15 mile run, revisited…

It’s part of every runner’s personal philosophy that any run you finish upright, injury-free, and having given it all you can and then some, is automatically a triumph…no matter how long it took you. By that definition, my run Saturday late morning was an unqualified triumph.

So why do I still feel all crummy about it?

That of course was posited most rhetorically, as I know why I feel said crumminess. We spent the previous night attending the Kiss/Motley Crüe An Evening of Mindless Mediocrity and Endless Tedium show at the Cruzan Amphitheater… and we left early. It was a painfully dreadful show. After a brief pit-stop at an Okechobee Blvd. Hess station to pick up some bottled water, extra carbs, and endure a laughably inept proposition from an ever-so-trashy hooker in what looked like a beat-up 1998 Nissan Sentra, Boots and I made our way down the Florida Turnpike to check into the Hilton Marina on the 17th St Causeway in Fort Lauderdale.

Throw in some late night traffic and an unterminably long check-in process, we didn’t get to our room until 12:30 AM, and I probably conked out somewhere after 2… so my 6 AM start time wasn’t gonna happen. Running without at least 6 hours of sleep is a really bad idea — at least it is for an insomniac who can’t function unless he gets a good, I don’t know, 12 hours a night or so — so I pushed my start time to 9. That seemed to work. I was up by about a quarter after 8, scarfed down my CLIF bar and drank 16 ounces of water, suited up, filled my belt bottles with Gatorade and water, walked out of the hotel by around 9:30am, popped a GU, did a quarter mile of warmups, and off I went.

Temperature at 9am: 8 BAZILLION DEGREES. And rising.

According to Jeff Galloway, runners slow down a minute/mile at 70 degrees, and another minute/mile at 80. It was well above 90 for the vast majority of my run, and avoiding heat stress was the order of the day. My pace was long and slow, my breaks were longer, and I was hydrating almost every step of the way. The experience was still a long, draining, endurance test of the highest order.

Was it a mental game? Without question. But 15 miles in undeniably scorching temperatures was probably one of the roughest physical challenges I’ve ever experienced in my life. And I even ate at The Olive Garden once! In 1994. Under protest.

Anyway, here’s a satellite overview of my route, thanks to Endomondo:

Looks like a hoot, right? I started at the bottom left, where it says Harbordale. Immediately I was heading east, running up and over the 17th St. Causeway Bridge.  It is always a fun way to start a long run with a sharp incline! Still, adrenaline was high and I was feeling energized. The high kicked right in. 17th St. turns into Seabreeze Blvd as it curves northbound and I passed my first mile, strong and steady. Seabreeze becomes A1A and next thing you know, you’re running alongside Fort Lauderdale beach, with a clear, beautiful view of the Atlantic. This is why I do what I do, the smell of the ocean, the breeze coming off the water, women in bikinis tanning themselves a few scant yards away, and upbeat energy so palpable you can practically reach out and grab it. Mile 2 comes just as I hit Las Olas and I turn left, heading west down the famed Las Olas area of downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Here’s where things start to feel really, really wrong.

Physically, my muscles feel fine. Joints, knees, ankles, I’m doing as expected. I’m not out of breath, I’m not depleted, energy levels are normal. No headaches, dizziness, cramps, nausea, none of that. But two things are off: I’m going slower than normal, and I’m feeling… a little bit cold. A slight drop in body temperature is to be expected on a run, but NOT after two miles. I make sure to increase my fluid intake and not over-exert myself, and push on westbound up Las Olas. By mile three the “coldness” has receded into the background as an overwhelming realization of the punishing heat pounding down hits me. I’ve already run over my second bridge and the pavement feels like an oven range. The ocean breeze is long gone, the heat is pushing back against me like sadistic resistance training. At 3.5 miles I pass by Rocco’s Taco and give it a long, sad, wistful stare. Groups of friends, couples, families, even dogs are enjoying brunch at every outdoor cafe I pass, and wow they looked like they were the happiest group of lotus-eaters imaginable. I am completely drenched with sweat from head to toe, the ice-cold water and Gatorade I started with in my bottles has become warm, but I maintain hydration and press on.

Mile 4 and I reach Federal Highway. Turning north, I can feel heat radiating off my body, my skin hot and steamy and sweaty. My breathing is calm, even, timed to my pace, but my breath is hot and dry. I make a tactical decision to cool the body down, and stop in the Starbucks on Federal and Broward. I am completely drenched with sweat, the tech clothes I’m wearing are doing their damnedest to wick the sweat away from my body to evaporate on the surface, but I still look like I just got out of a pool. I walk up to the counter to buy two bottles of cold water, one to refill my belt-bottles and one to carry on the way. The blonde-n-braided girl behind the register takes one look at me and her eyes go wide.

“Oh my GOD!! Have you been running?”

I nod and say something barely legible, handing her my debit card. The air conditioning is a god-send of the highest order. Never has cold, compressed air felt so damn perfect.

“You’re crazy! How long have you been running in this heat?” she continued.

I think she might be impressed. Flaunt it, baby. “Time or distance?” I say in response.

She pauses for a moment to consider. “Distance.”

“Four miles. With eleven to go.”

I think I could actually hear her jaw drop. “Oh my GOD! You’re like Batman!” Perhaps she’s referring to my utility belt of sorts, with four yellow plastic water bottles and two pouches, strapped around my waist in a most utilitarian fashion. Or maybe I’m just a freakin’ badass! (It was the belt…)

Anyway, I thank her, taking two or three minutes to drink some cold water and soak up the A/C, regain my bearing, and I hit the pavement again,  northbound up Federal Highway. The next mile of slow goes extremely well. My pace picks up, the sun gets hidden by a sudden influx of cloud cover, the temperature drops a few ticks. The A/C break did me really well. At Mile 5 I pop another GU as I’m passing Radio-Active Records and the Parker Playhouse, two of my favorite joints, and I’m in good spirits. Federal Highway curves eastbound into Sunrise Boulevard and The Punishment returns. The cloud cover dissipates and the Sun returns with brutal vengeance, and this time, as I’m heading East, I’m running headfirst into it. Adjusting my pace accordingly, I come to the realization that there is absolutely no shade whatsoever on a city street, nor would there be for at least a mile and a half. My pace drops, and I’m increasing my hydration breaks. I have about 32 ounces of water and Gatorade on my belt, and about 8 ounces left in a bottle of water I’m holding in my hand. Plenty that will last me until my next pit stop. I buckle down and keep running down Sunrise. This is a hard run. Not impossible, of course, but as I pass Mile 6 I try not to think about not even being halfway done. It feels like it’s well over 100 degrees now. Here comes the mental game. Keep pushing forward.

At around 6.5 miles, just before where Sunrise hits the Intracoastal, I turn left on Bayview Drive for a two-mile northbound jaunt that will eventually take me to Oakland Park Blvd. Bayview is a winding suburban 2-lane road, past well-to-do neighborhoods, neatly trimmed lawns, small office complexes — generally an off-the-beaten-path area that doesn’t feel quite so busy, bleak, or unforgiving. I know this road will provide a ton more shade than Sunrise Blvd. will, but what I don’t realize is that the sun is almost at its apex, and shade is nearly entirely minimal. I press on but by Mile 7 my pace has dropped significantly, and by Mile 8 I’m feeling the drain like I’ve never felt it before. I’m still moving steadily but slower than almost any pace I’ve ever run at before. At this point I’m doing 4:1 run/walk intervals; comparatively, during my last Half Marathon I was doing 7:1, and at a faster pace.

The sun in all its brutal majesty is destroying me. I’m roasting as I finally push myself to Oakland Park Blvd and head east again, passing Mile 9 while crossing over my 3rd bridge, and I finally my next Pit Stop: the Hess Station on the corner of Oakland and A1A. As I make my way through the sliding doors inside, I once again realize how A/C is Manna from Heaven. I stop for a good 10 minutes and allow my body the time it needs to cool off and replenish. I purchase more water and Gatorade, fill up my bottles, and give Boots a quick call to let her know how ridiculously insane her husband is. She needs no reminder.

Finally I bid farewell to my oasis, pop my final GU, and make my way southbound down A1A. I am feeling SO much improved. I’ve run this stretch of road many, many times over the past year. I’m in my home territory. Plenty of breeze, plenty of shade, long flat stretches of road, sidewalk, and bicycle lanes to choose from. My pace picks up and my spirit elevates. I’m back on familiar ground. My body is sore but still going strong, and as I hit Mile 10 by the Pelican Grand Beach resort, I’m thinking I might be able to pick up much of the time lost during the entire Four-Mile Sunrise/Bayview Quagmire. Five Miles to go. I can do this, right? Finish fast and strong?

Well… maybe not quite. You see, just south of the Pelican Grand on A1A you reach the northern end of Fort Lauderdale Beach. A three-mile strip adjacent to the ocean, with beachgoers, sidewalk cafes, rollerbladers, sunbathers, strollers… and a blazing, unforgiving sun at High Noon. 

Think of the hottest day imaginable at the beach. Where the sand is so hot you’re racing to the water just to keep the burns on your feet at a 2nd-degree level. Where the ocean breeze is constant but not exactly cooling anymore. Where you look with envy at the family who brought their own portable cabana. With their own portable cabana boys. This is July in South Florida, the hottest time of the year, during the hottest time of the day. And no shadows to hide in for the next three miles.

Welcome to The Mental Endgame.

During this stretch, I’d run… if you could call that running, although I’m sure that technically it matches the description… I’d run four or five minutes, stop under one of the beach showers and rinse down my entire body, and repeat as needed. The beach showers were a godsend; I only had to remove my shirt and the Bluetooth headphones I was using for music, rinse off, cool down, and move on. It was long, slow, hot, and draining movement, my pace barely at anything I would consider competitive. Not that there was much point anymore. My muscles were sore, my feet aching, my head swimming, my body hot, and everything being pushed forward through sheer force of will alone. I didn’t care if I had to crawl to Mile 15, or if it took me all afternoon, but I was going to finish every last step.

Mile 14 comes after the long 3-mile A1A haul, and I’m back on Seabreeze . There’s some shade here, less breeze perhaps but it feels cooler. My phone — which I’ve been using both as a GPS and to stream music to the headphones — is so overheated it starts to shut down. Total Paul Bunyan moment. Simple human endurance beating out the best Samsung had to offer? I’m too fried to even care though… At this point I’m walking as much as I’m running, but I’m constantly moving, and I finish up the last of the water from my belt as I’m back at the 17th St. Causeway bridge. I’m always a believer of finishing hard. Always finish your conditioning run with a hard sprint. Always do the last mile of a 13.1 race at your best pace without stopping. So I had to run and not walk up and down that bridge to finish up the day’s endeavors.

Which I did. I’m not sure at what point I hit the 15 mile mark, or how long it took me to get there… but I got there. As I made my pained way into the Hilton Marina lobby, I pulled out the cell phone, got it restarted, called Boots and asked her to meet me at the pool with a towel and the ice-cold Gatorade in the room fridge. Through the lobby, out the patio doors, over to the pool, stripped to my shorts and like a 1970s Nestea commercial I plunged into its crystal cool waters like somehow I was being reborn. That enveloping feeling I experienced, I cannot even begin to describe. I wouldn’t even describe it as transcendent. I’d describe it as earned. I wasn’t there to lounge; I was there to return to normalcy.

I swam around to keep the muscles working, and Boots finally met me downstairs, looking at this mass of exhausted protoplasm floating about the deep end, wondering what in the hell she agreed to marry four years ago. I could barely make a sentence out, but I was glad to be feeling human again. I gunned down the Gatorade, dried off, went back up to the room, scarfed down another CLIF bar, spent 10 minutes stretching, took a shower, and spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing.

Relaxing indoors, that is.

We celebrated a friend’s birthday that night over at Lulu’s Bait Shack on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Took a cab to get there and another friend dropped us off at the hotel later that night, so there was plenty of time and excuses for libations of every kind. I didn’t feel adverse pain or after-effects from the run, save for some sunburn and some minor aches. I’m glad I finished. I’m extremely proud that I finished. But it was an ordeal that tested me in ways for which I wasn’t entirely prepared. I have to do 17 miles in two weeks. I’m starting at 5 in the morning, or I’m starting at 8 at night. First time, OK maybe it’s forgivable to destroy yourself in merciless summer heat, but now I freakin’ know better.

And I won’t be seeing Motley Crue or KISS anytime soon, either. I got enough aggravation…

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