As I continue to try to build myself back from a disappointing summer of running, I have completely slacked on being consistent (there have been moments of solid running, but nothing like what I am used to). While there are perks to this (most notably, more time with the family to do things like hike up mountains in New Hampshire or play around on our new slackline - and in the end, this is more important than getting in solid training), the negatives were brought out in sharp relief when I met up with a couple of inov-8 teammates, Double J and Kevin Tilton, for an "easy" run tonight.
After a long day at Storyland with the boys (this is typically its own form of suffering, but today it was quite fun, albeit, very long), and a short run to test some new earbuds (my ears are freakish and not designed to hold earbuds, even ones "guaranteed not to fall out," I discovered), Liz dropped me off at Cathedral Ledge for a 10-miler with Jim and Kevin. These guys are exceptional runners: name a race in New England, and, chances are one (or both) of these guys have won it. I was looking forward to running with them (as I don't race the shorter events, I've never seen these guys at a race) and getting to know some more of the local trails. We took off from the bottom of Cathedral Ledge and meandered some trails that I was familiar with. The pace was mellow, and we were chatting away. About 7.5 miles in (at this point I was thoroughly turned around and lost), we made it to the top of Thomspon Falls, an impressive waterfall. It was here that I knew things were going to be heading downhill (unfortunately, not literally). I was thirsty. I was very thirsty. I started salivating thinking about drinking from the falls. Or at least lying down in it; I was soaked in sweat). One mile later I pulled up during a short incline, nauseous and dizzy.
As a runner, I think there are fewer things more embarrassing than running with some guys for the first time, bonking, and having to stop and hike, especially on a short, easy run. It sucked. I felt bad for slowing these guys down (they were both quite nice about it. I would have mocked me mercilessly and fully expect to be, should they ever agree to "run" with me again!). I felt bad because we were less than two miles from the car and I could barely lift my legs up an incline (flashback to the last many miles of Western). I was frustrated because it was exactly one year ago when I had been floating up these trails with ease, sometimes twice a day. The nausea didn't help things much either. Neither did the slight spins. I was thinking a lot about water. This is what I expect in the late miles of an ultra if I've done a horrible job with nutrition and hydration. I'll chalk it up to not eating anything after breakfast and being completely dehydrated. That's better than fully admitting I've been slacking on the running front and have a long way to go to get back to where I want to be.
There was a silver (or slightly less-precious metal) lining to this run for me (aside from the fact that Kevin and Jim were very gracious and let me suffer in silence - maybe it was all our talk of speedwork that made me ill . . .). As strange as this sounds, it was turning down Kevin's (very tempting) offer of a ride back to my rental condo. I knew it was about 3 miles, and that it would really hurt (mentally more than anything). It did. My legs were lead. It was just me and my thoughts, which were few beyond, "One more step." I had missed dinner with the family. I thought I was going to miss bed time (I made it back as Liz was finishing a reading of Captain Underpants). These were some of the toughest miles I have run. Ever. But I got 'em done. They weren't pretty and I knew I had earned all the suffering I got. Which is where that silver lining came from.
Today's suffering reminds me of my first foray into long runs, when I returned home after about 19 (unplanned) miles and was literally smelling water in peoples' homes. That was almost ten years ago. Today's suffering reminds me of descending off of Cayambe with my dad, and lying down at the refugio, body so spent that I could barely move, but my spirit in a state of euphoria (it could have been sleep deprivation). That was about eight years ago. It was a different suffering than what you feel at the end of most ultras even. Today's suffering hurts (physically and it's a big-time ego bruise), but it's a special place, one that doesn't present itself very often, because, well, it's pretty ugly and actually takes a considerable effort to get there. Today's suffering is a place that I don't readily want to return to (at least for several years!), but I know how to avoid it: stop slackin'!