Monday, September 7, 2009

Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy.

Actually, it was just the C train at 86th Street, but I like this picture and wanted to start my latest entry with it.

You wouldn't be able to tell from the badass look on my face here, but I was nervous. Oh so nervous. This is Barb, Joanne and I as we headed uptown to start our long run on Saturday.

Oh yeah, Elkin was there as well:

And as we trekked up to the base of the George Washington Bridge, we were mostly quiet. Partly because it was 7 freaking o'clock, but partly because we were all sweating the run ahead of us. We were going for 18 miles. And although every run now is farther than we have ever gone, there seemed to be a big mental jump from 16 miles (our previous longest run) and 18. Don't ask me why, but each one of us felt it. Could also be due to getting out of our comfort zone - no CP on this run - we were actually heading into another state.

New Jersey.

To recap, I'm a California girl. I don't get this concept of running over the border into another state. If I want to run to say Oregon or Nevada, it'll take days and it pretty much means I'm on the lam and dodging cops by running through forests at night and altering my appearance in dirty gas station bathrooms.

Sorry, I just watched "The Fugitive."

But the route looked awesome. Ramon plotted us over the GW and into the Palisades Park, where we would have an out-and-back along the Hudson river. Very woodsy, very hilly. Starting over the bridge, he cautioned us that we'd have to be single-file, since the route really is a cyclist route (btw, they also hate us in Jersey). We are quite the impressive group, though. I can't imagine what we looked like to oncoming traffic:

But just a few minutes into the run, we were greeted by this:

And we knew we were in for a special run. So as Barb and Elkin and I came off the bridge:

(Elkin is taking the picture) ... we were pretty excited. The nervousness subsided and we just kind of relaxed.

Now, I feel like I need to give New Jersey props here. The entire state gets a totally bad rap. Not a native New Yorker, I never engaged in the snobbish comments city dwellers consistently make ("How do you get to Jersey? Flush twice."). Granted, I have zero desire to settle across the bridge and I would much rather live in the New York City skyline than longingly gaze at it from across the Hudson ... but I have no ill will toward Tony Soprano's home state.

But just a mile from Manhattan, we were greeted by the most beautiful state park ... peaceful, clean, quiet .... and all ours for a few short Saturday hours. I mean, look how happy we all are in these pictures:

By the way, that's Javier and Ed with us. Good group.

But notice the pathway in the park. So pretty and shaded and we chatted happily about our surroundings and how beautiful it was and nearly forgot how far we had gone. The hills were tough - like San Francisco tough - and I gave Barb a little encouragement every time we hit one ("we need this, Babs ... gotta get used to these ...") but we all chugged up them like champs. Before we knew it, we had been running for an hour and a half and we were just over 9 miles. It was time to turn back, and we all did the math quickly in our heads. We make it back and we're completing 18.5 miles.

Holy cow.

So then a bit of panic set in. I started thinking about what would happen if I suddenly stopped running. Would that count? Could I walk it in and still have bragging rights to the 18.5? Doubtful. All I knew was, we still had 8 miles of hilly road to cover before we hit the GW and the home stretch.

Ramon had parked himself at Mile 4 on the way in to give us water and snacks and when we reached him again on the way back, he was a welcome sight. He coached us all in off the hill and told us how we should be running the last few miles. In a word, faster. The five of us took off again and I think we were all in our own heads. Instead of running as one group, we pulled away from each other and I found myself somewhat solo. I sped up in anticipation of the one last hill that would take us to the base of the GW ... and home.

I would have taken pictures of that hill had I not stashed my camera in my Fuel Belt along with a sticky Gu wrapper (no garbage cans along the route and I'm not a litterbug, yo). But take my word for it, this was bigger than an SF hill. So I walked it. And I am unapologetic.

But then we saw it. That confounded bridge. (Please tell me there are Led Zeppelin fans out there). And look how freaking happy we were:

I was jubilant. With the breeze from the river on my face (could have been car exhaust but whatev) and the sun hitting my shoulders, I nearly sprinted over the bridge when I saw the cluster of trees on the other side where we had started. I couldn't hide my excitement as I closed in on the last half mile:

Just as exuberant were Barb and Elkin as they came in:

I don't think we've ever celebrated as much as we did in the moments that followed. We all got just a small taste of how finishing our marathons might feel like. 18.5 was such a huge number in our minds that I don't think any of us could quite comprehend how we actually completed it. But we did. And we did it well.

We sat on the grass for a while, contemplating how much more we'd have to do to finish 26.2. It's just a loop in CP and an additional mile, we concluded. We knock off loops like nothing these days, we laughed. We've got this.

Runner's high took on a whole new meaning on Saturday:

But for the rest of the day, we didn't need to dream about 26.2. 18.5 was absolutely sufficient. All of us updated our Facebook pages with our accomplishments and I reveled in going home and planting myself on the couch for the rest of the day. When I wanted to eat, I ate whatever I wanted. When I wanted a drink, I poured myself into a perfect martini with not a twinge of guilt.

The next long run is 20 miles. Training for a marathon, you always hear about the 20-miler. It's the last big run you do before your race and from what my running friends have told me, it's mostly mental. Just like the jump from 16 to 18 miles was incomprehensible for us, I am humbled by the thought of actually completing double-digits that begin with "2."

But for now, I'm not thinking about it. Mike and I spent the rest of the holiday weekend relaxing and catching up with our good friends Mike and Claudette ...

... and I've had to pinch myself a few times, asking myself what I did to get so lucky.

Maybe it's karma for not making fun of New Jersey.

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