Sunday, April 12, 2015

That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

Image result for Marathon hitting the wall
Yeah, right.   Who cooks up this stuff?   Clearly not a marathon runner. 

Actually it was Friedrich Nietzsche.   He also said “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”  I can relate to this one.    Pam and I are coming up on 40 years next month and she is still my best friend.  She says it is because nobody else will put up with me and as far as she is concerned I’m still on a trial basis.    I think I’ve finally softened her up and this could be the year she decides I’m a keeper.

I think a more appropriate saying for a marathoner would be “That which doesn’t kill us leaves one hell of a scar”.      Marathons are never pain free at least not for me.   How painful they will be is a function of four parameters:  how many injuries/battle scars you carry into the race, how soon the pain starts during the run, the degree of the pain, and the recovery time.     It’s a sad fact that the earlier you have a problem in a marathon, the slower you are going to go and the longer you are going to be out there dealing with the pain.   It is why experienced marathoners know to hold back for the first half of the race.   The only thing worse than being half way and knowing you’re already cooked is knowing it at 10 miles.  It makes for a really long day.

Anyone who knows anything about marathons has heard about the infamous “wall”; the point in a marathon where a runner crashes.     Runners describe it as “someone hoisted an elephant on my shoulders” or “my shoes were suddenly made of cement”.     I’ve been there and it’s not pretty.    The science behind this is pretty straight forward.   By the time you get to 18+ miles you have pretty much burned through all the carbs/glycogen you have stored in your body.   At this point you need to start burning fat instead.   There’s just one problem….well maybe three.  You need oxygen, water and glycogen to help burn the fat.   It’s wall time.    You are now sharing your oxygen with your fat burning oven and your muscles are screaming for more.    You also are syphoning off some of your body’s already depleted water supply to burn the fat.    The equivalent of eating a mouthful of peanut butter covered pretzels without anything to drink (try it…I dare you).  

If you happen to be running the Boston Marathon it is at this point that you realize you are in the midst of the 5 miles of Heartbreak Hill.    It’s one of the reasons the Boston Marathon is considered one of the toughest. 

Of course the “wall” isn’t all physical, there is a strong mental component as well.    I love the Yogi Berra quote “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical”.    As the body seizes up and the pain increases, the mind struggles to keep the body from stopping.    In the end it’s not typically the body that fails, but the will to keep pushing the body.  I guess that is the rational side of the brain. 

Despite a couple of dozen marathons,  and knowing better, I went out too fast last year and spent the final 10+ miles fighting with myself to finish.   In a week I’ll get another chance to do it right.  But this year injuries will rob me of any chance of finishing under the qualifying time for next year.    Instead this will be a race with the goal of avoiding the wall, staying healthy and finishing (preferably before dark).

Nietzsche had one quote that I think marathoners can relate to. 
“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” 

One week to go!

3 comments:

Robert Lownie said...

Congratulations to you and Pam on your 40 years together. Well done.

As ever, I'm impressed by your taking on the challenge of (yet another) Boston marathon.

I'll be with you in spirit (and no doubt Nick will be as well.)

Have a great race sir.

Robert Lownie said...

Congratulations to you and Pam on your 40 years together. Well done.

As ever, I'm impressed by your taking on the challenge of (yet another) Boston marathon.

I'll be with you in spirit (and no doubt Nick will be as well.)

Have a great race sir.

Catye said...

I just happened to pick this entry and how fitting it is for your current experience. There is such a strong correlation that can be made between a marathon and leukemia treatment... I look forward to talking more about it with yiu this weekend hopefully!