Marathon Training Scaries
I am standing in my warm, dimly lit living room clutching a hot mug, scowling at the frostbitten ground outside, blanketed with air that has yet to feel the sun's warmth, when my black cat pounces onto the rocking chair on the porch. She jolts me out of my reverie and I spill coffee on socks that don’t match. She balances precariously on the top rung of the chair as it rocks back and forth with the sudden momentum of her scrawny body. Yellow-green eyes find me through the glass and a pointed meow reminds me of what I should have already known — she is hungry and cold.
The distraction is a welcome one, as are all distractions when you’re avoiding something. I put down the coffee, dab at the drops of brown liquid on the floor with my wool covered feet and grab a scoop of catfood. She continues to yell at me insistently as I open the door and drop the food in her bowl and only goes quiet to attack it like the predator she is. Joke’s on her though because in her voracious haste she is still yelling at me as she snatches her first bite. She chokes on some morsels and has to pause and cough it out before continuing. She is lovely.
The air is too cold to stay on the porch and watch her scarf down the pathetic excuse for food though and once back inside, with mug in hand, this welcome distraction has lasted no more than one minute.
The specter that haunts me slinks into the room again, resting its heavy arms on my shoulders and twisting my stomach into knots with its cold hands. I stand frozen; indecisive.
I need to run 18 miles today. No more, but no less. My wild sister and I are running the Philadelphia Marathon in one month.
The point of waking up early is twofold. Have a moment to drink some coffee and clear the sleep before getting the (several hour long) run in reasonably early enough that it doesn’t eat up the whole day. But autumn has brought the cold weather with it early this year and the sun seems reluctant to wake up this morning.
So I stand frozen in the cozy room, trying to find inspiration. There is always one phrase that gets me — I don’t have to do this; I get to. I am lucky to have the time and resources to train for a marathon, lucky my body can move this way, lucky I get to feel what it’s like to push myself to the bounds of its ability… but still, I don’t have to. And this morning my mind sticks like gum on the sidewalk to “I don’t have to.” The opportunity will still be there tomorrow.
I was never the sporty spice, preferring to be comfortable with a book or cooking up some absurd meal in my freetime. But the truth is, long-distance running grabbed me out of nowhere this year and took a strong hold. This spring I ran my first marathon as training for Rim to Rim to Rim through the Grand Canyon. It was so hard. The marathon, the training, R2R2R.
A few weeks ago we were visiting family in Florida and our cousin asked me and Megan the night before we headed out for a 14 mile run — why? Why do you do this? We both stumbled through some indistinguishable excuses.
The next morning, somewhere between the repetitive silence of footsteps and catching up on the fascinating and the mundane, we attempted to flesh out the question. Why?
There are the obvious reasons. For those of us who work or study indoors, being outside is a commodity in a society where the majority of our lives are spent inside walled rooms, sleeping or staring at screens. The sounds and sights of the world blend with the metronome of footsteps and labored breathing and create a space where the mind can unleash. In this space we can process not only with the brain but with the physical body — essential for letting go of internalized stress and anxieties.
But it’s not only the release you find on the trail or the road. Running also fills you up. Megan described the sensation as embodied happiness — one understood in the mind, held in the soul and felt in the body. Maybe it’s the runners high, or maybe, it’s something more.
For our satellite running partner, Liz, connection is the core of running. Connection to the running women in her life that inspire her to keep pushing. Connection to an extensive running community that is united by the grind of a long run, post long run euphoria or the conversations we have in our heads to talk ourselves into finishing a run.
“I often figure out how my heart and head are really doing while on a long run,” Liz told us. “Sometimes I don’t know what version of myself I’ll find out on a long run, but having the courage to meet myself where I’m at that day and work through it is something I’m really proud of.”
I interviewed a swim coach recently for a story, and when I asked him why, after swimming competitively for so many years, he got into coaching, this was his answer:
“What I realize keeps me coming back is the different levels of success that I can see,” said Dan. “There isn’t really a word for the look on a kid’s face when they talk to you about something they thought they couldn’t do or thought was really far off, and then they accomplish it. Maybe it’s qualifying for a really big meet, or maybe it’s completing their first 50 freestyle.”
This is a big part of what Megan and I fleshed out that morning in Florida, and it’s not unique to marathon training or long-distance running. For 25 years of my life I never had plans to run a marathon; I never thought I could do it. The feeling of accomplishing something you didn’t think you could do is freeing, infectious and uncontrollable.
Freeing because it releases pieces of you that have been contained by expectation. Infectious because it bleeds into other aspects of life. Uncontrollable because you have no bearing on where that infection will spread.
I finally find the courage to move my feet. Not to make moves toward running but to grab my computer, sit on the couch and fumble through some work emails before landing in the putrid, lukewarm bath that is the news. Click, read, sigh, cringe. Click, read, wince, wonder. Click, read, consider… get lost.
Every now and again the rocking chair on the porch slams back and forth, seemingly of its own volition. Nothing but floating green-yellow eyes give her away.
Finally the sun is up, the air is reasonably less frigid, coffee is gone and there is no more time to waste. The doubt and fear sit heavy on my chest as I find matching socks without holes, lace up running shoes and pull long sleeves down over cold hands.
I get to do this.
I hear my feet hitting the pavement before I’ve consented to what’s ahead. But to my surprise the miles fly by like exit signs on the highway. This was a good one. Little pain, lot’s of life and a good dose of Bad Bunny to pull me through the last six miles. I know I will be back for more next week, and the week after that, even while I know it will likely hurt worse next time.