Marathon Training: Not changing my mind

There! It’s out there. The idea of not doing this year’s NYC Marathon is quite attractive right about now. I can hear the refrain, why do something if you don’t want to do it? It’s just not that simple. My tendency is to take on long projects. Writing, needlepoint and running are my favorite pastimes. There is a joy in a poem, a cross-stitched book mark and a 5K. The mistake, for me, is to believe that those things don’t need as much attention and craft involvement as the novel, the wall hanging and the marathon. They do. It’s the timing that’s different.

Years ago, I stood on the sidelines on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. The challenge of training for the marathon eluded me. Why did I think that Sunday was such a special day? It was, of course. But there were a lot of special days that led up to that brisk morning I hadn’t been privy to. I hadn’t been around for the Saturday that a young wife tied up her laces for a long training run as her husband took the kids to the zoo. The evenings the fifty year old guy spent snoring in front of the television, instead of having lively conversation with his partner, went unnoticed by me as I sipped hot chocolate.  I didn’t realize that in addition to the running, there was the stretching, the muscle strengthening sessions and the speed and hill training. Eating right, sleeping right and maintaining decent communication with family, friends and co-workers are other fine attunements needed during marathon training. It’s a challenge.

The biggest challenge is the tiredness I feel during the long runs. I eat the right carbo-protein-fat mix. I sleep the nights before my long runs but at mile 18 my body says “No Mas.” Roberto Duran, the boxer, made that phrase famous in 1980 when he walked away from Sugar Ray Leonard. Lots of explanation, lots of theory around this statement but when enough is enough, it’s enough. I gather as much information on “The Wall” and how to get around it as I possibly can.

I’m set for a twenty two miler in the morning. As I eat my energy gels and put one foot in front of the other tomorrow, I will try to not to say ”No mas.” I made the decision to take on this personal challenge. The NYC Marathon experience beckons me. I’m planning on going forward and not changing my mind.

Marathon Training: Mind Tricks

This morning I reminded my son about the flowers he gave me at the 2000 NYC Marathon. I was heaving up mile 23 or so and suddenly he emerged from the crowd and handed me the colorful and lush bouquet. According to him, it was only one rose. Wow, I had made something entirely else up in my mind. Suffice it to say- it felt like a bouquet. I felt loved, noticed and admired.

My mind plays so many tricks on me during these long runs. I’ve believed that the way I feel at mile 3 will be the same at mile 15. I’ve believed that if someone blows on me at mile 18 that I will fall over and not have the ability to get up. I’ve also believed that I should run as fast as the twenty year old who weighs about twenty pounds lighter than me. I’ve believed that the blond ponytail is a tease for me to prove my true abilities. Sadly, I’ve also believed that the thirty year old guy huffing and puffing next to me would never try to outrun me up the hill. All tricks of my mind.

The long hours on the course have become a meditation of sort. As St. Theresa, I allow my distracting thoughts to fall by the wayside as children at play fall to sleep individually at a gentle pace.  When I look around me, I am enraptured by the beauty of the changing leaves. Colors of reds, golds and oranges tell me that change is afoot and I am one of those things that are changing.

I can appreciate some of the tricks- like the bouquet of roses- and let the others go. I may not finish in my intended time. I may walk a bit and enjoy the city, the sights and the sounds. I am not in a race against anyone else. Running is something I do because I usually like how I feel during it and most certainly afterwards. I’m someone who likes to use words but I find it difficult to describe the running experience. I’ll just say that “I’m a runner.”

Food in Marathon Training

Training for the NYC Marathon means that I receive weekly emails on tidbits that I might benefit by being aware of from the NYRR club in NYC. The messages are welcome and they always get me to thinking if not doing. A recent snippet of news reminded me about my nutritional needs. I’ve always had a weird relationship with food. I’ve always based it on my father’s “eat today while you’ve got it” philosophy. This comes from a man who grew up in severe poverty in Puerto Rico during World War II. He has his skewed but generous version of “the more you eat the better things are”- this all coming from one of the thinnest men I know. Healthy thin, that is.  Fate and hard work being an incredible combination, until now, I’ve always had a plate in front of me at meal times.

I also dealt with a grandmother who pushed food into me until I screamed; ‘Nelson!’ Growing up knowing where I belonged on the food triangle wasn’t easy. My weight has fluctuated over the years.  I’m the person who can’t eat when upset. Those pictures that show me at my most elegant were probably taken when I was most miserable. I’ve worked hard to change all this.

Recently, as I’ve prepared for the 26.2 mile run that could be sheer agony based on not enough nutrients I’ve dug deeper for information. But by accident I happened to watch a television segment of Dr. Oz’s TV presentation on binge eating. Binge eating, is on the spectrum of eating disorders, where one indulges beyond any sense of control.  It may not be savvy to admit but I usually pass his shows up. I’m always troubled by people who are experts on every topic in the universe. I understand he has intelligence, education and loads of staff supporting this knowledge base, but I still change the channel. This time I was caught unaware. There on my flat screen were photos of a dead person’s humongous purple black stomach exposed during an autopsy. The scan of a pre and post binge stomach was awful but not as bad as the looks of terror on a mother-daughter team Dr. Oz brought in to process a severe disorder in a few minutes in front of America. Where is Jerry Springer when you need him? Dr. Oz apparently thought scare tactics would best serve the two and used this macabre intervention. I’ve had a terrible time eating since seeing these photos. I think I may have been traumatized. The pictures of the scans and autopsy flash before me often whenever I sit to eat a meal.

Since I’m training for the NYC Marathon, I have to eat more than usual to keep my body functioning but these days I am literally stopped by the helpful issues that continue to flash across my mind’s eye when I sit to eat. I am usually on the well side of things- I’m not so sure this time. The idea of carbo-loading prior to long runs and a marathon work well with my father’s refrain of “eat today for tomorrow” but I hope I don’t inadvertently turn on a segment of Dr. Oz before November 4th or maybe ever again. I’m grateful for some sense of self and for my Dad who relented on my second plate for the first time only last week. I may be in need of not only the ‘18 miler tune-up’ but a ‘psychotherapy tune-up’ before this is all over.

Writing Junk Miles

I’m sitting in front of my laptop and not outside running a few extra miles. My body needs rest. I’ve just excised two chapters from my manuscript. These were passages that I thought  were so important at least a year or two ago. These were the chapters that described how my protagonist was feeling while dissecting her life and how she was continuing to work through life’s stuff by developing a deeper relationship with a character that had actually been symbolic. Screech. Halt.

There comes a point when we need to reflect on what we’re actually doing. I’m also at the point of similar reflection when it comes to my physical self. Will running another five miles help or hurt my body? I could stretch it a bit. Feed it something nutritious and discuss my exercise plan with someone who knows what training for a marathon is about. Yes, those things are all important. Mostly, I need to listen to my body. It doesn’t usually steer me wrong. When I haven’t listened to the minor twinges, pings and pulls is when I have gotten into trouble. I’m running a marathon in the fall and, like writing, it can be a long arduous draining process or I can enjoy most of the nuances it will bring. My commitment and discipline are paramount along the way in both my writing and running.

I recently shared a passage I’d written with my daughter. She stopped me as I raced through one part to get to another. As she so astutely pointed out, “if you don’t like it, it shouldn’t be there.” I swelled up my chest and told her that in most books that I’ve read, I’ve had to skim through to get to the good parts. ‘Not good’, I realized, as soon as the words came out of my mouth. Needless to say, that was a turning point in my editing process. To thine own self be true.

When I check in to my inner self, I realize that I don’t need an outside party to tell me to get honest in my writing. I also can’t run every day because a twenty five year old elite runner does. I need to listen quietly and follow the guides who live within me. When I need outside help they tell me. Sometimes I don’t follow the instructions that I’m given. I hit my head against the same wall as I try to make a door where none exists. This hurts until I’ve had enough. I make a right or a left and an opening magically appears. I may do some light weights, walk a mile instead of run five or dream on the changes that are warranted for a current manuscript. It’s then I’ve been true to the process and have dispensed with the junk miles of my life.

Writer’s Run

Yesterday, I completed the Manhattan half-marathon. It isn’t my first but probably my most difficult half in a while. I came in about 20 minutes later than the previous one I ran about six month ago. I’d like to think that there were a lot of reasons why my time was what it was.

First, I have to admit, it was cold outside. The thermometer read 15 degrees Fahrenheit. I practically froze my fingers off when I decided to take my number tag off my jacket to place it on my pants. This way if I got too warm I could take the jacket off. Ha! That never happened. I’d been sick with an intestinal flu for the New Year and then with a whopping cold a week ago. The days in between that I had been feeling good had been inundated with snow. I am not a snow runner. I shake my head at all of the runners who glide by me as I trudge in my boots. So, I wasn’t as trained as I’d like to be. I can go on with the multiple excuses that I prefer to term as reasons, that I didn’t do as well as I would have liked. Suffice it to say that- “it is what it is”. I happen to love clichés and think they describe situations to a T. I’ve been warned about liking them too much in my writing but  today I am still tired after running the thirteen point one miles- so I feel free to use clichés.

Running that distance at my pace leaves me a lot of time for thinking. I thought about my writing and my goals. I thought of the personal time and commitment that I’ve needed to continue doing both. These activities have garnered very enjoyable times for me- like an autumn run in the woods or reading a piece I’ve written to a gathered crowd who shares the moment with me. Most times, in reality, the pursuit of the runner’s high or the nodded approval of an audience member is elusive. Most of the times it’s just me, by myself, moving forward without encouragement and more often seeing the bewildered look of someone who wonders why I do what I do. Running and writing take a lot of my personal time. It is a choice to take one’s time to do something that one loves, that sometimes may be quite difficult and most times a very solitary action. Having the ability to “go within” and “to go the distance” whether others believe in you, or not, is a feat.

During the half marathon I ran up Cat Hill in Central Park and remembered how difficult it was when I first began running. My chest would heave and I would look up at the large jet black feline statue wondering why I was doing this. Yesterday my breath was easier than during the earlier days of running and I enjoyed my progress. I also remembered when I found learning “point of view” to be a horrendous experience. My teenage daughter wrote up a crib sheet for me and talked me through many pieces I never submitted. I’m sure many editors would thank me for that. Today, POV runs natural and I like to think it’s because of the training, just as in my running skill.

In both running and writing I’ve taken workshops, shared thoughts and words with my peers and have had both wonderful and awful experiences. I’ve been competitive in both and have watched very skilled runners or writers blaze across the scene taking all of the attention I might have wanted. Those experiences have not stopped me. They’ve made me stronger and I continue to be eager to see where my paths will lead.

Just like in the running there are reasons that I’m not where I’d like to be. I’m sure of what some of them are but also know that there are reasons beyond my control. I am where I am. I saw a woman run past me and thought I should surely be passing her. I realized that I had no idea who she was, what her training schedule was like or anything about her. My streak of mid-pack competitiveness flashed for a moment and then it was gone. I’d sat to lunch with a friend the day before the race who is having his third or fourth book of poetry published in a couple of weeks. I am still waiting for my first novel to be selected. My turn will come if I persevere as he has. I truly believe that.

Challenge is an invitation to life. I will run, rest, write, eat, sleep, be a friend, and be a parent and a partner. I will enjoy the gifts that are given to me on both the easy days and the more taxing ones!