Sarah and Molly’s Saturday Run

Molly and me with more pep in our step at about Mile 22 of 2011 Portland Marathon.
Molly and me with more pep in our step at about Mile 22 of 2011 Portland Marathon.

Brightly sunny with just a hint of coolness in the air, Saturday was a perfect summer day for running. I set off to meet Molly, wearing a smile. Two GU packets were tucked into my Ultimate Direction Thunderbolt belt; the bottles held cold orange nuun. Molly and I had a lot more catching up to do—during our five miles on Wednesday morning, we’d only scratched the surface of my family’s trip to San Francisco and the goings-on of her three teenage daughters. I excitedly felt our 12 miles, prep for the Happy Girls Forest Grove Half-Marathon, were going to roll by in a blur.

Instead, it turned into an epic fail.

All week, Molly had been fighting what we joking called, “the plague,” a hacking cough that refused to produce any spit-able results. On Wednesday, we’d decided to skip 2 x 2 miles at tempo; Saturday morning I told Molly if she didn’t feel up for it, we didn’t have to run 4 of our 12 miles at half-marathon pace, as the Half-Marathon: Own It plan from Train Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line - and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity called for. But when we stopped for our first GU at mile 4, she gamely reminded me we needed to pick up the pace. We agreed anything under 9:00 sounded good. (Up to that point, we’d been running 10- to 10:15-minute miles.)

After resetting my Garmin, I gave my legs and lungs some time to settle into the faster pace. A right turn, another right turn, then a left onto a slightly uphill road, and I was still waiting for the pace to feel good. Or even not torturously difficult, which was what it was feeling to me. Relaying a story about my family’s visit to Muir Woods, I could only gasp out a few words before gulping oxygen. “The twins argued….and whined…yet Phoebe….was oblivious…pointing out…sword ferns and…hemlock trees….” Since when had 8:40-minute miles felt so heinous?

“Can we blame this…on the two pints….of beer…I drank last night?” I asked.

Two badass mother runner ready to take on Vancouver, B.C., Marathon in May.
Two badass mother runner ready to take on Vancouver, B.C., Marathon in May.

By the time we turned onto a flat straightaway, Molly was a step or two ahead of me, something that had never happened to us in the middle of a run. Usually she starts a run faster than I like, but our paces are usually well matched for most of a run, and I always have a strong finish. My face was slick with exertion: I flicked sweat off my eyebrows in an effort to stop it from running into my eyes. Another turn onto another flat road, one of my favorite long stretches—wide fields on either side were home to numerous songbirds and wildflowers. But at just over halfway into our four miles at race pace, I could only concentrate on Molly’s bright orange tee. We’d given up trying to talk; I was barely hanging onto a 9:20 pace. Forget sub-9:00s.

It made no sense: A week before, thanks to being in my beloved San Francisco and a peppy race playlist on my iPod, I continually found myself running race pace without even trying. Now my legs refused to move any faster, and my body felt starved for oxygen. My hands were cold, and my forearms tingled like they have the few times I’ve run a timed mile. Staring at Molly’s back, a cacophony of thoughts pinged in my head: “I’ll never run fast again. Getting old sucks. How did I ever run that marathon faster than Molly? She’s kicking my butt on hill repeats lately. I’m slow. I’m old. This sucks.”

Then, out loud, “I give in….Molly, you go ahead.” And, just like that, just past three miles, I did something I never do on a run: I slowed to a walk. Molly kept chugging along; I soon lost sight of her vivid tee. After a few minutes, I tried to resume running at race pace, which lasted all of about 90 seconds. I walked some more, then finally started running a slow shuffle. Now all I kept thinking was, “wait for me, Molly; please wait for me.” The idea of running five miles home solo, with no music, loomed interminable, like sitting through a three-hour economics lecture—in Swahili.

I was losing hope when I heard her say, “Over here, Sarah.” Phew: There was Molly, sipping her water and suggesting we splash cold water on our faces at the bathroom of the adjacent DMV emissions-testing center.

Usually a disco-bath reinvigorates me but the effects of this one only lasted a few steps. Even at a much slower pace, the miles’ long incline back toward our houses was a major slog. It seemed even the birds were mocking my effort, "Caw-caw-CAW!" At one point, after bending down to pick up a rusty nail in the road, I complained about feeling dizzy. “I think you’re coming down with the plague, too,” Molly suggested kindly. I just thought, “Nope, I’m just old and slow."

About 11 miles into our run, Molly started telling me about this woman she knows who trains guide dogs as well as doing all other sorts of volunteering. We got to talking about how it seems the majority of volunteer work is done by a minority of people.

Bam! It hit me. “I donated blood yesterday, Molly! I donated blood!” I doubled over, clutching my stomach as deep laughter shook my body—then tears sprung to my eyes. I wasn’t going to run a woefully slower-for-me pace for the rest of my life; my fitness wasn’t in the toilet. I was just down a pint of the good stuff!

I was still gasping for air for that final mile home, but at least now it was because I was chuckling—and there was a reason for my slow down.

Mother runners: How does donating blood affect your running? 

Oh, silly me! Add a little sun and heat, and running long the day after donating blood is no fun.
Oh, silly me! Add a little sun and heat, and running long the day after donating blood is no fun.



18 responses to “Sarah and Molly’s Saturday Run

  1. Ohhh, Sarah, after one post-donation run, I’ll never make that mistake again — or at least go for the shortest of runs at the slowest of paces with the lowest of expectations.

  2. This just happened to my husband last week!! He had a horrible run then asked me if I thought donating was causing his issue….not 12- hrs later and 95% humidity? You bet ya!!

  3. I had to delay donating blood for the last 18 months due to travelling within malaria zones (The Philippines last year) and a couple back-to-back races on my calendar this summer. I just finished my latest half marathon (on July 4th) and made my donation appointment for last Friday. Come to find out that my latest trip to Cancun put me back in a malaria zone so I’m deferred another 12 months. I was so sad not to be able to donate my 40th unit and be a 5-gallon donor. I always encourage everyone to donate blood. I don’t have a lot of extra money, but I have time to go in for my blood donation appointment.

  4. I completely understand. I tried running 8 miles while completing phase 1 of the South Beach Diet. Zero carbs = zero energy. I struggled to complete the run. I am now in phase 2 and looking forward to returning to my regular running schedule.

  5. Funny I donated blood on this past week, a Thursday, and 9 miles was a struggle on Saturday.

    I always wonder if the person who gets my blood feels fantastic from all the hemoglobin in my blood. (Probably not, because if they need blood, there’s probably something bigger holding them back at the moment.)

  6. I always feel like I’ll have at least one bad run per training cycle-now I just say ‘phew! Got that out of the way!’ 🙂

  7. They do some double process on me. They take 2 pints of blood, filter the red blood cells, then return the plasma back to me. It’s a long process. However, since I’m down two pints of RBCs, some times climbing the stairs the next day is impossible. I won’t do that process if I’m in the middle of training for a race because it has effected me for up to a week. I usually don’t run the day after giving blood in the normal way, but am
    fine two days later.

  8. I once ran to a blood drive. About 6 miles, mid day so it was about 80. Didn’t feel great when I got there, so I slipped into a convenience store and slammed a coconut water before I went in. Seeing me obviously sweaty, they asked me if I was sure I wanted to donate. I said of course, I was fine. Did my donation….and could barely sit up after. I was sure glad my husband was picking me up, and for the next 3 days I felt TERRIBLE.

  9. I don’t donate blood because I faint at a blood test let alone given a pint of blood!

    I give back in other ways! Don’t be so judgmental!!!

  10. I have the exact same reaction when I donate blood! I can barely make it through a 5 mile run the day after I give blood, so now I either 1) take a rest day afterwards, or 2) if I have an important run coming up, selfishly keep my blood! (although I try to make up for it asap!)

  11. Oh wow! I did that once – run the day after donating blood – and decided to never do those two things so close together again! Even though it made your run a tough one, thank you for donating blood, Sarah!

  12. There are so many runners who don’t donate because they can’t stand the short-term effect on their training. That makes me CRAZY! I think runners should be some of the first people in line at the donation center – brimming with gratitude for our good health and thankful for the opportunity to help someone who is critically ill. Thanks for the donation Sarah – maybe you should write a follow-up post in a week or so when you’re at full-strength again. It might help your readers understand that the bonk is very temporary and oh-so worth it.

  13. I’ve taken to donating platelets because I don’t like the drop in fitness after donating whole blood (and I’ve always noticed it in training runs, too). It’s a longer process in the donation center, but as soon as it’s done I’m 100%.

  14. Wow, I never saw that coming. I’m glad you were able to put your finger on the pulse of the problem for the slog. 🙂

  15. Sarah the same thing happened to me last week. I donated blood on Tuesday, went for 430am run on Thursday with my 11year old son and was struggling. He beat me soundly on our hill portion and he even said mom are you okay. It finally dawned on me when we finished that maybe the blood donation had left me “drained”. Felt much better on Saturday!

  16. I wish I had that excuse for my long on Sat! I blame my 2-minutes-per-mile-slower pace on running in 88˚ weather, 70% humidity at 3PM while my BRF was on vacation (SO much HARDER when you’re by yourself). Walking? I did a lot of it! Thanks for making me feel less alone in the weekend “Epic Fail”!

  17. At least you had a reason for feeling sluggish…sometimes that happens to me (more often than I like) with no discernable reason! So frustrating….!

    Like you, I just push through. Sometimes with more walking than running.

  18. Love that you did the same long run as I did this week. It being “swun” weather, I banged out a mere 2 miles at RP – and did a recovery in between them at that! – and called it good. I wasn’t even down a pint 😉 Looking forward to “only” 10 miles for the long run this week 🙂 Happy to report that even doing only 2mi at RP, had I gone that 1.2 more I’d already have crushed my previous half mary PR. Can’t wait to see where my pace winds up.

    Also – what a super awesome BRF you have 🙂

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