I’ve finished four half marathons. Somewhere along the way, much to my surprise, I discovered that I love to run. A friend once told me that you either love to train or you love to race -- but weirdly, I'm addicted to both. I love the permission to run as fast as I can and I get serious pleasure out of passing slower people along the way. But I also respond to the plodding repetitiveness of training: the simple urge to get out there every day, putting miles on the legs, slowly running on familiar streets.
Who knows what got into me, but I resolved to run a half marathon every year between the ages of 40 and 50. I’m not so athletic that I can roll out of bed and run 13 miles -- far from it -- so I figure that the act of training for and completing an annual race like this will keep me in pretty good shape at a time when it would be all too easy to let the demands of being a mom (I have a six-year-old son) and a wife (hi G!) and a colleague (I’m the deputy editor at MORE) and everything else drag me into exercise inertia.
Which goes to show that you should never get cocky about running. Because on Friday, as I was getting ready to officially start training for the More/Fitness Half Marathon, I got sick. A miserable, sore throat -- could it be strep? -- fever, chills, waking-up-mumbling-with-pain-in-the-middle of-the-night kind of sick.
I was flat on my back miserable for three days and completely wrung-out, dead on my feet for the next three. So the jaunty post I was going to write about all the reasons people think they can’t run -- and all the reasons that’s baloney -- went into the trash basket alongside a million damp Kleenexes.
I feel rotten.
And humble. What I imagined would be an exuberant start to my training is looking more like a clenched-jaw resolve to make it through the day. Along with a lot of sleeping.
Yet, in an odd way, I’m finding the blow to my plans rather comforting. The pleasure and challenge for me of a long race is that you have to train to finish, and you never know what’s going to happen.
It’s reminding me of the first half marathon I ran three years ago, also the More/Fitness Half, though in that case the upset to my plans came at the end of my training, not the beginning.
The day of the race, my friend Patti and I got to Central Park at 6 am, about two hours before the starting gun. The staging area was already filling up with women queuing for the Porta-Potties and checking bags, everyone humming with nervous anticipation. The day was hot, skimming 80 even this early, and temperatures were expected to climb even higher.
Patti and I bounced up and down and tried to look more confident than we felt. We had trained diligently. We’d done the speed drills and the hill intervals; we’d completed the long runs on the weekends. Before we started training, neither of us had ever run more than three miles in a row, and like ‘A’ students at school, we’d figured that if we did all our homework, it would turn out okay in the end.
Now the weather was getting in the way. Rumors started to fly that the race would be canceled. The problem wasn’t so much that 80 is too hot to run, but that the heat was so unexpected: Until that day, the temperature had rarely gone above 50 and no one was acclimated. Finally a ruling came down: no timers. The race would be downgraded to a fun run. Officials didn’t want anyone giving themselves heat stroke trying to race a personal best.
Patti and I were crushed. What was the point of training so hard if there would be no score at the end? But there was a freedom to it, too, for our first long race. We didn't have to beat the clock -- we could run the race our bodies wanted.
I hit a wall at mile 10 and felt like I was running through wet sand until the cheering crowd got me going again at mile 12. Other than that, I ran both loops around Central Park -- hills and all -- with a huge smile on my face. I felt great. I bought one of the pictures of me that day from the race photographer and I still have it, framed in my house, a happy reminder that it really is possible to set a goal and then…just…meet it. No matter the weather.
Miles this week: 2
Cross training: one swimming, one weights