View from the sidelines

Written on Dec 9th, 2011 by , Category Marlene Farrell Blog

By Marlene Farrell

The word “magnanimous” doesn’t slip freely from my tongue, but I can’t help but think it a fitting description of my friend, Greg.

I first met Greg through the virtue of his generosity. In 2007, he ran an entire marathon with a stranger (me) so she could achieve an Olympic Trials qualifying time. I remember Greg was a steady, calm presence, and I let myself follow the cadence of his and Uli’s footsteps. I could not have had the perfect race and a big PR without them.

Why did Greg do it? Primarily, I imagine (because I haven’t asked him) out of friendship with the other woman trying to qualify. But beyond that, Greg is a believer in the power of running dreams, and he does a lot to help others achieve those dreams.

Marlene Farrell

Since 2007 I have seen Greg at a lot of Seattle races, especially those of our masters cross country team. But he’s not been racing for a couple years due to a chronic injury. Still, he is out there, again and again, to witness the rest of us in the heat of battle and to celebrate or commiserate with us afterwards. This caring is a trait I’ve taken for granted.

At least until now — when I find myself sidelined as well by injury.

I consider myself in contrast to Greg’s shining example. It is easy for me to be a boisterous cheerleader for runners when watching a race I just completed myself. And I’m happy to cheer loudly at my husband’s races, or those of kids I help coach. But to watch runners, exhibiting health, hard effort, and efficiently moving limbs — from a perspective hobbled by pain and feelings of weakness and frustration — is not merely effort, but more akin to torture. When I drive by runners, I resist my compulsion to watch them and instead divert my eyes, keeping them staring at the road ahead.

My injury, which is longer lasting and more significant than any other I have experienced, has sapped the joy out of my daily ritual and makes other runners’ flushed exertions grate on the nerves of my inner runner, who has to relearn patience.

Did I mention that I have been injured for just over a month, compared to Greg’s slow recovery of over two years?

I am ashamed of my bitterness about this in a life otherwise full of so many joys. But to understand the extent of this emotional blow I need to say that this injury has amazingly bad timing. The seed of my dream was planted 3 ½ years ago after my Olympic Trials Marathon in Boston. I was determined to train with more dedication and knowledgeable coaching toward the goal of qualifying again and running my best effort at the next Trials.

Qualifying was not easy, but I did it in my first try at the Eugene Marathon in 2010. If you are a marathoner, you likely train for four months or so toward a goal race. For me, over a period of 19 months, the Olympic Trials Marathon in Houston this January has been the underlying theme and reason for all my running. It couldn’t help but be in my daily thoughts, especially during tough workouts and races.

So now I have come unmoored from this grand adventure and I am adrift. Without my early morning fix of endorphins I don’t feel right, and the day ahead seems more daunting. My family and friends have dealt with the Marlene who is tired and cranky after a long run. But now, even worse, is the Marlene that is the exercise addict in withdrawal, surly and depressed. I want to thank them here for supporting me and putting up with all of the side effects of a runner chasing her dream.

After deciding Houston, the race I had been calling “my last marathon,” will be a DNS, I have been surprised by my attitude adjustment. I am happy to report that I am no longer blindly angry, I have forgiven myself for digging my own grave with overtraining, and I’ve found ways to divert my extra energy. I am trying to keep up with my kids downhill skiing at Stevens Pass and my son is teaching me the importance of spreading holiday cheer continuously and copiously.

And it is actually nice to enter this busy season with one less thing hanging over me like a dark cloud. A few months ago, I envisioned this time as frenetic and me, wired on coffee, attempting the impossible of running like crazy in the dark and then doing the other thousand things that this time of year requires.

Now I realize that with a bit more sleep I can attend to those other things, like making cookies for Alice’s Nutcracker performance and preparing for Quentin’s ski birthday party, not to mention building train tracks with Alice and playing Battleship with Quentin, with the enthusiastic attention they deserve.

Other parts of my life don’t need to play second fiddle to my running right now, and I’m kinda liking this shift. I am perhaps a far cry from the magnanimity of people like Greg, but I am feeling less Scrooge-like everyday.

Marlene Farrell is a Leavenworth long-distance runner who qualified for the women’s U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2008 and 2012. She also is a freelance writer and blogs for RunWenatchee.

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