Monday, October 26, 2015

Descent into Madness? Entering the 2016 Napa Valley Marathon

"You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can't know what's coming."

 - Frank Shorter
Start of the 2015 Napa Valley Marathon
(photo from Napa Valley Marathon Facebook page)

It's been over 20 years since my last marathon. Now, jumping back into the marathon waters, I've registered for the 2016 Napa Valley Marathon on March 6th.

Those marathons I ran over twenty years are fleeting memories, so what's in store for me in the Napa Marathon is a bit of a mystery. I remember after my last marathon telling my girlfriend, "If I ever think about running a marathon again, talk me out of it". That woman is now my ex-wife and needless to say, she's no longer around to talk me out of it. Indeed, if I told her I was contemplating an act well known for causing insufferable pain, her immediate response would be "Go for it!".

I have vague recollections of the 1994 Boston Marathon. I trained for it through a particularly harsh Ohio winter, badly overestimated my fitness, went out too fast and crashed well before Heartbreak Hill. Gasping at the finish line in exhausted delirium, barely gripping an open can of grape juice hanging upside down from my limp arm, I was too disoriented to even notice the steady stream of purple juice pouring out the can down my leg. It took a full two months to recover.

I remember even less of the 1995 Columbus Marathon. It is the only race of  the hundreds I've entered in my life I didn't finish. Coming through mile 23 having a particularly bad race, I was tired but certainly had enough left to finish. At that point, I was only a block from the finish line, the course looping back out a final three miles before the end. I didn't feel like fighting those last three miles. So I stopped, walked over to the finish area, picked up my sweats bag and went home. I'll take few regrets to my deathbed, but that is one of them. Running is about finding a ways to overcome barriers, developing personal growth through the struggle, so quitting that race just because I didn't feel like doing it anymore goes completely against what running is all about.

You might say the marathon and I have some unfinished business. The was a time where I envisioned myself a full time marathoner back when I was in my twenties. My first two marathons were in fact, fun and encouraging. But I also discovered the human body was not really meant to run 26.2 miles, and the after struggling through the marathons at Boston in 1994 and Columbus in 1995, I was done with marathons.

Still, thoughts of one day returning to the marathon never died. I've always regretted never fully embraced or enjoying the Boston Marathon experience, and for decades, I've had thoughts of coming back to Boston, maybe when I get to be in my 50's, to run it again and just enjoy the experience of being part of the historic race.

Well, I'm 48. If that dream's going to happen, it's about time to start getting busy. After a few half-marathons over the past years, I'v gotten antsy to scratch that marathon itch. Maybe I'll find the marathon was just never right for me, and the dream will be like a lot of dreams, nice to think about, but something particularly problematic to actually do. But it's worth noting back in the day I was young, overly ambitious, physically strong but mentally weak in certain ways and perhaps just couldn't handle the whole gravity of a marathon. Back then, almost every race lead to disappointment from over estimation of my abilities fueled by definition of self-worth dictated by finishing time and place. Today both older and wiser, I go into races with more realistic expectations, enjoying the competition and the whole running experience, grateful to be still at it after all these years. Maybe a more mature mind piloting my body through all 26.2 miles will make all the difference.

As I begin to embark on four months of training focused for one morning in March, there is certainly the risk hope and optimism will end up being eclipsed by the inevitable tedium and discomfort inseparable from that training. Of course, life has a way of getting in the way of running for good reasons. If there's one thing I've learned in 35 years of running, how you take the journey is more important than whether or not you take the goal. Success will be sweet, but never assured, and it's going to require a lot time running alone in the pitch black of early winter mornings and plenty of days spent dragging around tired legs. Is willingly entering into such a strange bargain madness? Perhaps. But that's what runners do.

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