You know when you want something so much you can almost taste it? That was me today. I woke up craving runny eggs and sautéed spinach and buttery whole wheat toast. Instead, I got dressed in the dark and headed to the woods for a four-hour run.
My friend Hilary was meeting me for the first loop — the first two hours. I am training for my first ultra (and I’m actually going to run it this time and not talk myself out of it a few weeks before!). This race is 32 miles on some gnarly raw single track, all rocks and roots and hills and climbs. As the race description says, “A nightmarish course of rocks and roots with a bit of elevation thrown in.” That sums it up.
There’s also a 40-mile version, but I’m not ready for that on this course. I chose this race because it’s very local, where I first started trail running, and it’s so notoriously difficult that many people don’t finish it. Plus it’s in December so it could be sleeting or snowing or raining, or just icy-leaf-covered.
So I’m pretty excited about it. We ran the first loop slowly. It’s an 8-mile loop. For some reason I’m really tired today. Around mile 6, Hilary was asking me if there’s coffee at these races. I said it depends on the race and on who’s running the aid station. And then I had the brilliant thought that I should bring my little thermos full of coffee and have it in my drop bag at the race.
I was facedown on the trail. My knees, one elbow, and both hands had landed on rocks and roots, neatly missing the softer dirt in between. I rolled onto my back and blinked.
“Do you have ibuprofen?” she asked.
Ibuprofen, I thought. I should put that in my drop bag, too.
We finished the loop and I was so tired and still thinking about eggs. Two eggs, over medium. I wanted to be done.
“I won’t tell anyone if you don’t do a second loop,” she said, climbing into her car.
“Well,” I said, “I would know.” Here was that voice, though, telling me I should go get some coffee and then come back. Go get some coffee. My to-do list is a mile long. I have a bunch of phone calls to make, jobs to apply for, things to take care of. I am bleeding from a lump on my knee.
Once alone, I texted another friend, Dana: “I am super tired and completely wiped out hitting rocks with every joint. I don’t feel like going for lap number two.”
A text back: “Ugh! Hang in there! Second wind about to hit!”
What? Did she just basically tell me to get out there and do it?
Eggs. Eggs and coffee. They could be mine. So fast. So easily. I could listen to that little voice in my head telling me to give up, give up….
No. I started my watch again, pulled out half a PBJ, and headed out again, power-walking while I ate. And then I began to run again.
I knew if I just went out for an hour, I could be done….because then it would take me an hour to get back, so I would have no choice but to do the whole loop.* This time I went clockwise. Rumor has it counterclockwise is easier, and what better time to check the truth of conventional wisdom?
They’re right. Counterclockwise is much easier. Clockwise has all the steeper uphills. I shamelessly walked every hill. I went on. Two miles. Blinded by all the sunlight coming through the unleafed trees and glaring off the shiny oak leaves carpeting the trail. Visor. I’ll need a visor. Three miles. Oh hey, 5.5 miles, still blinded by the sun and shiny leaves. Six. Almost done! In this direction, the climb to the fire tower was near the end of my run. Fire tower! A mile to go! Half a mile!
Done. I’d ignored that little voice of defeat in my head and I went out and did it. A 16-mile trail run today.
And then I got into my car and drove right to the diner and ordered those over-medium eggs and some coffee and spinach and the buttery whole wheat toast. Honestly, I didn’t even really want all that food at that point, but darn it, I’d been wanting eggs since the alarm went off at 5:30, and I was going to have them, even if I didn’t quite feel like I needed them so much anymore.
Who knows how the race will go? All I know is I trumped that little defeatist voice today. And that was what I needed.
*You might be thinking, “Two hours to go eight miles? Really?” Yes, really. I ran one loop last weekend with some really fast guys, and we did it in 1:41. I could probably do maybe two loops at that pace or near it, but then I’d really slow down after that, and I’m not trying to get anywhere fast. I’m trying not to sprain an ankle. This is not a trail you run really fast on — well, I don’t, anyway. And that’s fine.