I’ve been training all summer, increasing my distances, expanding my long runs, holding it all in tension until the very last minute when, under threat of a jump in the entry fees, I finally had to declare myself and register for the Richmond marathon. There, I said it. I’m training for a marathon. This is, like, so far beyond the pale for me. All summer long I’ve been waiting for that twinge in my shins, the shooting pain across my knee, the scraping in my hips that would signal that I really was a fool for thinking I could get away with this. But it’s never happened. I’ve just run and run and judiciously added the mileage and made sure I took rest days and did some weight training at the Y, and here I am, with a little more than a month to go before race day.
The fall colors are breaking out on the Blue Ridge above my little home village in Virginia. But most of my running these days gets started in the dark. So all I see are stars splattered across an indigo sky, along with a crescent moon hanging low in the east like it was this morning. I started doing this in May when the early morning temperatures seduced me away from my broiling sweat-fest of an afternoon jog. I did not go so far this morning, and on my return, color was just lining the horizon in hopes that the sun would eventually follow. But on my longer runs, I’ve gone an hour and a half in the dark on lonely country roads, and then jogged through a misty dawn into a glorious sunrise, finishing an hour or two later in splendid sunshine and cool morning temps. Other times, its just grey clouds all the way, which makes me appreciate the clear night skies and clear morning light all the more.
Having graduated from the 4 mile runs that made up my repertoire for the past twenty five years into more and more distance, I’ve noticed that this kind of training is one long conversation with my body. My body is always talking to me. All the way from ‘gosh this feels great’, ‘I feel like I could go on forever’, to ‘what’s going on with my knee’, ‘why are the bottoms of my feet hurting,’ ‘my GI track better not be telling me that,’ ‘you’re 8 miles away from civilization so don’t even think about it’… etc., etc. I suppose having music distracts one from the constant chatter, but I let a member of my immediate family who will go unnamed borrow my ipod and it hasn’t come home yet. But I’ve noticed that my brain fills in the silences by putting on constant replay some tune that’s stored in my mental vault. Unfortunately, these songs come from the part of my brain that has the absolute worst taste in music. Sometimes it’s the most banal or inane song that just provides the ceaseless backbeat to my endless footfalls. At one time this endlessly annoyed me. But I’ve learned to just ignore it and use it for as long as the track plays. But mostly these runs give me time to think. I find myself replaying conversations, or even re-doing conversations the way I wish they had gone. Sometimes I’m thinking through a letter/email that I need to write, sometimes it’s an upcoming sermon that gets advanced or deconstructed, sometimes it’s just conversation with God. Three hours of running seems like a lot of time to fill, but somehow it all gets used up.
Even a year ago I never thought I would be undertaking anything like this ever. At 54 I thought my time to do something like this passed by 15 or 20 years ago. So I am somewhat amazed that I’m here, doing long runs of over 20 miles, building up for a race that goes 26.2 of them. I’m learning a lot about myself, and so I think I’ll devote the next several Onesimus posts to my experience over these final weeks of preparation and the race itself. A lot can happen in a month and a half…