Now What?

This past weekend was rather strange.  For the first time in months, I had no 6:00 a.m. Saturday long run. The dream of a lifetime, Boston, is already a few days behind me.  Luckily, at this point, I am still basking in the glow of the past weekend and run.

Traveling to a marathon, especially Boston, is always like going to the land of make believe.  In this land, problems, jobs, and responsibilities other than making sure to get one’s race packet and not spend too much money at the expo, are forgotten. Everything centers around the run, and every runner walks around, hoping their invisible force field will continue to ward off sickness, dehydration, and injury before, during, and after the run.  During this pre-race time, every runner is a kindred soul, and stories are shared about past marathons, this marathon, the weather, hydration, and other important facts. It is a running nerd’s paradise.

In addition to the excitement, a cloud of anxiety floats above each runner’s head. Not a bad anxiety, but more of the first day of school variety.  Multiple alarms are set the night before the race; a new race outfit is carefully prepared and laid out for the next morning.

Then, before you know it, you are at the start line; with a physical and emotional race about to begin.  Each mile is a checkpoint; a sign that you are closer to reaching your goal. I read a t-shirt early on in the race that said something to the effect of: run miles 1-10 with your body, 10-20 with your head, and 20-26 with your heart. For me, I took the advice, but considered my own:  just make it to the half point, and then start to click off the miles, being careful not to get the math wrong when body fatigue sets in. (26.2 minus14 is…WHAT? Is it 12.2?) Reaching the 16 mile mark was another high point, as it began the “I just have single digit miles left.” Then, at 20, I reminded myself that, “A marathon is just 20 miles and a 10K.” I quickly remembered how much I hate that saying.

The bottom line is, a million different things go through a runner’s head before, during, and after a marathon. Each phase leading up to the run carries its own challenges and excitement, as does the run itself.

But then, the moment (believe me) you thought would never come, is suddenly there- you are crossing the finishing line.  You are celebrating. You are on the plane home. You are back in the “real world” where you suddenly realize that your spouse, co-workers, and others close to you may tire of your marathon stories after hearing them 5 or 6 hundred times a day.  It is December 26, New Year’s Day, the hour after final exams… the time when that “thing” you’ve been waiting for has passed and it is time to get on with the business of daily life.  To say it’s not a bummer would be a lie; human nature sets us up to feel a natural disappointment after big events are over.

So, the question- whether you’ve just completed a marathon, landed your dream job, closed a big deal, gotten married, or just had a great day- always comes down to “now what?”  And, I guess, the only logical answer (besides signing up for a fall marathon…) is to go to bed, wake up, and lace your shoes the next morning, ready to face whatever new roads are ahead of us. Because, whether long or short… grandiose or low key- each road and each day can be pretty darn cool. We just need to show up at the start line to find out what’s in store for us.

by abbey algiers copyright 2010

An Even Playing Field

As I prepare to run Boston this upcoming weekend, I am once again in “marathon mode.” The state where anyone with a sniffle is considered a public health threat, where everything I put in my mouth is questioned for its nutritional value and freshness, and every move I make is calculated and careful so as to prevent injury.  This one, however, is different. This is the Boston Marathon, something I’ve been dreaming of since my first marathon back in 2003.  Making it here is an honor; it is like prom to a 16-year-old girl, the Super Bowl to Brett Favre, wearing the Green Jacket to a golfer. Quite frankly, it’s hard to believe it’s really happening.

What surprises me the most, is perhaps that non-runners, the same ones who ask questions like, “Well, how long is that marathon?” actually KNOW that Boston is a big deal. They will say things like, “You had to qualify for this one, right?” RIGHT! But the truth is, I don’t feel like a super hero or a really fast runner. I just feel that back in October, I had a good race. The marathon gods got together and decided that it would be my day to qualify.

This makes me feel especially lucky, because after 11 marathons, I know certain things. The main one being that when race day strikes, anything can happen. The most trained, fit, prepared athletes can crash and burn when hit with a bad stomach, bad weather, or one or multiple injuries.  Heck, even a bad wardrobe choice can be disastrous. Marathon Day has a different ending for each and every runner; it is the crapshoot (sometimes literally, sorry) of all sporting events.  So really, when it comes to the point where you are a week out, two days out, one day out…you are left to rest, hydrate, and trust that what you’ve done over the past months will pay off. Then all you can do is say your prayers and leave it up to fate or your lucky socks on the day of the race.

It only makes sense then, that as I prepare both mentally and physically for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I am quite frankly, scared out of my mind.  Try as I might to stay calm and focused, I am riddled with the anxieties that accompany anything major one has been waiting for.  Was my training sufficient? Should I have done more hills? I think I should have done more hills. What if I get food poisoning? Will I wake up on time to catch my flight? And then, let’s not even talk about what I will be feeling on race morning. Will it rain? Will I freeze, or will record temps knock me out at mile 19? Will I make the right food choices for a smooth run? Will I TRIP on my way to the start?

The bottom line is, I could write from now until I board the plane and still not cover every “worst case scenario.”   Yet I do realize that thoughts like this, while not helpful, are very normal.  A visit to message boards surrounding the topic of Boston shows me that I am not alone in my anxieties. There are many newcomers there who are voicing my same concerns. This makes me feel better as does texting and emailing my running partner about once an hour with questions and comments on our upcoming trip.

Also, when I get to Boston and go to the Expo, I know I will be in a room with my same nervous energy/excitement.  At the start line, I will be surrounded by thousands of runners who are just praying that this moment in time will be everything they’ve hoped for.

And, as I think of this moment at the starting line, where everything either does or doesn’t come together,  I realize how even the playing field is. Regardless of where we come from or how we got there, when it comes to the beginning of the race…we all just want to do the best we can. And isn’t this true about life as well? Each day, we give it our all to achieve our goals and live the best lives we can.  We can fret about everything that could happen to interfere with these goals… or we can move forward with the enthusiasm and hope of a runner at the start of a marathon… knowing that we’re exactly where we need to be, and all that’s left to do is move forward with faith and trust that we’ll make it to the finish.

Days Like This

There’s nothing like the first 60 degree run of spring to make you realize just how intense winter training can be. My running partner and I had a “winter run flashback” session as we donned shorts for the first time in months. In our marathon training review, we determined that two sub-zero Saturdays had sent us to the indoor track, and six other Saturdays probably sent more “sane” runners to that same track. Instead, we battled blatant and snow covered ice patches, as well as black ice.  There was blowing, wet, and icy snow. One morning, we faced a white-out. Thirty plus mile an hour winds (an estimate) were another highlight of this “Well what do you expect, you live in Wisconsin” December to March running tour. Seriously, in retrospect, what were we thinking?

On the “granddaddy of all runs from hell,” we not only had gale force winds, but snow, sleet, and black ice (oh my!) to contend with.  Talking was impossible; survival was our only focus on this, our 18 mile run. At about the 10-mile point, I was completely and utterly miserable, and really had no idea how I was going to make it back. I considered my fate:  fingers and toes that felt like ice blocks, a sudden relapse of plantar fasciitis in my right foot coupled with a budding new left knee pain, icicles forming on my lashes (could this damage them permanently?), a frozen face, and to top it off, I needed a restroom in a way that only runners and Mexican tourists can understand.

Things were so bad that they actually were kind of funny to me at that point. I thought, what if my mom or dad, or anyone else who had never experienced a run of this magnitude were suddenly plopped into this very dire predicament? They surely would freak out, and after five seconds, I know my mom would say something like, “Just stop, go inside where it’s warm. This is crazy. Don’t put yourself through this.” My dad would use his line reserved for my running, and things like sky diving or bungee jumping, “This is foolishness.”

However, as I thought about that advice and the “outs” it could provide me, I realized that stopping wasn’t an option.  At that moment in time, I hated the cold, the wind, and the fact that I was a runner. Let’s face it, I hated everything.  But I knew that by pressing on, and giving it everything I had, that I’d be stronger in the end for it.  So I forged ahead, with visions of my toasty home and all of its plumbing glory. I forged ahead, because when you are 8 miles from home, half frozen at 7 on a Saturday morning, there isn’t anything else you can do. You just need to keep moving until you’ve run yourself right back to that place where you are safe and warm and happy again.

And that place, just like our runs/journeys, is different for each one of us. The most important thing to remember is that we’ve all got what it takes inside to make it through whatever “the granddaddy of all runs” has in store for us.  We can overcome it, one step at a time.