Taking the Long Way Around

Last Thursday's run was only supposed to be nine miles, but the miles added up...

I used to be a stickler for a training plan, following it down to the letter. But I being a mom has taught me to improvise, to roll with the bumps and curves that get in my way. Take last week: We went on a short family vacation (at long last!) to a lovely town on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I knew the terrain would be relatively flat, so I swapped out that Thursday’s workout—90 minutes of hill running—with this Thursday’s one of 20-minute warm-up, 5 tempo miles, then a 20-minute cooldown. Seemed simple enough.

With a misty haze hanging in the cool air, I headed to the end of a trail I’ve run during previous visits. The proprietor of our cabins assured me the trail had just been completed, but about 10 minutes in, I was greeted by a “Trail Closed” sign. Originally from the East Coast, I wasn’t deterred: I kept running. No way I was backtracking. When I reached the section of the trail being worked on by backhoes and dump trucks, I slowed to a walk. None of the workers said anything to me, but I suddenly felt too brash. (As I frequently do on the West Coast!) Later on, when the trail drew parallel to a road I recognized, I decided I’d hop on that on my way home.

The tempo miles took it out of me—the sun had burned off the morning fog, the mercury was rising, and I was empty-handed (no energy gels, no H2O). I was supposed to have averaged 7:45-8:00 miles, but I had only managed 8:25’s. A year ago I was delighted with such tempo times, so I didn’t beat myself up over it. In fact, I told myself that if it only took me 15 minutes, not 20, to get back to our rental cottage, I’d be good with that. I mean, come on: I was on vacation here.

Yeah, in my dreams I reached my final destination in 15 or, heck, even 20 minutes. Instead the road stretched ahead of me, refusing to take me where I wanted to go. What should have been a 2-mile return trip, at most, stretched past three, then four miles. Then, going against every SBS-fiber, I started walking. I was angry and dejected. Like the  I’ve-had-enough JetBlue flight attendant, I starting hurling invectives. I suddenly hated running. Hated being out on the road, away from my family. Even as I was ranting, I knew it was all because of a lack of glycogen in my system. If I only had a little sugar coursing through my veins, my brain and muscles—and me—would have been much happier. But instead I was tapped out.

Then, again like Steve Slater, I did what I’ve dreamed of doing for years. No, no beers and inflatable emergency chute, but I stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride. Here I was, in a friendly, small town on the edge of the continent: What evil could befall me? Easy: All the drivers could cruise by without even slowing down. Oh, man, now I was tapped and ticked! Realizing I had no other option, I fared forward, switching from a podcast to music. (Ironically, I chose the Dixie Chicks to simmer down. It wasn't until I finished the run did I realize the CD I'd chosen is named Taking the Long Way!).

Eventually the road lead to our cottage. But my run had stretched to 12.5 miles, not the 9 it was supposed to be. Later, when I wrote about it on my Facebook status update, another Portland Marathoner-in-training sagely advised, "I would have just tacked on 3.5 miles, and called it my long run for the week." Ah, clever woman. I bet she wouldn't have taken the road in the first place.

23 responses to “Taking the Long Way Around

  1. Another testament to running with friends! Remind me to tell you about my encounter with a naked man in a park on our next run. Stick with your running buddies!!

  2. Ellen–
    There were several points along the way that I contemplated crying. Even felt the telltale sting behind my eyes at one point, but decided it wasn’t going to do me any good. And it would have just dehydrated me even more!

    Congrats on coming out the other side of 15 miles!! Many happy miles to all of us!

  3. SBS,
    Thanks for putting into words my feelings of angst I had on Saturday during my 15 mile training run (ok really run with run/walk at the end). It’s my longest run to date and it was so hard that sweat was mixed with a lot of tears and invectives at the end. While I don’t wish those feelings on anyone, reading that it happened to you gives me some hope 🙂

    1. Yeah, can you see the headline if I hadn’t made it back…gee, at least it would have spurred sales of the book! (KIDDING! Not wishing ill upon myself!)

  4. Sounds like we can all relate to and hopefully laugh at calamities that befall all of us as runners, even the most seasoned of runners!

  5. This reminds me of a doozie of a run I had a few weeks ago. I violated every tenant a runner, especially a woman runner, should follow: on a trail alone, like Sarah, didn’t tell anyone my route, like Jo does, didn’t bring water, like mostlyfitmom always does, no sugar stash, like Lee AND no phone. Long story short: I got a little lost and a lot light headed. Not lost as in no one around, but lost as in I came out at the wrong trail head. I did reluctantly and nervously bum a ride from a couple at the trail head who was just heading out. They give me some water and dropped me off at my car where my phone and a Cliff Bar were stashed. Never again will I make those mistakes! Glad yours turned out ok.

    1. Lisa–
      Reading about your trail fiasco reminds me of a run I did in late 1990’s in Marin County, CA. It was incredibly foggy and I got completely turned around. I started in one valley (Rodeo) and ended up in another (Tennessee). My car was about 8 miles away by car or foot…bummed a ride from a nice guy who turned out to be a doctor. Since I didn’t stick out my thumb, though, I don’t feel it qualifies for hitchhiking.

  6. This post hit very close to home for me after this weekend.
    My running buddy and I were doing our “longest yet” long run Sunday morning in a park we have run hundreds of times before, but never 12 miles which was on tap for Sunday. So when we reached the point that was unknown, we figured there was only one trail to follow. Well, we figured WRONG!!! Apparently, this trail has different branch points that are not crystal clear when you are running. We found our correct path after two wrong turns and 1 1/2 miles longer than intended. But, as with Sarah, alls well that ends well.

  7. My kids are addicted to the Berenstain Bears DVD where the Bear Scout Cubs go cave exploring. It’s very enlightening. So, in the spirit of Brother & Sister Bear, maybe you should tie a rope to your door knob and turn around when you run out of rope.

    Another great adventure! Good for you, Sarah!

    1. Thanks, Mary. Reading comments, I was fearing my post elicited more concern that I intended it to. In the end, I was able to laugh about it all. As in, laugh AT myself for being such a bonehead!

      1. I am finally techno-savvy enough to have an IPhone! I read your post while waiting for the gyno. Yippee! A mom totally should have stopped to pick you up. I would have stopped, given you water & a GU & then run the rest of the way with you!:)

      2. Funny! It’s good to know that even an experienced runner can be a “bonehead” :> During my first year of running I had many runs go awry. Most memorable– I was hellbent on going on a run outside one November morning (in MN), even though my husband said a storm was coming. It was blue skies, mild temps, I was in shorts. Almost an hour from home, the clouds came, wind picked up, it started raining, then sleeting and I was under-dressed and soaked to the bone.
        Fortunately my husband always wants to know my route, so he was able to track me down and pick me up and did not even say “told you so!” But, all these experiences pack a lesson……
        Sorry you had to walk back, but glad no one picked you up while hitching. One person in the hitch hiking equation is usually not safe….. :>

  8. Well, all’s well that ends well, I guess. It would never actually occur to me to leave the house without water, because I hate having a dry feeling in my mouth. No way I could manage a 5-miler without water (but that’s just me).

  9. I hate that feeling of not knowing your run. Glad it turned out, and I know I’ve toyed with the hitch-hiking thing, mostly in a pleading look to police who drive by. But everything happens for a reason, and glad you got home safe. And I love the Dixie Chicks, so hope it helped. Happy Monday.

  10. That is a scary thought – being out on a run “empty handed” and not knowing how much farther it is back “home”. It is a good reminder to stick with the planned run, or stick some sugar in a pocket. As a type 1 diabetic, if my blood sugar gets too low, and my glycogen stores are depleted, it can be deadly. Glad you back safely.

  11. Sarah, I’m glad your run ended safely but disappointed that you chose to hitchhike. That is It seems “cool” but sad reality is that women are vulnerable to psychos. Worse evil could have befallen you besides being driven by. I want to keep reading your posts and hopefully more books, not read about you in the newspaper. Happy and safe trails to you.

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