-I’m going to be running a little longer today so I won’t be back home until closer to 10.
It’s 6:13 a.m. A little bit of a later start today owing to the men’s Australian Open final. The air is frigid and the skies a deep inky blue as I set out. In Markham, where my partner lives, it is a full 8 degrees colder than it is in the downtown core. I frown. Pout really. But at -22C, it’s still a far cry warmer than what we’ve encountered this month.
I have a 3.5 km lap that I have carved out which will see me climb and descend minor hills as I wind my way through the quiet suburban streets. Laps, particularly in challenging conditions, are safer than a long out and back. And I trust my safety along these familiar streets more so than I do on a lonely stretch of highway. I settle into a conservative pace and the first 3 laps go by with fairly little expenditure. As is often the case with me, it’s the long stretch between 15 and 25 kilometres that challenges my mental fortitude more than anything else. During this time the mind can play tricks on you. It tells me that I’m cold, that the winds are picking up, and that I have barely cracked the half way mark of my run. My mind reminds me, relentlessly, that I still have over 90 minutes left to cover. And it badgers me, demanding of me,
Can you really do this?
At kilometre 19 I encounter my first runner. Cars too are starting to make their way on to the brightening streets. Mentally I tabulate where I would be if I were doing a point-to-point run toward my own home and am certain that I would have made it to Yonge Street, likely in the 416 area code. The mileage I have covered already is greater than that which many of the minivans which now push me further curbside will likely be covering today.
I reach for my Gatorade which I have secured against my body within the confines of my jacket to keep the liquid from freezing to the point where it is beyond consumability. As it is,even next to my core the beverage has become a slushy. Compelling me to remove the lid of my bottle to drink. The opening of the squeeze bottle has frozen shut.
My pace begins to labour and I wonder how much of this has to do with hydration. I have consumed less than 200 millilitres and I am now approaching 26 kilometres. The first stirrings of hunger make their presence known as well. But I am within my last hour of running. Less than one hour left in this brutal cold. And less than 60 minutes from being able to stop. To just stop. Mentally I implore my body to keep going, to keep fighting. And if the rewards of a fitter body aren’t enough I bribe my legs with the thought of the chocolate chip cookies that were left on the kitchen counter.
With one lap left to go I pace myself up the final uphill ascent. Though the climb is minor, I know better than to press the pace too early. As I begin to turn back into the downhill portion I let gravity become my best friend. My legs just have to go with the flow the descent creates.
34 kilometres in. I start to open up my stride and press home. My gait, though not as sure as it was at 6:13 a.m., is still formidable enough to keep me upright and to get this job done.
35 kilometres. I slow to a cool-down walk. The hard part is over. Basking in the waves of euphoria that come from conquering another long run, I savour these final few hundred metres to the front door step.
A hot shower, clean clothes, and those 2 chocolate chip cookies await.