Sunday, June 28, 2015

Getting Back to Marathon Form--The Occasional Runner's High

I am preparing for my seventh marathon this fall--Freedom's Run. It will be on October 10.  I had thought I would avoid a marathon in 2015 at the start of the year.  But as I got through April and it had been five months that I was running without a training program, I longed for structure.  And I longed for getting back to the marathon distances--both for the eventual run and for training.  The book, Born to Run, provides an interesting perspective that informs me--in the sense that I seem to no longer be able to escape the desire that the author thinks is just part of who we, as humans, are.  I realize not everyone shares that desire.  But I can't escape it.  And when an opportunity to run an ultra after a business trip next year presented itself, and I need to run an marathon this fall to qualify and I have a friend who is looking to do one marathon in every state and this will count as her West Virginia marathon, it all fit together.

What I had forgotten, however, is the feeling that comes with the higher level of training.  That wonderful feeling.  That feeling of being able to run forever.

I had run sixteen miles alone Thursday a week ago.  That was great.  But it was a couple days earlier than I would have run it if I had not had a Father's Day race, it was alone, and it was on a work day so I felt a different sort of time pressure.  It felt like a chore rather than something that brought me joy.

Today, I ran with my long time training partner, Joselyn, and here is a link to the course we ran.  We began from the Starbucks on Boston Street in the Canton neighborhood, proceeded up to Fleet Street, crossed President and made our way to the Inner Harbor area, up St. Paul out of downtown, past Mercy, staying on the "high side" and passing what used to be the Tremont Suites, all the way up through Mt Vernon, and to Lanvale.  Across to Falls.  (I'll return to the run along falls in a bit.)  Past the Streetcar Museum with what looked like brand new signs.  Up the switchbacks on the Jones Falls Trail.  Into Druid Hill Park up the hill.  Around the reservoir (dealing with gnats).  To the zoo entrance and past the gate at boat lake.  Back through the park to a second lap around the reservoir (the gnats were still there but had moved).  Back down to Lanvale.  Across to Calvert.  Down to Centre.  Across to Fallsway.  Down to Fayette.  Over to Central.  Down to Baltimore.  Along the north side of Patterson Park to Linwood.  Down to Boston.  And just far enough past the Starbucks to get to 17.  (We were at about 16.85 when we reached the Starbucks.)  It was an amazing run for a couple of reasons.

First, the power of the Jones Falls after a huge rain is amazing.  The water was the color of the run off that it was carrying to the harbor.  And while I did not see the water in the Inner Harbor today, I know what it generally looks like from working near the Inner Harbor.  But the rushing of the water.  The sound it makes.  The pure power.  The fact that if anyone were in it, he or she could be carried away.  It is truly amazing.

And that power--the power to just keep going, is the power that I felt today during the run.  My strength is not for the day.  (As the Jones Falls was and it will be back to its normal depths and power of a much slower trickle tomorrow.)  No, the power of a marathon runner's legs and the power of a marathon runner's body and mind come from weeks, months, and eventually years.  Years of challenging the body.  My own body.  Running with training partners who challenge their bodies.  And even the spirit of a runner--knowing that at least some of those I train with have faith in the same idea of God I do and all of the marathon runners I know understand that to complete a marathon one almost has to be a part of something bigger.  Something spiritual.  Something that goes beyond oneself and provides support.

The splits were 8:33, 7:59, 7:57, 7:59, 8:03, 7:57, 7:54, 7:52, 7:58, 7:41, 7:46, 7:58. 7:59. 7:54, 7:57, 7:53, 8:00.  It is amazing because other than the first mile (just a shake out) and the two miles coming out of Druid Hill Park (more downhill than anywhere else), we were running consistently between 7:52 and 8:03 despite many ups and downs.  Despite the tendency that we have developed to go faster and faster the last six miles were six of the most consistent.  And the joy of running stride for stride with someone was clear as we didn't chat as much as usual but just enjoyed the essence of the run.  Keeping a pace.  Running under clouds.  Hearing the water of the Jones Falls.  Seeing the reservoir.  And taking the hills as they came.  And while we gave each other a high five at the end as we always do and each knew the muscles would be sore from the work they were not used to, it felt like a day when I (for one) could have gone on forever.  That feeling--being in that zone--is what long distance running is all about.  It doesn't come every time.  In fact, it doesn't come often.  But, when it does, it is a reminder of what I love so much about the process.  And, I'd even like to change the name.  Runner's high is a term I don't care for.  I'll call it, "runner's joy".  When the run ends in joy--then I have achieved something.  And today was one of those lucky days.  

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