Sunday, October 9, 2011

Trips, Traps and Speedbumps

I'm not sure what it is about race weekends that make one reflect about things.  Participation isn't even a requirement really.

I'm not participating in the 2011 Chicago Marathon today in any way shape or form.  The event however, has an impact well beyond the borders of Illinois that's so visceral, I can feel it out here in California.  Twitter is blowing up with split times, well deserved "kick ass" hashtags and reports of post-race pizza that are making me drool as I write this.  So many people are experiencing the river of awesome that comes with your first marathon, the lake of misery you feel like you are drowning in at mile 20 and the crack cocaine version of the runner's high you get just from finishing.

Every time I see a mass start at a major marathon, I'm reminded of what it represents.  Just doing the math will blow your mind.  Take as an average an amateur who runs a 6 month program at 30 miles a week, a hugely conservative estimate.  That's 700 or so miles.  Multiply that by the 20,000 or so that might be out there and you get about 14 million miles run, just to prepare.  That's obviously going to vary based on the size of the marathon, but the number will always be huge.  Huge.  And occasionally, too much.  There are more than a few runners that are too injured to compete.  And that, my friends, sucks.

Two years ago this month I started running barefoot.  Or minimal.  Or whatever the hell you want to call running with as little as possible on my feet.

Two months later I gave myself a stress fracture that became so nasty, I heard an audible pop signifying the fact that I actually broke it.  When I went to the Doctor two months later (yeah, I know) he was amazed at how badly I snapped it.  The good news was that the ensuing calcification gave me an armored foot.  The bad news was that I needed to slow the hell down.

Slow down.  WTF.  I thought the point of this running thing was to go faster.

So I chilled.  I listened to my body.  I rested when I felt like it.  I ran hard when I felt good.  Barefooting reminds you that you have to listen more, and speak with your feet less.  It's going to take as long as it takes to get there.  And boy did it take a while.  It was months before I could start training for my first marathon, the 2010 Marine Corps.

What I decided however, was that it wasn't going to be about the event itself for me.  I was raising money for a charity, blogging, learning how not to bonk and just generally discovering what kind of a runner I wanted to become.  Of course, the type A in me (what little of that there is) was hell-bound to finish, but I managed to keep that in check most of the time during my journey to finish.  And that's exactly what it is to me.  A journey.  Sometimes it's a long strange trip, but it's a journey nonetheless.

For me, John Steinbeck was right when he said, "A journey is like marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it."

You can schedule things.  You can plan your runs to the 1/100th of a mile.  You can control every variable on a treadmill.  But sometimes, you can't control shit.

And when that sometimes happens, and all you can think of is shit, it sometimes helps to think of the journey.

The 3 hour bs'ing sessions with your running partners.  The long run you made and didn't think you would.  That bicyclist you passed on your way up the hill.

Because you know what?  All those tweets, signs, hoops and hollers are a representation of the journey, not the destination.

My best to everyone whose weekend was everything they thought it would be and to everyone who wishes it could have been more.  Enjoy the finish and/or relish the opportunity to get after it after you heal.

Just remember that Jimmy Buffett was right.  "If it doesn't work out there'll never be any doubt . . . that the pleasure was worth all the pain."

By Marcus with 6 comments


Wow, I really loved this post. Obviously, this hit very close to home for me. Thanks for the words. It helped me make a little more sense of my situation. Become more at peace with it in a way. You are a fantastic writer, btw. :) #CM12 :)

Thank you Andrea, that's much appreciated. Obviously you and others in your situation were at the forefront of my mind when writing this. It's always tough to see the forest through the trees when things go awry. Glad that it meant something to you!

Loved this post, too. I kind of like to think of the marathon as a big adventure more than a race. For me, it's not so much "how fast can I finish?" but "What do I have to do to finish amid all the crap real life is throwing at me?"

Thanks Brian, I appreciate the kind words. Personally, I have to keep reminding myself that I am training for a marathon, but my family isn't. That usually keeps me on the straight and narrow. When things go "pear shaped" as my british mentor used to say, I remind myself that if my priorities are correctly adjusted, things will work themselves out. It doesn't make it feel great when things don't match my expectations, but it takes the sting out of things.

Great post. I too am a barefoot or flat shoe when I need to runner. I love it. I got foolish and ran two miles after ankle injury. Still sorting this out now and am building up again with 7 miles every other day with a marathon in my sights in January. I have decided to treasure the journey and appreciate every run as I steadily learn how to run easy, smoother and lighter as I get better. I am lucky to have the support of my wonderful wife. Keep up the great posts.

Thanks for writing this Marcus. It was for many and it was for few. I have told you on many of our long runs how I wish I had your ability to take everything in stride. As I warned you about how you needed to run more and be more disciplined, look at who's injured and who's off cross training like a fiend playing hockey! As always, excellent writing my friend.

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