Today, I completed-ish one of my life goals: run a marathon. I’m a little hesitant to post this because I don’t post about my runs. I’ve had this goal for quite a long time, but I’ve failed at it, a lot…this is marathon attempt #4. Though I’ll talk about running in person, I try not to post because I’ve realized there’s a prejudice out there against me. I’m tall-ish. I’m skinny. I eat a lot of junk food. Because of these three things, people assume that I must be athletic and fit. They assume I can go out on the track and hammer out 4-5 miles. They assume I can lift heavy things. The truth is, before I started running, I was probably one of the biggest couch potatoes you could find. I spent hours in front of screens: TV screens, computer screens, smartphone screens. Sometimes a few of them at once, too. I still can’t lift heavy things.
Growing up, I wasn’t the athletic one in the family; my brother and sister were the shining stars in this arena. I played sports here and there, but coaches put me out there for sympathy, not for competitive advantage. I ran one season of track in 8th grade, and didn’t like it…why would anyone want to run around in circles? *Also why I never lasted at soccer or basketball. In high school, I thought the cross country guys were nuts. I tried out for the volleyball team, but didn’t make the cut. Aside from hiking, I didn’t get much exercise (read: had a LOT of screen time) until college, when I ran a few days a week for about three months. I biked the three or so miles to and from campus, and played a few seasons on IM teams. Nothing big. When I moved to Seattle, aside from walks with Alissa, I stopped exercising altogether. There was this one time, while on our walks, that I ran one loop around a high school track. I felt so nauseous, I put my head between my knees and nearly lost my dinner.
Zoom forward to 2009. We purchased a house, and there was a track at a nearby school. My boss had just finished his first marathon, and a coworker was also interested in running with me. I headed out to the track and told myself I’d run one mile. The effect, unfortunately, wasn’t much different than the last time I was on a track. I felt exhausted. I slogged home, crashed on the couch, and ate probably a 1500 calorie meal that evening (to compensate for all those calories burned, which I now know was about 100).
From there my running went in ups and downs…I’d exercise a few days one week, take the next month off, and on and on. It was never easy. I joined Bike to Work challenges in May, and, like running, would have to cajole myself into putting in the effort. I’d set my gear out the night before, everything in order, set my alarm across the room, and even then, every exercise day was an exercise in willpower. Even today, I LOVE my rest days. So when you look at someone who’s tall, skinny, and seemingly fit…they may be healthy, or they may be just like I was!
Once I finally was able to will myself into running a few days every so often, I started setting my sights on 5k’s, halfs, and then the golden calf: the marathon. I had numerous injuries over this time, some for a few days, some for a few months. In addition to running injuries, in these five years (though not linked to running, but to show how out of shape I was), I developed two hernias, one which had to be repaired twice (which, by the way, I am pretty sure was first developed trying to lift my new treadmill into the house…the treadmill which I ran about 15 miles on until I sold it on Craigslist). All of these injuries, over this time, led to failed marathon attempts #1, #2, and #3.
Last August, I signed up for a training plan my boss raved about. I told myself, no matter what, I was going to stick to it. Despite hernia #2, fix #3, leading to failed marathon attempt #3 (ran the half instead), I stuck to the plan before and after, and made solid gains. Through all the injuries over the years, I figured out the ins and outs of running, such as:
- Getting the right pair of shoes, even if expensive, and changing them every 400-500 miles
- Fueling before and during the run
- Running with a partner
- Wearing the right gear (I never understood why runners loathed cotton)
- Running different paces different days
- Not over-doing it: running so I could complete the next scheduled run, too
I finally started calling myself a runner when I realized that I enjoyed running half marathons. It was something that had seemed so impossible (and crazy) for so long, and here I was running them for training every few weeks.
Speed forward to today. The funny thing about marathon training is that you run up to 20-22 miles as a long run weeks before the actual marathon. This, to me, sounds stupid. If I’m going to run 22 miles, I might as well push the measly 4.2 remaining and call it a marathon. I know there’s a reason for not pushing it and stopping at 22, such as avoiding injury, having a better race, as my surgeon put it, not “wanting to jab your eyes out with a fork” for those last four miles…but hey, since it’s not a race, I could stop at 22.5, 23, 24, etc. No need to push it if my legs really start screaming.
Up until a few weeks ago, when I pushed my run to 20 miles, 16 miles was my tops. 16 had always been my fated mileage…it was where my first marathon training gave way to an injury that sidelined me for a few months, and in the next two marathon training bouts, I never made it to 16. My biggest fear, in training, has always been that I’d spend six months working my way up to get ready for the marathon, and then something would go wrong near/on race day – some injury the week before, not fueling correctly, freak weather event such as torrential rain or heat wave – something that would prevent me from running the marathon and then…forget it. I always told myself that if I got within striking distance of the marathon in training, I’d do it.
Today was that day. It looked like it was going to be hot and sunny. I was ready to test out sunscreen (I loathe sunscreen, but figured I had to do at least one run in it, in case of full sun on race day). Just before setting out, the clouds rolled in, and it looked perfect. I set out with my hydration belt (three 8 oz. bottles of water) and four Gu’s. I had run 13 miles on Tuesday, and 7 on Thursday, which didn’t go badly, but weren’t great…my legs seemed tired. Today, though, they were holding steady.
What was unfortunate was that I forgot to charge my Garmin, which I ALWAYS run with…it keeps me on track for distance, time, general sanity…so I was only with my phone. I set the Endomondo running coach to bark my pace every four miles, when I need to fuel. (In retrospect, this may have been a key of my success, as I didn’t hear the mile-by-mile beep). Everything went smoothly through mile 19ish. I was able to plan out water-refills at local parks, and made use of the Y’s water faucet for the first time. I called Alissa and asked she meet me at a park with a jelly sandwich, as I was all out of gel. I figured I’d decide there, around mile 22, whether to call it a day or push for it. Despite some freak thunderstorm and a few bouts of rain leading up to this point, I knew I had to at least try to give it a go.
The last four miles weren’t great, but they weren’t stabbing-fork-in-eye, either. The thunderstorms held at bay, and the sun came out a bit. My splits slid well past the 10 minute mark as I had to stop for traffic lights (not that I was complaining about that!) and I broke down and walked for a few paces here and there. I understand why it’s called a mental game for those last few miles.
As soon as I made it home, I jumped into a cold bath (not yet an ice bath person yet…the cold water is plenty!) and took two Aleve. I’m not one for medication, but they helped a TON after a recent long run. Right now, my legs still feel pretty warm, especially both Achilles tendons, which worries me. I emailed Runcoach to see what my options are from here on out for recovery and training for my marathon, as the race I’m actually training for isn’t for another month.
For this first-ish marathon, I have no photos, no finisher’s medal, no certification other than my phone’s GPS log. And I’m okay with that, I think. Unlike a half marathon, where if I get close in my training runs, I’ll push for the 13.1, I don’t think I’ll run a marathon distance in training ever again. I simply wanted to know I could do it…even if something goes terribly wrong on race day, it won’t really matter, because I’ll know, deep down, I have already gone the distance. Today, in the bigger picture, was about hitting that goal, to show that person who nearly died running one lap around the track, who sat in front of screens for years of his life, who always wanted to do something but always had difficulty pushing himself to do it, that it COULD be done.
Running a marathon (read: training to run a marathon) has changed me in two key ways. First, it’s changed my thinking to know that I CAN do whatever I want. Things don’t seem impossible any more…it’s only a factor of time and stick-with-it-ness. Second, it’s made me even more grateful for what I do have, especially my wife and kids, who support me both in spirit, including on my down days, and in giving me the time to do this training.
Running has been and continues to be something I struggle with. I enjoy it much more now at my current level of fitness, but even this morning, it took a fair amount of self-cajoling to get myself out of the house (just think if I decided to stay home!)
In the spirit of Haute Chocolate Runner, What goals do you strive for?