The long or short of it
By Marlene Farrell
Kevin asked me, two days before my marathon, “How many miles did you run today?” I responded, “The loop, with Carrie.” Which was not precise because I actually ran a bit extra to make it an even nine miles. By not stating the mileage, I was dodging potential chastisement of running too much before my race. But our perspectives on this differ, especially now, when Kevin’s infrequent runs are likely to give him knee pain.
I have met many runners who cover three to four miles at a jaunt and occasionally crank out a longer run of about double that distance. In their eyes, my daily dose of seven to 10 miles may seem daunting, and consuming of the precious resources of time and energy. Some would like to go there, taking their mileage to the next level, but are held back by the cliff’s edge. As in other pursuits, a leap of faith is required because at first those daily eight-milers do leave a person more fatigued. But I’m always impressed by my body’s adaptation to the workload I give it. We can totally recalibrate our sense of what is normal and what is exceptional and more difficult. Eight miles feels like a baseline to me now. When I’m training at a higher level, daily 10- to 11- mile runs can feel the same. It’s a fantastic revelation to ourselves that our potential keeps creeping further from us as we push our “limits.”
What feels long to me? Well, I’m about to run my first marathon in over two years and the number 26.2 looms big and scary. It’s funny to me, that despite running about 40 marathons, I can still feel inadequate for the distance as race day approaches. My body will acquiesce and put one foot in front of the other, over and over until the finish line is reached. Sure, I’ve enforced years of training but often my mind tries to preserve the body and draws a line, a grand distinction between “regular running” and anything associated with a marathon.
This marathon is different than the last several I have run. What I know about the Pigtails Flat Ass Marathon and 50K near Ravensdale is that it’s a moveable gathering of marathon maniacs and ultra runners, those who don’t blink at the prospect of running marathons because they do it every weekend. It’s a crowd that will sip their coffee and walk around wrapped in sleeping bags, serenely watching me jump and prance, continually heading for the porta-potty. I’m hoping their sedateness will rub off and quell some of my foolish jitters.
I can’t take the race or myself too seriously. I don’t expect mile splits and most of my companions won’t be looking at their watches. The course information does, however, include GPS’ed mileage between aid stations. Temptation will get the better of me and I’ll
write my predicted aid station splits on my inner wrist. I’ll push up my sleeve, compare wrist to watch and click the split button. This ritual will organize my thoughts toward the race, so I can gauge effort versus speed and assess whether it’s time to keep going, back off or pick up the pace. It will keep me present and attuned at a much higher level than on an average run. That’s just the way I race, no matter how casual the event.
Between the sparsely placed aid stations I hope to stretch it out smooth and glide along, next to the Cedar River, breathing the moist earthy air. My thoughts can tumble around and then find a rhythm, too, a freedom along this unfamiliar trail, as I share movement with the other racers even if no one is at my side.
Afterward there will be revelry over hot drinks and soup. My friends and I will head home. The next day I’ll take stretching breaks between bouts of rolling out and baking gingerbread for a small village of houses. The number 26.2 will bounce around in my head. Maybe I’ll run another marathon in the spring, maybe not. But my daily mileage, whatever it is, will be linked and measured against that quirky number, reminding me of what can be obtained. And lucky me, the value of a number will get revamped for winter. I will start skiing in earnest and the kilometers rack up in satisfyingly huge piles by each week’s end.
Marlene Farrell is a Leavenworth writer and long-distance runner who has qualified twice for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She also helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club.