Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fourteen Minutes

This weekend I watched in agony as Paula Radcliffe finished fourth in a marathon that, given her past times, she should have easily dominated. It was fourteen minutes slower than her world record, far slower than she is capable. And I knew that those last miles, those last fourteen minutes represented so much: pain, frustration, and agony knowing that things are not turning out the way they should.

I felt for her; I really did. I could feel my tears coming as she crossed the finish line.

Even though I have never done it on national television, I have run many races that have turned out less than, far less than, I expected—marathons included. Inspired first by my mom, second by my husband, and simultaneously by many other running influences, I ran my first marathon (26.2 miles) thirteen months ago. Inspired by my first experience, I ran my second six weeks ago.

I ran my first with not only nervous anticipation of the pain, but also an excitement to find out how fast I could go and how well I would endure. I ran my second with a similar (but more informed) nervousness, and even greater excitement about improving my time from my previous year, confident that I would not only endure, but also excel.

Running a successful marathon requires months of training. While I train year round to stay in shape, in the four months before the big race I ran up to seventy miles a week, in runs up to twenty miles at a time. I carefully monitored how fast I ran during workouts, increased my sleep to encourage recovery and monitored my food to make sure I was taking in enough and good quality calories.

Training for a marathon makes me feel a lot like my pregnant friends. I am always tired, always hungry, often aching and always looking forward with a lot of preparation to one big day where the moment of truth will occur, the pain will be felt, and the results will be seen.

The first marathon went well. I felt great for the first thirteen miles, under control for the next six, and pushed my way through the last seven. I could barely walk afterward, but was euphoric with a sense of accomplishment. I had worked hard. I had endured. I could rest on my laurels and enjoy my aching body with joy. I finished as the seventh woman, in three hours and nine minutes. I was content.

Six weeks ago I started my second marathon and was almost instantly concerned. I felt nauseous within the first mile, and it built through the second mile causing me to break out in a cold sweat. I felt ready to vomit any second. While the intensity of the nausea ebbed and flowed over the course of the next several miles—it never subsided. I dry heaved several times throughout the race, which left me frustrated and uncomfortable and weary.

By mile six I was tired, much more tired than I should have been or ever was on training runs at faster paces. When my husband, who doubled as my Gatorade carrier, asked me how I was feeling, I broke into tears. I was exhausted, and the impending twenty miles had me more than nervous, I was flat out dreading it.

Sure enough the next twenty miles proved to be some of the longest hours of my life. My body settled on four-minute cycles: feel good, feel nauseous, want to quit, talk myself out of quitting, repeat. It was a miserable mental exercise that would have been bad enough without aching legs that were growing more tired by the minute.

In the end, I finished. I finished fourteen minutes slower than last year, twenty minutes slower than I had hoped to.

I was so proud of myself I was practically glowing.

When I crossed the finish line I started crying, not because I hurt (which I did) or because I was exhausted (which I was) or because I was disappointed (which I was), but because I had pushed through and endured a grueling challenging task that despite months of preparation had proved to be miserable.

It still amazes me that with months of preparation the reality turned out so sour, so bitter, so wearing. Everything about the race was wrong given the work I’d put in ahead of time. And, for better for worse, this is also true of life in general. Despite the greatest preparation and toil, things can turn into bitter, trying ordeals that end much differently than plans might have indicated.

Differently than they ever should have.

In the last six weeks I have run outside twice. Once was to let a dog out for a friend that was out of town; the second was to enjoy a beautiful fall day with my husband. Both were for a half hour. Both turned out to be miserable.

Since the marathon, running has turned into a task similar to trying to eat food after vomiting: everything about it is unappealing. I still workout in other ways, sometimes even for an extended period of time, but grinding out time on the pavement is still too vivid of a reminder of a recent, grueling three hour and twenty-three minute run. It’s still too fresh.

I know someday I will enjoy running outside again. It has, after all, been my primary means of relieving stress and enjoying nature for twelve years. It may be next month; it may be more. Regardless of how long it takes me to mentally and emotionally recover, I know I will someday return to working hard at something I love to do, even when things turn for the worse.

I hope I always have this faith to endure troubled times, knowing that all is not lost, trusting that in time everything will be redeemed.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, and good for you for finishing! I don't know if I could have done it.