On Monday, the 2014 Boston Marathon was run. We all remember how the 2013 race was disrupted by the terrorist bombings that killed three while maiming and wounding hundreds. For the last year, the lock screen on my iPad has been this one, from the London Marathon which was run a week after the Boston Marathon bombing.
Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images / Boston Globe
On Tuesday, in only marginally related news, registration opened for the 2015 Disney World Marathon in Florida.
I signed up and paid my fees to run the Disney Marathon next January.
I’ve run the Los Angeles Marathon twice, as well as a couple half marathons while training, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m signing up for. I just wish that I were more enthusiastic about the training and running.
If I had a FaceBook status for my relationship with running, it would be “It’s complicated.”
Get ready for some whiplash here. The classic angel on one shoulder and devil on the other are going to spell it out for you.
On the “pro” side, I know from experience that I feel better after I run. Maybe it’s just the endorphin, maybe it’s dodging the guilt of not running for another day, but I really do feel better.
On the “con” side, I hate having a run coming up, particularly the longer ones later in training. The day or two of dread feels worse than the actual run itself.
Pro: It’s psychologically and physically good for me to get my butt moving in the morning. It keeps me feeling young, shows the world that I’m not as old as the calendar says, proves that I’ve still “got it.”
Con: I hate getting out of a nice, warm bed to go out into the cold (and sometimes wet and sometimes windy) morning. Maybe I really am getting older and it’s time to admit it and allow myself to be lazier.
Pro: Assuming that I’m not ready to find a comfy chair and sit in it waiting for the Grim Reaper, I benefit a lot from the exercise. Big time! Cardiovascular health, better respiration and endurance, better strength (I also throw in some weight training with the running). All go a long way toward not only letting me live to 90 instead of 75 or 110 instead of 90 (I have a lot of faith in medical advances over the next forty to fifty years). In addition, it’s more likely that I’ll be active at 90 instead of bedridden and in a wheelchair at 80.
Con: While it might be better for the cardio and weight loss and overall fitness and making my 80’s and 90’s possible and better, running hurts right now. There are muscle aches up one side and down the other, no matter how careful you are. Blisters. The actual races can be an absolute hell — there’s a reason that Pheidippides died at the end of the first marathon.
Pro: While the physical part is not to be discounted or ignored, in the end getting through a marathon is about 90% mental. You have got to learn how to hit your limits and force yourself to keep going. You have got to learn how to persevere. You have got to find depths of “intestinal fortitude” and self-discipline that you never knew were possible. All of these things are very good things to know and have in your skill set when life throws other crap at you.
Con: Did I mention that it’s hard?
Pro: Running a marathon will drastically improve your mental self-image. Less than 0.5% of Americans ever attempt a marathon, and many of them don’t finish. If you’ve gotten to the finish line, you will have a sense of accomplishment that no one can ever take away from you. (More below on this.)
Con: Did I mention the warm bed?
Pro: Running a marathon will drastically improve my physical image. No amount of surgery and/or Hollywood special effects are going to make me a stud muffin, but I can at least try to get back to the point where I can wear a checkered shirt without it looking like the latitude and longitude lines on a Mercator projection globe.
Con: I don’t waaaaannnaaaaaaa!
Pro: I’ve always preferred to have the mental attitude of, “Plenty of time to rest when I’m dead!”
Con: Yeah, yeah, whatever. That sounds like an awful lot of hard work. Couldn’t I just sit here on the couch, watch TV, and eat ice cream? Please?
Side Note: For the record, when I say “running a marathon” anywhere here, the same thing goes for running a half-marathon, a 10K, a 5K, a mile, or whatever it is that pushes your limits out to where you didn’t think they could go. Don’t justify doing nothing because you can’t run a marathon. If you can barely make it around the block, you can set the goal for a mile. If you can do a mile, you can work toward a 5K. And so on.
So why am I running again, and why something on the other side of the country? Because I promised my niece that I would. She wants to run a marathon and she wants it to be that one, the Disney World Marathon. A year ago or so, when I happened to be in town and we ran a 5K together. We talked about marathons, and she asked if I would run Disney with her at some point. “Sure!” I said, probably confident that we were talking about a hypothetical scenario that would never come to pass. But then…
With all of what I’ve said, in the end my primary motivation these days is guilt. (Great, my Catholic grade school education is finally proving its worth!) Left to my own devices, that bed stays warm and comfy and the training miles stay unrun. That’s why my first marathon time was 7:21:18. Of course, the torrential downpour and near-freezing conditions didn’t help.
The second time, I joined a running group, which helped a lot. I made a lot of good friends, we motivated each other, and it made it a little easier to get up at 5AM every Saturday for seven months for a 7AM training session. Again, guilt (in the form of not wanting to let your friends down) helped a lot.
Yes, it was that cold. It doesn’t matter if it’s SoCal, in January and February it’s less than 40F out there, which is cold no matter where you are. It helped my finish time quite a bit. Which brings me to that final point that I promised above, the ultimate “pro” argument.
For that second LA Marathon, I trained hard. I had been training for a sub-6:00 finish, and had fantasies about maybe a 5:45 or even a 5:30-ish finish. Despite all of my pre-race training to set my pace and keep to it, I went out much faster than I expected. (Adrenaline! Ask for it by name!) But by Mile Six I settled down into my pace at about 13:10 per mile. That would make a 5:45 finish possible, if I could hold it.
Then about Mile Nine in Hollywood, I started getting really bad cramps in the soles of my feet. (It was very odd, I’ve never had cramps there before or after. I usually get them in my calves.) By about Mile Seventeen I could barely walk. I steadily watched as my estimated finish time (there are some really good apps out there) went up and up. My tracking message at the 20K mark (you can get these sent to your phone in most big races at 10K, 20K, 30K, 40K, and finish) estimated a 6:00:04 finishing time. At 30K, it was up to an estimated 6:18:25 finishing time. There went my sub-6:00 target!
As you can see, at the 40K mark (which is about 100 yards before the Mile Twenty-Four banner), I was at a 15:01 minutes per mile pace, and the system estimated my finishing time at 6:33:43. Right then and there, I decided that I was NOT going to finish with a time over 6:30. It was going to hurt, I was going to be in agony, I had seen several target goals come and go, but I was not going to go past the 6:30 mark. Being carried off the course unconscious was the only acceptable option other than hitting that 6:30 target.
So I started running. And running. At the end of twenty-four painful miles where I had started at a sub-13:00 pace, then slipped to 13:30, to 14:00, to 15:00, I ran that last segment of San Vicente and hit the left turn onto Ocean Boulevard faster than I had been at the start of the race.
I could see the finish line ahead. The final marker at Mile Twenty-Six had a race clock on it, which was just getting to 6:34 elapsed time as I went past it. But I had crossed the start line six and a half minutes after the elite runners, so I knew that I was at somewhere around 6:27:30 with 385 yards to go, a little over a fifth of a mile.
Sitting here, “a fifth of a mile” sounds trivial. Just down to the end of the block or so. But then and there, I was in agony. I couldn’t breath, both feet were cramping, I was sweating like a stuck pig, and I could barely see. But I ran that final 385 yards in about 2:20.
You’ve seen pictures of people hitting the pavement face first within twenty or thirty yards of the finish line? I was almost that guy. I hit the finish line, didn’t slow down for at least another twenty feet just to make sure, then just concentrated on staying on my feet. I immediately felt the phone vibrate and ding, indicating that my final times were in, but I had to get wrapped in a mylar blanket, get my medal, go get something to eat and drink, and keep moving because if you go down at that point you’ll stay down. Even with the race over, I still had over a mile to walk to get to my car through huge crowds of runners, families, and volunteers.
I finally checked the time, praying that it wasn’t 6:30:01 or something that would really piss me off.
6:29:53. I had made it by seven seconds.
That’s a 12:17 pace for that final 1.36 miles, and about an 11:40 pace for that last fifth of a mile. I hadn’t “won”, I wasn’t even close to being first in my age group. (If I had been a woman between 80 and 85, I would have been kicking ass and taking names!) None of that mattered. I had pushed through and refused to quit.
Now, if I can just remember that feeling of accomplishment — three or four days a week — at six in the morning — when the bed is warm and dry and the road isn’t either — and I’m sore.
Or at least remember that I promised my niece and bragged here to all of you, so I’ll really look like rancid worm slime if I bail out and bag it.
Pride is much better than guilt, but often not as powerful.