When I tell people I am planning to run a marathon, one of the most common questions I am asked is why? This is not exactly a common endeavor, and certainly something that most people fear because of the commitment and effort required.
For as long as I can remember I have always had a desire to test myself against one of the most extreme challenges a person can undertake. Over the last year, as I have become more comfortable running and improved my abilities, that ambition has returned. A few weeks ago, Jess and I watched the New York City marathon and I remember looking at many of those individuals and thinking to myself, “if they can do it so can I.” There is no doubting the physical challenges associated with running 26 miles and 385 yards. The strain on the body must be incredible, and I am only beginning to find out exactly what is required to get myself ready as I research different training plans.
But there is another side to the challenge, one that gets far less coverage but that is probably just as important. There is a significant mental and emotional burden on the runner, over the course of the training and marathon itself. According to some runners and coaches, this can have as much, if not more, of a bearing on the runners performance as the physical preparation. I recently read the excellent Accidental Athlete by John Bingham (link) and was delighted to see the author dedicate time to this area.Even now, as I challenge myself to run ever increasing distances and take part in my first races over short distances, I am beginning to become aware of the need for proper mental preparation.
So why am I doing this? There are the obvious and aforementioned reasons, but primarily because a few years ago I never would have imagined or envisioned myself accomplishing this feat. I want to know what it feels like to cross the finish line after covering that legendary distance – to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I achieved a long-term goal of mine. I don’t care that I won’t finish first – finishing is what matters – completing the run and proving to myself that I can do something if I set my mind to it.
I didn’t sleep well last night, so was a little discombobulated this morning. On top of that, I forgot my undershirt (the compression type) that I have become so accustomed to wearing for runs. I was a little apprehensive given that things were definitely not starting out well, but Jess was a calming influence and throughout the morning was more supportive than I ever could have hoped for.
I arrived at the park around 8:20 AM and made my way to the start area. Things moved quickly from there, and after I dropped off my bag and spent a few minutes stretching it was time to make my way to the numbered corrals. I was sitting pretty around the front of the fourth batch of runners, and was eagerly awaiting the start. Bang on nine o’clock the horn sounded and the race began. It took about two minutes for my group to make their way to the start/finish line by which time we were already moving at a decent pace.
Earlier, Jess had dropped me off so she could park the car, and I was not expecting to see her until the finish. Imagine my surprise when, cresting the hill before the first major left turn I saw her on the left side of the road and cracked a huge smile as she snapped a shot of me. That gave me the little boost I needed, and from there I set off. The first mile was mostly downhill, and I hit the marker in just over eight minutes (my target was nine). The second mile was a little tougher, as it swung from the South Lake Drive to the East Lake Drive, and proceeded to climb the entire way. Despite the incline, I passed the second mile marker at sixteen and a half minutes, well ahead of my expectations. The third mile continued the uphill run and I had to battle the temptation to stop and walk as the incline became increasingly steep. The top of the hill couldn’t come soon enough, but as I rounded the final corner and started down the west drive the pain in my legs eased and I knew I was going to make it to the finish without stopping. I hit the third mile marker in twenty five minutes, and the five kilometer flag in twenty six minutes – a full five minutes faster than my previous five kilometer run in July. The final mile was mostly downhill, but I held a steady pace and kept a little in reserve for the final sprint. Turning off West Lake Drive, I caught sight of the finish line and put the hammer down, upping my speed to the mid-sevens and crossing the line in thirty minutes and fifty one seconds.
Considering my typical four mile time on the treadmill is thirty six minutes, and my expectations for a road race were somewhere in the thirty three to thirty five range, I could barely contain my happiness. Not only had I finished the run without stopping, but I had done it in my best time ever.
Earlier today I was reviewing the route map for Saturday’s run. I have only biked in Prospect Park, so was only remotely familiar with the park layout and grade. I put the route map into the Runkeeper application and discovered what most of you who have gone around the park already know – the entire east side is uphill – and the very last leg is especially steep.
The race starts with a nice downhill stretch but just before the first mile marker, the grade turns up and continues to rise all the way to about 2.5 miles. The next mile or so is undulating but nothing too severe, with a good downhill approach to finish line that should suit me if I have any energy reserves for a final burst of speed.
Ouch! In this case perhaps ignorance was bliss.
Old habits are hard to break! I totally bailed on this morning’s run – after a freezing cold night of howling wind and rain, I opted to stay in bed for an extra hour rather than facing the brutally cold dawn. I have to admit that I did feel a bit guilty, especially with this weekends run so close. This was really my last chance to get in a practice, while still allowing myself time to recover before Saturday morning. Inevitably, I gave in to the guilt and hit the treadmill for my final preparation run in the few minutes between work and play. I dispensed with crunches, weights, and jump ropes and focused solely on the run. My legs, which had felt a little stiff the day before we back to normal and I felt pretty good the rest of the evening. I’ll take it easy tomorrow, do some stretches in the morning and evening, and go to bed early – but not before spending some quality time with Jess at the new Muppet movie.
Tomorrow morning (6AM) is my final preparation run before Saturday’s Jingle Bell Jog in Prospect Park. I’m actually looking forward to running outside and away from the treadmill for the first time in months, although also suffering from a mild dose of performance anxiety at the same time. Although I typically run in the evenings, I switched to early morning runs at the beginning of last week to get used to waking up early and putting my body under that much stress at the beginning of the day. In truth, once I get started I find it easier to run first thing in the morning … but getting out of bed … probably a bigger challenge than beginning the day with a four mile run.