How to Do a Marathon Without Really Trying

I do a lot of things successfully without really trying. Like spending money. And making messes. 

And last Saturday, I completed a full 26.2 miles. Unintentionally, yes, but I did do it. I’d love to take credit, but it was truly my own stupidity that turned a 20 mile training run into 26.2.

This was to be my second 20 miler in my training, and while the first was, ahem, challenging, I was determined that this time would be better. I even got an array of fuel to get me more excited. It sort of worked.

2012 09 21 21 19 11 801

One of my biggest complaints about running in the city is the incessant stopping and starting with traffic–I’m constantly darting across intersections with their little red crosswalk hands blinking at me, telling me not to. 

{I’m not very good at listening}

So, I wanted to find a trail to run on. One of my co-workers pointed me to the lovely Capital Crescent Trail, which winds along the Potomac River, provides plenty of shade, and even has a few water fountains along the way. No traffic. Manicured gravel paths. Sold. 

Capital crescent trail

I set out on Saturday at 6:15 AM with an eye on being done by 10–plenty of time to lounge in my ice bath, shower, and take a nap and still have time to do something real with my day. I ran the 3 or so miles to Georgetown, then picked up the trail. It looked (to me) like the trail went all the way to Silver Spring and that it would spit me out at an intersection I was familiar with, where I could easily make my way back home. 

According to the Capital Crescent Trail website, the trail is 11 miles long. In my head, I had this all figured out–I’d come to the end around 14ish miles in, then run 6 miles back into DC and be set. What I didn’t count on was that nothing on the trail was marked. I mean–nothing. Occasionally, I’d see places off the main highway where people could pull in and park, toting kayaks and whatnot, but there was nothing to tell people already on the path where they were. So l plodded along–and felt great, actually–assuming that locating the exit would be intuitively obvious when I got to the end of the trail. That, unfortunately, was not the case. About 14 miles in, I figured I was about to the end, so I hopped off at the next exit I could find, which led to a winding rural road with a bike path. 

OK, I can work with a bike path. I knew the general direction back to DC, so I started running that way. Another mile down the road, I wasn’t getting any closer to civilization–in fact, I seemed to be getting further away–and my knee really started to hurt. Going from soft gravel to hard pavement was not doing me any favors. 

Bethesda bus route

Apparently, I was in Bethesda? Which was like, not where I wanted to be. This is when I started to panic. Just slightly. I didn’t have my phone (I know), but I didn’t have anyone I could call anyway, so that wouldn’t have really helped. I also happened to have no cash (I KNOW), not that it would’ve helped since there weren’t any cabs plodding along this rural highway. 

So I just kept running because, well, what else was I supposed to do? 

Eventually, 17 miles in, I stumbled upon a strip mall of sorts and asked some people there how to get back to DC. They directed me back to the path, where I finished up the last 3 miles of my 20. At that point, my knee had had it, and so had I. My water was gone, and all I wanted was 25 lbs. of ice to bathe in. I would’ve settled for a cab, but I was literally in the middle of nowhere. Stuck on the trail. Sure, there were other runners and walkers on the trail, but no where to get off and certainly no where to hail a taxi. 

PotomacRiver view CapCrescentTr MM9 612PM 28April2010

I did the next best thing: walked 6 miles to civilization, then picked up a cab. for the last 2 miles to get home. That walk? Took me 1 hour and 46 minutes. The run was 3 hours and 2 minutes. So the moral of the story here is that I CAN do a full marathon–and in UNDER 5 hours–even if I walk the last 6 miles. So even though it was a total accident and a direct result of my own stupidity, now I know I can do it! 

Please tell me I’m not the only one who gets lost on long runs. 

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19 thoughts on “How to Do a Marathon Without Really Trying

  1. hhrunner says:

    at least you had pretty scenery! now take your phone next time woman! (says the person that almost always forgets her phone… oops.)

  2. Angie @ fitness girl kitchen says:

    You are not! I’m in the Army and during my last Brigade run I was on a profile (meaning I could run at my own pace and distance because of my IT band). Anyhow I wanted to keep up with them; it’s only four miles! But four turned into 9 when I got separated and didn’t know where they went which is pretty freakin’ hard because it’s a formation! Because we were bused to the starting line I had to run my happy little but to where my unit building which was 5!miles the other way. I was not prepared for that and was hurting for days!

  3. I think you’re the only one who has ever gotten lost. Sorry!

    haha. just kidding, of course! I stick to 2 different running routes, so I never get lost (but it’s not as fun either!). Going into race day you should be extra confident now, knowing that you CAN in fact do it!

  4. Beth says:

    Dear Melissa,
    I am so inspired by your story of getting lost and then amazing yourself on what you can do when pushed to the limit. I’m not a runner myself right now but your story speaks wonders to me about life and persevering. Thanks for sharing such a great and interesting experience with all of us.

    Beth 🙂

  5. I don’t get lost that often, but only because I’m SOOOO terrified of getting lost! lol I map out my runs before I run and double check it so many times, if I’m going on a new trail….and I even write street names on my hands before so I know where to turn, etc. I like to be adventurous but I still get that anxiety when i’m lost, running or driving!

  6. Oh my goodness! Only you Lady, only you! And this is why I love you so 🙂
    Congrats on your first marathon! This is what I like to call a character building run. You are so mentally ready ….you are going to OWN the marathon come race day!

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