Early in January of this year, clearly in a goal-setting mood, I realized I wanted to run my first marathon. During that time I also happened to be reading Tom Foreman’s My Year of Running Dangerously, which may have influenced my thinking; it is a good book! Either way, before I could change my mind, I went online and remarked on Facebook that I was committing to running the Seattle Marathon this year. Then, I more or less shut up about it for a while.
The Seattle Marathon is traditionally Thanksgiving weekend. It felt admittedly safe to set a goal for something in the relatively distant future. Even so, I meant it.
I had done a few half marathons, but of course I realized that this would be a lot harder and I would have to respect the preparation for it. I followed a fairly relaxed exercise regimen in the beginning of the year, but then became more serious. Along the way, I bought a copy of The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. I knew, I probably was not going to join an actual running group, so wanted to pick up some motivation – as well as a researched schedule I could follow with discipline. This worked well, overall.
To train for a marathon means to run a lot. According to my notes, I logged 116 runs, totaling more than 764 miles, this year, prior to race day. It also means lots of stretching and icing of sore muscles, experimenting with different types of drink and food, before, during and after the runs. Managing exercise recovery. Self-talk, both good and bad. Exhaustion during long runs on hot summer days. Elation during the first signs of fall weather, with fresh breezes and rain. Dodging spider webs and low-hanging branches on the forest portions of the training routes.
The most disappointing run was probably the one that was cut short, when I stepped hard on a long, rusty nail — to first limp home and then rush to Urgent Care for an overdue Tetanus shot. The most exhilarating runs were those, where I pushed myself to accomplish a new distance or a faster time — or just felt stronger during it.
My wife is incredibly supportive. My dog joined many of the runs. Our four-year old daughter is excited about all types of physical activity – and the various types of drinks or energy chews. In the end though – you run by yourself. It is a solitary pursuit. Of course, you meet people along the way. Strangers turn into familiar faces. Many greet, some shrug. Occasionally a dog will bark or give chase for a bit. You encounter other runners, nod in passing, acknowledge an affinity. No one can do this for you. It is a simple thing. You just run.
Race day came, eventually and I made good on my promise to myself. I finished that marathon. It was hard, painful. I made mistakes, of course, went out too fast, paid the price for it later on. Nagging questions about my diet the days before (it was Thanksgiving week after all), training deviations due to scheduling conflicts, my internal dialog during the race, and so forth. This introspection is perhaps useful for future training, but now? Does any of that matter? I finished my first marathon. It was all worth it.
There is delight in the accomplishment, but also a sense of emptiness, a void to be filled: What’s next?