The Itch

If you spend much time hanging out with many Marathon Maniacs, you’ll notice a common statement from many of us. We like to say that we run marathons so that we don’t have to do long runs in training. We joke and say that if we’re going to run 20 miles, there better be a medal waiting for us at the end and some “free” Gatorade along the way. I can only speak for myself, but most of the time, I was only half joking. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of very talented, hard working, hard running Maniacs out there that get in those 20-milers between marathons and do speedwork during the week. There are also a lot of us that use one marathon as  training for the next one. It’s a source of pride for many that we are “always in marathon shape,” that we don’t have to go through a full 16-week training cycle to prepare for the distance, because we’re always prepared, even if many of us notice our finish times increasing along with the number of races we do.

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On second thought, perhaps mid-race moonshine is the reason for the slowdown.

Whether you agree with that mentality or don’t, it exists, and it is certainly one that I’ve subscribed to plenty of times. The full training cycle is hard and was something to be avoided at all costs. If at all possible, I tried to space my marathons just 3-4 weeks apart so that I would never really have to do a 20 miler. Somewhere along the way, long training runs became something to be avoided rather than cherished because they didn’t seem that much fun when compared to the excitement of traveling to a new state, seeing all my friends, and getting a medal at the end of a marathon during which hundreds or thousands of people clapped for me. Even when I started training last year to improve my times (and did improve them by a considerable margin), I still didn’t do a lot of long runs because my marathon schedule was so busy. I focused more on speed work and mid-length runs, never getting up to 18 or 20 miles.

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And yet now, when I think of running again someday soon-ish (hopefully), I think of training. The runs in my daydreams are those through the neighborhoods downtown that I know so well – down the little Kiawah alley, up the hill to the stop sign by Sims Park, that endless, slow climb up Kilbourne,  and the impatient waiting for the next water stop to come so I could get a quick respite from the sticky South Carolina summer air. I think of 3 years ago, when I thought it was a good idea to join Match.com and realized that the only thing good about it (for me) was the crazy stories I had to tell on Saturday mornings. I think of sweat flinging off the elbows of my training partners, of literally wringing out my shirt at water stops, of the girl who was always late for our runs and would track us down along the route in her car and then park in a hurry so she could jump out and join us. I think of the first time I ran up the hill on Harden Street and could still breathe when I got to the top.

Yes, you could say I’ve got “the itch” again. I know I won’t feel this way forever, but for the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to building up my distance slowly and enjoying those miles with my friends. I remember coming back to training after the stress fracture in my hip; our assigned “long run” that weekend for Team in Training was just seven miles. Considering I had done a marathon less than a year before, it shouldn’t have been such a big deal, but I looked at the spreadsheet and thought, “Seven miles?” I can’t run seven miles! That’s insane!” Of course, I ran seven miles that day, and eight the next week, and whether the run felt hard or easy on any given day, I made it all the way through that training cycle. The best part, in addition to the camaraderie, was the constant high of surprising myself every week, of pushing myself to my limit and succeeding.

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That’s part of the beauty of running, and something I lost sight of over the years. I don’t know what running will look like for me in the future, but I know it’s only a matter of time before I look down at my training schedule and think, “No way.” And then I’ll do it anyway.

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