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To this point I have been reluctant to say much about my running “career” in this space.  This is partly because so many real runners have written so much on the subject, so well.  Novelists, philosophers, ultra-marathoners, medical doctors, biologists – there is a vast and beautiful canon of literature, fiction and non-fiction alike, covering seemingly everything.  (A few of my favorites:  Murukami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running“, Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run“, and a very interesting book by Bernd Heinrich called “Why We Run: A Natural History” – a mix of evolutionary biology and a tale of distance running greatness that predates Scott Jurek’s adventures in the Copper Canyons by a couple of decades.)

And partly because I am such an incredibly average runner that I have little to say with regards to the act itself.  I can summarize my lifetime of running as follows:  I’m forty years old, and, at six foot two and 195 pounds, have a body that was built more for sacking small villages in northern England than racing from Marathon to Athens.  I’ve been running with varying degrees of consistency since I was six, and the main difference between now and then is that everything hurts a lot more.

I should say, though, that along the way I have had the opportunity of training with a few genuinely gifted athletes.  Most of them are among the most beautiful people I have ever met:  humble to the core, individuals who truly appreciated the gifts they were given, did it all for the right reasons, and got everything their bodies had to offer.  I once ran a couple of relay races with a man who finished 5th at the Boston marathon, which was an amazing privilege.

And others, sadly less so; you can be fast and still be a jerk.  But this is true of anything.  I know of no activity which, simply by virtue of excelling at it, guarantees one’s essential humanity.

So why write this now?  Because I think just maybe my relationship with running is undergoing a long-overdue evolution, moving to what I hope is a healthier place.  I feel like I need this to remind myself later by, lest I get caught up in bad habits again.  See, the thing is, I used to hate running, but I did it anyway, mostly to burn calories so I could eat like a fool and stay somewhat thin.  Now I love it, and seriously don’t know how I could live without it.  The problem, though, is that love has often been unrequited – and nowhere more than in my marathoning efforts.

I’ve trained for four marathons in my life.  Three I actually started, two I finished, and one I ran well – the 2010 Seattle marathon, where I ran the race of my life (again, that isn’t saying much.  I ran a very humble three hours twenty-seven minutes, or 7:56 a mile.  Not great, but at least I would’ve beat Paul Ryan.  And seriously – who lies about their running times?  That’s as low as it gets.)

Paul Ryan

Dude – you just suck.

Anyway, it’s the race that I didn’t even start that I’ve been thinking about the most lately.  This was the summer of 2011, and I had made up my mind to build on the success of that Seattle marathon, and see if I could run even faster.  Instead, I wound up over-training, trying to ramp too much too fast, and getting seriously hurt.  I trained for 18 weeks, right up to the end.  The last weekend the schedule called for 10 miles on Saturday, and 20 more on Sunday.  My left shin was bad – I mean, I knew I was in trouble – but I did the Saturday run anyway, with the help of a couple of Advil (“vitamin I”, as my friends like to call it).  When I woke up Sunday morning I could hardly walk, but I was so worried that if I didn’t get that last twenty miler in I’d bonk on race day (two weeks away) that I took six more Advil, wrapped my leg, spent the next two hours and forty minutes limping through the run, drove home, and discovered I couldn’t walk up the stairs to my house.

In fact I didn’t walk right for six weeks – and for the first few, I could hardly put weight on the leg at all.  I’m pretty sure it was a stress fracture, though I never had X-rays done.


Electrostim on the shins. Good times!

In any case, it was obvious something had to change.  At first I thought that something was just – hey, no more marathons.  And that very well may be true.  But really what needed to change was my relationship with the sport.  I had to find a better approach, to acknowledge that I couldn’t just force it, grit my teeth and power through, at least not anymore.

So in June of this year I officially began Not Training for a Marathon.  I have circled no race dates on the calendar.  I am following no plan of pre-ordained mileage escalation and structured workouts.  I have just two rules this time around:  no more than four days a week, because I know my body must rest, and run what I feel.  My only real goal is to get to a sustainable place, whatever that might be.  If I can get enough mileage consistently, in a healthy way, that I feel I can ramp up for a marathon, great.  If not, so be it; half marathons are fun too.

I’d love to tell you that this is all going swimmingly, that I’ve matured at last.  That I’m running for the sheer joy of it, and not the stopwatch.  That every time something hurts, I make a change, or stop and rest, or do whatever I need to do to take care of this body, of which I’ve asked so much, for so long.

That, of course, would be a lie.  In fact I have fairly bad tendonitis in my left Achilles, and have been pushing through it anyway – some of the time.  But in general I think I’m doing a better job.  And one of the joys of never having been fast is that I have no particular past glories against which to compare myself.  Who knows?  Maybe I can still run another race of my life.  Whether or not my body lets me, we’ll see – but in the meantime, I’ll be out there, four days a week, rain or shine, doing my best to run what I feel.

The stats thus far:

June 9 – June 30:  77.75 miles
July:  116.3 miles
August:  115.75 miles
September:  125 miles

Longest run:  13.5 miles

Highlights:  5:45 mile on the track (second fastest ever!), six miles at 6:52s (also on the track), eleven miles at 7:38s (roads, with hills)

Lowlights:  left achilles, right ankle, living on top of a hill, Seattle traffic (looking at you, white Volkswagen who swerved at me and then honked afterward), neighborhood dogs, blueberry-flavored Nuun (gack!)