Trials of Miles

by EJN Comments (0) Articles, Commentary, Training

Here is a guest blog by Melissa Donais the wife of Nate Jenkins. Melissa posted this on her husband’s blog earlier this week and we thought it was appropriate to share since it was a follow up to the marathon block workout that Nate had done with Ruben Sança a couple of weeks ago. It was an epic workout and that post is worth a read if you haven’t already. It’s very interesting to read about it from the perspective of an elite runner’s spouse, someone who had to deal with the aftermath of it all. But as Nate mentioned in the comments following her guest blog:

Melissa’s bio of herself was way too modest. She is a great runner, a footlocker finalist and won the Millrose high school mile. She is a published author and graduate of Phillips Academy and Yale University. She also does the vast majority of my morning runs with me and generally puts up with my bullshit which I really appreciate.

So Melissa is most likely no stranger to total body fatigue type of situations, but even this was extreme.

Nate (and Ruben) out in front early at the 2014 Lone Gull 10k. Courtesy of Scott Mason Photo.

Guest blog by Melissa Donais

“The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.” -Hal Higdon

He came stumbling through the door like Rocky Balboa at the end of a prizefight. I had expected something like this, but I still wasn’t prepared for it. “Melissa!” He yelled in a garbled, distraught, exhausted voice. I ran downstairs to him, concerned that something was wrong, beyond the expected exhaustion.

“Where’s Ruben?” I asked.

“You gotta go get him. He didn’t make it back. I can’t drive.” He collapsed onto the couch.

“What? Where is he Nate?”

“Up by the church.”

The church was about a half mile from our house. Ruben couldn’t make it back from the church? I grabbed some juice, anticipating that poor Ruben’s blood sugar was likely even lower than Nate’s right now, and hopped in the car. At the same time I dialed my mom’s cell phone.

My brother was up visiting from Saratoga this weekend and my parents, Nate, and I were planning on having dinner after Nate’s workout. I had called my mom earlier in the afternoon and warned her that Nate’s workout was unlike any workout our running family had ever heard of, but she didn’t seem to understand. “That’s okay, honey, we’ll pick you guys up so Nate won’t have to drive.” Now my parents and brother were on their way to our house. My mom answered the phone, and in a rushed voice I said “Ruben didn’t make it back. You gotta help me find him. Nate left him by the church.” My mom said they were right by there and would start looking.

Meanwhile, I circled the rotary by the church, scanning the sidewalks and peering over snowbanks looking for Ruben. I didn’t see a soul. I drove up the street a bit, still no Ruben. It was dark, and about 18 degrees out. I knew it wouldn’t take long before hypothermia set in for Ruben. I called the home phone.

“Is Ruben back yet? I can’t find him.”

“No. He’s not at the church?” Nate’s words were slurred from hypoglycemia and exhaustion.

“No, Nate, he’s not at the church. You let your friend die on the side of the road and just ran home yourself? Where the hell is he? You left him at the church?” I demanded in frustration, as I feared we might be making a trip to the hospital, all because these two geniuses decided to attempt a “special block” and run two insanely hard workouts, totaling 36 miles, in a twelve hour span. It was stupid. It was just stupid. And this stupidity could lead to some serious health consequences.

I drove down Great Pond Road, thinking maybe Ruben tried to make it back to our house but missed the final left turn onto our street. No Ruben. Then my cell phone rang. My mom, “We’ve got Ruben.” Thank God.

I arrived home to a shaky and cold Ruben. Nate wasn’t much better. They took showers, my brother and dad checking in periodically because we were afraid they would faint. Then they both collapsed on the couch, huddled under blankets. We ordered food and they slowly, over a couple of hours, improved mentally and physically.

Later my parents and brother would tell me they drove past the church, and my brother noticed something on the steps of the church. He jumped out of the car, ran up the steps, and sure enough, saw a man curled up on the steps.

“Ruben?” he asked.

No answer.

“Ruben? Ruben? Nate sent me. I’m taking you back to Nate. You must come with me.”

Ruben, mumbling, reluctantly got up off the steps. In his cold exhaustion he had somehow convinced himself that curling up on the church stairs would be warmer than waiting on the side of the road.

This is the life of marathoners striving for greatness, following the Canova system of training, where specificity is king. If you want to run a marathon in 2:11 (I mean, who doesn’t?) then you better run an ungodly amount of miles at 5 minute mile pace, and you better not take much recovery between those miles, because you’re going to have to string 26 of them together on race day. Sounds simple enough. It’s the doing that’s hard.

There’s a lot of glory that comes with greatness, and a lot of respect and admiration for the journey towards it, but what most people don’t understand is the day after day fatigue and pain experienced by the journeyman, and what no one even considers is the worry and frustration experienced by the caregivers. It’s very easy to say that you’ll support your spouse no matter what, and it’s an entirely different experience when you’re living with someone who is trying to run 140 miles a week around a full time job (you don’t want to see our house; it will be a mess until the end of April).

You never know what to expect. A run goes well and you breathe a sigh of relief. He will likely be cranky, hungry, and tired, but the run went well. Phew. The run goes bad and you get a call on your way to the gym, you’re turning your car around and finishing the dinner that’s in the middle of cooking on the stove while your spouse heads to a 90 minute Bikram yoga class because his foot feels tight.

Yoga ends as you’re ready to head to bed and your spouse finally arrives home. You haven’t seen him all day. But you can tell by the look on his face that things are not good. “Boston’s over. I’m not doing it. If I miss a workout now it’s all over.”


All because his foot is tight. I sat him down, massaged his foot, used a guasha tool to break up fascial restrictions, and sent him to bed (he refused the “hell bucket” of ice treatment). In the morning I kinesio taped his foot before he left for work.

You end up walking on eggshells, praying for good runs, and doing your best to provide reassurance when the runs don’t go well. I mean really, I sought out every possible fix for his right leg/loss of coordination injury, do you think I’m going to let a tight plantar fascia prevent a successful Boston run? No way.

It’s been hard for me and I’m not putting in the miles. The cult classic novel, Once a Runner, referred to “trial of miles, miles of trials.” All runners think they understand what that means but I think few truly do. The trial of miles is a man, injured for seven years, who has undergone multiple extremely painful nerve tests,  a (very risky) spine surgery, and countless hours of physical therapy to crawl his way back to a sport he loves above all else, to get just a chance to run his heart out and be healthy on the day. It’s a man who is dedicated to his full time job, and consistently running over 100 miles a week around it. A man who still finds some time to cuddle with the dog and kiss me goodnight, despite trying to make the impossible possible.

It is nothing short of amazing, and it is the culmination of years of work and hope. We have days when we feel we are losing the fight, but on the good days the dream lives. It’s so easy for others to look in and criticize, but only the few who have tried to live this life will understand the day to day drudgery and the tiny hope for glory.

I never comprehended what went into making a great marathoner. Now that I know and I have lived it I have so much awe and respect for my husband and for those great marathoners who came before him. They are part of an elite group of people who have more will and guts than most of us. No matter what happens in April, the dedication to his dream, the solving of his longtime injury puzzle, and the insane training (that he loves and missed during his injury) that he accomplished are real victories. I am so proud of Nate for fighting the good fight.

For more on Nate’s run up to Boston, check out this Cloud 259 podcast interview (thanks to LetsRun for the link):

Episode 35: Nate Jenkins and the 2015 Boston Marathon

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