The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

A poster for the 1962 film, based on Sillitoe's 1959 classic novel.


Yesterday, my training schedule had me down for a 16-17 mile jaunt.  I do the majority of my training alone but facing anything more than about 10 miles can be pretty daunting – things can become downright tedious. 

I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about going this one alone.  My longest run since the Richmond marathon in November was the Thunder Road half marathon on December 12. 

I really hoped to find someone to share this pain.  I exchanged a few emails with Theoden and found out he was running 14 or so with the Univesity City Roadrunners on Saturday.  I made tentative arrangements to join them around 7:00 on Saturday morning.

My Friday run had been an 11-mile progression run – 9 miles of moderate running with the last 2 at sub-Boston qualifying pace.  By the time I woke up early on Saturday morning to join Theoden and gang, I was sore and tight.  This is exactly the scenario, running when excessively sore, that led to my injuries during training for the Bob Potts Memorial marathon last May and then again for Richmond in November.  So I emailed Theoden, respectfully backed out, and planned to go it alone on Sunday.

I could have run with the Charlotte Running Club on Sunday morning, but fate stepped in the way one more time.  Again, these guys are typically too fast for me to stay with them for very long.  But the biggest deterrent turned out to be 2 toddlers – Laura and I got roped into, I mean lovingly agreed to, babysit her grandchildren overnight (yes, I date a grandmother but she just may be the hottest grandma on the planet) so we still had our hands full while the CRC folks were taking off from McAlpine.

Finally around 11:00, with the kids back with their parents, I hit the road.  I was hoping to run the majority of my workout on some soft surface somewhere, but if I wanted to catch the Cowboys/Vikings playoff game at 1:00, I couldn’t afford the drive time to any nearby trails.  I was off on the hard asphault.  I began begrudgingly, one of those days where I just wasn’t feeling it. 

I had no set route.  I planned to get about 6 miles in by running past Birkdale Village and then taking the McDowell Creek Greenway to it’s end and back.  After that, I’d have to wing it.

So that’s what I did.  After completing the Greenway, I ran around the parking lot of the Rubbermaid offices just to squeeze in a little more distance.  I then decided to turn left on Northcross, a route I’d never taken before, to see what adventures awaited me.

Heading up Northcross, I came upon a neighborhood and decided to duck in for some more mileage.  There I stumbled upon a pleasant little discovery.  This neighborhood has their own crushed gravel track.  I diverted onto it and my Garmin notified me that this little oval was in fact right at a quarter mile, with longer straightaways and shorter curves than a conventional, regulation track.  Somehow I had lucked upon a soft surface.

A little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, kicked a soccer ball around the track as she yelled out to her dad in the infield, ‘Daddy, time me’.  I saw the inevitable coming a mile away (okay, a quarter of a mile away).  As she got within feet of me, the little girl lost control of the ball and kicked it directly into my path.  At 43, and having already gone 10 miles, I still had moves.  I hurdled the ball and miraculously landed without injury.  These are the silly little bizarre occurrences that can lead to an injury but luckily I managed to dodge this bullet in the form of a soccer ball.

Then came my second pleasant discovery of the day.  To help me with my neverending search for the right marathon fuel, Laura, er I mean Santa, had filled my Christmas stocking with assorted gels.  I’m not a big fan of the vast majority of gels – most of them, to me, taste like sugared-down diarrhea.  But on this day, I brought a Strawberry Kiwi Accel Gel and it was, in a word, delicious – seriously, like something you’d pour over ice cream.  I think I may have found my fuel for Shamrock.

After a few miles on the pleasantly forgiving track, I set back out on the road.  Knowing I’d need fluid but not willing to lug around a beverage, I had brought money in my little running belt.  I set out for the nearest convenience store and hoped I could make a quick pit stop.

All hopes for a quick stop were dashed the second I entered the store – the line was a good 7 people deep.  I grabbed a Vitamin Water 10 and hoped the cashier, an older, rotund black woman whose nametag read ‘Miss Emma’, would speed through the crowd.

Miss Emma was picking them up and knocking them down, until the woman directly in front of me slowed things down exponentially when she explained that she was having difficulty with the carwash.  Curse words instantly popped in my head.  Had I more money in my belt, I would have bribed her to go away, but as it was, with the exorbitant price-gouging that goes on at these stores, I only had enough cash for my 1 drink.  But Miss Emma handled the lady like a pro, reimbursing her the price of the carwash, and then sending her on her way.  I quickly paid for my drink and was out the door.

Outside, I tried to chug my ice-cold Vitamin Water which resulted in a brain freeze and made me rethink my strategy for any future attempts at a beer mile.  Note to self: make sure beer mile beer is not ice cold.  I finally finished the drink and took off, brain freeze and all.  The Garmin read 13:22 for Mile 11, which meant the entire stop had lasted about 5 minutes.

Now I could easily formulate a good plan for the rest of the run – by retracing my steps back to the greenway and taking it out and back before heading home, I could get the remaining 5 miles for the workout, so that’s what I set out to do.  Feeling good, I picked up the pace.

I cruised the last 5 miles, each a negative split.  The last 2 miles, nearly straight uphill as I headed back up Sam Furr, were tantalizingly close to BQ pace.

Laura drove by with less than a half mile to go and offered a ride but I declined.   I took that as a pretty good indicator that my fitness level is really coming around.  I can think of many long runs in the past where I would have cried tears of joy to have been offered a ride home.

I reached home, rushed inside, showered, and turned on the game just in time to see Sydney Rice catch the first of his 3 touchdown catches against my Cowboys.  Other than a near soccer ball mishap and a longish wait in a convenience store, Rice was the worst thing that happened to me all day.  If that’s the worst thing that happens to me on a lonely, long run day, I’ll take it every time.


2 Responses to “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”

  1. Cool Down Runner Says:

    Looks like you are going to be ready to go come Boston time.

    • Allen Strickland Says:

      Thanks – I hope you’re right, Bill! I definitely feel the strongest I’ve felt in quite some time. Now if I can just stay healthy between now and March 21! How are you feeling – ready for Myrtle Beach? Feel like turning right around and running Shamrock with (or far ahead of) us?

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