There is a recycling center just over the road from Walden Pond, and there, on the verge, in the crab-grassed gravel is where we crossed the 200 mile mark. M said, “Really, we’re going to stop here?” What she didn’t say is that her watch didn’t match mine. In her mind we’d crossed the line a quarter mile back, when we were still in the woods.
So we made it.
And the imprecision of the finish line was sort of fitting, because the idea of piling up miles just to reach an arbitrary total doesn’t really jibe with the way we run. We’re running to run and to explore and to be in the woods, and the goal was only really there to drive all that to its logical conclusion, though I’m not sure it did.
I think one of the takeaways of this project is that 200 miles seemed like a forbiddingly big deal, but turned out to be not that hard. Neither of us cried. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but week-by-week, we just kept going. Over the course of month, you have time to push when you can push and rest when you need to rest. We ran tired sometimes, sure, but that’s life. When isn’t that true?
There is a certain personality type that, having achieved this goal, would ask, “Well, if I can do 200, can I do 250? What’s my limit? That question doesn’t really occur to me. Again, those are only numbers.
We’ve already established that a mile isn’t really a thing.
Last night, we sat on the steps of the Institute of Contemporary Art, looking out over Boston Harbor, and talked about the things we learned from this project. I was finding it a little hard to get my head fully around, like a kid sitting among the scraps of wrapping paper on Christmas morning asked if it was a good Christmas.
Here are the things I think we said:
- If you slow down, you can go far. We knew this already, that your pace for 10 miles is different than your pace for 3. But we ended up running eight half-marathons this month, and that means taking your slow pace very slowly. It’s basically a different sport from the fast, flowy, technical trail running we like to do.
- What felt easy in week 3, felt hard in week 4. I said before that it was all easier than I imagined, and that’s true, but it’s also true that it was getting harder by the day. If this was a 6-week project, I think I would have ended up struggling pretty hard. As it is/was, the prospect of injury seemed to be increasing by virtue of fatigue and the accumulation of minor damage to muscles and joints, the sort of stuff you might normally run through knowing you have rest coming.
- A project that requires daily attention over an extended period crowds out other fun stuff. At the Harbor we sat with spouses and friends, and they all expressed relief that this particular project was over, so we could get back to riding bikes and hiking and doing other stuff with them.
- The chafe is real.
- My friend John expressed incredulity that I didn’t have a yoga practice to go along with all this running, and some of that has to do with my still-injured shoulder, but I concede, in retrospect, that having a stretching/mobility plan to compliment so much running would have been a good idea.
- It was easier, for us, to do this distance on the trail than it would have been on pavement. OK, we’re trail runners anyway, and trail miles are longer, in many respects than road miles, but asphalt breaks down joints faster than dirt. The single plane movements of road running tax the body more than the multi-plane moves required on the trail. We spent a little time on road as we linked together the various forests around us, but probably only 5% of this project was spent outside a forest, and that kept me both sane and interested, AND probably saved my body from falling apart.
- Running these kinds of distances with a partner is infinitely easier than doing it alone. Sure, we both ended up doing long solo runs, but those were all much harder for me than the time we spent side-by-side on the trail, even if we were running in total silence.
It’s hard to know quite what to do next. We need to recover a bit, to rest, and I’m looking forward to getting some snap back in my legs. I want to do some faster runs just to feel that sort of flow. I want to capitalize on the fitness I’ve accrued in some way, but I need to hold off on new commitments until I’ve had a week to decompress. How to sit still all of a sudden, after so much movement?
I can tell you that I’m excited not to drink electrolyte mix for a week, not to have to put together the pack with goo and chew and all the little crap you need when you’re moving for hours at a time.
Finally, I’m proud of us. There are millions of runners faster than we are, and so many that can run farther, but that’s a pointless comparison. We tried to do a hard thing, and we did it. At 48 years-old, I feel happy to feel capable and motivated. In a lot of ways, it’s all I really wanted from this thing in the first place.