Head Like a Hole: A Very Bad Run That I Did Not Enjoy

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written a post about an individual run. I used to do it all the time. When I started this blog, I had a long commute on a train and apparently a lot in me I needed to get out, so I just wrote about every run. Eventually, this got exhausting.

But I think I can do it every now and then. Especially when I had a run like I had today.

Thursdays are usually easy – they’re typically my easiest day after Mondays, my day off from running. This week, I have a 5K race on Sunday and although I considered completing my long run later that day, I know I’m not going to want to once I’m done with the race and enjoying a nice brunch with my fellow Harriers. So I decided to do my long run today, three days before the race to give me enough time to recover.

I was only scheduled for an easy 14 miles. No intervals or marathon pace anything. Easy peasy.

I decided to do two loops of Central Park and then maybe a bit extra to make it home by the time I hit 14. It was cold out, but nothing out of the ordinary. The weather forecast said it was about 29/30, and it was sunny. I’d eaten my normal breakfast of oat bran + fried egg and even had a sweet potato with dinner last night to make sure I’d have enough carbs in my system. I’d gotten enough sleep. I felt fine and nothing seemed off.

I went out pretty slowly, but I was supposed to be averaging a 10:28 pace anyway. I stayed between 10:00 and 10:30 for the first six miles, which is just about one full loop of the park. I’d brought 10 oz. of water with one Gu mixed into it and took a couple of sips every three miles.

I was more tired than normal. The hills were especially tough today. I wasn’t sore or sick or in pain. Just beat.

The first full Harlem Hill took a lot out of me. Toward the top, I considered pulling off and stopping for a minute, but this seemed silly. I had barely gone 7 miles. I could tough it out. I just took the hill slowly and knew it would feel better on the other side.

But my body was not doing the thing it usually does, which is run like a normal human being who has a functioning skeleton. I felt very… floppy. At the same time, my arms felt stiff. I straightened them as I ran and shook them out a bit, loosening up whatever blood was pooling inside. That helped.

I was listening to an Ali on the Run podcast featuring Gabe Grunewald (which, coincidentally, I just learned was released exactly one year ago today). Gabe is a professional runner who has been diagnosed with cancer an astounding four times. I think this was another reason I didn’t want to stop and rest: this woman literally ran a personal best in the 1500 the day she was informed she had cancer of the throat, and then got cancer three more times, and here I was feeling a bit beat and wanting to rest? No. I kept going.

But I was feeling so depleted. I ran a 10:45 mile. I was all hunched over, like I didn’t have enough strength to stand up straight, let alone a spine made out of solid matter.

Here’s where it gets weird. As I began mile 7, Gabe (or Ali, I can’t even remember) mentioned the word “brave” a couple of times. I vaguely thought “What’s the noun for brave?” I knew brave was an adjective, and that it had a noun, and I couldn’t think of it. I did know that whatever the word was, it was the name of a band that had a minor hit called An Honest Mistake over a decade ago, a fact I mostly know because a kid who went to my high school wound up being the drummer for that band. I knew the band’s name was “The” followed by the noun for brave.

I ransacked my brain for the right word. It was something like “braveness” or “bravity.” But I knew neither of those were actual words. There was another word. What the hell was the name of that band? I had listened to An Honest Mistake the other day. I could pull out my phone and look it up, but that would involve stopping and making my hands even colder than they were. No, I could do this. What was the word?

At this point, I was feeling even worse physically, and the fact that I felt like I was losing my mind wasn’t helping. I was almost at mile 8, and I decided to do something I never do, which was pull off to the side and sink down into a low squat, head down toward the ground, mittens dangling onto the icy grass. I just had to stop. I said a silent apology to all cancer survivors.

I stayed in that position for a few minutes. Eventually I stood up and let the sunlight bathe me as I closed my eyes and stuck my mitten-covered fingers into my armpits in a feeble effort to de-numb them.

After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a few minutes, I set off again, feeling a little better physically. But I still couldn’t think of the fucking noun for brave. I almost started crying. It was like my brain had holes in it. Is this what was in store for me later in life? Am I getting dementia now? I’m too young! Who’s going to take care of me when I can’t take of myself, which will surely happen in the next five years? Why didn’t I have children 25 years ago?!

I literally said out loud “What is wrong with me?” I tried really hard to envision that album cover. Then, in a flash, I pictured it: The Bravery. That was the band’s name. Bravery! I said the word out loud a few times in relief. “Bravery, bravery, bravery.” I had not been able to think of the word for at least ten minutes. There it was, clear as day inside my brain. Where had it been hiding? And why?

At that point I picked up the pace a bit for a few miles. But whatever strength I had disappeared as I ascended Cat Hill for the second time on the other side of the park. By the top, I was completely depleted again. This was right before mile 11. I slowed to almost a crawl, hitting paces in the 12s. My exhales were audible. I wasn’t out of breath. Just utterly exhausted.

I was a mess for the next two miles until I descended Harlem Hill and managed to pick it up once I had decided to cut it short and only do 13 miles. I would just run straight home. I couldn’t wait to be done.

I was so baffled as to what the hell was wrong with me. I didn’t feel sore. I didn’t feel sick. I was just empty. Like I had no gas in the tank.

Once I was home, I inhaled a protein shake with banana and peanut butter and extra dates. A couple of hours later, I made tortellini with vegan meat sauce and spinach – a larger amount of food than I normally eat for lunch – and I could seriously feel it nourishing my body, like whatever had been depleted was coming back. I usually watch Netflix as I eat. Today I just closed my eyes as I chewed in silence.

I ate more than usual for the rest of the day, and now that the day is over I feel much better. My legs are kind of beat, but I’m fine.

I’m trying to figure out what the hell happened. I also wonder how much my physical exhaustion contributed to my massive brain fart.

I came up with three possible answers:

  • It wasn’t all that cold but the wind chill was no joke. It was really windy in spots, and if it was about 30 degrees, it felt about ten degrees colder than that. I was wearing just two thin shirts – dressed for 30, not 20. My hands were colder than normal, and they are usually pretty cold to begin with. Was it mild hypothermia?
  • I may not be eating enough? My weight in the last year has fluctuated about 8 or 9 pounds, with my lowest weight at the height of last fall’s marathon training, my highest weight in cookie-filled December. This week, my weight is toward the bottom of that range but not right at the bottom. I’m actually exactly the same weight as I was the day I ran the NYC Marathon. So I’m not underweight, and I definitely don’t feel malnourished. On a BMI chart, I fall exactly in the middle of the “healthy” range. Like, the numbers all make sense. Maybe I just need to get a bit more protein or something. Or I should have had more Gu or pre-run Clif Bloks?
  • My muscles might be extra tired from the five straight weeks of increased mileage, although that increase was very gradual and never more than a 10% week-to-week increase. This is a “down” week. I figured my mileage for this week should be 6 or 7 miles fewer than last week, but maybe that number should be more like 10-15 miles fewer? I’m going to take it easy for the next two days.

Thank you for reading this brain dump of a post. It was cathartic to get it out. I know it’s not the most dramatic run story of all time – I was kinda tired and couldn’t think of a common word – but it was definitely out of the ordinary for me. I also thought some of you runners might be able to relate. If you’ve ever experienced anything similar, please let me know! Also let me know if you are able to take care of me once I get full-blown dementia, which will probably happen by next fall.

These were my shoes after the run. I guess there’s a lot of salt on the roads.


Maybe I’m just allergic to road salt.

4 thoughts on “Head Like a Hole: A Very Bad Run That I Did Not Enjoy

  1. I couldn’t begin to say why – but sometimes things just suck and we get no closure. We just get to keep trying. I used to think about my uncle (who survived cancer) and my grandfather’s (who did not) a lot when I was feeling tired. It helped. A little. And then I got cancer (and survived) and I was like ‘well I can’t think of myself – that’s ridiculous. I didn’t really DO anything except take a day at a time.’ And that’s all any of us can really do anyways. Good luck on the 5k – no doubt you will crush it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny you say that – I think about my mom (who died from cancer in 2017) when I run a lot, and I think living with her as she got sick helped me get my ass out the door every morning to run. In a way, I wanted to have enough strength for both of us. It also helps me appreciate having a working body and I don’t take it for granted. I’m glad you’re doing well now! Thanks.


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