Setting off at 10:40 pm, the sun long set. It is either early or late, depending on your disposition and what you may have to do the next day. Early mornings make for early nights and this Friday, for me, precedes something like sleeping in, working late, et cetera, and so I go out late.
This is, in any case, my preference. I've never been a morning runner, except on days where I'm inclined, having nothing else to do, to double. Races, of course, are an exception to this - though there are, in truth, exceptions to that exception, and I choose night races when I can. The Heartland 50 has had my participation three years running in no small part because it's a night race.
But I am pleased, setting out. Pleased with the hour, the accompanying sky, and the mild weather. Footfalls come easily, and the breaths do to. It occurs to me that I could run to one corner of Lawrence, and then to the opposite corner, swinging back to finish at my house, which is somewhat near the first corner I would target. I did not Google maps this, nor did I turn on my GPS; it would take how long it would take, and I'd go as far as I had to.
Grinding up an early hill, a call from a car speeding by: Go faster faggot! Woooooo!
I did, in fact, catch myself going faster. Abuse works better for me than inspiration, most often. I thought that they were, probably, drunk already, or drunkish, and that it was rather early to be so. But then, I never really understood that timetable. My college nights were spent in the gym, over books, or with an Xbox controller in hand. I thought that things were not quite so different now, other than my age, now some years past that. Those kids in the car could, perhaps, be accurately called that, in comparison to me. 25 isn't old, I guessed, but it's older than I've ever been before.
Another hill, another grinder, same car: You can do it faggot! I believe in youuuuuuuu!
It slowed, slightly, to make sure I heard, perhaps? I was rather out of breath at the moment, however, and couldn't muster anything witty in response. Bored with me, then, they drove away quickly, yelling nothing at the person running on the other side of the street. He was dressed in the local uniform - I was running, at that moment, through the "greek" part of town - of khakis, boat shoes, and a North Face vest over a plaid shirt. He, like me, was running somewhere; although it was clear enough that, not only had he not planned to run tonight, he hadn't much enthusiasm for it, as he stopped after a block, wobbled, then sat down on the sidewalk.
Around the football stadium, then, up yet more large hills - these, with stairs. "Kansas calves" are a thing here, reputed to be the result of walking to class on KU's undulating campus. I wondered, given that I do run in this town, why I was so consistently mediocre racing uphill, looped back, ran up them again, now slightly irritated at the mental image of one specific person pulling away from me. At the top, there was a car now, occupied, and its occupants had not expected anyone to crest this hill at all, certainly not in this place. I darted the opposite direction, hoping to spare all of us further indignity.
Downtown, on a Friday night. Full of people, lights, noises. The sidewalk would be an arrogant and brave path, so I opted against it, choosing a street which is, at present, blocked off for construction. It occurred to me that there were thousands of people in this area, socializing, walking, talking, drinking, doing normal Friday night things on a normal Friday night. Neither for the first nor last time, I attempted some kind of self-psychoanalysis, searching for what it is in me that makes a Friday night spent thusly seem optimal. The fact that I bisected downtown on a run seemed quite social to me, enough to satisfy my interpersonal appetite for a few days, at least.
Across a bridge, in to North Lawrence. The river beneath is still frozen, despite tonight's warm temperatures. I am reminded that, less than 24 hours previously, I'd been running in sub-zero wind chill, and that tonight I was enjoying 44, according to the last bank I'd passed. "Kansas weather," people say, which always acts as prologue to tired griping, as if it could be any other way.
Things are empty now, suddenly desolate. The noise of downtown is gone, faded; it doesn't cross the bridge with me. I run in the side streets, as there are no cars here. I zig zag aimlessly, taking the least direct route I can imagine, because it is all available. I see no one and am not aware that there might be anyone else at all; this is a private track, paved, a backlot movie set that no one tore down.
I hit the Interstate Highway, turn, and shuffle back, ambling through different streets this time. There are three kids here - and kids, truly, not college "kids". They jog beside me for a block, asking me what I'm doing, before running out of breath and stopping. "He's fast," one says, and I take this as far too big a compliment.
Crossing the bridge again, I evaluate things, decide I feel good. Rather than head back South or West, I go East, thinking that there is more of the town to explore, and my legs are happy for the task. The streets and sidewalks I choose are brick - perhaps my favorite surface to run on, though it's hard to find. It's firm, but strikes me as less harsh than concrete; and it varies, not unlike a mild trail, but is never deceptive. I loop around this for a while, enjoying the feedback from my feet.
I decide that campus and downtown were too crowded, too noisy for my taste, and go around. This adds miles and minutes but I am feeling good. No pain and I am beginning to taste the bonk, which I adore. Often, at the tail end of long runs, I catch myself smiling, gazing at nothing - "blissing out", I call it. It is, as best I can describe it, akin to that moment when you sit on the couch, after a perfect dinner, and exhale. Satisfaction, completely and totally. I often do this post-run as well, ignoring a great deal of advice on recovery nutrition - eat now or your muscles wither and die! - wallowing in the bonk.
At present I am neither eating nor sitting, but rather moving. Forward, forward, at something just the right side of shuffling. I am in no hurry.
That being the case, I wander more. Here, there, all directed roughly towards Lawrence's Southwest corner, a place I had left some time ago. How long? I didn't know. Although I hadn't turned on its GPS functionality, I had worn my Garmin, simply starting the timer as I began. I hadn't instituted a ban on checking how long I'd been out; it simply hadn't occurred to me to do so. I decided I would wait until the end, at this point. May as well build suspense.
By this point, my bonk was deepening, and I was getting thirsty. There were convenience stores nearby, but I hadn't brought anything except my keys; and really, I didn't feel like stopping. So I went on, past them each time, feeding on the chemicals my body was feeding me, and the tissue I stripped from myself. For some reason, this notion struck me as funny. I tried to imagine a runner, so bonked that they began to gnaw on their own arm, but the image was fleeting.
Near home, finally, I stop at a nearby junior high track. I jog around it and then do three 200s at the fastest leg speed I can muster at the time, jogging the intervals. This feels quite good, actually, as my legs had begun to lock in to a stagnant motion. (Note: This was not the only speedwork I did this week, promise.) I call it kick practice and run away from the track, through the playground, stopping only to dunk a rock on the nine-foot basketball goal they have there. I swing on the rim a moment and slap the backboard because why not?
Home, then, where there is food and water. Both are at that point elixirs. I do check the watch first, however, which reads 4:44:59. Two weeks before racing a 50K, and I may have just done one - albeit on vastly easier terrain. No aid though, I think, and I didn't bring anything to ingest either. I decide that this was a perfect last long run before I lie to myself about tapering but run pretty much the same volume anyway.
I sleep until noon the next day and then go to work. Everything feels fine. I plod around for 8 tonight, and everything feels better than fine. Good, even. Bonk wallowing good.