An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My first, and only, marathon

I remember being very young and seeing a show on TV about the Olympic marathon. I think I was in 5th grade. It talked mostly about how grueling the event is... "Grueling" somehow sparked some interest in me. I spent several entire recess times running around the building, "training" for the day I'd run a marathon. On the field day at the end of the school year, I was really excited about the "endurance race" they had planned. And then it was only two laps around the field. I thought it was pretty wimpy.

I ran track in junior high, and gravitated towards the longest events -- the 440yd and the 880yd. My 8th grade year they added the mile, but the powers that be wouldn't let us run both the mile and the 880yd, so I decided to stay with the 440/880 combination. I set a school record in the 880 in a not-too-spectacular time of 2:12, which was broken maybe 2 years later. I think my record of 33 chin-ups held much longer.

My sophomore year of high school, I realized I had no skill in basketball. I was far too mechanical, and ran the plays like a robot, with no instinct for the game. I instead turned out for cross country, with mixed success. I still did the 800m in track, with occasional forays into the 3200m (the longest track event), and did okay, passing on the league meet in the 3200 to concentrate on the 800 my senior year. I made it to districts, but no further.

Once I graduated, I immersed myself in running literature. I devoured every book and magazine on running in the libraries of 3 towns, learning about how all the greats trained (or at least how every one THOUGHT they trained). I found some training plans, and decided I was going to run the Seattle Marathon that fall. June to November, my life revolved around going 26.2 miles two days after Thanksgiving, 1982.

I built up mileage all summer, using the progression I'd found in a book. My medium runs became 10 miles, short was 6, and I'd throw in a weekly long run that got to 22 miles. Yes, conventional wisdom has come a long way in 28 years... I started college, dealing with a whole new culture shock, continued on my training plan for the last two months pre-race, and everything was going great.

Until 3 weeks before the race. Runner's knee. Chondromalacia patella (now generally called patello-femoral syndrome). I started a course of indocine, rested, and hoped. Race morning, I showed up at the starting line, never having been in anything like it before. My first real road race. The day was giving us a light rain, though decently warm considering late November in Seattle.

It took me some 3 minutes to cross the start line. No such thing as chip timing, so I just had to remember. I settled into what I thought was a comfortable pace, and just trudged along.

I've failed to mention that I never took any water with me on these long runs... So my stomach wasn't used to taking in anything on the run. Which meant that I didn't feel comfortable taking in fluids on race day. Yeah, you can see it coming too -- 20/20 hind sight, eh?

I hit the half-way point at 1:35, still feeling pretty fresh, and thinking I was on pace for a 3:10 finish, just where I thought I'd be. Ah, the naivete of youth... At 15 miles, I started to feel kinda fatigued. What followed was a rapid descent into survival shuffling, punctuated with long bouts of pained walking.

I crossed the finish line running (or at least the best semblance of running I could muster at the moment) in 3:53 and some change, and was almost crying at the relief of finally being done with it. My mom got me some chicken soup, and I sat at the base of a tree trying to get some of it in my mouth.

But what stuck with me was how disappointed I was in my performance, feeling that the ends didn't justify all the time I'd put into that day. Almost 6 months of my life was pointed toward getting me to the finish line. And I guess I'd have to say that, while I did accomplish my ultimate goal of finishing a marathon, I feel that I somehow didn't really accomplish my goal of running a marathon. I feel like the distance bested me, instead of the other way around.

I've read all these blogs from ultra runners, and in fits of insanity I get the inkling that I could do that some day, if I could progress far enough. But really, speed is more my drug of choice. I became injured again training for another marathon, and I've run a few half marathons (my best of just under 1:06 was some 20 years ago). Maybe after getting healthy again and making it through a couple half marathons I'll get some itch to test my distance limits again. Or I may just have a lot of fun finding interesting places to run. I'm liking running on wooded trails, but there's just no draw for me in slogging through ankle-deep mud and calling it a race.

There's a happy medium in there somewhere. Maybe I'll spend the rest of my life trying to find it.

1 comment:

Der Scott said...

The marathon is a strange thing. I totally sucked during my first one this year (much worse than you), and I feel really dissatisfied with the result. Which means, I'll probably try to run another one. I'm still not sure if it's worth the effort.