In August, M, my primary running partner, and I set out to run 200 miles. You can read about is here, here, and here. Most of the people I discussed the project with before and during locked immediately onto what the daily mileage would need to be, but I didn’t think a lot about that. I knew there would be long days and short days. Instead, I aimed for 50 miles per week, knowing the 31 day month would give me 3 extra days to work with. That seemed like a safe strategy.
I didn’t keep notes contemporaneously during Project 200, but I have my mileage tracker, and in the weeks since we wrapped it up, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the experience, how it felt, what I learned.
Here is my day-by-day retrospective. What it shows is a few things. First, the heat was probably a bigger obstacle than the distance. Second, more rest in the early weeks might have produced an even bigger, final mileage total, or at least gotten me to 200 in sounder body and mind. And third, always thinking too much about what was still to come was pointless and counterproductive.
You really do have to run the run you’re running, probably even just the mile you’re running. It’s corny maybe, but when is this not true?
Day 1: 12 miles
The month starts on a Saturday, which makes it a free swing, a day not neatly contained in a Sunday – Saturday week. A mix of enthusiasm and fear gets me into double-digit miles. Is this a stake in the ground or a way of saying, “I’m not at all confident I’ll make it?” Yeah. Both probably. It’s a hot one, but my body has not yet been caught in the dehydration/rehydration cycle.
Day 2: 9.5 miles
An insurance policy against future failure. Breaking 20 miles in the first 2 days feels like a good start, but it’s hard work. I flirted with heat stroke on this one, and rather than having the distance settle my nerves, my heat troubles only compounded my fear. I needed to rethink my hydration strategy quickly.
Day 3: 7 miles
Is this what I have to do? Slightly terrified. Still not carrying enough fluid with me. The neighbors’ pool is my only salvation at this point. I go out and wreck myself in the heat, stumble home, hose off, and then sit in the pool, contemplating my mortality.
Day 4: Rest
Is it too soon to rest? Am I failing already? M and I will run together on Day 5, and I hope her energy is going to help me find a second wind. I am aware that it might be too soon to be seeking a second wind. I decide to ditch my 1 liter hydration belt in favor of my 2 liter pack stocked with goo and chews for added salt.
Day 5: 13 miles
A half-marathon to calm the nerves? Ok. This didn’t go very well for me, and I think it’s because I only put water in my pack. It’s the salt loss that’s killing me. Our local, long loop, this 12.5 or 13 mile circuit, is going to become the Wednesday morning jam. Figuring out this salt problem (not very hard) is a turning point.
Days 6 & 7: 5.5 miles each
Trying to find a rhythm where I make progress without burning out. I’m already over 50 miles, so that makes Day 8 another free swing. I think I’m doing it right, or at least doing it in a way that leaves me feeling comfortable with my progress.
Day 8: 12.5 miles
A Saturday long run to bring the running total to 65 miles. That gives me a big buffer for future weeks, when I assume I will be falling apart. This is my first run with a hydration pack full of electrolytes, and it goes well, still a long effort in heat, but without the dramatic and painful crash at the 8 mile mark. Progress.
Days 9 & 10: 5.5 miles each
Starting to feel the weight of 65 miles in 8 days, but still ticking over, getting it done.
Day 11: Rest
With the heat/hydration puzzle solved, I am anxious about taking a rest day, as if I can hurry up and finish this thing. I’m 76 miles in.
Day 12: 12.5 miles
Wednesday’s half-marathon. OK, just short, but this is our loop, and we’re gonna get real familiar with it. The heat of the month is now beginning to leach the color from my soul. Within the run, I’m ok. I can sweat and rehydrate adequately, but that process leaves you feeling pretty washed out.
Day 13: 7.5 miles
I have little recollection of this run. It’s possible I had become a low-level amnesiac.
Day 14: 2 miles
I ran with my kid. This is a regular distance for him. It is now in the province of “rest” to only run 2 miles, and sort of refreshing.
Day 15: 15 miles
I sweated every drop of moisture in my body, replaced it all, and sweated it out again. I am water. I am salt. I am the ocean. Halfway through the month and 113 miles in the bank. This is the day I began to think I was probably going to make it. It might also have been the day M and I agreed that one of us would probably shed tears before we were done.
Day 16: 5.5 miles
In retrospect, this probably would have been a good rest day, but once you have that momentum and the miles are piling up, you just want to keep going. No land speeds records are being broken at this point. Every run defaults to this too comfortable shuffling pace.
Day 17: 7 miles
Monday morning. 7 miles is nothing. 125.5 total. All the math is working.
Day 18: 2.5 miles
A quick one with the dog. It’s too hot for the dog. A saner person might take some guidance there. Not me.
Day 19: 12.5 miles
Another Wednesday long loop. I think we actually set our fastest yet time on this one. Why? No clue. It was good to feel good though.
Day 20: 5.5 miles
I’m running around a beautiful inland marsh. The air is vibrant with heat, insects, birds, and sunshine. I pass a snapping turtle in the trail, and then I think, what if I hurt myself? What if I’ve come this far and can’t finish? This thought sits inconveniently in the back of my mind the rest of the month.
Day 21: 7 miles
I cross 150 miles to sit on 153 total. 10 days to run the last 47. Growing confidence. Chafing is a thing now. I have to get strategic about what shorts to wear. I employ unguents. That’s right. Unguents.
Day 22: 12 miles
The summer woods are special. Everything is growing as hard and fast as it can. Decomposition is accelerated too. I might be decomposing. I am never not wet. I fantasize that perhaps the cicadas are making the heat with their incessant buzzing.
Day 23: 5.5 miles
Nothing to see here. Just moving through the thickening air. Just. Moving.
Day 24: Rest
170.5 miles in the bank, 7 days to get the remaining 29.5. It seems straightforward now, easy in some ways. Is this really only my third rest day of the month? Again, in retrospect, another day or two off would have been better. By this point, I am beginning to burn out.
Day 25: 8 miles
The end is in sight, but there are still a little more than 20 miles to run.
Day 26: 12.5 miles
The project is winding down, and I think I’ve got it all together, but this run quickly disabuses me of that idea. For some reason, I’ve made a coffee date for the morning with an old friend, even though every Wednesday I run this godforsaken (actually really beautiful) loop. He calls to find out why I’m not home, just as we make the turn for home, still 8 miles out. He’s at my house waiting for coffee. I have to apologize and feel like an idiot. We keep running, but I’m mad at myself. Then I catch a toe and hit the ground hard. Is this where one of us cries? My body hurts. My mind is spinning. This is the low point, with only 9 miles left.
Day 27: Rest
A second rest day in one week? I’m so close. Shouldn’t I just finish? No. Too tired.
Day 28: 3.5 miles
Short, easy. Really just a way to shrink what’s left. This gets me to 194.5 with Saturday’s long run up next.
Day 29: 13 miles
We had planned more like 15-20 miles, but it was another scorching hot day, and as we both passed the 200 mile mark, the ambition to close it out on the month’s longest run receded. We ended up back at the car after 13 miles, and just let it be done. Anticlimactic. Too tired to care a lot. We drive home, both of us staring blankly out the windows.
Days 30 & 31: Rest
If you had asked me the week before if I’d keep on pushing at this point, with the goal already reached, I would have said, ‘yes.’ But I’m tired, and having done what I set out to do, doing more seems like an ego trip as much as anything. Also, I’m burned out and need a week off, and I’m going take it.
Another type of person would look at this project and ask if 250 miles is possible. I think it probably is. In cooler weather, it certainly is. But what is the point of piling up miles when they begin to blur together, and you stop enjoying them? I like to run long, and I will keep running long, but I prefer to do it in a context where I can enjoy it, feel the trail under my feet, see what’s around me to see.