The details of my attempts to be a better runner, person and parent by completing a(nother) marathon
Friday, April 13, 2012
Quest for a medal or a test of your mettle ?
My goal here on Just Don't Stop Running, is, and always has been, to try to capture the esoteric overlap of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and a marathon finisher's medal. Well, not so much the "liberty" part. Not that liberty isn't important, as there are fewer goals more noble, its just not a topic that's addressed here, and you can't really mention life and the pursuit of happiness, while ignoring liberty;( without fearing the wrath of the ghost of Thomas Jefferson or your High School History Teacher.)
Anyway...I found something in The Boston Globe, and later on Boston.com that seemed to sum up what I've been trying to say for months, in one fairly concise essay. While I was a little bummed that someone else was able to convey my own thoughts so much better than I was, I was also very glad to read something that I could relate to so well. Just as there will always be better runners than I am, there will also be better writers, as well. ( I am in fact, writing this in fear that he's going to read it, and judge me on my spelling, grammar and writing ability ) I have generally found that I have very few genuinely serious mental dilemmas that have not been previously addressed and clarified by Robert Frost, or Jimmy Buffett,( who would surely have been kindred spirits were they ever to share a drink or moment ) Luckily my readership is relatively limited, and I take great comfort in that fact. So, from today's Boston Globe, the words of Professor Rotella ( reprinted with his permission , for which I am grateful ) I wish him, and everyone else who toes the line in Hopkinton on Monday all the best in reaching their destination, whether it's geographical, spiritual or phyiscal.
On Monday,I will run the Boston marathon again. When I’m done, I’ll lie around for the rest of the day and then go on about my business, secure in the knowledge that my efforts will have had no effect at all on the world. Even if I run it much faster than I’ve run it before, which is unlikely, I recognize that nothing significant will have been achieved. And I’m certainly not doing it for the attention. I’m glad that practically nobody will notice me among the thousands of runners, and I’ll be embarrassed by the congratulations or sympathy - depending on how I do - offered by family and friends.
So what am I after? The rewards are entirely, even pathologically, personal and internal. I appreciate the sense of efficacy that comes from making my way through the world under my own power, and having a couple of marathons a year to prepare for puts an extra edge of purpose on every run. I’m not much of an athlete, and I have no use for bluster about sports and character, but I do like the idea that doing one difficult thing equips you to do another. And if I manage not to tank in the homestretch this year, there will be an additional satisfaction that comes of getting Boston right. I’ve run my slowest marathons in Boston; come Monday evening I’d like to be able to conclude that I finally ran this race as well as my limited abilities allow.
The marathon will also be another 26.2-mile installment in an extended meditation on the value of experience that began around mile 20 of the first marathon I ever ran - in Burlingon, Vermont, four years ago.
I had been talked into trying a marathon by a friend who, unlike me, had trained in earnest and knew what he was getting into. When the starting gun sounded, I made a classic novice mistake: I set out running as fast as I possibly could, and kept the accelerator floored the whole way. My speed flagged as I got tired, then unspeakably tired, and then, around mile 20, it felt as if my soul died and went to hell while my body lurched on, zombie-like. I have never felt worse in my life than during those final miles, which seemed to last forever - in part because my brain, stunned by glycogen depletion, couldn’t manage the simple math to figure out how much longer my suffering would last.
But even in my addled state I could perform the basic cost-benefit analysis that kept me going to the finish. I was 43, and I knew myself well enough to understand that hating myself forever for quitting would be worse than six miles of temporary woe.
In each marathon I’ve run since then I’ve gnawed on the bones of what I discovered in Burlington. Over the past four years I’ve picked up some rudimentary knowledge about training, pace, and strategic patience, but I’ve also learned to fear just how awful I will feel if I run out of gas in the homestretch. I now understand what’s so scary about that nightmarish undersea sensation of entropic collapse brought on by my own incompetence. It’s a point-by-point, funhouse-mirror refutation of my reasons to run marathons at all.
The twist in this meditation is also the key to it: My first marathon remains the fastest I have run. Inexperience - especially ignorance of how bad I was going to feel later in the race - allowed me to go all-out in Burlington in a way I no longer want to allow myself to do, now that I know the price I will pay. So on Monday, once again, my desire to master myself and get it right will go head-to-head against my reluctance to go all-out and suffer accordingly.
There’s a larger life lesson and a miniature model of a life story compressed into that struggle. Middle age brings a measure of expertise and even wisdom, but also a careful self-control that can put out of reach what you were capable of when you were younger, dumber, and more willing to make a revelatory mistake.