Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
It has been 129 days and 7 hours (as I write this) since my last marathon. If you’ve read earlier posts you’ll know that I’m taking off the early part of this year from marathon training and racing to recharge, rest, get stronger, and clear my mind of the mental pressure that accumulated after racing 5 over a 57 week period in 2010-2011.
But with every passing week, and each passing race, I find myself missing it more and more. This break is working! My heart is growing more fond of something that, while I never stopped loving, I had grown weary of the pressure of training and trying to achieve faster goal paces. I needed this mental and physical break, but as my 70.3 approaches, I find myself looking beyond May 12 and to the “summer of Gordon”– where I’ll slowly build my marathon base back to race levels, and a little higher. And to the fall where I’ll begin training for my 8th marathon (to be decided later) and another attempt at BQ.
I miss the training. I miss the buildup to weekend long runs and the anxiety and joy that they bring. I miss what marathon training does to me—at once, it makes me joyful, strong, crazy, anxious, neurotic, tired, elated, proud.
I am convinced that save for the ironman triathlon distance, there is no other test of will, mental acuity, dedication to goal, and physical condition than racing a marathon. I’ve never felt as low as I do at points during a race, and I’ve never felt as proud and high as I do when I finish. Every race is different and teaches me something about myself. I’m learning how to race 26.2 miles, but I will never master it–no one will. The marathon is a lifelong learning experience, a gift, if you will, that never stops giving.
My life as of late has been defined and transformed by this race. While training for the past 7 races, I’ve undergone a transformation of epic proportions, mentally, physically, emotionally. So to revisit this race, to pay it homage with my time and energy and devotion is my way of saying “thank you” to this thing that has led to so much change in my life.
I miss building a training plan and race strategy, and following it to fruition and then seeing what race day brings to elevate my running or pose unforeseen challenges. I love the nervous energy of a race expo. How we feed off of each other, seeking support while also measuring up fellow runners for the race that is to come.
I miss training more than the race itself. While the race is a “victory lap” of sorts, I miss training for the race more than the race itself. Sounds goofy, but bear me out. There is comfort and challenge and regularity in a marathon training schedule. For at least 16-18 weeks, I build and recover and repeat the process. It changes slightly in terms of distance per week or types of runs, but I know that each week my routine is the same, and each week I must find it within me to get through another set of challenges, pressure, fatigue, and distance.
Then there is taper (which sucks–moving right along). And the race. The two-to-three weeks surrounding a race is fun since I am at the end of another training cycle and get to see how honest I have been with myself, and how my training strategy will pay off, but I despise taper and recovery! Yes. Yes, I know they are necessary and vital to growth as a runner. I fully admit that and embrace them when they arrive. That doesn’t mean I have to like them when they are around!
I love how during a marathon I find myself attracted to other sports. Often, between miles 18-24, I’ll find myself thinking: “Cycling sure seems like it would be a lot of fun. I should’ve been a cyclist! You get to sit down. Coast on descents. What was I thinking registering for this race. When this is over I am becoming a full-time cyclist, or go into motocross, or woodworking.”
I love the feeling I get as I cross a finish line, no matter how well or badly I raced that day. The sense of accomplishment. The pride I feel as I walk through the finish line area and hear the cheers of people I have never met. I beam.
I’ve completed 7 marathons. And with each approaching race I have tremendous doubt about myself; whether I can run that long, if I’ll ever finish another one. I mean, I KNOW I’ll finish, but no one serious about this sport will tell you that they never doubt themselves leading into a marathon. Go watch “Spirit of the Marathon” and listen to Deena Kastor, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, Amby Burfoot, Dick Beardsley. Elites go through the same emotions we plodders experience. They just suffer these emotions while running much faster!
And this is the beauty of this race. It humbles each and every one of us, from the Ryan Halls of the world to the Gordon Harveys. It exposes our weaknesses, where we held back in training, our deepest anxieties about ourselves, and it elevates our deep need to prove to ourselves again and again that we CAN do this. We CAN finish or set a PR or a world record or, in my case, qualify for Boston.
I love the marathon. And yes, sometimes I hate the marathon. Sometimes at the same time! But for a guy who never thought I’d run more than one, or run faster than a sloth, I am in a lifelong love affair with the marathon. And I’m never letting her go, no matter how much she hurts me, humbles me, and teaches me lessons about myself than I can learn nowhere else.