By Nicole Cesare for Philadelphia Runner
It had to happen at some point, I suppose.
My training had been going pretty smoothly so far. I usually found something positive to take from the shorter runs, whether it was a slightly better pace than usual or realizing I could get through a run I wasn't 'feeling' at the outset. And I was pleased with how the long runs were going: slow and steady, each one a new achievement worth celebrating.
And then came the 9-miler.
First, I woke up with a slightly stiff neck.
Second, the weather was cold and blustery, which wouldn't have been that big of a deal except for the fact that it's April and it's supposed to be spring and I am SO OVER winter at this point.
Finally, as I got in my car to head up to the Art Museum (I was planning to do the Schuylkil River Trail Loop behind the museum) I realized I had a flat tire. By the time I had taken care of the flat and fought through Center City traffic, it was getting close to noon. At my pace, 9 miles (plus stretching and stopping to take pictures), takes over 2 hours, so the run I had hoped to finish before lunch was now going to take me well into the afternoon. But, I told myself, once you get going you'll enjoy it.
Alas, that didn't really happen. It took me a good half hour to warm up and settle into a comfortable pace. The second half hour wasn't bad, but as I crossed the East Falls Bridge and turned back toward the museum, I realized the little crick in my neck was really starting to bother me. I couldn't turn my head comfortably to the left, and while the first half of the Loop naturally had me looking toward the right, the turnaround meant I was looking toward the left. As the miles dragged on, I was feeling more and more tension in my neck and shoulders, plus some general sluggishness. I stopped at 6 miles to stretch my neck and shoulders for a few minutes, and it helped, but finishing out that run was a struggle.
Then came the final straw. As you may know, the Loop is about 8.5 miles. I was supposed to do 9. When I planned this location for this run, I just sort of hand-waved that discrepancy away in my mind. "Oh, I'll tack on another half mile somewhere." And then, like a chump, I didn't. So I got back to where I started. I could see my car, but I had to re-run the first quarter mile of the loop up and back to get the full mileage in. I was cursing myself the whole way: why hadn't I run past the bridge a bit? Or past the museum? Why did I leave this to the very end? Do I really have to do the full 9 miles? I probably wasted more energy fighting with myself in that last half mile than I spent actually running.
I'm usually pretty good at not comparing myself to the sleeker, speedier runners I see everywhere. They do their thing, and I do mine. But as I limped up to my car, feeling like I'd never catch my breath, I wondered if just maybe I had hit my limit. Maybe this is just too much, maybe folks my size should content themselves with 5ks and fun runs. Or maybe we shouldn't run at all.
That's when I realized I was being ridiculous. Every runner struggles sometimes, every runner has a bad run. The fact that I finished it out, that I didn't make excuses and leave that last half mile un-run was a victory, even if I felt a bit like a flat tire myself.
So, I'm shaking it off and getting ready for an easy recovery run. Hopefully, on race day, I won't wake up with a stiff neck, the weather will be better, and there will be no flat tires.