It's 6:00am and I am standing in the dark beachside in Santa Monica with a handful of others like me waiting for a long 3 hour journey ahead of us. Equipped with shorts, my gear belt and my "Gu" belt, I do some mild stretches. I'm excited and ready to go. Soon, other journeymen join our group and we are nearly 30 people. Our goal today is 16 miles. A few of us will do less, and some will join us when we pass our first 3 mile mark. One of our mentors, John, will turn around for 8miles since he training for the NYC Marathon next weekend.
It's lucky that we start at 6:00am - It is early enough and still dark that I am running in a partly dream state. We make our initial 3 mile loop after which I turn to my running buddy Teresa and ask, "That was only 3 miles?" She sympathizes. Sometimes 3 miles feels more than 3 miles. But like any long distance, the beginning can often be the hardest. Once we get going, the sun will come out, our doubts will subside, and some of us may even experience a few moments of that "runner's high". And some of us do...at about mile 14. Luckily, it can be contagious.
The route today takes up through Santa Monica and Venice and then south to Marina del Rey. We run by the marina, pass the chic brunch crowd eating their twenty-five dollar croissants at the Ritz Carlton, and carefully navigate alongside the fancy gold colored fire hydrants on the sidewalk. Mother's Beach comes and goes, and we pass by Cheesecake Factory early in the morning. Some parts of the Marina route are less interesting that others - it's a lot of parking and pavement, but the unusualness of it makes the run less dull. On our turnaround point at the Marina Yacht club, we take a different route back and I find myself running along a canal in Venice, on a trail of packed dirt snug in between the water and the front gardens of some lovely homes. The scents of rosemary and lavendar are a welcome treat, and the stairs along the dirt corridor add some cross training. I'm really loving this part. It's hard, but I'm loving it.
After we cross the bridge and get back to Venice Beach, I see more running groups out and about including the LA Roadrunners and their large groups and a smaller AIDS running group. Just like the first few miles, the last few miles can also be difficult. We keep our brief walking breaks in each mile. Teresa and I agree that a walk, however brief, only reminds us of our body aches and pains and makes it more difficult to find our stride. It's at this point that I really feel the bones in my body. It's not soft and gentle and cushioned - but hard and skeletal. Thankfully, a runner in our group (whose name I have now forgotten) DID get a case of runner's high and passed it along to a few of us. By the time we get back to the Senior Center in Santa Monica, we are pooped. We also learn that our 16 miles measures about 15.8. But we all agree that this is only a technicality and the walk back to our cars should make up for the remaining mileage.
Thanks to all who ran in the 12 minute/mile pace group on Saturday - the group energy was really great.