I recently was approached by a friend of a friend who was planning to run a marathon. He was calling to ask for advice and started the conversation by proudly announcing he had bought the book “Marathon Training for Dummies” (a title that some might say is a bit redundant). When I asked how many miles a week he was running and for how long, he told me he hadn’t started yet. At this point I was tempted to suggest he start with the “Idiot’s Guide to Running”.
Why any sane person would want to start running with a marathon as the initial goal is beyond me. It occurred to me that maybe I should write a book called “The Smart Person’s Guide to Marathoning”. It could have chapters like “Pain: Learning to Live with and Love it”; “Port-a-Potties: my home away from home”; “Basking in the health benefits: wind burn, black toenails, swollen knees and heat rash”; “Enhancing your social life: trading alcohol for Gatorade”; “ Practical road skills: Dodging flying beer cans and burning cigarette butts” and of course “Time: I’ve got plenty so why not spend it running”. I figure any sane person would quickly bail on the idea of a marathon long before the end of the book. If by chance they do get to the end they are a prime candidate for the afore mentioned “Marathon Training for Dummies”.
But I digress. The question I typically get from non-marathoners is “What’s the toughest part of doing a marathon”? I can honestly say the second toughest is getting out the door for the first day of training. The toughest is keeping it up week after week, month after month as the distance, time commitment, and soreness increases.
I’ve mentioned before that I believe just about anyone with half a brain (or less) that sets their mind to it can run a marathon. But it does require a mental tenacity that far outweighs the physical effort required. This is why ideal marathoners often have a good balance of stubbornness and mental instability.
When you think about what it takes to commit to the training for a marathon it’s easy to see why most runners never make it to the starting line. Months of training 8-12 hours a week often at the cost of another hour in a warm bed or a night out with friends. But then who would want to miss all that quality time in the dark, in the rain, or snow, or freezing cold or all the above. And just to make sure you have something to keep you company during all that alone time, there are the injuries, aches, and pains that come with the increasing mileage. And let’s not forget the hazards of tripping while running in the dark (been there done that), getting sick enough to cough up a lung from running in the cold (pretty nasty), and wearing out body parts from over training (yup…been there too). Nothing is more frustrating than to be in the middle of your training and you have to hit the reset button because you lost a week or more to injuries or sickness.
Often rookie marathoners think the training is about getting the body in shape to run the marathon. In truth it is more about training the mind. No matter how much training you do, somewhere between 18-20 miles your body will run out of fuel and the battle shifts from physical to mental. You have now reached the zone I call Running on the Edge, where your body is telling you to stop and your mind is fighting with itself over taking another step.
Dealing with the Edge requires the mental training that comes from getting out there every day, often sore, sometimes injured, frequently sleep deprived, and fighting self imposed doubts. And doing it day after day, week after week, month after month. To make it to the starting line you have to be convinced that Quitting is not an option. To make it to the finish you will need all that training and more.
On Race day when you are in the Edge zone your mind and body collaborate to present reasons why you should stop. Sometimes it’s “You’ll never make it up this next hill”, “Your doing permanent damage to your body”, “Your too old for this”(I get this one a lot), “If you just stop now the pain will go away” (it doesn’t), and my favorite “Lots of people don’t finish…nobody will care if you don’t”. Often when it gets bad there are little events that help strengthen my resolve…the crazy antics from the crowd (especially the girls at Wellesley and the beer loving spectators at BC), the next water stop just a quarter mile up the road, a downhill stretch when you really need it or a friend or family member yelling encouragement and support (and handing you jelly beans).
In our lives most of us have had those times when we are Running on the Edge. When the world seems to have turned against you, when the problems are piling up with no end in sight, and when you can’t see your way clear of the situation. Mostly We want to curl up in bed and make the world go away. To just call it quits.
I was reminded of this again the other day when we were approached to assist a family through Help in the Nick of Time. The story is a familiar one with the parents out of work for an extended period of time, behind on house payments, and trying to keep the family together, food on the table, and a roof over their heads. You could say they are a family who’s Running on the Edge. I can imagine that after many months of fighting this battle every day these parents just want to throw in the towel. But despite all the troubles they face, Quitting is not an option. In the room nearby are children depending on them to keep going. It takes far more strength for these families to face another day and keep going than it does for me to make it through a marathon.
But much like the little well timed encouragements in the late stages of the marathon, a little help and support is sometimes all it takes to give them a second wind. This is the goal of Help in the Nick of Time.
So, what keeps me going through the cold, snow, soreness and injuries? It’s knowing that in a small way what I’m doing (with your help) brings hope and help to a family who has already made up their minds that Quitting is not an Option.
Two weeks to race day and counting….