Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Test of Travel Part II: Mind Games

It doesn’t matter how many races I do or how many books I read. At some point, ever few months or so, I have an experience that makes me feel like I know absolutely zip about running. The most amazing part, or at least the part that makes me the most incredulous, is my unfailing ability to get so stuck in a rut that I completely forget every bit of wisdom I’ve picked up over the past 9 years.

“Stuck in a rut” makes it sound like I’ve been spinning my wheels for weeks or months. Au contraire, if there is a rut in sight, I can fall into it in a matter of days, hours, even steps. I think this is the ugly other side of my previously described “tank-like” running nature.

I can turn it on autopilot in roughly 5 minutes. Unfortunately, if you turn on autopilot and then proceed to leave the cockpit, eventually the plane goes down.

This all sounds like a very negative intro, but don’t be fooled. I actually had quite a good run in DC. (A good 3 runs even, but as in Charlottesville we’ll focus on the long run.)

I once again remembered all my gear, and this time I didn’t even have to come up with a route. My stepmother (not the evil kind, although wouldn’t that make for entertaining blogging? Though she may now be plotting revenge for my calling her “stepmother”) had already mapped and printed out a route that circled the National Mall and the Capitol before heading down the Potomac to Hains Point, then back up into Georgetown. Honestly, with this route I would get all my weekend sightseeing done by 9am Saturday morning.

As an even bigger and better surprise, it turns our my dad and…let’s call her K…have started training seriously for Chicago as well. They’re using the same Hal Higdon program that lead me to victory (over that one 86-year-old guy I smoked in the last 500 meters) in my first marathon.

Result: Dad was planning to do 10 that morning, so I would only have to actually entertain myself for a measly 6 miles.

We started out fast, clocking 10:20s or so for the first couple miles. Of course I knew that this pace wouldn’t be sustainable for 16, but after my miserable C-Ville outing I was so happy to see a number under 14:17 that I thought I might as well enjoy it while it lasted. (Remember, one of my favorite ruts is completely irrational thinking.)

It took Dad and me about 4 miles to cover all the major life updates of the past few months. By mile 6 we had covered the key differences in intellectual property law between the US and the EU–he’s a lawyer–and the insanity that is US immigration. (I have this mild paranoia that one day an errant Arizonan cop is going to drive up next to my Canadian boyfriend, proclaim his visa invalid, throw a burlap sack over his head, and drop him somewhere in Nuevo Laredo. This would all be triggered by a Texas Walgreen’s forgetting that Canada has different dimension requirements for passport photos…)

At mile 8, Dad announced he thought he’d do 12. Thanks to an elaborate network of temporary fences designed to corral 4th of July revelers, we’d taken some detours. We were just now at the tip of Hains Point–a full 4 miles from the condo.

I was positively gleeful. Only 4 miles on my own?? That’s nothing!

Or so I thought. I felt great for approximately 28 steps after Dad peeled off. And then it hit me. I had 4 more MILES of this crap to get through. And in a cruel twist of fate, it was somehow hotter in Virginia than in Texas!!! 

As I crawled toward Georgetown, my average pace began to creep away from the 11:20s we’d been knocking out for the past several miles. And somehow that statue up ahead had become a heat prism that was focusing the rays of the sun and shooting them directly at me.

Worst of all, my knee hurt.

This was it. I knew it. I knew I could never escape my pathetically slow nature. I knew I couldn’t eke out 16 miles in a strange city. At 14.03, I was finished. I pushed “Stop” on the Garmin, hung my head, and shuffled slowly back past the Kennedy Center.

“Just Reset,” I thought, “You’re through. You don’t have it in you.”

I reply, “But then what will I do when I have to run 16 again next week? With the group?”

“You’ll probably die. They might even have to send a sag wagon to scrape you off the pavement.”

And that was when it happened. My rut, which had almost killed me, magically saved me.

It killed me because despite 9 years of long-distance running experience, I had somehow forgotten that taking a 2-minute walk break can mean the difference between bonking at 10 miles or gliding through 20.  It saved me because I am so freaking obsessed with hitting my mileage every week–with plowing through–that I just couldn’t make myself push that “Reset” button.

After a minute-and-a-half of walking, I pushed “Start” instead.


Now that would have been a great place to end this post. I could have left you all thinking I sailed through those last 2 miles and covered 16 like it was 1.6.

Alas, I only covered 15.5. Because at 15.5, right in front of an over-priced gas station full of cars and people, I tripped over a raised piece of sidewalk.

And I don’t mean I just tripped on the sidewalk. I ate it. Big time.

For a few seconds I just lay there, stuck in that horrible anguish between, “This hurts so bad I want to cry/scream/both,” and, “Sh*t! How many people just saw that??? Get up! Get up NOW!!!”

All I can say is thank God this didn’t happen in Texas, where no doubt 15 kind-hearted bystanders would have run up to make sure I was okay. The 3 people in front of the DC gas station just stared at me. I think that one lady even laughed a little when I had to chase the cap of my water bottle back down the boulevard.

So at 15.5 I was done. Not done in the “this is just a mental barrier” sense. Done in the “EFF THIS” sense. I limped the .3 miles or so back, cursing every step of the way that it wasn’t closer, and stopping occasionally to swipe at some of the blood that was now running down my right calf.

That’s right, I walked into one of the nicest condos in DC looking like an extra from Shaun of the Dead.

“I’m a guest of 412,” I announced to the doorperson.

She stared.

“Sorry I look like this.”

Wordlessly, she pushed the button. I don’t know if she believed me, or if she just didn’t want me to bleed on her carpet.

4 comments on “Test of Travel Part II: Mind Games

  1. Anonymous
    July 8, 2010

    Heh, heh…I have that "Sh*t! How many people just saw that???" moment all the time, just from a natural inclination to fall down. I feel your misery!Keely

  2. Anonymous
    July 8, 2010

    You should be PROUD of your DC runs; you kept to your training schedule and outlasted all of us in this withering heat. And we only had two complaints about your bloody tracks through the lobby => Evil Stepmom xox

  3. Emily
    July 8, 2010

    This is such a great post! I'm sorry you didn't get to enjoy cooler weather, but you had a much better view than we did for the run….THE TRAIL…16 miles of mostly Lady Bird Lake with all the 3 milers gliding around?? I wanted to kill them, but I didn't have the energy 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you Sat!

  4. Jeanine
    July 8, 2010

    As always, you crack me up Chris!! So funny…the post, not the knee part. Glad I got to see you briefly this a.m., I am secretly happy that you will now be starting at 5:45am so I can hear some stories in person. 🙂 Here's hoping no curbs jump out at us this weekend (you know, it is always the curbs fault, not ours).

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This entry was posted on July 8, 2010 by in mind games, travel.
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