Why a Marathon? – Part 1

In a handful of days I will run my first marathon – The Big Sur Marathon. This rather epic run marks my multi-year journey back to running and a renewed interest in how the rhythms of daily life feed my creative work. This journey brings me to a particularly grateful state where I am more fit and thin than at age 18. Only a few days ago I completed my final long run in preparation for the marathon. The Boulder County trail system offered 20 glorious miles filled with sweeping mountain views, rolling prairie hills, and a meandering creek lined with cottonwood trees. I also slogged up one of the large hills on highway 36 between Denver and Boulder and finished just under three hours, which puts me on track to finish my first marathon under four hours.

I feel ready even though I am still playing around with nutrition and hydration options and still deciding which pairs of shoes will make the journey. I’ve kept up a steady running schedule and racked up 167 miles during the month of March. Early ambitions of a rigid training agenda evaporated because life has taken an unexpected turn over the last five months. Our family suddenly finds ourselves wrapping up a 14-year stint in Colorado and relocating to NYC so I can lead Young Concert Artists in the heart of Manhattan. Plans for careful sets of speed workouts, hills, tempo runs, and strength training never got off the ground. All I could muster was a steady accumulation of miles over five weekly runs and one long run every Saturday. Yet, I am far ahead of the average first-time marathoner and believe I will mostly enjoy this experience.

High school included a brief two-season running career on the cross-country team. I had modest potential and could clock consistent 6:15-minute miles for a 5K as a freshman. Nothing spectacular – but a nice starting point. Running was good and it was a special pleasure to be outside in the Connecticut fall weather everyday after school. Ongoing hip pain and an increasing commitment to music ended this activity by junior year. Thus began a twenty-year running drought.

About five years ago I suffered an unexpected return to running when I lost a bet to a friend. I had been decidedly intellectual in my life’s pursuits and was not a regular exerciser. When out with a few friends for a beer one night, our dyslexic friend Will announced he had made a list of six masterpieces he hoped to read in the next year. If reading required a painful and slow effort, he only wanted to spend time with revered tomes from the canon. His list included James Joyce’s Ulysses. I chuckled cruelly upon this announcement because I knew very few people who had ever read and understood Ulysses. They all had PhDs in literature from schools like Yale or Stanford. Ulysses contains some 30,000 separate words spanning a few languages and plays with time and tangents in confounding fashion. Most should never attempt to read Ulysses. Certainly a severe dyslexic could not wade through the impossible morass of Ulysses and my worst un-PC self said so.

My rather elitist diatribe sparked another friend to challenge us to a bet. If Will could read Ulysses in three months, I would have to sign up with the group for the Steamboat olympic distance triathlon scheduled in 10 months. In a moment of weakness that played upon all clichéd male insecurities and group pressure, I consented. I went out for a jog the next day and slowly became a regular runner. Early six-mile runs left me wrecked and my knees and ankles ached. Slowly things felt better and new shoes and running shorts supported the transformation.

It’s hard to say if I won or lost the bet. Will combined listening to an audiobook and reading to complete the book. He did read everything he listened to but it seems the parameters of the bet were not clearly established. Either way, I assumed I would be participating in the triathlon and began to run immediately following the ridiculous bet. The overall training for the triathlon was spotty and I resisted my least favorite event – the bike leg. I completed the race in just over three hours and counted it as a damn hard experience. Yet, there was a great sense of accomplishment and I had returned to running. Following the triathlon I dropped the swimming and biking.


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