“The marathon is a race of attrition. You’ve got to understand that. You’ve got to come to grips with that… No one really wins a marathon. You just survive it better.”
– John L Parker, Jr., Again to Carthage
Whenever I meet runners for the first time, I have to ask the question. Not about their personal bests, their speed, their training, or any injuries that may have arisen. No… the ultimate question that drives runners like me; “Do you eat to run, or run to eat?” Like Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, I ran long distances not to look better or push my limits. I ran to eat whatever I wanted and still maintain a modicum of health.
My Journey as a Runner
This wasn’t always the case. I started running loops around the track in middle school, just as most kids are required to do. When I signed up for cross country, it wasn’t because I was in love with moving fast, and it definitely wasn’t for the glory or attention from 7th-grade girls. I couldn’t play football; I sucked at lifting weights and running just seemed like the easy way out. In retrospect, this sounds silly. Many adults would rather do anything than be forced to run a few miles. But for those of us who win the genetic lottery – not for looking good, or staying seemingly fit without exercise – but by having the right legs and the right feet, running is almost inevitable.
That’s not to say running doesn’t suck at times. Plenty of us question our sanity on Sunday mornings when we’re standing outside in freezing temperatures in our shorts, unable to move until a silly little man with a microphone cracks some dad jokes and fires a starter pistol. It could be raining. It could be scorching hot. But we still do it: run our hearts out and feel the runner’s high that’s not nearly as intoxicating as writers in fitness magazines would have you believe.
My evolution as a runner is just as complicated as describing how my personality has changed over the years. In my 30s, I’m obviously a different person than I was in my 20s. What may surprise some, is the way I run has changed just as much, if not more so. At 23, I had graduated college and qualified for the Boston Marathon by finishing the then Austin Freescale Marathon in 3:00:57. Although I kept up with training and enjoyed the perks: eating until I exploded, high energy, camaraderie from my Texas Marathon team – running wasn’t an activity I wanted to do.
Aside from becoming more of a habit than a passion, running also became increasingly difficult as I shifted to a nomadic lifestyle. Running, specifically training for a marathon, fit my lifestyle when I was grounded. Although it can be done anywhere, training properly requires consistency: sleeping somewhere comfortable, having familiar foods with each meal, and knowing trails and routes that allowed me to run 10+ miles daily. It’s no coincidence that when I started traveling in 2008, I stopped being in marathon-ready shape. Of course, I still completed my fair share of 10Ks and half marathons, but being on the go meant sometimes I had to miss a day for various reasons. Whether there was an inconsiderate person in my hostel who snored incessantly, Thai food that made my stomach churn with the adjustment, or sometimes there just simply wasn’t a safe or long enough place to run.
Running with Passion
Not much has changed since I stepped on that plane to Japan: I still don’t keep an apartment or a stable job. However, suddenly one day it hit me: I want to run another marathon. Once I set that goal, I did everything else possible to make it happen. Once I cleared that mental hurdle, I started to encounter less and less obstacles and more and more opportunities to make training work for me.
I was pleasantly surprised that the transition back to running was easier than I thought, it was quite natural actually. My metabolism kicked into overdrive. My legs didn’t hurt like I thought they would because I obeyed the golden rule of training: never increase your mileage by more than 10% weekly. I had missed this feeling. The strength, the increased endurance. Athletes can be very aware of when they’re in shape and when they need to train, but runners can measure this so precisely: you know you’re not doing well if a 10+ minute mile pace feels like a workout rather than a cool down.
It’s been ten years since I competed in Boston. Ten years since I saw a sign held up by a young kid on Heartbreak Hill saying “Chuck Norris wouldn’t stop.” Ten years since I went the distance, pushed my physical potential and collapsed because I had nothing else to give. Ten years later I’m putting myself to the test yet again and will be running Beat the Blerch in Seattle next month.
I want to hang on to this feeling. Not just for the food – although that is a major factor – but because life is more rewarding with goals. If I can be this organized and determined for something as small as a sub-three-hour marathon, imagine what I’m capable of once I decide how best to leave my mark on this world? Although a great accomplishment, running 26.2 miles in the backwoods of Seattle won’t be the culmination of my life but creating goals and achieving them is an important piece of the puzzle in finding my life’s purpose. Forging my mark will take just as much preparation and focus. So here it goes, the ultimate test of determination and hey in the meantime, at least there’s cake and Nutella to enjoy!