There is no question that if I hadn't had a superb running coach and mentor when I first started to run, I never would have stuck with it, nor would I have made running part of the fabric of my life, my being.
Now was the time to "pay it forward." A friend and fellow co-worker, who is now also retired, started a weight loss journey just about a year ago and has lost significant weight. He is truly an inspiration for others who need to take that same journey. He's done it mostly on his own, changing up his diet, getting active, joining a gym, and becoming a runner.
Last summer, encouraged by his good progress and finishing a 5K then a 10K, he signed up for the Route 66 Half Marathon to be held in Tulsa OK in November. We are now just 2 weeks from the starting gun for that race and I was concerned about his motivation to keep working toward his dream. I follow him on Facebook and admit that I was worried when the number of posts about his running accomplishments were getting sporadic at best. The last one I saw that had to do with running reported a 7 mile run he did last month. But nothing since then and, more troublesome, no reports of longer distances.
So a couple of days ago I reached out to him, asking him if he'd like to join me for a 10 mile run on Sunday. I was pleased when his response was a "yes."
Ten miles is a major milestone for runners. Only a very small percentage of runners ever pass this physical and mental barrier. And it is indeed a barrier. My former running coach and mentor used to always say that the body really sits up and takes notice after a 10 mile run, that the body truly knows that it's been worked when it has run 10 miles. This distance exceeds the body's glycogen stores and challenges the body's ability to process and flush the lactate that builds up in the muscles. At this distance a runner must refuel enroute to replace those depleted glycogen stores. On the other hand, distances shorter than 10 miles - 10K or 6.2 miles is typically the longest distance that most runners ever do - don't require refueling and rehydration during the run.
I felt it would be important for my friend to cover this distance, if only once, prior to the half marathon two weeks later. If he could successfully run 10 miles, then he can successfully finish the half marathon. Therefore I was very pleased that he accepted the challenge and his accepting the offer spoke volumes about his commitment to this life-long change he's making to his body and his psyche.
My friend arrived at my door at 6:30 AM this morning and in a few minutes we headed out in the predawn light. My plan was to run 2.2 miles within my neighborhood, then stop at the house for last-minute bathroom, hydration, or wardrobe needs before heading out again for the long 8 mile stretch.
We ran at an easy, slow pace. I knew it was slower than he'd been able to run 6 or 7 miles, but pacing is difficult for the new runner and I wanted to make sure that he had something left in the tank when we got into the last couple of miles. I also wanted to give myself a break, since I'm on the recovery side of a cold and didn't want to further irritate my recovering bronchioles. I gave him permission to run on ahead, but he stayed with me all the way to our turnaround point at McDonald's, at the 5.45 mile mark.
I quickly ate a yogurt parfait and had a few sips of coffee before we retraced our route back to the house. A gentle rain had started and I was grateful for the coolness and the cloud cover. My friend ran out ahead a bit on the return leg, but once he got out in front about 100-150 yards, I stayed on him. I was proud of him. Not once did he stop to walk, or if he did it was only very briefly.
I realized that in giving my friend directions, knowing he'd probably run on ahead of me, I'd forgotten about the right-hand jog he'd need to take at about mile 9.5 in order to stay on-route. So I took a side-street that met up with the route ahead of his path, cutting about 0.1 mile off my route, and then I ran in his direction until we met up. I didn't want him to miss that turn and find himself adding distance at a point when he surely wouldn't appreciate it.
We ran the last 3/4 mile together to the house. He did it! I don't think it had even sunk in yet for him, but I was surely excited for him. I remember vividly my crossing that 10-mile barrier for the first time and it truly was a major accomplishment for me back then, just as it is now for my friend.
Now he's ready! He should have no worries or fears coming up to the Route 66 Half Marathon. He's broken that 10-mile barrier...now all he needs to do is continue getting those runs in for the next couple of weeks, get in a 7 or 8 miler next weekend, and then rest up, eat right, hydrate, right up to race day.
Good job, my friend!