I hate running, from a very deep, and very personal part of my soul. I’m a pretty physically awkward dude to begin with. When I was younger, you might have referred to me as an “inside kid.” Combine that with stubby legs and a generally apathetic attitude towards fitness, and it makes an activity not known to be particularly “fun” downright disgusting to me.
That being said, I ran a marathon last weekend. Don’t ask me why. I don’t particularly know. All I know is that it was really hard, and has had two primary effects on my life. One, I currently feel like I got hit by a small truck. Two, I no longer have to train for a marathon. Believe me when I say that the joy of the second far outweighs the first.
Training for a marathon is truly one of the dumbest things a person can do, and I did it in the least intelligent way possible. Back in the fall, when I first decided I wouldn’t be truly happy until I dragged 175 pounds 26.2 miles, I was pretty dedicated. I bought a book, ran every day, worked my way slowly up from “no running experience” to “almost no running experience.” A lot of people use the Hal Higdon novice formula to get ready for their first marathon. I used the Jack Daniels formula, which is (interestingly enough) both an actual training formula and foreshadowing.
Next thing you know, it’s January. I’m sitting in a bar in Wheaton on a Friday night. Haven’t run in a few days. Step outside, smoke a cigarette, realize my marathon is in, like, 3 months. Panic sets in. Finish cigarette. Return to bar. Drink beer about it.
I’d like to say after this realization I redoubled my efforts- that I buckled down for the task that lay ahead. But that’s not what I did. I woke up the next morning, hungover, and went for a run. Realizing I could both drink, smoke, and occasionally run, that became the new plan. Eat your heart out fitness freaks.
I pretty much just ran when it was convenient. Three miles here, five there, and if I’m being totally honest, I did work really hard when I was working out. It’s just, when I wasn’t, I treated my body like a disposable camera. This actually worked incredibly well. Once I got used to the fact that most of my long runs would start off with a headache and bad breath, they stopped being scary. Nothing kicks a hangover like a 9-miler on Sunday morning.
Fast forward to the actual marathon. I spent the week “carbo-loading,” which is exercise talk for “eat everything.” From Wednesday on, I was stuffing my face with pasta, water and pasta. I don’t even like pasta. But I do like overeating.
On the day of the race, I was feeling pretty good. I pinned my little “my first marathon” bib to my back, ate a banana, and felt altogether unprepared to run such a ridiculous distance.
Mile one felt great. I started strong, confident, part of a huge group of people doing something bigger than ourselves. It was nice.
By mile six I was sunburned, and tired. It was only 8 o’clock in the morning. But hey- only 20.2 to go.
At mile 13 I watched an old guy pass out and hit his head on the ground. I remember thinking how terrible that was, as I kept running.
At mile 15 I felt every cigarette I’ve ever smoked.
At mile 19 a girl gave me a purple jolly rancher, which was the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted.
At mile 23 a boy sprayed me with a hose, and I wanted to punt him off a bridge. A woman on the side of the road told me I was a rockstar. I felt like melted ice cream. Marathon’s are weird like that.
Finally, I finished- over five hours after I started. If you know anything about marathons, that’s significantly slower than the national average. There were grandpas who finished quicker than me. The amount of time I spent in the sun resulted in some great burn lines on my shoulders, but I didn’t care. I just wanted my free beer…which was delicious.
Now, looking back, it’s bittersweet. On one hand, there’s some perverse appeal to having successfully completed a marathon with such a ragtag training regimen. But shortly after I completed that last mile, something odd started happening almost immediately. My mind started running about what I could’ve done better. I could’ve sped up on mile 10, because it was so flat, which would have saved my legs for the hill at the end. I could’ve done more speed work. I could have…not smoked.
So I guess I have to run another one. I caught the marathon bug. Running sucks, no doubt about it. But maybe, just maybe, training for a marathon can be fun. The mistake people make is being sober for it.