I don’t really like running. Part of it is because I have always been overweight and running just isn’t fun especially when you have some extra load to carry. Running is work. It often hurts and can be boring (although music or a podcast can help a lot).
Even with my dislike for running, I have completed three marathons, six or seven half marathons and a handful of 10ks and 5ks. It is not because of my love of running. It is more due to my addictive personality and poor goal setting. My thought process, I believe, has to be a common path that leads people to running distances of 26.2 miles (or more, although I have never run more). It went a little something like this:
Your friends are getting into running so you think you will too. It would be fun to run a 5k. Three miles, that doesn’t sound so tough. You play recreational sports. You’ll run a couple miles on the weekend and be ready to go. Complete first 5k, get a medal, have a big lunch and a few beers. Feel accomplished.
That 5k wasn’t so bad and the Monument 10k is coming up. If you “train” a little you can work your way up to 6.2 miles. It won’t be so bad. So you train for a couple of weekends, get up to four or five miles and participate in the 10k (even though it is raining – you paid the entry fee). You finish it, get together with friends afterward at a big post 10k party, have a few beers and feel accomplished. The next morning you take a couple Advil and nurse a couple spots on your body where wet clothes were rubbing.
While you are up on your training you sign up for another 10k, a smaller event that you can work on your time. You do better than you expected. This running stuff isn’t so bad. You have a big lunch, drink a few beers and feel accomplished with your PR!!
You start to think that this might be something you can capitalize on. What if you ran a half marathon? That would be amazing! It’s only like two 10ks and you just did two of those within a couple of weeks of each other. With a little extra training you could do it. You could move up to the big leagues – a distance with the word “marathon” in it.
You run on the weekends and sneak in a run or two during the week. You get your distances up and based on some articles, just running ten miles during training will have you prepared. But you don’t trust it and go twelve. Now you feel ready. On the day of the half marathon you look around the crowd and you see real runners. They have the right gear. They have gels and water bottles to carry. This is distance running!
The half marathon goes pretty well. You struggle at the end because you started off too fast but you make it. You are tired, your legs feel like noodles, but you did it. A half marathon. 13.1 miles in the books. Your family is proud of you as they help you to the car. You realize places that were rubbing during your run. They don’t feel so good. But you go have a big lunch, a couple of beers and feel very accomplished. You put the 13.1 sticker you bought at registration on your car. And you think.
You start to think that the half marathon wasn’t that bad. You survived. You weren’t helped off the course by EMS. You walked to the car, with that big medal around your neck and lived to tell about it. What if you could train just a little harder and do a full marathon? What if you could be part of that elite group that can call themselves runners? Marathoners? That would be amazing.
So you sign up. You sign up for a marathon and the training program. It is lost on you that they have a full training program devoted to the marathon. That this is no longer a weekend run with a couple of runs in the middle. Now you are committed (or perhaps think you should be) and this is going to be real. When you look through the training schedule you see mileage that is scary. Twenty miles? For training? In one day? Wait – there are several runs over fifteen miles. Who thought this up?
You train. You run both weekend days and four days during the week. You do hills to get stronger. You curse a lot up hills. You curse a little down hills. You can eat anything you want and not gain weight but you don’t want to eat anything that might disagree with you before your long weekend run. You are a runner. A slave to the marathon. When you aren’t running you are thinking about running. Or running away.
Training takes it toll on your body. Your first pair of running shoes are a little small and you lose a toenail. You trip on an uneven sidewalk and learn to pick up your feet, even when you are tired. Skinned hands and knees are good teachers. You are tired and sore most days and the alarm always seems to be going off way too early.
Sometimes you want to quit. Sometimes you do – you skip a training session or a hills workout. Your training program coaches and running mates bring you back around. Friends and family offer encouragement. You’ve come too far to stop now. Just get over the hump and over the finish line.
Marathon day is full of anxiety and anticipation. You’ve done a half marathon as part of your training so the crowds and festivities are fresh in your mind. But this is it – the big one. You focus on your pace and try not to go out too early. You focus on hydration and taking on the right amounts of food – too little and you bonk, too much and you puke. Your training pays off.
At least until mile 22. You’ve heard about the wall, and now it has introduced itself with an amazing force. You are tapped. You have nothing more to give. Your legs are lead, you can’t breathe, your heart is pounding. You need to stop.
But you need to keep going. You are four miles away from being a marathoner. You may never get here again. You have to keep going, you have to push through. Coaches from your training team are encouraging you. Spectators are shouting your name and telling you you can do it. You have to push. You signed up for this, you trained and you have to complete it.
You near the finish line. You can see it now. The crowds are cheering. You gather the last bits of energy and lunge forward, trying to find balance between your pace and the angle your body is leaning toward the end. You cross the finish line and focus on staying up right. Volunteers offer water and snacks. You get your medal. You did it. You sit down and wonder if you will ever be able to get up again.
What started as a 5k evolved though doubling the distance over and over into a marathon. For my story, much of this is fictitious. I ran my last marathon three and a half years ago and none of them have quite worked out like this but the path to running the first one was similar in regards to the mindset. It was a matter of feeling so accomplished with the last event and forgetting the work and pain that went into it. Then thinking the next one wouldn’t be twice as bad. It wasn’t, it was three times or more as bad. But the addictive personality kept me coming back. It has been a while since I chronicled my experiences. I’ll have to try to share them again in another post, having the benefit of years past to think on them more fondly, perhaps.