Runnin’-runnin’ and runnin’-runnin’

“You’re doing a what???”

Marathon running has become a cultural presence. So much so that, even though people act shocked, and express that they think you’re a little nutty for wanting to do one – nobody bothers to ask you why you want to do said nutty thing. It’s just something we do now. It’s a touchstone of achievement still, something that is still hard, as evidenced by how few people want to get in on the training run fun with a nutty runner like me.

The truth is that ANYONE can run – but not everyone wants to. Maybe some folks see it as a waste of time. Or it hurts too much. Or what if that dreaded stitch in the side thing happens? Running just isn’t for everyone, maybe that’s all. I personally don’t believe that. I think you’re just chicken, like I used to be.

“Oh,” they say, “that’s amazing. I can’t run more than a mile/thirty seconds/a few feet.” I guess they’d think I was even more nutty if they knew just how much you have to do to be ready for a marathon. By now, I’ve logged 193 miles with my little phone app. It has, on occasion, failed me, or I’ve accidentally “dumped” a workout, and there are all the miles I’ve done before I ever got my hands on this sweet phone back in July, and the hours I’ve spent sweating in a recumbent stationary bike, trying to keep my knees in one piece. Yes,  have to bow and pay feasance to my aging body, as much as it aggravates me to admit to it.

Let’s find a route with a 7-11 on it.

When I first started running, I was a 16 year-old with no idea what I was doing. Track seemed like a good idea. I wanted to do a sport, be a part of a team, meet some new friends. Our practices consisted of lots of trackwork, and then assigned “long” runs that we did in groups…with minimal supervision. I’m pretty sure we did our best to figure out ways of avoiding too much mileage. And the complaining from us when those runs did get slotted in…well, probably Coach Addo just learned to tune us out. He should have taken me by the shoulders and compelled me to look in the mirror. Wake up, you are BUILT for distance! Nearly six feet tall, and there I was, huffing and wheezing my way through endless 400 and 800 races. My self-delusion continued through a short career as a walk-on at UNC Chapel Hill, where, if you can believe it, still no one said anything to me along the lines of, “Can you just give 5 miles a try?” There I was, foolishly believing in the dream of “middle d”, surrounded by Olympic athletes.

I learned to start loving the longer stuff after a while – it took the Marine Corps to drag it out of me – but it hasn’t been until this year that I have finally found my way to going THE distance, and not being frightened by the journey. Only took about 20 years…. I was “gonna” do a marathon last year, the same one I actually AM doing this year, but I let the inner voices and doubts talk me back out of it. This year, I signed up back in April or something. It was a way of ensuring that I would not let the same thing happen again. As daunting as it seems, I know I can make it happen.

Plan, what plan?

I started out with a training schedule. It was doable. It seemed ideal. I was right on track, until…summer vacation, crabby kids, husband on overseas travel for work, and everything else pushed me right off course. I knew somewhere in there I’d have to make the choice to roll with it. Dragging the kids to the high school track in town was not a lot of fun. Biking four days a week seemed counter-productive. So I threw the schedule out the window, and began to work on making it work, no matter what it looked like. The schedule I was using was already taking a “less is more” approach, so fine-tuning it while simultaneously ignoring it has been interesting. Like right now, it wants me to be doing a 16 miler. Not ready yet…plus, it’s harder to find one of those loops than you might imagine.

The other side of the training has been getting to know my body all over again. I’m 36. I don’t recover the way I used to (none of us do). I have to manage my food, what kinds and how much, at different times of day. Sometimes taking advice from the “experts” is good, but sometimes you have to pay attention to whether it’s working or not. I tend to protein load in the morning, and indulge in carbs at night. More specifically, an egg, coffee, and a little bit of carb for breakfast. Big lunch, equal balance of the two. More carb than otherwise for supper. Lots of fruit and veggies. It can get complicated, but it’s been part of the learning process. The whole point of it is getting into a routine that works, that keeps you from crashing during the day, and feeling an energy reserve during lengthy runs.

Screw you guys, I’m goin’ home.

There’s always that temptation to cut it short and go home to wallow in a bowl of ice cream. Aside from the fact that with a run that lasts over an hour, you CAN go home and eat some ice cream, or have a beer, giving up is a dangerous game. It’s probably the reason why I committed to this marathon so early this year. Throwing in the towel sends a message. I’m not talking about the one that gets sent to your aching whatever once you stop. It’s the one that gets sent to your kids, your significant other, your boss…that you can’t find the fight in you. A marathon, like anything else in life, is a goal you have to fight for, if you want it. My kids weren’t around when I had to fight for all the other stuff I’ve accomplished in life, but they’re here for this thing. They’re going to be dragged kicking and screaming down to Hartford on a Saturday morning, so that they can watch me run over the finish line and dissolve into a puddle.

If you are a kid, have been one, or have some of your own, you know the refrain. “I can’t do it, it’s tooooooooo hard.” Tough crap. Children of first world nations don’t have to worry about working in mines, sweatshops, or being sent to the workhouse when their families can’t afford to keep them. That was happening only about 80 years ago in this country, and it still happens all over the world. I was just as guilty as anyone else of thinking life was too hard when I was a kid. My biggest worry was whether I’d ever have the cool clothes or the Cabbage Patch Kid everyone else had. That’s not a terrible thing, it’s certainly better than wondering if you’re going to die of blacklung before you get to marry and have your own kids. I just want my kids to know that things that are difficult and sometimes painful are not to be shirked. They are to be faced, head on, while you scream, “Oh yeah? f*** you!!!!” We’re obviously devoid of many rites of passage that used to exist. I like to imagine what parent groups would say to children leaping over bulls, or going off into the wilderness for weeks, alone, to seek out visions. It might be fun just to throw that into the public arena.

Why? BeCause.

So, yes. I want to demonstrate to my kids that I can kick the crap out of a goal, out of 26.2 miles. It does help that there are nearly 2 dozen charities to support for the ING Hartford Marathon. You can pick any one you want. I chose Jocelyn’s Run, which is a locally-based autism charity that aims to help families with a child on the spectrum. It was the reason I felt good about picking the Hartford marathon. We have a nine year-old with autism, and he has a 5 year-old brother. We’re lucky enough to have a good standard of living. Not every family gets that lucky, so I am hoping to raise a bit of money to aid in that fight.

Someday I would love to run the Marine Corps Marathon, and bring my kids to that, so they can see what the faces of heroism really look like, when the Wounded Warrior detachment shows up. At the end of the day (mine or anyone else’s), I hope that my marathon run inspires someone else to do one, the way I was inspired last year by my high school classmates who ran various ones. I’m grateful to them for having the guts to finish, so that I would know I could as well. Sometimes a marathon doesn’t have to be a marathon, either. Sometimes it’s just finishing something difficult, depressing, challenging, or inspiring. For me, the people who do that are the everyday heroes, and that’s enough to get me out of bed in the morning to tug on running shoes.

(Thanks to Kate Dee for being an amazing example of courage, and to Lynn, Jasmine, and Heather for running their hearts out for causes or just because.)

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