Okay, so I’ve run two full (26.2 mile) marathons in the past 3 years, as well as two half (13.1 mile) marathons. I consider myself to be generally fit, but still, it’s been almost two years since my last full marathon on October 10, 2010.
Each marathon has presented its own challenges, which is part of what makes them so powerfully memorable. Even if those challenges aren’t necessarily pleasant.
My first race was the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. I believe the date was October 19, 2009. I may be completely wrong [edit: I was - it was actually October 25]. It is called the “People’s Marathon” because no prize money is awarded to the winners, and there is always a great turnout of spectators and plenty of entertainment and support along the route. It has a wonderfully patriotic feeling to it, as you are in our nation’s capital, get to run by the Capital Building, White House, Pentagon and many of the beautiful monuments are on the horizon and at one point, around mile 21 or 22, active military Marines hand out bottles of water - and loads of morale - as you approach what are often the most grueling of the 26.2 miles.
My challenge with the MCM was that I had developed (unbeknownst to me) Achilles tendonitis during my training. It was a novice mistake - I didn’t train long enough, I increased mileage too fast with no drop down weeks and often a week with no long run at all, I didn’t incorporate any cross training and I didn’t stretch as much as I should have. I was in pain all of the weeks and days leading up t, and for most of, my first full marathon. I could barely walk around to sight-see the days before the race, but I convinced myself I could do it anyways. And I did. But I also ended up in a 6-month relationship with a physical therapist and was ordered not to run in the months after the race. Lesson learned!
My second marathon, not even a year later on October 10, 2010 (I’ll never forget THAT date) was the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. This time around, I was in much better physical shape. I felt both physically and mentally prepared and it being my second race, the “will I finish?” question was left at the finish line in DC. Overall, it was a much better race for me - yet my time was a good twenty minutes slower. Why? The heat! You may recall the infamous 2007 Chicago Marathon, just 3 years earlier, in which temperatures reached an unreasonable high of 88 degrees. Tragically, one runner died, hundreds sought medical attention or were hospitalized and over 10,000 voluntarily chose not to participate. The course was shut down after 3 and 1/2 hours. The majority of runners would be somewhere between 5 and 10 miles shy of finishing the race. Bummer.
The high on race day in 2010? 86. The third highest temperature on record since 1962. As the hours and miles went by, and I progressed through the course, I recall the large color-coded signs gradually escalating the temperature warning level, all the way up to red, which was the last one before black - which meant the race would be shut down.
Well, I finished and it was certainly memorable, but needless to say, no PR’s were set that day.
The exhaustion of running 26.2 miles in the overheated Chicago marathon did a good job of convincing me that I was done with marathons for a little while. I took the whole year of 2011 off. I didn’t run a single race. 2011 was an off year for me in a lot of ways [see other posts about thinking I was unhappy, moving, being miserable, and deciding to be happy again]. Reflecting back, it’s a good thing I didn’t enter any races, because I don’t see how I would have trained or been able to really participate.
Enter 11/20/11 - an unintentionally conspicuous date - I decide to go online and register for yet another marathon! I can’t exactly explain what possessed me to do so, but it couldn’t have been anything too profound, or I would remember. Rather, it must have been a mere, “hmph, it’s time for another marathon.” At which point I clicked a few links and haphazardly committed to running another 26.2 miles. Am I insane?
People question the point of marathons; if you love running so much, why don’t you just run 26 miles whenever? Ha. They’ve obviously never trained for a marathon. It is as much the process as it is the end result. It’s a matter of physical, mental and spiritual growth and empowerment that not much else can grant you. And, sure, we could pick any other day to run 26 miles, but it’s the concept of committing to an act, not knowing what’s going to happen between now and then, and knowing that you’re going to do it. It’s a promise to yourself that you’re going to be just as good, if not better, an individual come that day, regardless of the obstacles that may, as they often do, present themselves.
I’ve read countless stories of far more tragic and profound events that have stood in the way of a runner than anything I’ve ever faced, and it’s the overcoming of these things that often make a marathon so meaningful to someone. You have a lot of time to think to yourself when you’re on your feet for 3-4 hours. A marathon is as much the intense thoughts that fade in and out over the miles as it is the physical act of running. Everyone has a different reason, a unique goal, and although we all cross the same finish line, we cross it our own way, and that is what makes a marathon so powerful, so beautiful. And why it’s not the same as “just running 26.2 miles anytime”.
Which is why I’m going to still run Portland, or at least try.
I sat at my kitchen table yesterday afternoon, pondering my upcoming marathon, and the reality that I have no plan was looming over me like a dark cloud on the morning of a long anticipated race day. Suddenly, a panic switch inside of me flipped and I started searching for “8 week marathon plans”. Psshhh. Yeah right, they don’t exist. But multiple running forum entires on them do, all of which strongly advise against not running a marathon if you’ve reached the eight week mark with no substantial training. I stared blankly at my screen, cursing the nay-sayers who claim it isn’t possible. What do they know, anyways? I’m ME. And I know me better than anyone else. I checked a few standard training plans, which usually run 18 weeks or more, depending on your fitness level. And then I actually counted the weeks until my marathon. Thanks to the generous five-week month of August, I had eleven full weeks, twelve if I was able to squeeze a long run in before work on Sunday. I pinned where I “should” be in my training, which was about week seven - a 14 mile long run. I thought about being ambitious, then consulted a close friend of mine, also a marathoner and a triathlete. But the better reason I sought his advice - he’s also a procrastinator extraordinaire when it comes to training. He’s run multiple marathons on next to no training - God bless him - and he reassured me that I would be able to finagle some sort of plan out of my eleven weeks. And when you’re in the position I’m in, all you really want to hear is “yes”. But my friend is also realistic, and I knew he would have my best interest in mind. So hearing that I could do it from someone who knows me, but has also been there, was very comforting. I decided to commit, not to a full 14 miles as I had originally planned, but to a more realistic and manageable 10.
And with that decision, I embark on the “Eleven/Almost Twelve Week Marathon Training Program.” I’m far more comfortable having counted the weeks, as I originally had conservatively estimated a mere eight weeks, by rationale of only having the full months of August and September to train. But alas, I have juiced a couple weeks off the end of July and one in October.
With that, I will leave you. I plan on updating frequently, as my training presents its obstacles and it’s successes. I was originally planning on Portland to set a marathon PR for myself, but given my training window, it may be a bit more of a challenge. Stay tuned to find out!