I woke with a start, peering over to the clock with bleary eyes, realizing it was a few minutes before 6:00 AM. Not good. I needed to get a long run in today and getting on the road after 6 AM this time of year is self-abuse. 5 AM would be more like it. It's already 79 degrees out and will quickly get hotter the minute that sun is up over the horizon.
Today I've scheduled a 7.5 mile run. That's a 1.5 mile bump from last week's longest run. So now the relentlessly escalating distances will begin in earnest. I scrambled out of bed and, rooting around in the dark, pulled out some running shorts, a jog bra, and a pair of socks that I hope are at least a matching pair. Shoes laced, running watch strapped on, I grabbed a piece of gum and my hat and headed out the door. Then I turned around and headed back inside to drink a glass of water. Almost forgot to do that! I will sweat that out and then some in this morning's heat.
Today there's no cloud cover, just the promise of clear blue skies and the sun was just starting to make it over the horizon and lighten the skies as I finished the first mile. The next couple of miles went by with little effort, but the sun was now letting her presence be known.
Our town recently completed the McHard Road Extension over to Cullen St, which gives me a really excellent addition to my several mapped-out running routes and I've been taking advantage of it almost from day one. This is a long straight stretch of road, about 1.2 miles long, and with the traffic light at the Cullen intersection visible way off in the distance. It's like a beacon for me, that light. As it grows steadily larger in front of me, I know I'm making progress.
For the first time ever, since they opened this extension road and since I've been running on the sidewalk next to it, I saw another runner, a woman, coming the other way. We passed each other, acknowledged each other and then, just as quickly, we were back in our own individual solitudes. I assumed that she was heading back toward home, in the same neighborhood as mine, but when I turned around at Cullen and started to head back the other way, I saw that she was now coming toward me from the other direction. More fodder for the idle and desperate mind: I wondered where she lived, how far she was running, was she training for a race, and other queries as we closed the gap and passed each other once again.
That diversion now over with, and with very little to take my mind off how miserable I was starting to feel, I began to fade in the heat and humidity. I was faced with an uphill stretch and walked a bit to recover some before getting to that section. What keeps me going in this? Why am I such a glutton for punishment? I have absolutely no idea! It would be so easy at this point on my route to just head straight to the house, 1/2 mile away. I wrestled with my conscience for a bit, or until I reached the point on the route where I could either go straight home or turn right to finish the last 2 miles. Will power! Must. Not. Quit!
The very nice community center for our neighborhood sits right there, right where I must turn to continue my run. I rationalized that a stop there for water, bathroom, a little A/C would be preferable to quitting. In fact, it didn't take much to feel revived and refreshed and, after a brief respite, I headed back out the door and continued my run.
My legs churned along for another mile, on a particularly brutal and shadeless stretch of road, temperatures now easily into the 80's, before the road took a bend to the left and I was then running in some shade. What a difference a little shade can make. But I could tell that I was max'ing out my "load limit" for running in this heat and humidity.
With less than a mile remaining, the road became a sun-scorched torture chamber as I slogged along, slower and slower, and eventually my pace dropped to a walk. "Okay," I said to myself, "You can walk for a little bit, but only to that next corner. Then you will break into a run, again." I could live with that deal. So for the last 1/2 mile, I coaxed myself along with mini-goals. "To the next lampost." "To the next cul-de-sac." When was the last time I felt this miserable? I couldn't even remember. Seven miles is not that far...in fact it's not been that long since I did my last half marathon. When was that....early May? But this is what high heat and humidity can do to an otherwise seasoned runner.
A little amnesia goes a long way for a runner. An hour later, cooled down, rehydrated, and eating breakfast, I'm reflecting on this and thinking, "It couldn't really have been that bad, could it?"