Monday, February 1, 2010

True Confessions of a Bone-Headed Runner

Ambition can be a marvelous tool to achieve success, but sometimes it can become the monkey wrench that gets chucked into even the most well conceived plans. These are the kinds of thoughts that run through my head as I sit here with an ice pack on my foot and a chip on my shoulder, after another failed attempt to conquer Boston.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a sophomore strider, having just joined the Gate City team last year. I’ve participated in few of the club races, and more than a few track workouts, but the main focus of my running has been marathoning. More specifically, Boston Marathoning. Like many other runners who grew up in the New England area, Boston has always represented the Holy Grail of running goals for me. Not just an average everyday goal, but an all out, full-blown obsession.

I guess it started back in High School when a few of my friends on the BG cross country team decided it would be a cool idea to train for, and run, the Boston Marathon. I wasn’t a very good runner back then. I was saddled with the deadly combination of athletically challenged genes, ill-timed growing pains, and adolescent lethargy. So, while I found running Boston to be an interesting concept, I definitely wasn’t up to the challenge and chose to cheer rather than run. Nevertheless, the idea continued to intrigue me and stayed in the back of my mind as time passed.

When I started I didn’t know anything about marathoning. I was unfamiliar with terms such as “Lactate Threshold”, “Interval” and “Fartlek”. All I knew was that in one year’s time, I needed to find a way to run 26.2 miles, and that I probably should trade in my Nike “high-tops” for some real running sneakers! My first training runs were accelerated shuffles at best. Eventually, I got my long runs up to about 16 miles and proclaimed myself ready for Boston. On race day, I started at the end of the line and began what turned out to be an arduous, 4 ½ hour, run-walk for my first Boston Marathon. Although at the time, particularly in the following few days of hobbled recovery, I thought it would be my one and only marathon attempt.

Five years later, I’d learned quite a bit about what it took to run a marathon. What eluded me, however, was an official Boston qualifying time. I tried over the years to achieve my required 3:10, and came close on numerous occasions, only to come up short in the end. All that changed at Clarence DeMar last fall. It was there, after some quality GCS track workouts, gruelingly long summer runs, and some expert pacing from Mike Ward, that I was finally able put it all together and qualify for Boston. I ran a rain soaked 3:13 and initially thought I had missed out by 3 minutes. Later, it was pointed out to me that the BAA allows 35 year olds an extra 5 minutes to qualify. So, after 5 years of trying, I ended up qualifying with 2 minutes to spare and didn’t even know it. As it turns out, getting older is much easier than getting faster!

I was granted another opportunity to tackle big bad Boston ins 2004 and I was determined not to waste it this time. I carefully laid out my training schedule, trying to mix tempo work and hills repeats in with my weekend long runs. As the winter wore on things were progressing quite well, almost too well. Remarkably, due to my “finely crafted” workout regimen and the carryover from my Clarence DeMar training, I was starting to get faster. It seemed that every race I entered produced personal bests measured in minutes rather than seconds. The problem was that high-mileage marathon training and all out 5k’s don’t necessarily go together and my body quickly reminded me of that during my finishing kick at the end of a local 4-miler. I felt a sharp twinge in my Achilles and had a difficult time even walking back to my car. It was 2 weeks before Boston, and I felt like I had just shot myself in the foot, literally!

So, my triumphant return to Boston was not shaping up to be all I’d hoped it would, but I wasn’t going down without a fight. I spent the intervening weeks struggling to keep my fitness level up by riding my bike and praying that ice would magically make everything OK. Unfortunately, it didn’t and by mile 4 of the marathon the pain returned. It was then that I knew it was going to be a very long day. I made it to where my children were at mile 17 and then did the smartest thing I’d done in the last 4 months. I stopped. The DNF was hard for me to live with. I take great pride in finishing what I start, but if I hadn’t called it quits, it could have been my running career that I was finishing.

In the aftermath of Boston, I’ve tried to figure out what went wrong. And, after much soul searching I’ve come to the startling conclusion that I’m a bone-headed runner. Not being blessed with vast quantities of talent, I’ve turned myself into a reasonably good runner through pure, uncompromising, stubbornness. But, somewhere along the way I’d become my own worst enemy. My zeal to succeed, in a sport that I had initially performed so poorly at, ultimately lead to my downfall. I was blinded by my own ambition and running fast became like an addiction. The faster I ran, the faster I wanted to go and my body just wasn’t willing to go along with the plan.

As a result of my eagerness I’ve been forced to learn how to live without running while I give my body the time it needs to recover. I’d like to think that, with everything I’ve put myself through, I’ll be a smarter, better and more patient runner. As for Boston, I figure it’s been around for a hundred plus years and probably will be around for another hundred more. So, as I see it, that should give me just enough time to devise a way to do more than just survive it! In the meantime, I’m beginning to enjoy the benefits of cross training. Cycling is sort of like running, and I’m actually starting to get good at it. Hmm, I wonder how fast I can pedal that 8-mile loop today …

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