When you’re a distance runner, you hear a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t run a marathon: training will take too much time, it will dominate your life, you won’t be able to go out with your friends anymore, you’ll ruin your knees (your feet, your hips …), it’s just crazy ….
Despite all of the reasons I’ve heard, I’ve never had anyone tell me that running a marathon will make me lazy – and yet (for me) that’s the dark underbelly of marathon training. I’ve not heard another endurance athlete admit to this, so I wonder if it’s just me. I can stick to a plan, put in the miles, show up on Marathon Morning, and get the job done. And when I cross the finish line, I’m done. Not just for the day. Not just for the two or three weeks recommended for recovery. I’m done.
Since I was fighting injury for most of the lead-up to Boston Marathon and couldn’t train at full-capacity, I thought I’d come back from Boston more quickly than usual. I set some ambitious goals for 2015 – dialing back my distance to focus on half-marathons, working on my speed and endurance in an effort to break my PR from 1995. I followed Boston with a birthday trip to New York City, where I put in a shake-out run on tired legs through Central Park. And then I was done.
For the next few months I went through the motions in a half-assed way. In May I ran twice, and a few more times in June (motivated only by a Ragnar Relay and a determination not to let down my teammates). I had a triathlon in early August, but did precious little to prepare for it. I kept working with my strength trainer twice a week – and thank goodness for Juan continuing to challenge me in the gym – but that was the closest I came to consistency. (Unless you count the once or twice-monthly brewery runs that worked into my schedule; I have a nice collection of pint glasses to show for it.)
By late summer (with the triathlon looming large), I started to make noises about getting back into a routine. I talked with my running coach, we discussed plans, but when push came to shove I had no shortage of excuses to cut short or (more often) postpone my scheduled runs. Some were legitimate – an upper-respiratory infection, throwing out my back – but for the most part I had become accustomed to taking the easy way out.
Hitting ‘reset’ became a part of my so-called training vocabulary. Sick this week? That’s okay, I’ll hit reset next week. Back hurts? Hit reset. A busy week at work? Hit reset. Just not feeling it? Hit reset.
I don’t know exactly when, but as fall turned into early winter I figured out that I wasn’t hitting reset. I was hitting the snooze button. I was warm and cozy and comfortable where I was. I’d put on some weight, lost strength and endurance and running was damn hard work. I was lying to myself exactly like I do every morning when the alarm goes off: I don’t need to get up yet, it won’t take that long to get ready, I can do it later, I’ve got plenty of time ….
On Thanksgiving (too out-of-shape to run the local Thanksgiving half-marathon that I’d told myself all year that I’d run) I ran a DIY Turkey Trot – 4 slow miles before Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Through the end-of-semester craziness and giving finals, I squeezed in a few runs every week. During the holidays, I took advantage of the free time to add a few more weekly runs to my schedule.
As I rang in 2016, I signed up for two half-marathons and set some goals for the new year. At first every run was hard. I could barely remember it being any other way, but I kept running. I started working harder at the gym (admittedly this was more my trainer’s doing than mine). I started paying more attention to what I was eating and what food I had near me.
I can’t be trusted to gather up my gear before work (remember the lies I tell myself?), so I stocked my office with all the gear I need to head out for an afternoon run or put in another workout. Open my file cabinet and you’ll find two drawers stuffed full with running shoes, tights, an assortment of layers, head lamp, safety vest, swim suit, goggles – even a foam roller. I’d become good at taking advantage of ready-made excuses, but it’s awfully hard to convince myself that I can’t manage a short run when I have everything I need right there. I don’t hit all of my workouts – life and work can lay waste to my best plans – but when I miss one I reassess, rearrange, and move forward.
It’s been humbling making my slow way back to strength and fitness. I can’t help but compare where I am now with last year when I was in the thick of training for Boston. It’s hard not to wonder what I might have accomplished if I’d not taken the better part of a year off, but I suppose there’s a lesson to be learned in that too.
I’ve been back at it for over two months. It’s taken almost that long to start feeling signs of progress and to be confident that I’ll stick with it. Even the hard runs are feeling good again, and it’s nice not taking it for granted. I’m not where I want to be (honestly, when have I ever been?), but at least I’ve found the right road.