  The staff gave us cups of ice to add to our water as well.  I swiped handfuls of paper towels and wiped myself down a few times.  Minh and I spent a little (too much) time “spreading the good news of running” to the manager of the place.  She happily chatted with us about how good we were looking – being 16 miles into this long run, how much she wanted to get into running but starting out was tough, and how she was fitting into this new-to-her area.  While we dripped, and dripped, and started to chill, she kept chatting along.  Finally, we knew that if we didn’t get going, we would stop there.  The girl wished us luck on our journey, but in a way that came out like she wasn’t surprised and expected we would have no issue achieving this run.

Starting back up was sluggish, and crossing the bridge was marked by the tight muscles loosening back up.  We weaved through downtown Cincinnati, meshing with the crowds and becoming a little delirious with the rising heat.  We walked through another nutrition pack each, and sipped our waters.  Some lady, walking well-faster than we were, commented to us that it was a pretty day for a run.  We agreed, but that it was a bit warm.
“You guys look like you’ve been running for a while now.”  She commented to us as she surged across the street.
“We’re 18 miles into our run!  We’ve been running from the backroads and farms in Kentucky!”  I said.  She asked how far we were planning to go
“26.3 miles!” Minh answered.   She gaped at us a moment and I basked in finally getting the “right” reaction from someone finally.  I was getting a little put-off by the nonplussed reactions we had garnered so far.  From my husband’s typical response as we started in the morning, “Have fun.  Don’t die.” to the just simplistic responses from the people along the way.  Hell.  Even other runners tend to react to the announcement of going that far for fun with some kind of awe, respect, or humor.  Everyone we were meeting had me thinking we needed to start adding, “And then we’re going to race back down into town on skateboards, scale the side of the Carew Tower, and finish it all off with a bungee jump from the roof.” in order to bring the effort back into sounding impressive.

I mean.  We’re a couple of idiots out running 26.2 miles for shits and giggles, on a very hot and humid, sunny, practically summer-time, mid-week day.  And we’re getting ready to go up a big hill climb.  Give us some credit and look at us like we’re crazy like people normally do when we say we’re running a marathon at the weekend!

Minh and I turned our attention upward, and began the climb past the casino and up the hillside into Eden Park.  The sun blazed and the sky was an impressive blue.  Minh ran smart on this hill and I taught him how I distracted myself on hills and hard runs so that he could focus on just getting up the hill.  We made the loop through the park and refilled our water and nutrition again.  The view was gorgeous, and the serenity of the run and companionship of running friends was broken momentarily by a group of teens throwing firecrackers at geese.

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We hoofed out of the overlook and up the start of the rollers, swooping through a cul-du-sac and taking in the view from a private overlook.  We were approaching mile 20 and Minh was still talking to me, albeit, disjointedly and with a hint of delirium.  Just about a 10k left, and we could eat burgers and have beer and he’d be fine.

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We cut through the split that usually marks the split of the half and full marathons of the Pig, and made good time down the road toward Hyde Park’s City Square.  We stopped over in a local running store to refill waters again (hey, I’m not lying, it was freaking humid out there) along the way.  We hit our final turn around, took a moment for a pit stop in a fancy clothing shop, and then started the annoyingly uphill trip back toward my husband’s office.  After one final stop at the running shop again, we were hell-bent to the end.  Minh started to drag now, hitting mile 25 on the uphill.  He was dropping back, and I was hitting that lower-limit of my running paces… you know, that speed where its outside of your “zone” and it actually hurts to go that slow. I didn’t mind.  I would run ahead a bit, and then pause and wait for him to get close, and then I’d run ahead again – grateful for the break from the running.

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The last mile was marked by Minh screaming through it.  I don’t mean “screaming” in terms of he was running so fast for where we were in the journey.  No.  I mean that man was screaming bloody murder.  Passers-by in cars, and nearby construction workers were glancing at us with eyebrows raised.  Minh claimed, later while we drank our beers, that this was his ‘battle cry’, like that of Mel Gibson in Braveheart.  I call BS.  I saw tears on his face at one point.

Shortly after he ran out of the energy to scream, we hit our distance…and a little more:  26.3 miles!  A micro-ultra!  Minh collapsed on the ground and I texted my husband that it was all over and we could all grab lunch now.  Minh groaned and rolled and my husband answered back, “Great job!  Now, come down to the other office.”
Excuse me, mutha-f-er?!  What?
The “other office” was about a mile and a half back down the hill we had just conquered.  My husband, our ride to lunch and then home, had gotten pulled into a meeting away from his usual office, and communication was incomplete that he wasn’t going to come back to meet us.
“Come get us, jerk.”  I responded.  I was done.  So, so done.  HangryTired.  I was certain that I sweated off my sunscreen along the way and was bound for a massive sunburn.  And I was so.  Very.  Hot.  I just wanted all the water, a beer, a burger, and tons of sleep.

Also.  I wasn’t peeling Minh off the ground on my own.
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Thankfully, my husband saw reason and came for us.  We washed up real quick at his office and went for burgers like the champs we were.
And that, folks, was a marathon run in hot and humid weather… for the fun of it.
It was a great confidence booster for Minh, who has been struggling with how to side-step that ever-present ‘wall’ on the marathon.  He said he outdid himself on this one, making it to mile 24-25 before the wall hit, rather than mile 20.

As for me, the knot in my Achilles tendon didn’t bother me much at all until the very end.  Even then, it was nothing compared to how it has been over the past few weeks.  The new shoes rubbed a blister on my heel, but otherwise worked out very well.  Shocker, running your shoes “over-mileage”, or until they disintegrate is not a healthy idea.
I’m looking at your shoes, Minh.  Sheesh, dude.

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In all, I had a blast.  And running that distance with a friend made all the difference!  My marathon-a-month challenge continues.

Cheers!

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