humor

The Secret to Running a Marathon (During a Pandemic…Or Ever)

Go Jules Go How to Run a Marathon Title Graphic 14APR2020

Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.

Two dozen ice cubes hit the bottom of six water bottles. I paused halfway, switching hands, my left fingers already numb from reaching into the ice bin for the eighth time.

Uncle Jesse’s collar rattled as he pranced from paw to paw, letting out a low whimper every few seconds. His evangelical nature revealed itself every time I began our sacred ritual: Water bottle…yes…backpack…YES…leash…YES!…sneakers…PRAISE JESUS YESSSS!!!!

Uncle Jesse running Lake Michigan
Can I get an “Amen”?!

I wonder if he knows what he’s in for today, I thought, pulling a package of tortillas from the fridge.

With water bottles filled, I turned to sustenance, folding a few falafel balls into a wrap for me, and a sweet potato into one for Uncle Jesse. It was getting harder to believe the entire world was on lockdown, with Mother Nature beginning to show her sweeter side, beckoning restless souls to pack a picnic or meet some friends for happy hour around a sun-soaked table.

OH GOD I MISS THIS.

I checked the weather one last time. High of 60 with “abundant sunshine.” I was still getting used to the latter. Springtime on the east coast usually brought warmer temperatures by mid-April, but also a lot more rain. Bend, Oregon, on the other hand, still saw frigid nights and little precipitation.

Uncle Jesse double rainbow Maston 2020
And when it does rain in central Oregon? This happens.

As I packed my hiking bag, I went the extra mile (pun sooo intended), grabbing an empty shopping sack and stuffing spare socks, a shirt, Band-Aids, an extra hat, and a hand towel into it. I cast a glance at the calendar where I’d been counting down the days until this moment.

8 miles @ Maston

Crazy hilly 13 miles @ ?? Butte

REST

Easy 5 miles @ Shevlin Park

18 Miles @ Tumalo Reserve incl. ?? Butte (seriously does it have a name?)

REST

Every square of 2020 was filled with pencil scribbles tracking my progress, even though the Bend Marathon, originally scheduled for April 19th, had been canceled in March, courtesy of COVID-19.

img_20200414_144403

As a final step, I put two extra sandwiches, water, and a can of Coke into a cooler bag. I clicked my race belt on, grabbed my hat, and put on my dusty and trusty Altra trail running shoes.

Jules Altras by Deschutes River

“Allons, mon chien!” I declared, tossing Uncle Jesse’s leash and my ear buds into the shopping bag as we headed outside. Neither four months of marathon training nor eighteen months on Duolingo French would be in vain!

Jules Uncle Jesse snowy run by Deschutes River
How do you say, “I run until I cry” in French…?

I took a gamble on a new trailhead about 25 minutes east, near the Badlands, and landed in an empty parking lot just before 10:30am. Scoooooore. It was rare to find an empty trailhead on a Saturday morning, even during a pandemic. While a huge part of me felt guilty every time I got in the car to find a quiet place to run, it still felt safer to pick an open, abandoned trail than play ‘dodge-a-pedestrian’ while running on my neighborhood sidewalks.

Badlands trail sign
Besides, when you’re talking 26.2 miles, you’re eventually going to run out of sidewalk.

Before COVID hit, I’d spent countless hours trying to find the least-used trails in a 30-mile radius – research that now paid off handsomely.

Uncle Jesse on trail in OR
#IntrovertForTheWin

I moseyed over to the trailhead map, popping my ear buds in and snapping my water-filled backpack around my chest. Delighted to find a network of trails long enough to cover 13+ miles (meaning I wouldn’t have to do more than two loops on the same trail), I started my audiobook, locked the car, and began jogging. Uncle Jesse eagerly darted from side to side, making sure no stick went un-sniffed.

Uncle Jesse butt shot sandy trail mountains

The wide, sandy trail was packed down, mostly flat, and totally deserted. A cool breeze wafted by as if I’d placed an order. Wow. Okay. This will work. I’d spent so many training runs trudging through thick sand, narrowly missing mountain bikers, and/or getting snowed on, that this felt like running inside Darren Criss’s smile while petting puppies.

Darren Criss puppies zipper pouch
OH MY GOD HOW DO I NOT HAVE THIS?

The first hour flew by, even if my pace was nothing like flying. I was 6 years older and 20 30 40 (thanks, COVID-15) pounds heavier than the last time I thought I could run marathons.

Jules-Hamptons-Marathon-27Sep2014
Jules’s 2014 marathon recap: “This experience was f&*#$%^ awful!”

But I was also four years plant-powered and properly trained now, with a rock-solid faith in both my legs and my mental fortitude. I was a week ahead of schedule [for the originally scheduled Bend Marathon on April 19th], so if I couldn’t make the six hour cut-off time today, I’d simply try again next weekend, with no one the wiser.

Scott Jurek Badwater finish
So basically I feel like Scott Jurek now. Photo credit

While I may have missed the adrenaline rush of cheering squads, the aid stations, and the course markings of an official race, I didn’t miss the hard pavement, early start time, or collective anxiety, which usually peaked 20-30 minutes before race time in the form of mile-long port-a-potty lines. I especially didn’t miss the well-intentioned, but severely misguided “Good job!” and “You got this!” cries of much faster runners as they whizzed by.

Go Jules Go prep for half marathon Nov 2019
I also didn’t miss doing this the night before.

Hour two was harder than the first, as I began to realize there was no shade whatsoever; parts of the trail grew sandier while my backpack seemed to grow heavier. In hell, a mountain of sand and nothing but warm Gatorade and Donald Trump speeches will await me. Around the same time, I accepted that I would chafe in new, exciting places, despite wearing entirely road-tested gear.

Jules Salt Lake City trying stream water Jun 2019
Well that’s gonna be fun tomorrow.

I stopped just before hour three under a rare, shady tree. Uncle Jesse stared at me with big, questioning brown eyes. I pulled out our wraps and we ate them quickly. The other bonus to jogging vs. running long distances seemed to be that I could eat whatever I wanted without gastrointestinal distress. GU? Electrolyte chews? Energy bars? You can keep ’em! On all of our longer training runs jogs, we had simply stopped at the halfway mark and eaten sandwiches.

Jules Broken Angel burrito
Refried bean burrito for breakfast and falafel wrap for lunch? Don’t mind if I do.

The high desert sun grew more intense, though there was still a strong breeze, and our water grew warmer as we neared hour four, running along a dreary stretch of power lines. I made the executive decision to turn back to the car for more water, cursing inwardly as my toe collided with another lava rock hidden in the thick sand.

Uncle Jesse sandy trail
So…much…sand.

“And the making of a hero…,” the British narrator continued on my audiobook, Natural Born Heroes. Though I’d normally hang on Christopher McDougall’s every word, I tuned in and out, distracted by trying to retrace my steps.

Marathon mountain view Apr 11 2020
I was also distracted by this view.

Just as we neared what I was (…pretty…) sure was the path to my car, I spotted a man and his dog – the first person I’d seen all day. Guhhhhh. I did an about-face and started off in the opposite direction. The unexpected detour meant it was almost five hours in before Uncle Jesse and I reached Suba-Ruby.

Subara car commercial

If we’re not even close to 20 miles, I’m calling it, I thought, defeated. I glanced at my Fitbit. 21.5 miles. I grinned maniacally.

“Oh, less than 5 miles. We are making this happen,” I said aloud. Uncle Jesse tilted his head in response.

Uncle Jesse head tilts on backseat car cover 25Dec2019

I took a few gulps of deliciously frosty water from the cooler pack, quickly refilling Uncle Jesse’s Water Rover and my go-to bottle. I gleefully swapped out my ill-fitting bigger pack for my beloved little Camelback, and we set off to conquer the last few miles.

00100lrportrait_00100_burst20200414144512946_cover
Is it legal to marry an inanimate object?

During the final 45 minutes, stiffness settled into my legs and every minute crawled by. I refused to look at my watch until I couldn’t bear it. Knowing I could do all 26.2 miles offered little comfort; I still had to do it. I imagined sitting on the couch with my cheap bottle of Trader Joe’s bubbly, eating whatever the living f#@& I wanted, watching my long-awaited Redbox rental, Little Women – including all of the special features, dammit.

00100sportrait_00100_burst20200214170453363_cover
Nerd alert.

When we finally rounded the bend back into the parking lot, I had to do two more tiny loops before my watch signaled that we’d hit our target distance. I let out a small laugh.

Marathon Fitbit screenshot Apr 11 2020
Booya.

“You’re a marathon man now!” I shouted to Uncle Jesse, 10-year-old Vegan Wonder Dog, who had already climbed into the backseat and was staring at me with tired, but alert, eyes. Par for the course, his expression seemed to say. He hadn’t missed a single training run.

Uncle Jesse snow romp 2 Cascades 2019
Sheer determination.

I poured water on a towel and wiped off my wind and sunburned face, wedging my “2020 Bend Marathon” trucker cap on, having finally earned it. I fed Uncle Jesse another sandwich, snapped a photo for the obligatory social media show-off, and we headed back home, where we sat on the hallway floor and shared a pint of Coconut Bliss ice cream.

Go Jules Go Uncle Jesse post marathon April 11 2020
He hogged it all.

Though I laid low and downed a couple of Aleve the next day -mostly for my back which wasn’t used to carrying such a large, heavy pack during runs- by Monday we were right back at it, running jogging eight miles like it was nothing.

Jules vegan sweatshirt
Plant-powered. For. The. Win.

~*~*~*~*~*~

I’m almost 38, overweight, drink like a [quarantined] fish, and have no business feeling this great after running a marathon – much more than I can say for my younger, thinner, meat-eating self.

Also I love you. And if you’re a nurse, that love is, like, getting weird.

~*~*~*~*~*~

21 thoughts on “The Secret to Running a Marathon (During a Pandemic…Or Ever)”

  1. Bravo you! *She says while reclining on her comfy couch*
    My inner self yearns to do something similar, but my outer 56 year old self says, “Don’t even think about it”. So I shall continue to live vicariously through you and Uncle Jessie… who is more photogenic than any dog has a right to be. Gorgeous views!

    1. I may or may not pass along that compliment – Uncle Jesse’s been strutting around since Saturday, assuming that all of the rest of his days will be Coconut Bliss ice cream-filled…

  2. I’m very impressed. It takes a great deal of determination and discipline to accomplish this on your own. Congratulations.

    1. Thanks, Mark!! I thought of you as I wrote this, since I went from saying to you that “maaaybe” I could eke out a post about this experience, to writing one of my longest posts ever. Ha! And now I have a much more captive audience than usual, too. *evil laugh*

  3. You and that ridiculous dog of yours….Such a perfect pair.

    You dun great, pal. Maybe I’ll get my fat ass into some sort of marathon training too now that you’ve inspired me. Sandwiches, you say?

    1. I volunteer to make our race t-shirts: “WILL RUN 4 SANDWICHES.” That is the #1 reason I do this, after all. It’s the only time my calorie burn and calorie intake resemble each other.

  4. Love this! Love you! Love Uncle Jesse! I have now had a grand total of 6 foot surgeries, but I went for my first “run” in 4 years on Thursday. It was short, slow, and ugly, but I did it. I stand in awe of your marathon-ing, and when I told the Puggles about Uncle Jesse running it too, they were all “Hey, f-that guy. He’s got like, way longer legs than us.” Clearly jealous. You are beautiful and I love everything about this.

    1. JM!!! OMG, doth my eyes deceive me? Are you blogging it up again?? I can’t imagine the recovery process for 6 foot surgeries, although if anyone could bounce back it would be YOU!

  5. Wow, Jules, you have become an athlete! I’m so impressed and proud of you. I could probably do a 26 mile walk, if guaranteed sufficient chocolate and wine at the end, but no way I could run that. Sorry I have been MIA for so long, my friend.

    1. Hang on. Haaaang on. A comment from JM and now a comment from Peggles?! Are my wildest bloggy dreams all coming true?! Are ya’ll blogging again? And they say “international pandemic” like it’s a bad thing…

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