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msnbc.com
updated 3/22/2005 2:52:55 PM ET 2005-03-22T19:52:55

I have what you’d call a love-hate relationship with running. I absolutely love the way I feel when I’m done. Fit, focused and full of energy, I feel like an athlete.

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But not today. Today was a long run day and after this particular outing, running and I are barely on speaking terms. I am exhausted. My hip flexors are sore, my feet ache, my glutes are cramped and my upper back is tight. Can somebody please remind me again why I’m doing this?

In my quest for Ironman Canada, I had just one major concern — the marathon. It is the boogeyman lurking in the bushes, a dark, menacing presence wearing a San Francisco Giants cap (all evil entities do) that I’m afraid will jump out in front of me on race day. Because, you see, I really don’t like to run. I’ve grown to appreciate it, like the musical stylings of Ludacris, but it’s never gotten into my soul, like the deep-to-the-core sounds of James Brown or Prince.

Because of this lurking fear, I feel like I have to do a marathon before Ironman, just to prove to myself that I can do it, survive it and feel, well, lukewarm about doing it again. My first marathon will be May 1 in Vancouver, B.C. Right now, I am in full training mode, and as part of that training, in addition to the Wednesday night track workouts, I do long runs on Sundays with my trainer, Jeff. On today’s schedule was a 2 hour, 20 minute run.

I’ll start off by admitting that I didn’t go into this morning’s run in my best shape. I stayed out late Saturday night, listening to music, and yes, some alcohol was involved but not enough to induce a hangover. But because of my late-night adventures, I did not get a lot of sleep. And in order to get a little more sleep, I did not get up early enough to really eat before the run. Tired and running on a quarter-filled tank — a recipe for mediocrity.

The run started out fine enough. The first half mile or so is always a battle between mind and body. The body is just getting warmed up, working out the kinks, aches and pains while the mind is hard at work trying to convince you that you should quit before you get started. But once we got about a mile into the run I was feeling pretty good. In fact, we were flat flyin’.

“Is it just me or are we really hauling today?” I ask.

“Oh, yeah, we’re moving,” Jeff replies.

A running conversation
The conversation is plentiful early on. On our running route, we cross the Interstate 90 floating bridge, which connects Seattle to the eastside suburbs. It’s a beautiful sunny day — unusual for Seattle in early March. Mt. Rainier looms above the deep blue waters of Lake Washington. We comment on the gorgeous scenery and the warm sunshine. And we talk about running.

“At the rate you’re going, you’ll be running 9-minute miles by the end of the summer,” Jeff says. “How do you feel about that?”

“I feel great about it,” I reply. “I'm pretty amazed at how far I’ve come in a year, especially since I don’t see myself as a runner.”

“So if you weren’t doing Ironman in 2005, do you think you would have tried a marathon?” Jeff asks.

“No WAY!”

Which prompts Jeff to ask the magic question “why,” which forces me to reveal my dark secret: “Because I don’t really like running, and I definitely don't like running enough to want to do a marathon.”

OK, so now I know you are asking, then why, oh why, genius, would you sign up for Ironman? Because Ironman is more than a marathon. It's a complete challenge of the body, the mind and the spirit, not to mention intestinal fortitude. It's a chance to see what I'm really made of and am capable of.

With the weight of my secret off my shoulders, and my feet, we breeze across the bridge toward Seattle. At the end of the bridge, we head south, cruising along the lakefront. I still feel pretty strong, although I am starting to feel some fatigue. At one hour and 10 minutes (and approximately 7 miles), we turn around and start heading back. Jeff and I continue to chatter about Ironman and movies (Napoleon Dynamite is a hot topic for banter these days), just passing the time.

But on the return leg, we encountered a pretty stiff headwind. At the same time, the heaviness in my legs is beginning to grow and I'm beginning to feel the first twinge of pain through my mid-back. Time to take more of my electrolyte capsules. I took four before we started the run and I now I take four more. The capsules, taken in conjunction with my endurance training fuel, are supposed to keep me from cramping up and getting sick during long-distance training. The capsules are simple enough, but the endurance fuel tastes like orange-flavored paste. Let's just say, it's an acquired taste. But I have to get used to taking the supplements and fueling now since it will be a requirement on Ironman race day.

As we climb back onto the bridge, the pain in my back is growing, and being echoed by aches in my hips and feet. But it is the fatigue that is the real problem. I ... am ... running ... out ... of ... steam.

As I look across the 1.5 mile bridge, my mind starts playing tricks on me. Like in one of those dreams, where you are walking down a hallway that gets longer the more you walk, Mercer Island seems to be getting further and further away. Please, remind me again why I am doing this?

Just keep moving
It's safe to say that Jeff has taken note of my distress. The conversation has died. This is about survival now. Jeff moves out in front of me, all but pulling me forward. I don't look across the bridge anymore but focus my eyes on the back of Jeff's shoes. Just keep moving. And somehow, we reach the other side of the bridge.

With two miles left to go, I am in real pain. My legs are like blocks of concrete. My mind has turned to thoughts of a long, hot bath. And food. Lots of food, because I am HUNGRY.

GONG! And there you have it, folks, the lesson for this disasterous run. You can't expect to haul the mail with no fuel in the tank. The extra 30 minutes of sleep I gave myself cost me in the energy department because I cheated myself out of a real breakfast (protein, carbohydrates, you know FOOD). This is an area you cannot afford to skip. Like your mother told you, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially when you have a 12-mile run planned. We won't even mention the staying out late part. Another lesson learned.

Somehow, mostly thanks to my rabbit, Jeff, we make it back to the start at exactly 2 hours and 20 minutes. I am completely exhausted and my muscles are sore and stiffening by the second. There is no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. I want ibuprofen. I want to curl up into a ball and sleep for the next week. I want chocolate. I want my mommy. I so hate running.

This is a bad day. And it won't be my last bad day on the road to Ironman. It's just one day, one filled with many painful lessons. The disappointment will pass. But for the next day or so, running had better give me a wide berth.

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