15 mile run tomorrow… REPENT!

I’m current training for two races which will take place within the next six months. Both at Disney Parks. Both on opposite sides of the country. If I plan on destroying my knees, ripping apart my hamstrings, and guaranteeing a lifetime of bursitis-related agony, well Sweet Esther Rolle, I’m gonna do it while getting high-fived by Goofy and Professor von Drake and paying an overly exorbitant premium for the privilege of it. I’d even pay extra for Bullwhip Griffin! Statistically speaking, someone has to…

The first race is the Disneyland Half Marathon in Anaheim, CA. It’s coming up on Labor Day weekend, with the fireworks starting off at 5:45am on Sunday September 2nd. This race appealed to me for a whole mess of reasons, not the least of which being it’s at freakin’ Disneyland. THE Disneyland. The very place Walt built from the ground up (with a little help from ABC television), the layout he personally oversaw and developed, the streets he walked, the attractions he built, the whole shebang. Walt Disney World in Florida, I practically know every last square foot of, but Disneyland I’ve only been to a handful of times. So it’s a chance to revisit a park that, while the castle can’t begin to compare to WDW’s, is so much more amazing than the Magic Kingdom in Florida. The course starts at Downtown Disney, goes through California Adventure, into Disneyland, then out through the streets of Anaheim, past the Honda Center and THROUGH Anaheim Stadium (running on the field), then finishing up back at the Disney hotels. 13.1 miles.

Now this will be my fifth Half-Marathon, but not my first Disney Half. I ran the Walt Disney World Half Marathon back in January, which was my first race ever and couldn’t have been a better experience for a first time runner. The weather was perfect; it started in the low/mid 40s and ended in the mid 50s, cloudy but dry. With nearly twenty five thousand people running, many of whom were in costume, some of whom were walking it just for fun, and nearly everyone having a blast, the enthusiasm and energy was really high-spirited and friendly. I trained for almost a year, and just wanted to come in at under 2:30. I did it at 2:25. Not bad for a 40 year old first-timer… Anyway, along with finishing that race, by completing the Disneyland Half next month I’ll get the “Coast To Coast” medal, which is a $1.75 hunk of metal attached to a colored ribbon that idiotically convinces you to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars in entry fees, airfare, hotel, etc. Two Disney races on two coasts in the same calendar year. Kinda cool.

So anyway, that’s coming up in just over a month. My initial goal for this run was to be able to complete it in 2 hours or under, but my training, while consistent all year long, hasn’t been, shall we say, conducive to those kind of results. My training has consisted of a plan to improve my pace and finish time, with a weekly grind of three runs: two five-mile runs, usually on the treadmill, and then alternating speedwork (8 to 14 half-mile sprints) with outdoor long runs. The long runs started at 3 miles in early May and have slowly worked their way up to the point that tomorrow morning, July 28th, I’m running 15 miles on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

Now… 15 miles is a long distance. Not unreasonably long, of course, and certainly very do-able. I’ve done 13.1 enough times now and my longest has been over 14, so the endurance, strength, and ability is there. But then there’s willpower, that mental fortitude. Long-distance running is, by its very definition, long. Long miles. Long hours. Long stretches of time and distance during which the physical game has long since given way to mental fatigue. Your body starts aching in odd places at weird times: the side of your calf on every fifth step, a spiral radiating weirdness in your quadricep, a weird locking in your shoulders. Those are actually really easy to push through. It’s just achiness, and over time you realize it only hurts if you stop moving.

But mental fatigue… that’s a much stronger adversary. I’ve had runs where it never appears at all. My first race at Disney was such a blast of sheer blissful catharsis, I was ready to run it all over again when I was done. But I’ve done distances of half that length during which the simple act of commanding one foot to move ahead of the other seems more arduous than Luke trying to lift his X-Wing out of that Dagobah swamp. The Mental Game takes command of every thought. That music you’re listening to? Doesn’t help. The hilarious podcast that kept you entertained or lighthearted for the last 10 miles or so? Couldn’t be more depressing if it tried. Every last second, every last step, every little movement and breath and drop of sweat, you are at constant battle with yourself to keep going, one that requires your COMPLETE attention. Your mind is in a total state of Civil War, and you gotta be Sherman cutting through Georgia. Total War. Destroy any resistance and keep marching to the sea.

(This is why I don’t like and almost never do long-distance running on treadmills. While it’s better for the joints and doesn’t destroy your cartilage like pavement will, it’s THAT much easier to stop when you feel like you can’t go on. Physically you can train as hard and as fast as you want — moreso than when you’re outside, constantly stopping at intersections, running on uneven roads or sidewalks, ducking pedestrians and hopping over dog poop, etc. — but mentally, you’re handicapping yourself with a readily available escape clause. If I’m running 15 miles, I can’t quit 9 miles into it if my car or hotel room is still 6 miles away.)

So tomorrow will be a mental test for me. I can handle the physical. Endurance running is just that; seeing how far you can push yourself, not necessarily how fast. Starting slow, moving moderately but steadily, and finishing upright. You need to build your body up slowly to be able to run long distances, but it doesn’t take nowhere NEAR as much time as you think it does. We’re all descendants of nomadic tribesmen, gatherers, wanderers, hunters, riders, sailors, explorers… our bodies were designed to endured all sorts of long-distance travails. All it takes is a little jolting of our physical systems and we can fall into play rather quickly. The brain, however, needs much more training and fuel than the body ever will. There’s no energy gel I can plug directly into my cortex like those I ingest for that much-needed maltodextrin rush every 45 minutes. That’s my battleground right there, and what I’ll be up against tomorrow morning. 15 miles is nothing at all, really, but you’re really testing your mettle as you order yourself to complete it.

And then, two weeks later… we up the long run to 17 miles.  Three weeks after that, I race at Disneyland. After that, we take about a week off for recovery, which will most assuredly be required. Because then we start training for the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon. The FULL one. 26.2 miles.

To be continued…

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