If you're not one of those people who can scamper out of the house and go for a 20 mile jaunt because it's just the natural distance your body wants to go (yes, these people do exist), you should consider NOT doing any of the following before you plan on running 17 miles for the first time ever:
1. hiking 5.5 miles on a 100 degree day with less than adequate amounts of water & food
2. spend 4 hours floating down a scenic river on another 100 degree day with less than adequate amounts of food & water
3. plan to return home around 9pm the night before your run and then have to make all of your neurotic running preparations at a time when you should be banking extra sleep
I survived the 17 mile plod yesterday, but it was quite possibly one of the hardest runs I've ever experienced. Harder than that one time I ran 12 miles down a country road and completely ran out of water and had to ask an old man mowing his lawn if I could trouble him for something to drink. Not quite as hard as that one time I ran 10 miles in rolling West Virginia hills and then proceeded to spend the next 3 hours in and out of the bathroom with horrible stomach cramps.
Here's what I saw at the start of the run in central park:
Needless to say, I should have started earlier. Please see the aforementioned list for reasons that made waking up before 6 am seem like more than I could handle. Things went okay for the first 10 miles. And by okay, I mean I didn't feel like I would keel over, but I also noticed that the heat was making life much harder than it needed to be.
Around mile 6, I stopped for an overpriced popsicle and spent a luxurious 5 minutes walking while I ate it. But before the stick ever hit the side of the trash can, I felt like I'd never even heard of popsicles. Do you remember that feeling of infinite running misery that I mentioned? It descended not long after I finished the popsicle and continued to ride on my shoulders for the remainder of the run. At any given point after mile 7, I could not imagine ever being done. I tried to busy myself with podcasts, but I was so distractible that I can barely remember what I heard. I do know that Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me has the perfect hodgepodge of information and fast-paced antics to keep me interested for more than 2 minutes at a time. This American Life: forget it. I love you Ira Glass, but you were not meant for torturous situations.
My intended route for the last 6 miles was to circle the reservoir for 3 laps then return to the main park drive for another mile and a half back to Columbus Circle. I couldn't face the rolling hills on the drive, so before I even got to mile 11 (right before hitting the reservoir for the 2nd set of laps around the shell track) I decided to just hunker down for an extra lap and forget about attempting anything than even closely resembled an ascent. Things that made this a wise decision: extremely flat surface, guaranteed bathroom (that I didn't end up needing), 2 water fountains, 80% shade, and a nice breeze coming off the water.
But even a view like that can feel like purgatory when it seems like you're running on a combination of hot coals and crushed glass. Okay, that's slightly dramatic, but my feet were really unhappy by mile 13, and I slowed from my respectable crawl to a miserable shuffle for the last 4 miles. I maintained my 4 minutes of running, but the walk breaks* went from 1:45 minutes to 2 and sometimes 3 minutes.
As I hobbled through the last 20 yards, I passed tourists eating ice cream sandwiches on a bench, and it was all I could do not to rip the ice cream out of their hands and smear it all over my face. The thought of eating anything made me sick to my stomach (which was actually a problem for the last hour because I had a hard time forcing down any food; can we say heat exhaustion?), but I could have really gone for a frozen facial. Instead, I huffed my way over to a vendor and squeaked out my order of a vitamin water and a popsicle. I paced** and forced down my snack and tried to keep myself from laying flat on my face in the grass.
The only down side to running in central park is that when it's all over, you have to get on a train with other people (unless you happen to have an endless supply of taxi funds). All you want to do is sit down, but so does everyone else, so you end up sitting next to people. I can only imagine how lovely an experience that was for everyone around me. I was covered in black dust from the shins down, there was a peanut butter explosion on my water pack that I hadn't had the energy to clean up, and I'm sure I smelled like roses soaked in hobo juice. But I consider the ride a success because I got a seat for every leg of the trip, no one actively moved away from me, AND I didn't puke or explode in any other way. Small victories, my friends. Teeny, tiny, graceless victories. That's how you train for a marathon.
*long story short, we're doing a run/walk program of 4 min running with roughly 1:30 min walking.
**I saw a t-shirt that said "marathons only hurt when you stop." Gospel, I tell you.