I love the marathon. I love the way every long run challenges me to expand my idea of what my body can do, and the way those long runs feel more like journeys than exercise.
I love that those long runs truly make me evaluate what I eat based on the fuel my body needs — something I thought I did already. Now, I truly evaluate everything I put in my mouth based on what will help my body recover from and prepare for my workouts, as evidenced by my newfound love for and fascination with Clif shots.
I love that, for many people, the marathon is a life milestone — something they do on their 30th or 40th or 50th birthday to cross off the lifelong to-do list, or something they do to honor a lost loved one. I love that the distance is scary to me, despite having run it once before. I love that it’s a giant question mark on the calendar, asking me whether I’d like to be a wimp in the days leading up to the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 25, or whether I’d like to be strong, to paraphrase Peter Maher.
All of that said, can I be honest here and admit that the marathon can be a serious bitch, too?
I’m done with the hardest part of training, so this isn’t a burnout thing so much as an urge to answer a question that’s been bouncing around in my brain since I registered: Is it possible I just prefer to stick with halves?
First, there’s my immune system, which is usually solid thanks to a my produce-heavy diet. Not only did I catch a cold to begin with, but the sneaky little jerk randomly reappeared yesterday morning in the form of out-of-control sneezing and sniffling. The cold first took root after my 21-miler a week or so ago, which can’t be a coincidence.
Then, there’s my wacky metabolism. In theory, it’s awesome to have to basically double your daily caloric intake to make up for the 2,000 or so calories burned on a 20-mile run. In reality, it’s cool the day of the run, but confusing and annoying the rest of the week. “Wait,” my body seems to say at the end of every meal, “I thought it was all-you-can-eat, all-the-time. No?” It’s hard to keep all those extra calories healthy, which is a pretty major priority of mine, and a goal that is not at all conducive to my propensity for eating mass quantities of brownie batter after long runs (I only did this once. But still … )
And there’s the matter of my joints. The amped-up core routine I started back in July seems to have kept my longtime hip problems at bay. But I’d forgotten how, even when everything goes well, the final miles of really long runs sometimes hurt so badly, you wonder if something is broken. This past week, everything from my ankles to my right IT band (i.e., not the one I usually have problems with) ached for the last few miles of my 16-miler. I was fine until I stopped, in which case I had to shake myself out and half-limp for a few strides until I loosened up again. I felt fine after, too, but that sensation can’t possibly be a good thing.
And how about the urge to, as one runner-friend described it, wrap oneself in bubble wrap until race day to prevent injury or illness? One of my favorite things about training for a distance race is the way it forces me to adopt healthier habits, going to bed earlier, drinking less wine, eating better food. But I’m to the point now that I’m popping echinacea a few times a day, eating enough Vitamin C-rich foods to kill a large horse and considering taking Airborne as a preventative measure. I’ve also turned down a couple backpacking trips for fear that they’ll trash my legs and twist my ankles. While I get that bubble-wrap urge before half-marathons, too, it typically only applies to the week before the race rather than the month beforehand. Oh — and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that I’m popping a prescription anti-inflammatory per day to keep swelling at bay. It’s with my doctor’s blessing, of course, but again, nothing I want to keep up for the long-term.
Yep. I think I may be fine with halves. But here’s the thing: This line of thinking sounds dangerously familiar to me. I ran my first marathon with the idea that it’s something I’d do only once, so I could cross it off my life to-do list. But that finish line is seductive, and the next day at work, I spent the entire day searching for my next marathon. We’ll see if this race has a similar effect.
In other running news: I almost skipped my group run with Pacers Silver Spring last night thanks to the aforementioned sneezing and sniffling. But I remembered the neck rule, and since all my symptoms were above my neck, I gave it a shot. I headed out on a gloriously cool fall night with three of my running buddies who typically help me push the pace. We managed a roughly five-mile run in less than 40 minutes — 7:49-minute-mile pace, according to my nike +! A nice reminder of another rule of thumb: When in doubt, always remind yourself you usually feel better after a run than you did before it.