We did it. John and I ran 22 miles. The longest distance yet and likely the longest distance we’ll conquer before our first marathon in March. Of course, it wasn’t easy. But on top of the already tedious task of running 22 miles we had freezing temps – single digit with windchill, ice, snow and a full day of work behind us. This is what happened:
Bold – John Bacon (my running partner) Non-Bold – Natalie DiBlasio (that’s me)
Natalie was reporting at the March for Life on the National Mall on Wednesday when I texted her that 22 miles wasn’t off the table for Thursday. No surprise – she was on board. We had slipped in six before the snows came on Tuesday, took Wednesday off and now it was Thursday. Long run day.
John is sitting comfortably at his desk in the USA TODAY newsroom, waiting – somewhat patiently – for my first feeds from the March for Life in D.C. I, on the other hand, am standing on the frigid National Mall, slipping off my gloves to send in quotes from abortion protesters from my phone. I type as much as I can before my fingers start to throb with icy pain before taking a few seconds of a break to warm them in my pocket. John has the better deal. Okay, gloves back off – time to send in another file. But when I look at my phone there is a message from John: “22 not yet off the table.” Oof. Whatever, I’ll just freeze to death.
I got jammed up on a Snowden/NSA story Thursday, so we couldn’t start until after 4:30. 22 degrees, wind chill of 10. And at 8 o’clock it would be 18, wind chill of 5.
John loves to check the temperature every hour all day before a long run, giving me 15 minute updates for our well-over 3 hour run. The forecast did not sound good. But I brought all of my warmest gear and aside from John’s hourly weather updates, I just wasn’t thinking about it.
We parked at Iwo Jima and got cold right out of the car. A woman running past said she had completed three of her four miles and was getting cold. No problem — we figured if things were horrible we would just run a couple miles over Memorial Bridge and double back. We ran a quarter mile and figured out we couldn’t come back that way – too much ice and it would be too dark. We’d have to return over Key Bridge. Onward.
We spent the entire car ride from the USA TODAY building to Iwo Jima bouncing back and forth from “we need a new hobby” to “we’ve totally got this.” It didn’t matter which we settled on. 22 miles was happening. We finally parked at Iwo and I snagged a runner going by. A tear streaming down her frozen red cheeks, she said “It’s pretty rough.” I don’t even know why we asked. After getting out of the car to get the final touches together – lights, water – we climbed right back in the car. “It’s warmer in here,” John remarked. Oof. Out we go.
We ran along the river to Haines Point. West Potomac Park was a breeze, literally, with the wind at our back. A bit icy in East Potomac Park, but doable. Around the point and headed back the other side wasn’t as icy, but the wind whipped right at us. I didn’t like the icy side much; Natalie is better on ice but didn’t like the windy side. Still, other than Natalie “feeling” her Achilles tendons, we were in good shape. Decided to do another lap of the Point. Ice a bit more difficult and wind stiffer, but it’s flat and we were knocking out miles. Natalie, worried about me on the ice and not liking the wind, wanted to move on, but I lobbied for a third lap and she agreed. That’s kind of how we work – if we are split on something but one of us wants to do it, the other sort of has a power of veto that is seldom used.
It was actually a beautiful start. We warmed up in the first half mile and for the first 5 miles were pretty comfortable. My Achilles tendons were cramping up so we spent about a mile trying to recall what exactly happened that made Achilles tendons so vulnerable. Something about him being dipped in a pot of something. The heels stayed kind of tight for a few miles bit I was distracted by the wind whipping across my face for the tip of Haines Point. Ouch. John knows I hate running this loop, but pushed to do it again. And again. It actually was fine and ended up knocking off a dozen miles before we got up the the mall for what john called “Tour de Mall.” I was starting to get too cold for jokes, plus, the cutest animal ever darted across the way. I wanted to pet it. John wouldn’t stop.
We saw an animal 100 yards off as we started the third lap. Natalie guessed “armadillo.” I said “raccoon” but I thought “Natalie isn’t gonna make 22 miles.”
Third loop was rough. We had towels for our faces, and Natalie put her’s on when we ran into the wind. I used mine more like an oxygen mask, popping it over my face every now and then to generate a bit of heat. We needed them now.
As we were wrapping up the third lap we saw a fox! I spent the next mile recapping all of the animals we had seen on our runs since we started marathon training. Deer on two different night long runs. A raccoon – which I thought was an armadillo. Now a fox. I started thinking about how my cat Pheebs would fair on a run like this. She wouldn’t. She is much more of an “I’ll-just-lay-here-until-the-next-meal” kinda gal. Plus I just gave her a haircut. She would be cold. John snapped me back into reality as he pointed right for the first time in out 12 miles of left-leaning loops. To the mall!
We finish the lap and head out along the river in West Potomac park. Bitter wind in our faces. Face in trouble. Crotch in trouble – hey, guys are designed differently. Natalie suggests we invent an electric crotch warmer, but I suggest that a short circuit could be too damaging. But we haven’t finished 14 miles yet and now I’m thinking that I will be the one who forces us to shut down. We finish the icy water bottle and I hit my second round of shot blocks. Natalie, our training computer, gently mentions that I had planned on eating them 2:30 into the run – and that we are at 2:08. But I needed the boost.
It was freezing. I hated the run. John hated the run. Maybe 22 wasn’t in the cards.
Finally – Independence Avenue! We are 14 miles in and headed for the Lincoln Memorial. Natalie says 40 minutes would easily get us 18 miles, which we would consider a success. 80 minutes would easily get us to 22, if we have it in us. We head out along the Reflecting Pool. Path is icy. We run just off the path, outside the rope. Wind at our back, parts defrosting, things improving. Natalie is good too, although her hips and knees are calling to her a bit. By the time we pass the Washington Monument and run along the Mall to the Capitol, the footing is good, the wind is pushing us and I am feeling great. Still, I suggest we roll back before the Capitol. Natalie wants to go up the hill and around. I agree and around we go.
Change of heart! Aside from the fact that I am pretty sure my hips were starting to fall off of whatever attaches them to my spine, I was feeling good. I love running on the mall, especially toward the Capitol. Plus, the wind was blowing behind us – a nice break from the face-whipping cold. As we approached the Capitol building, which looks glorious in the snow, John tries to persuade me that we don’t need to run all the way around the Capitol building. I shot that right down. To me, even though it’s uphill, running around the Capitol is like the prize for running on the mall. It’s impossible to run around that beautiful massive building without feeling so thankful for living in such a beautiful place. I reflect best on the East side of the Capitol.
Back toward Lincoln now, wind in our face. But we’ve had a chance to warm up. We cross paths with some other runners. How far are you going? “Six, and we are just about at our car!” they say. We smile and keep going.
We passed by a few groups of runners along the way. Everyone was waving and cheering each other on. You had to be intense to be out in this weather. It felt great to be a part of this wacky subset of runner. I’ll call us the “Don’t Got No Time Fo’ Windchill Crew.”
Natalie is fine on the ice next to the reflecting pool, I again run outside the rope. Which is weird because it puts her on my left. Natalie is always on my right. She sits on my right at work, she’s on my right when we walk to the cafeteria at work. But desperate times call for desperate measures! I ask her how she’s doing and she mentions her hips and knees. I say I feel great and she tells me I have made that point before. I feel guilty. But we don’t dwell. We are getting close to Georgetown now. A forced march – “the flames of the tigers are lighting the road to Berlin” (Al Stewart).
You know what? It was cold. My thigh skin has frozen through my fleece-lined running tights. My ears were numb. My face skin was just not numb enough to sting. My hips were falling off. My Achilles tendons had turned to cement. We had just run 20 miles. It wasn’t nice to be me. Oh, John? he felt great.
Ice isn’t bad along the river to Georgetown, which also isn’t bad. Over the bridge to Rosslyn, a breeze to Iwo Jima and we have completed more than 22 miles. It’s 18 degrees outside, 5 degrees with wind chill.
The great thing about wrapping up in Georgetown is that you can see Key Bridge (basically our finishing landmark) from about two miles out. From there, it was just like running home. The last two miles ticked by – perhaps because I was distracted with the realization that I had lost my beloved FitBit somewhere between mile 10 and 22. But I put it out of my mind and enjoyed the last steps over the beautiful bridge, through Rosslyn and to Iwo Jima, back to the car.
We crank up the heat in the car but Natalie can’t get warm. At my house she grabs a hot shower and hot tea and I give her my warmest clothes – a true running partner! I shower, put on my second-warmest stuff and off we go for some eats. A nice little bar full of dressed people and we are in sweats, although I think Natalie took the hood off. After, I drop a healed-up Natalie at her place so her fabulously patient boyfriend Brent and wonderfully loyal cat Pheebs can warm her up. I head for home. I feel good, and figure I’ll get up early for a swim.
It’s certain. I will never be warm again.