This past weekend I finished my 9th (closing in on those double digits!) marathon and first one in 2 years. Lemme tell you, it felt like my first one in 2 years. It was grueling and I’m still so glad I was able to manage it after the wreckage that has been this pandemic. Ever week that got closer I was racked with self-doubt if I was still trained up enough to run it. My time was not was what it was before, and I will happily accept that as I gain a footing again. Ready for more punishment in New York (NYC BABYEEE) in a few weeks.
Minneapolis remains one of my absolute favorite races and cities. Hands down the prettiest race I’ve done to date.
If you haven’t surmised from my Spacebook, Twitspace, or Instagram (sorry no cute name for this one) I fancy myself quite the runner. I’m far from the ranks of the elites. If they are the crust of the Earth, I am near the molten core in terms of proximity. The one thing I can do is pack on the distance. It’s been a slow build through the years, but it’s one of the things I can point to and say, “See, I’m a runner, look at the numbers.” Why do I need to point and say I am? Well, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that I still suffer from imposter syndrome when it comes to running, among other things. One thing that has helped curb this feeling is running marathons.
When I ran my first marathon in 2015, it was watershed moment and the culmination of my efforts as well as a solidification into the runner class. Having that medal around my neck made me feel powerful (while the rest of my body was crying out in agony). Once I ran that I knew I caught the bug. This would not be a one-time deal. The next year I decided to up my ambition and try for the Chicago Marathon. This was a far bigger event than the Indy one I had ran the year prior. It was a lottery system, so I was not guaranteed entry. Due to this I signed up for the Indy Monumental Marathon as a backup. As luck would have it I was admitted to Chicago. Great! But I had paid for Indy already! I mean, I ran one last year. What’s one more? They were a month a part, plenty of time for recovery (I also had a half between them, but that wasn’t another full, not a problem). Long story long, I ran them both, and myriad other races I had signed up for. I felt like a fully-fledged member of the running fraternity. Marathons were old-hat!
Fast-forward to this year. I wanted to up my game even more. I got an auto-entry into Chicago this time around because I finished the previous year, so I decided to sign up for that again because I enjoyed it so much. I also signed up for the NYC Marathon, with the same restrictions as Chicago, lottery system. I went drinking with a buddy of mine and he mentioned he would like to do a marathon someday. I still maintain that anyone can do a marathon (barring extreme physical impairments) all it takes it lots of time and miles. Maybe it was the alcohol that convinced him, or maybe it was my silver tongue (in no uncertain terms was it my silver tongue), but he decided he would run one this year. I couldn’t run Indy and NYC because they were only a day apart, but I said I would totally run Indy with him if I didn’t get into NYC. Sadly, I did not get admitted to NYC. So, I signed up to do Indy as well this year. Indy is next week. This is where this post is going to take a bit of a turn.
In the timeline of this story, Indy is next week, which also means that Chicago has already happened, or in my case, didn’t. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I went. I trekked up to the windy apple, fought terrible traffic and inadequate signage, grabbed my packet from McCormick Place, and even inconvenienced an old friend to let me stay with them. On top of that, I went to bed early, did not overeat the night before, got up early got all my gear and preparations done, and got to the race with hours to spare. Everything was moving like clockwork. When we started the race, I was feeling strong. I was going at a great clip. THIS WAS A SUCCESS STORY IN THE MAKING. Well, if I haven’t set you up for this to fall off a cliff, then here it goes, around mile 7 my stomach started to disagree that this was going to be a day to celebrate. It was just a little something at first. However, it started to grow. It felt nauseated. I was eyeing every trashcan along the throngs of cheering supporters. I stopped at a med tent and asked if they had anything for stomachs. Nope, just Tylenol. I decided to keep going. I play with pain. It was not subsiding. I stopped and tried to throw up, but couldn’t get anything to happen. Still, I had come all this way, had to keep going. Around mile 10 I hit another med tent, and thought maybe I was dehydrated or something, so they looked me over and gave me some Gatorade. I rested for a few minutes, and went back out. It only got worse. It felt like there was just a rock in my stomach – immovable. At mile 13, I stopped and got checked over by a doc. I asked what she thought I should do, “Well, you can keep going, but you will probably dehydrate yourself.” I could call it quits, be taken back to the starting line and chalk it up to bad luck. I could continue, and perhaps injure myself even more. This was Sophie’s Choice. I don’t mean to overstate the impact of this decision, but only to show the weight of it on me personally. I really wrestled with it. The decision had been tumbling around in the back of my head since mile 8. I ended up calling it.
I felt a crushing sense of shame while walking to the bus to take me back. The first text I sent about it was incredibly hard to press send on. If any of you know me personally, I’m not really a crier. I have nothing against it. I don’t think it’s emasculating, and I think it’s a pretty healthy thing for humans to do if they feel the need. Even so, I rarely cry. Well, I was on that bus choking back tears. I can blame it on any number of things, but the truth is, I didn’t finish. I carry that around with me. In the grand scheme of everything, it is the most trivial problem to have, but it still sits with me. It doesn’t help, that I’ve had to tell the story of this to countless relatives and others who have asked about it (just got asked about it yesterday as of this post). I don’t fault them at all either, they are taking an interest in what I do. How nice of them! I want to say that my friends, family, and loved ones were and have been just the most supportive about this, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
So, I have this glaring failure just following me around. How do I come to terms with it? I certainly have no idea. If I had misled you, I apologize, I tried to give it away in the title. I can tell you how I’ve dealt with failure in the past though. I’ve used it as a motivator to ensure a different outcome in the future. That’s where I’m at. I have Indy in a week. I have to complete it. I’m nervous. I’m extraordinarily nervous. I have a lot riding on this, mentally. I’ve run a half marathon between Chicago and now, and my stomach caused no issues. These are good signs. I am treating this as a comeback. All I can say, wish me and my cohorts luck next week. I will report back with how it went.
I’ve been in the quote mood, so I will depart this post with the mantra I kept repeating when I ran my first marathon.
“The best way out is always through.”
― Robert Frost
P.S. I am not a psychiatrist and do not advocate dealing with any issues you may have in this manner. Truth be told, this is probably a really bad way to go about it.
I like to do a year in review to try and reflect on the triumphs and missteps of the previous year. This also gives me a time to look forward, and what I’d like to do in the next year. It has almost no value to you, the reader, if there is anyone beside myself reading. I actually missed the previous year (2014-2015). I kept putting it off, and after several fits, starts, and rewrites, I decided to call it when it hit June. Not this year. God no. Never again. I’m going to probably split this up into several posts. A look back and then maybe a look forward.
A Look Back or A Tale of Three Shoes
The thing that was pretty all consuming was training for my first marathon. Yes, I won’t shut up about it. It’s something that has been on my to do list for the better part of a decade, and it’s so nice to be able to cross something like that off.
Let’s do a quick recap by the numbers (Runs before Runkeeper logs are estimated as 4 times per week at 3 miles/30 minutes in the gym)
Started Training: December 18th, 2014
Ended Marathon Training (Day of Marathon): October 17th, 2015
Miles Ran Training: 889 Miles
Time Spent Running: 426.45 Hours (17.77 Days)
Average Miles Per Week: 20.67 Miles
Average Time Spent Per Week Running: 9.91 Hours
Time Spent Preparing: 9 Months 29 Days
Pairs of Shoes Used: 3
There it is, in black and white. I like to throw the numbers up first because it puts a nice bow on everything. It is the microcosm of the goal. However, it is the abridged version of events. It is void of emotion and accounts of struggle. That’s what comes next.
As stated above this has been on my bucket list for along time, one of my white whales (Sorry, Ahab, I have more than one). During school, I never felt I had the time (read: diligence) to spend training. Well, school was over so what was my excuse now? I’m sure I could have come up with one, but I wasn’t getting any younger. So, running it was. If you notice, I started this on a Thursday in mid-December. I have noticed that If I wait to start things until X time I will definitely fail at it. No time like the present!
Winter sucked. I was not weather worn enough to be able to start running outside. If you haven’t experienced an Indiana winter, you are lucky because they are frozen hellscapes not fit for man nor beast. This is what resigned me to starting my trek in the gym. Purdue’s Co-rec is super nice so there are worse places I could have started. I decided to try the track, because I hate the treadmill. If the thought of running around a track over an over sounds rough, staying in one place amplifies this.
It felt different from before though. This was something I was going to do. I think it was coming off the high of finally graduating from college. I had some new found self-confidence and this gave more reality to the goal. When I went to the gym, I had an end goal and every step was one more towards it.
I started to develop a rhythm. Even going in the morning before work on some days (to this day I haven’t been able to do this with any degree of consistency). I started at 3 mile workouts and gradually went to 5 milers. I was making progress and I could feel it.
The next phase would come when the weather started to break and a little warmth would peek through. Realistically, nothing was stopping me from upping my distance at the gym, but 5 miles on the track is 50 laps, and anything more would probably cause me to go insane.
I thing that is not really talked about with distance running is just coming up with good routes for that distance. Ideally, I like going in one loop. End up where I started without repeating my route. Here are a few of the routes I used when I was training.
When I broke out of my 5 miles it was to be a 7 mile. At that point I would just strap on my watch and see when it ticked to 7 miles. Can I just say that smartphones and GPS have made finding routes so much better! Like decidedly better. It’s just great. I’ve tried many apps and have found Runkeeper to be the best. I also use tapiriik to sync my progress to Dropbox and Strava. It’s always nice to have a backup and more analytical tools. Everyone loves statistical analysis!
I would then step up to 10! This was a big accomplishment. I was only a 5k away from half of the goal. If it wasn’t clear before, it was starting to crystalize now. This was achievable. One week I decided, this Saturday (5/9/2015) (Saturdays were my long run days) I was going to do a half-marathon. A half! 13.1 miles! A distance previously thought for others, the elite. So, I did it. I ran it on one hot, humid, rainy day. It was entirely exhausting and painful. Around mile 11 my legs started to give out. I had to really keep myself focused. It was a matter of not letting my lizard brain win. This was repeating mantra time. I don’t remember what I was muttering to myself, but it worked. I finished, showed, and promptly flopped down on the couch.
Alright, half way. Only half to go. Cake, right? Totally not. Classic case of the 80/20 rule. 80% of the goal is easy, the last 20% is what is really a bear.
From then on it was trying to progress pass 13 miles. I’ve found that once I complete a perceived hard goal, It’s much harder to keep going past it to the next goal post.
I didn’t break past my half-marathon goal until 7/25/2015 with a 17 mile run. There were a lot of runs in between there and the eventual next goal. Those are far more important than the actual breaking through the goal. Those are the slogs. Those are the ones that are hard, the ones where you have to get out of bed, slap on the shoes and go, when you would much more like to sit and play some Zelda. I mean this in the best way possible, the majority of the runs on this were of this ilk. Just absolute bears, but I was never upset when I did them, I was upset however when I lost the battle between lethargy and action.
Here is a small snapshot of what it took. I’m glad I actually took all those pictures now.
My training mainly continued in this fashion for the rest of the long, hot summer. (How I miss you now, summer, in the dregs of winter). As the deadline approached I became a lot less nervous. I had been training, and since I had been tacking I had number to back me up whenever I felt like I was out of my league.
One of the benefits of running, that a lot of other athletic endeavors don’t allow is the exploration of new areas. If you are traveling and you don’t have access to a treadmill, you can just run around. I’ve discovered beautiful places that I would have never, ever seen if I hadn’t of just gone for a run. Those are the times when I knew that post marathon, I’d still be running.
It seems like I had no real setbacks during training, but that isn’t how it went. I had two, memorable setbacks. One was extremely hard to deal with for me, and that was the inevitable injury. I was running on a sidewalk and a car didn’t stop when I should have. I dodged out of the way and landed wrong, twisting my ankle. It turned about 90 degrees from my leg. I felt that. I walked for a second and tried to run it off. No way. I had really messed it up. I walked back to my apartment and knew I would have to be off it. It was pretty disheartening. I felt like my training was going to be set back too far. I was feeling really terrible about the whole thing. My ankle looked like a softball the next morning. I went and bought a brace because it would send a shooting pain up my leg at the slightest provocation. I was off of it for about two weeks total, probably before I should have started running on it again, but I was antsy.
The second was about not enough preparation, and perhaps too much hubris. I was running around Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. This is one of those instances I mentioned above that I would in no way would have done this if I wasn’t running. They have a nice little path around the lake where you go through people’s back yards. Most of has nice paths, they are maintained by the home owners. For most of the day it was gorgeous just running around the lake. It was sunny, I was passing people saying, “Hi”. Great. The problems arose from two places. One, I did not bring any water, gu, or money with me. Two was I was misinformed at the distance around the lake, I thought it was 20 miles, well within my distance. It was 26. I really didn’t want to do 26 miles because the marathon was the following week. Was it smart to be running so much distance a week before? Probably not (hell no). Around mile 20 my legs started to lock up. It was because my body was starved. I hadn’t provided it with anything since the night before. I hadn’t had water for hours. I was dehydrated and without nutrition. This was entirely stupid and dangerous. I located a park where I did find a nasty looking drinking fountain. I will say that it was the best tasting water I have ever had, quite honestly. I ended up having to make a call for a ride because my legs were shot, my body was shot. Stupid.
This experience was pretty life changing. It gave me tremendous confidence to know that I am able to do big things, but they require sacrifice, time, and work. I don’t think of myself as naturally talented in many ways. I am lucky to have the genes I have, but I believe myself to be fairly average in most categories. What I don’t think I am average in is grit. I am stubborn about my goals. I am able to stick with something until I finish it. I might take a break from it, but I rarely let it go. In essence, what I lack in natural born talent, I make up for in tenacity.
I think anyone can do this, it’s learned. You have to practice it, it’s will power. I don’t subscribe to the theory that we are good at one thing or we have a set amount of will power. Like anything you want to be good at, it requires effort and study. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Alright, enough aphorisms. I’m not writing a self-help book here. Running a marathon is hard, I’m really glad I did it.