Wednesday, October 6, 2010

During one of my runs last week I began to think, and for some reason thinking while running is crystal clear for me. The mind seems to take a mini vacation from the random and stressful thoughts which plague me during everyday activities and most often all at once. Time and again I wonder if there is a recording device out there I could wear while running so as to “write” papers for school, or philosophy for that matter. At times my thoughts become so clear that brilliancy is just around the corner and I know this because eventually these even start confusing me. This thinking led to a specific concept or idea I wanted to write about.

Running a marathon is grueling. There is no other way to put it, yet during training runs it is all I can think about. This usually comes in the sense of running another in hopes of bettering my time. Although times are important, training to run a strong race is what feels the best and provides the true reward in the end. Nothing compares to crossing a finish line with strong legs, heart, and mind. In fact, the best times I have had in racing occurred while either not wearing a watch or barely glancing at it during the run. This idea evolved from training with my heart and not necessarily a clock.

Most people view 26.2 miles as something they could never accomplish on foot. For some, driving the distance is a task which would rather be ignored. Even as a runner, I would have to agree the distance can look daunting. However, when a runner focuses on a race, it is not the total distance which is sought after, but rather the increments it will take to total up that mileage. Each runner is different and these increments are customized according to previous racing strategies and training efforts that place a mental mark on specific mileage. Intense, I know. Exciting to a non runner? Not so much.

As I toe the line per say, anxiously waiting the starting horn, (no more guns these days) I begin to feel nervous and strong simultaneously. The strength comes from months of preparation and a few weeks of tapering just prior to race day. At times I have done nothing but eat, run, and sleep during peak training months. Wait a minute though, I am a family man so often sleep is a bit trying in order to fit it all in. Being nervous is normal and is what I keep telling myself, although the nervousness can creep into self doubt when thinking once again of the distance. But when the horn sounds and I take off, strategy arises and becomes an autopilot guiding me through the first few miles.

Mile 7 is where the calmness sets in and a feeling of trust encompasses my thoughts regarding the preparation I completed for the marathon. There were many days running and many opportunities put on hold for long solo runs in order to build endurance. A quick glance at the watch will give some sound guidance into pace versus exertion. But it must be quick, and no math is allowed for calculating the current pace for the rest of the run because it will just lead to anxiety. I focus on my form and strength for now.

The half way point can be both exhilarating and worrisome at the same time. This marks how the race is going. I have run many half marathon races and the 13.1 mile distance has a specific mental time versus strength mark attached to it. If the timer shows close to my personal record of the half, I fret knowing I still have a lot of road ahead. Yet if the time is too slow, my pace quickens and the possibility of bonking before the finish is in reason. The clock tells me where I should be at this point of the race in order to meet expectations of a dignified finish. But do I focus on the clock or feel for my heart and motivation. This back and forth battle eventually settles when I revert my thinking back to the training mentality of endurance. I am now focused on the next increment.

Upon reaching mile 18 the leg muscles are a little worked and the notion of quitting edges into mind. I am not sure of the exact calculations but this seems to be three quarters of the way complete and although I am tired, it is a small victory. Passing this mark will put me into the realm of distance seldom run. Even training runs rarely surpass 18 miles. This surge of positive energy will carry me through the next few miles and combined with the cheering of neighbors crowding their streets can be overwhelmingly emotional. It can even make the simplest of men feel like the finest of athletes.

And then it happens. Mile 22, or thereabouts, has been known collectively among marathoners as “the wall”. The muscles are used, the motivation is lackadaisical, and the energy level lies somewhere between an empty tank and the gas light coming on with no filling station in sight. It is a tough spot. As I look to my watch for some guidance I realize that stopping right now would be just fine and time seems irrelevant. The only thing that will get me through this lies deep within and comes from training and preparation for this moment in particular.

Jesus wept. That is what comes to mind. I am not sure why, but can only attribute this extreme random thought to a friend telling me this remains the shortest verse in the bible. Bizarre, yet inspiring all together as I think of the gifts I have been given and no way am I going to get this far to throw it away. The training was too hard and the sacrifice of commitment is not worth giving up on. There will be no need for weeping here. I will prevail and characterize God’s talents bestowed upon me.

Once the 26 mile mark comes into view and is passed, a smile crosses my face as I know the hardships put forth in order to reach this point. No one has ever said how hard, yet how fast one can run the final 0.2 distance of the marathon. It is rewarding to cross the line feeling strong all the while knowing the endurance and patience it took. However, where can I find a discreet place to throw up? I guess it will just have to wait until later. Right now this feels pretty good, and the clock says it should.