18

The longest I’ve run before training for this ultra is 13.1 miles.

Yup, I get it. It is down right loony that I am training for an ultra marathon if I’ve only ever run a half. I get that, but I don’t see how that is a burden to my training. Rather, I refuse to see it as one.

As my long runs get a bit further, it is exciting to know that each one is a new accomplishment. After your first marathon, you run to out do times, but there is something darn right thrilling about claiming an achievement that you couldn’t 24 hours earlier. I end each long run by texting my mom with a new furthest-I-have-run distance.

For some reason, 18 is a big milestone for me. If I got there, then I could be a real runner, hiding the fact that most who have run marathons will tell you that your body takes on a whole new persona after 20. I know that I will get to that point, but 18, that would be something special.

Friday I ran 18.6 miles, or 30 kilometers. My official training cycle starts next month but I wanted to top my long-run distance at 30, proving that was foundation was nice and wide.

In Lesotho, I can’t just run 15 kilometers and then turn around, at least not where I live. To the east of me, the road eventually turns into the mountains and some of the climbs are too high and too long for me at this point. To the west, the road slopes down a steep mountain and is not safe for me to be on it with whizzing cars and blind spots. It’s also not wise for me to be too far from village, although I always bring my cell phone and money for transport in case something happens. So, I usually have to double up on some distances.

I have a 15 K route that I really enjoy. It takes me along the dirt road of my village, on the to the main and past about three villages. It has three fairly challenging slopes, but in my part of the country hardly there are few flat patches. One of my favorite parts is going through the biggest of these villages, flying down a hill and staring at the mountain range. They act as my cheerleaders and I feel invincible on my stretch.

Because I am going merely for distance at this point, I started off really slow and judged my pace by talking to myself to make sure I could carry on a few sentences. I thought about how much I love running and how it could become my thing, like other people have scrapbooking or rock climbing.

When I hit the main road, I picked up some pacers, rather 5 year olds on their way to school. One liked to show off that he could walk as fast as we were running; I secretly called him a punk. Most non-Africans will say they hate running with kids because they are always so much faster than you and they are likely barefoot. I used to absolutely hate it because running is me time, but I knew these kids would soon turn off for school so I laughed with them. It’s also really fun to dance-run with kids. They love it.

There is a lodge near my house and it is one of the main housing areas for Roof of Africa, a huge motorbike race that runs through various parts of the country. Although riders come from a variety of African countries, many are South African. I think it kinda weirds them out to see a white girl running, but they also always offer a wave of greeting.

At around kilometer 12, I was feeling so good that I thought about extending my distance to 33 K, so I could hit 20 miles. It seemed like such a great idea, but I told myself to see how I felt at 26 K and then make that decision.

That idea officially died at 25 K, after I made all three hills the second time and my legs were burning. I had stuffed down an energy gel and power bar and two bottles of water and felt mentally up for it, but my legs were refusing to go any further than the initially agreed upon distance.

The last two kilometers were the worst and I could feel my thighs tightening but I held on and finished with a giant smile. I did it.

Exhaustion and pain immediately settled in and one of my village friends commented on how tired I was. I told him I was going home to die and he said, “But we still need you.” Sweet.

The best part is that I didn’t clasp on my bed or go into a coughing fit, like I did last week after 14 miles. Instead, I stretched and rolled out my legs. Drank water. Took a cold bathe. Ate lunch. And then napped.

My legs were a bit sore, but in the best kind of way. They worked hard today and they are reminding me of it. I love that feeling. I also love being able to say, “I ran 18 miles.”

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