I promised monthly updates on my training, I know, and then I skipped over July and August. The real reason is more along the lines of: I forgot to do it. But I think at this point I can also say that I didn't have time to do it. Because of all the running. And watching "Stranger Things"
The NYC marathon is now less than two months away and since I last wrote about my training, I've gone through quite a few stages in the process. I'm not a fast runner and probably never will be, but as the mileage-per-week increased throughout the summer I started to get a little quicker and more confident. I ran a ten-mile race in August and felt great the whole time, something I've never accomplished in any of the races I've completed. There's usually a moment or two, or 100, where I want to die. But this time I really enjoyed it. I made a buddy around mile six who was also in training for NYC, and chatting with her helped those latter miles click by. At mile nine, my very fast friend Tom (HI TOM!) who had somehow finished the race like two hours before me - I think I've got the math right on that - ran with us for awhile, cheering the whole way. And I was like, "Yes! This is why people get into this! The camaraderie and physical fitness! Running is the BEST!"
Cut to later that month when I was attending the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference (an amazing experience that deserves its very own post). The campus is nestled in the gorgeous mountans of Vermont, which meant that running in any direction involved long, intense hills. There was also a lot of wilderness, which was excellent for channeling Thoreau but bad for my fear of bears and murderers. I had some unforgettable talks with some wonderful new friends on those runs, but jogging up mountains was tiring after about a quarter mile. This caused me to reconsider the newfound strength I thought I'd gained. Then there were a couple mornings where I was supposed to go four miles and I went about two because I swear to you there was an animal in a bush that could have killed me.
So I was a little behind when I got home. No big deal, I thought. I completed a 12-mile run that Sunday, however, which you could call "contemplative" in its nature if you were being poetic, or "a hot and hellish slog" if you were being realistic.
I had to do 13 the following weekend and J mapped out a nice course that took me along the shoreline. I felt really good for the first seven miles. The last six were rough. It was, once again, a sweltering day and I should have refilled my water bottle sooner than I did, got pretty thirsty and experienced a rather depressing half hour at a slow shuffle with sweat and sunscreen running into my eyes, feeling like I was on some kind of desert vision quest; that my exhaustion, if I were lucky, might morph into a mystical experience with mirages and a shaman to guide me home. Instead I made it to a local seafood take-out counter and got a bottle of water. I finished but was starting to reconsider the idea of running for fun. For FUN. Who are these idiots?
Also! When would it be the part where I get to eat a lot of cupcakes without repercussions? And the part where I start looking like a super athlete? I thought I was going to be able to brag about my toenails falling off, at least, but they are still there.
I think – as with so many challenges – I kept wondering when the big payoff would arrive, ignoring the steady rate of improvement. I'm not an athlete in my normal life (to the dear friends who are remarking that this is an understatement I can TOTALLY HEAR YOU) and the simple fact that I could go these distances without a hospital visit was a sure sign that I was doing alright.
Then...it started getting better. In my most recent weeks of training, I’ve had some strange thoughts, indicative of a new mindset, one that I think is necessary to endure this insanity. Last weekend I ran a half-marathon in Maine, joking when I signed up, “This course is well-marked, right? Because I could get lost!” The kind people in charge assured me it was. Still, most of the participants went the wrong way about twenty minutes in. This was a hilarious and and bonding moment for all of us, and we were eventually redirected, but upon arriving at the “Mile 3” signpost, a fellow runner informed us all that her GPS had us at five miles. Five! Not three. Once the crowd had thinned out and I found myself running solo, enjoying woodsy enclaves interspersed with inlet views, I thought, without even remotely the proper amount of alarm, "I guess I’m doing 15 miles today.” I just kept on running, including an upbeat stretch near the end when I decided to put in my earphones for awhile and listen to the new pop music I'd been introduced to at a recent family wedding (THANK YOU MEGAN AND STEVE AND JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE! Plus: future post coming on my lack of knowing the new Macklemore like the rest of America.)
And then, just the other morning, having set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. but, when the unholy hour arrived, regarding the clock with pure menace and not getting out of bed at all, I started too late for that day’s prescribed seven-mile run. I’d never make it back in time to help out with the kids’ first day of school if I took it easy. “Ok,” I thought,“I’ll just have to run this seven miles fast." What?
Maybe I don't feel like a long distance runner in the way I thought I would, but the obvious fact surfacing here is that I can now run long distances. These persistent actions have yielded the correct outcome and despite the fact that I did not believe it possible during the last hour of that 13-mile seaside death jaunt, it seems that, come November, I will be able to run 26 miles.
It's a less glorious getting-there than I'd envisioned, but I am finally enjoying the sneakiness of this progress, the way these newfound habits have crept into my daily routine, sometimes as boring and all-important as the rest of it.
Before the Maine half-marathon-actually-15-miler, my father, one of the most accomplished people I know, still constantly worried about his daughter's well-being and confounded by the lunacy of my recent endeavors, gave me this advice: "Remember, you can quit anytime. You don't have to prove anything to anyone."
I'm a fan, as you know, of completing goals, but am also averse to the cheerfully trite aphorisms that fitness-related challanges can inspire. I liked my father's advice far better, and perhaps that's where I'll find my understated glory: that along these stretches of rugged New England coast and on the rocky paths of forests full of imagined predators, bumbling along the asphalt alone with my thoughts, engaged in podcasts or listening to music that makes me feel slightly foolish, I am reminded more often than I'd like to admit that I can quit.
Then I walk a few strides. Think about the most mundane and beautiful rewards, like an ice-cold Gatordade. And keep going.