In the spring of 2011 I set out to begin my training as a marathon runner. The agenda for the day: run home from Clark College, taking Airport Way, which wound up being a 22-mile, dreadful experience. Just after crossing the 205 bridge, around mile 15, I wound up walking until I came upon an abandoned home along the Old Evergreen Highway. Being in dire need of water and cautiously optimistic, I approached the home and turned the spigot clockwise. I was in luck. No longer parched but still with weary legs, I continued slogging eastward. With 3-miles to home, this was by far the most difficult hill I had ever experienced at the time, yet it was assuredly due to the combination of being undertrained, undernourished, and quite simply, underprepared. This 22-mile trek was a learning experience – 7 mile runs are easy, but marathon training is going to take smarter planning.
This topic hit me this morning when I received a text from a Whisper runner, Maddie, which said, “That wasn’t fun.” A day earlier, Maddie texted to inquire about the workout of the day because she wasn’t going to be able to make it to practice and she wanted to perform the workout on her own. The workout was a ladder – 200m, 400m, 600m, 800m, 1-mile, and a few 250m’s to finish. This was the first time in a long time that I had prescribed a mile interval – generally intervals are under 1k – but I had to try it out. For the most part, the workout did indeed suck. And Maddie was spot-on when she said, “That wasn’t fun.”
Years ago it was the long runs that I dreaded the most. Anything over 15-miles and I knew I had to prepare well, including hydration and fuel for the road. In time, I began to enjoy runs over 10-miles because they are the ones that provide the physical and emotional challenge I need, and they are also where I feel most alive. I suppose that’s why the marathon is so intoxicating. You’re going to a place of wonder, a place of curiosity, a place of vulnerability, a place of playfulness, and being in my mid-40’s, a place of continuous questioning of my own abilities. Going to these places, the challenges, is essential in training. They are places I aim to get my runners to arrive, so they are ready when it arrives to them during their race.
These places and feelings haunt me both in my training and in my racing. It’s been the midweek runs, the runs between 6 and 9 miles, the runs on Monday through Friday, that have challenged me the most over the last few years. Hampered by an Achilles issue, or both Achilles for that matter, injuries have wreaked havoc on my confidence and my ability to train consistently fast and consistently well for the last few years. But there was a place, a moment in the race last weekend when I felt the familiarity of the suck, yet harmoniously a place of strength, both which could be traced back to my midweek runs. It was a place I have been many times over the last few years. Being in that place provided a sense of, “I have felt this before. I have been here before. I can do this.” At that moment, I knew that if I could manage my splits well, which for the most part were similar to that of my midweek runs, I could still break 3-hours in the marathon at 44-years old.
Maddie‘s text this morning was a reminder that even during the times of difficulty when training, particularly when training alone, that it’s okay to have physically and emotionally challenging workouts. It’s even okay to question your skill set. It’s natural to question your ability. It’s natural to have self-doubt. But what’s important to remember is that there’s always tomorrow. There’s always the hope for a better run tomorrow. And that’s perhaps why runners run. Maddie’s text wasn’t about any foreseen self-doubt of her own skills as a runner, but the reality we all face when running. When we have a challenge ahead of us, how do we respond? I know how Maddie will respond – I’ll see her tomorrow. But how will you respond?
Finally, the word “hope” makes me think about The Boston marathon logo, or mascot, which is a unicorn. Jack Fleming of the Boston Athletic Association, which hosts the Boston Marathon, says, “The unicorn is a mythological figure that is meant to be pursued, but, in that pursuit, you never catch it. So it inspires you to continue to try – to race harder in the case of running – and though it may be elusive, it really is the pursuit of the unicorn that makes you better and better and better.” I fully believe that this is why we keep coming back to this place of misery in the sport of competitive running. This dark place of questioning and self-doubt. Because though it may be a place of familiarity, it’s also a place that we know we can go when we need a dose of self-confidence. Though time and time again our results might not be there, there is still hope for a better race, a better run, and a dose of self-confidence that all of us need, because running has provided this sense of success before.