One-Woman Marathon

IMG_4131Some days are diamonds…. Some days are rocks.  – Tom Petty

I ran a marathon today. With no spectators, mile markers, or bands along the course, it wasn’t a typical marathon. Just me, my race pack, a few good snacks, and some tunes for 26.3 miles (an extra tenth of a mile for good measure). It was a one-woman marathon, and the farthest I have ever run on my own and not as part of a race. 

Several weeks ago, I registered for the Cēsis ECO Trail 81 km run, to take place on August 6th in and around Cēsis, Latvia, a small town about an hour and 20 minutes northeast of Rīga. At just over 50 miles, it will be my fourth race of this distance. After taking a couple of weeks to recover from May’s Rīga Marathon, I got back into training mode to continue building the physical and mental endurance I know I will need for this ultramarathon. The last few weeks have included some of the highest mileage I have ever run, with today’s run being the longest I will do in preparation for Cēsis.

I initially set out this morning to run 25 miles, and somewhere along the way, I decided to make it a full marathon. Why not? I kept the pace slow and steady so that I won’t need the same kind of recovery time that I usually take after running a marathon, and that allowed me to take in the scenery, refuel properly, and even snap a few photos along the way.

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I bought this race vest – the Nathan VaporAiress, designed for women – a few weeks ago. We have been inseparable since then. It holds two liters of fluid and has numerous pockets for snacks and other gear. My favorite features include the magnet that keeps the hydration hose from flopping around and the built-in whistle.

Since moving to Rīga more than a year ago, I knew about the existence of a bike/pedestrian trail that stretches from Rīga all the way to the coastal town of Jūrmala, about 13 miles away. I had seen bits and pieces of this trail while driving and riding the bus and the train, but with poor signage and no real guidance that I could find online, I had never been able to figure out how to stay on it without getting lost. Today, though, I decided that over the course of my long run, I should be able to figure it out. Between Google Maps, the aforementioned poor signage, and the fact that I knew that the trail runs alongside the railroad tracks, I finally found it, and I’m so glad I did.

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The paved trail has separate lanes for bikes (left) and pedestrians (right). On the way out to Jūrmala, I had the right side of the path mostly to myself.

I ran part of my usual loop before setting out to find the trail. By the time I was confident that I was headed in the right direction, I had run about four miles. I figured I would run to Jūrmala, and after about 10 miles, head back home. What I didn’t know was how beautiful and peaceful the next 22 miles would be.

Once I passed through the suburb of Imanta, I found myself running through patches of forest, with the occasional bench like this one, below.

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Near the village of Babīte, around mile 8.

I made it to the Jūrmala city limit much sooner than I expected. If you look at a map, Jūrmala is quite a long city, stretching for about 20 miles from end to end. I entered from the east.

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Jūrmala city limit, around mile 9.5.

Throughout my run, I stopped frequently to stretch in order to stay loose and to keep my knee pain at bay. I had brought along the knee brace I wear on occasion and used it today for the first time in a while.

Every five miles or so, I stopped to eat. I had been experimenting with various options over the last few weeks. GU is my usual go-to fuel for marathons, though I have been known to bring along cookies and crackers for long runs. The trouble is always carrying the stuff, but with my shiny new race vest, that was not an issue. Since switching to an all plant-based diet nearly nine months ago, I am always looking for foods that will keep me strong during my runs. I have found a winner in legendary ultrarunner Scott Jurek’s lentil-mushroom burger. I had made a few dozen of them a couple of weeks ago and put them in the freezer. After toasting two of them last night in the oven, I packed them up in some foil, along with two GU packets and a Clif bar, and brought them with me on the run.

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I stopped next to this tree, decorated with the colors of the Latvian flag, at about mile 10.5 for my first veggie burger. The protein, salt, and calories were the perfect pick-me-up.

Unsure of where the trail would lead me (The city center? The beach?), I decided I’d keep running until I either ran out of trail or hit 14 miles, whichever came first. Right around mile 12, I reached a traffic circle.

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Mile 12 of my run, and five kilometers from Jūrmala’s city center.

Rather than follow the trail to the city center, where I imagined it might be more crowded (not to mention that the temptation to swim in the sea and relax on the beach might be too great for me to resist), I decided to turn around and follow an unpaved trail I had seen about a half mile back. I wasn’t sure where it would lead me, but this was all part of the adventure.

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This dirt path was clearly used by cars, but I didn’t see any while I was on it. The softer surface was gentler on my knees.

I thought I would run into a dead-end before long, but the trail kept stretching out before me, eventually opening up into a wide open field with a trail I could follow through the middle of it. It was then that I realized that I was very close to the school at which I taught this last year.

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Just across the highway from the village of Piņķi, home of the International School of Latvia, around mile 14.

At mile 14, I turned around, deciding that I should probably start making my way back to Rīga. I didn’t see a soul for about four miles on this stretch of my run. This was my favorite part of the day – simple, peaceful, and idyllic. I should add that as a woman running alone on a trail, I had also never felt safer.

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Wide open spaces around mile 14.5, and heading back into the woods. I appreciated having this long break from the asphalt, especially at this point in the run.

As morning slowly approached noontime, I began to see more people on the trail. There were serious cyclists, leisurely cyclists, families, groups of kids, and even a few other runners. Still, it was never crowded, and there is nothing quite like running under a beautiful canopy of trees.

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Mile 19.

I also noticed that several people had stopped to pick wild black currants growing on bushes that lined the path. I stopped once to do the same, and they were marvelous.

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Fresh black currants – possibly the best marathon aid station! No crowds, no trash. Mile 21.

I won’t lie: the last five miles were tough, as with any marathon. Having run more than 80 miles in the last seven days, I was tired, and things had begun to ache. I ate my second veggie burger, finished the two liters of Gatorade Endurance I had brought in my pack (two liters is unheard of for me!), put my head down, and headed home. I finally made it, just under the 4:30 mark. There was no finish line to cross, no medal, and there’ll never be an official record of this marathon, but it will go down in my books as one of my favorites.

Truly, a diamond of a day.

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Thank you for reading!

8 thoughts on “One-Woman Marathon

  1. I am in awe at what you are doing – you have quite an adventurious spirit! I am inspired not just for your ability to run marathons but because you have fearlessly explored unknown territory. This is a wonderful lesson about living and enjoying life. I thank you for sharing this wonderful experience.

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  2. Loved your blog, Solo runs are very meditative. Recently started following your blog. Read “time on feet”. Do you use activity trackers to track your running and nor running movements?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I love getting lost in my thoughts during a solo run. I replied to your earlier comment about activity tracking as well. I personally don’t use them, but if you think it would be helpful for you, then you should definitely give it a try! Thanks again so much for reading! 🙂

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