Friday, May 25, 2012

After the Marathon

Okay, it's been a month. I suppose I was nervous, training for the marathon, thinking I might not make it, thinking I might be an utter failure, hoping, as I always hope before a big event, that I might get struck by a comet and would no longer have to worry about running the marathon.

No such luck. May 20th came, I ran a marathon, and here I am.

I didn't update the blog over the final three, four weeks of my training, but I did get in one twenty-mile run (about 2 or 3 too few as it turns out), and I ran several float workouts, logging about a hundred miles total over the month. In retrospect, I wish that I had been updating the blog at least weekly, but, like I say, I had a latent kind of terror about running 26.2 miles -- holy crap! That's a long way.

In the meantime, I continued to plan with Dr. Stick about race strategy: we talked mileage and training and expectations and pace; some days we talked as though we might just walk the first half; other days, I'm certain, we had our sights set on Meb and Ryan Hall -- look out, fellas, we're gunning for the American records. In the end, I think we can all kind of agree "marathon race strategy" is an oxymoron at best . . . a joke at worst. (Also, it turns out Meb and Hall weren't running this one.)

For instance this: I had a series of goals, as I always do for a race or a workout, and the only goal I hit was that I didn't poop my pants. I said before the race I would be terribly sad if I didn't get in under four hours. I finished at 4:05 -- respectable, a few minutes above average for my age group, but well off my dream goal and worse than my worst expectation. If you had asked me before the race, I would have told you, I'd rather poop my pants than miss the four-hour goal.

Dr. Stick missed his goal time for a few minutes as well, and we're blaming the heat -- high 80s -- and the sun (a lot of it). Though I stuck with him until I could see the blue of the 18-mile marker, he beat me by better than twenty minutes, but he was the first person (in a crowd of 20,000 runners and countless spectators) that I saw afterwards, and he said, "Good run, buddy. When do you want to start training for the next one." And I felt like Rocky and Apollo at the end of Rocky when Apollo says, "Ain't gonna be no rematch." And Rocky says, "Don't want one." Except I was playing both Apollo and Rocky, and Dr. Stick was looking at me the way Desi does when she drops the tennis ball at my feet -- "Wanna play fetch? Wanna play fetch? Wanna play fetch?" The next one! Ha! I looked around for a way out, but there was no comet rushing towards me, so I had to admit that after today, I probably won't run another marathon for at least a year.

That was Sunday, by Monday, Dr. Stick and I were planning race strategies again, scheduling 5Ks, half marathons, a 10K, talking about the Chicago Marathon in a very real way.

I'm not going to take up any more space talking about the run itself, I can only say that I am a different person today than I was last week. I hadn't expected this -- I expected soreness, I expected exhaustion, I expected wanting a nap -- but finishing that first marathon, I'm certain, is going to be one of the events that I look back on again and again in coming years as a moment of transition. I felt greater success at the half marathon, but that race did not change me the way the marathon changed me. I can't explain it beyond that just yet, because I haven't had time or distance to reflect on the run, but, if you'd like to know more about the transition, go out, run a marathon -- I'm sure you'll understand. It's worth every mile of training in the rain and the sun and the frozen wind. I'll say more about it by and by.

After the race, Dr. Stick's four-year son, who is a pretty good friend of mine, gave me a high five. I said, "Did you get to see daddy finish the marathon?"

He said, "Yup."

I said, "He did great, didn't he?"

He said, "Yup."

I said, "Are you proud of him?"

He said, "Yeah. Oh yeah!" Then he tilted his head to the inquisitive side at just the angle you know something astute is on the horizon -- in my courses, I call it the "Aha!" moment, when a student realizes something that is clearly of great importance. He said, "But how come you finished all the way in the back?"

Well. Bud. I didn't have an answer for you then, and I still can only say, "It's a long story." I'm sure I'll sit you all down someday soon and tell you.

But, for now, I'll just say, in an attempt to not finish all the way in the back next time, I start a new cycle of training tomorrow, and I'm gonna try to keep the world posted on my continuing relentless pursuit of mediocrity.

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Meanwhile, thanks to Bob and Andrew for the great company and lending us a place to stay. Always a pleasure. In honor of our time together this weekend, I'd like to celebrate my favorite line from Bob's blog, "We are the Billy Joel one-man cover band." Watch the clip. You'll wish you could see them live.

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