Marathon (Wo)Man: It Does (And Doesn’t) Get Better

I sometimes wish they made “It Gets Better” videos for people other than gay teens. It’s not that LGBT youth don’t deserve or need them–typically, they do more than other sorts (please don’t get angry in the comments)—but I think that other groups of people could also use such reinforcement, too. From personal experience, I think young 20-something girls crying in the bathroom at work could use a reminder that “it gets better”… or at least you eventually learn to save your cries for shameful cathartic late night viewings of Grey’s Anatomy reruns. Also, I think runners, especially people just getting into or back into running, could use the occasional witty YouTube video imparting the wisdom that the miles will get better, easier, faster.

The most useful advice I got from the surly personal trainer I worked with last year was that eventually my flat feet would get tougher and stop cramping up after runs. Indeed, they did. Whenever someone says “yeah, but I’m not a runner,” I’m tempted to show them my pancake feet, throw a pair of shoes at them, and say something inspiring like “you put one foot in front of the other over and over and eventually it stops sucking.”

This past week was to be the week that marathon training got better. I would cram in more than enough miles, get up early to do my long run, eat healthier, run faster, blah blah blah. On Sunday, I was all signed up for a 7 a.m. organized training run between six and 20 miles in length. There would be water, fuel and pacing groups. I couldn’t lose. I’d hoped to do at least 16 miles.

Late Saturday afternoon, I thought I’d do a short easy run to get the blood flowing and get in some quick extra miles. I was just finishing up my second mile of 2.5 when my foot hit an uneven patch of grass, my ankle twisted, and the muddy ground quickly greeted my suddenly horizontal body.

It was a desolate, dusky corner of the park. I looked up, wondering if anyone had seen me, at once glad no one had and saddened that there wasn’t someone coming around the bend, a lithe über marathoner to sweep me up in his bony arms and whisk me across the park and home.

Instead, I hobbled home on my own and hobbled around my kitchen cooking dinner. It wasn’t a severe sprain, but it was enough of  a snaggle to take me out of the running for a few days—definitely not something to run double digits on. Still, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. under the delusional hope that some sort of miracle cure might come in my sleep, though the fact that my ankle cried out every time I touched it while twisting and turning in bed seemed to suggest this wasn’t happening.

In the early morning, ever the drama queen, I sadly reflected back on the incident, the one false footfall that had disrupted my training plan at a point when I was in dire need of a disciplined, confidence-boosting long group run. If anything the quickness of the moment was jarring—a rapid reminder that the 18 months I’d spent qualifying and preparing for the marathon, the plane tickets and hotel reservations my parents had arranged so they could be at the finish line, the countless crappy t-shirts from shorter races clogging my closet, this very column–they could all be for naught in an instant. A falser step. An IT injury. An asshole running over my foot while I attempted to cross the street (not unlikely in New York). A biking accident on the way to an innocent brunch. An night of ironic roller-skating that ends with an E.R. and an x-ray. My mind was spinning with the possibilities, as if I were an Olympian instead of a 30-year-old chick trying to run her first marathon. I thought back to that figure skater that Brandon dated in the early days of the original Beverly Hills 90210, the one who can’t eat a burrito or hang out at the Peach Pit or do anything fun, lest she injure herself or ruin her center of gravity. I really felt for her.

My long run abandoned, I went to weight-lifting and spin class instead, reacquainting myself with the forgotten pleasure of stationary biking with black lights, music that conjures early-2000 raves and a lovely, energetic woman urging me to “see the road stretching out before you… pedal faster…the road is yours.”

I came home to an email with the subject line “Is cross-training a crock?” Like the Ryan Gosling Collection section on iTunes, it feels eerily aimed at me. Sadly, the email links to a New York Times piece pretty much saying that spin class does very little for runners, but whatever, it’s made me feel better and burned some calories.

Two days later, my hobble reduced to nearly nothing, I decide to attempt running class. I’m in desperate need of a good run, not so much for my training plan, though that does need the miles, but for my head. I feel behind. The marathon has suddenly gone from something far off in the distance to something just two and a half months away.

The warm-up feels good. My new shoes and I are getting along. My orthotics seem to be helping not hurting matters for the first time in nearly a year. The saxophone player in front of the Metropolitan Museum switches to the Rocky theme as we go by, just as he does every week. All is as it should be.

We run up and then down and around Central Park. They’ll be no intervals today, just some decently paced mileage. Inadvertently, I find myself in the fast group, but I’m keeping up, challenged but not too much so. I’ve forgotten my Garmin, so I have no idea just how much mileage we’ve put in and at what pace. I ask Coach Shelly, but she shrugs it off, says she’s not sure. I’m fairly certain she knows just by feel the pace she’s running at any given moment; she’s just being coy so we don’t obsess over numbers. We stop at the marathon finish line. It doesn’t look like much, just an area in the park at the end of a hill, but this is it. We turn around, jog back down the hill, and then back up, practicing the final .2 miles. I dig in and stay in the lead as the pack climbs back up the road. I decide to take it as a big, beautiful glaring sign that this, the finish line, would be our workout tonight after a couple frustrating weeks.

The cool down run is lovely. The late summer night is such a pleasant temperature, it’s as though the weather were apologizing for the shitty winter and the shitty summer. There are no blisters or nagging ankles or shin splints or uncomfortable orthotics, just an easy run. It gets better. It has gotten better.

Training Week 6

Miles logged: 10

Longest run: Going to spin class and lamenting inability to do long run

Long run fuel: Not needed

Post run recovery food: While no long run to recover from, I was a big of this healthy recipe for a raw, marinated lemony zucchini salad this week.

Photo: Lululemon Flickr

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    • Rose D.

      I am right there with you. I was supposed to really increase my training this week, starting on a Sunday evening run. Sunday morning I slipped and fell, spraining my left ankle and right ribs. You have given me hope that I don’t have to pack it in. I can still do my races.