Sometime back in June or July my brothers texted me and asked if I would be interested in running a marathon with them. Back in high school I’d been really into running and was decently good at it (my fastest time for the mile was around 5:30), but as I grew older and more and more out of shape, I’d been running less and less until I got to the point where I’d stopped running all together. A few times in the past couple of years I’d signed up for races and attempted to train for them. I ended up running all the races that I signed up for, but I failed at training for them. Between my asthma and being thoroughly out of shape, running seemed more painful than fun. I’d try to run a block or two, then I’d have to stop and try to catch my breath while fumbling for my inhaler. Sometimes I’d sit on the curb for a minute or two before slowly walking back to my apartment feeling defeated by my lungs and my body. After doing that once or twice, I’d give up on the training and just show up for the race (since I’d already paid for it) and wing it. I managed to finish all of those races, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.
The Marine Corps Marathon, which my brothers were trying to talk me into, was scheduled for October. At the time October felt like some point in a very distant future. I remembered that when I’m in shape I love running, and I figured that when I finished hiking the AT I would be in the best shape of my life. All of those things, combined with the fact that I’d always wanted to run a marathon, made it seem like a no brainer… of course I’d run the marathon with my brothers in October!
Before I knew it October was here, I’d finished hiking the AT, and I was in the best shape of my life. The only problem was that I only had two weeks to train for the upcoming marathon. According to coolrunning.com 20 weeks is a sensible training schedule for a marathon and, “You should not run a marathon unless you have at least a year of running experience behind you to prepare both mind and muscle for the miles and months of training ahead.” Well, I had at least a year of running experience behind me… way way behind me, say almost 20 years behind me. I decided that surely that still counted ;) It seemed to me that backpacking for 5 months should have trained my mind to persevere over long distances and through physical hardship, so the remaining question was how much of the training of my muscles for backpacking would overlap and translate to training for running a marathon? I wasn’t entirely sure.
From backpacking I knew that I could hike 26.2 miles, or a marathon, with a full pack in one day. I’d done that the day that I’d hiked from Boiling Springs, PA to Duncannon, PA. I also knew that with relatively good terrain I could hike 20+ miles a day at a 3-4 mph pace. How did that compare to the pace required to complete the Marine Corps Marathon? My brother had said that you had to complete the first 20 miles at a 14 minute per mile pace (~4.29 mph) and then you had to do at least 16 minute miles (3.75 mph) for the remainder of the race. Looking at it that way, it seemed entirely possible that I could finish the marathon in 6 hrs and 19 minutes, all I had to do was bump up my hiking pace just a little bit. Since I wouldn’t have a 35 lb backpack to deal with, or any mountains to climb, I hoped that that would be entirely manageable, but first I had to answer one important question: after tormenting my joints for five months on the trail, could I run at all?
When I got off of the trail my legs were a bit sore, my right knee was tempermental at best, and there was still that pesky labral tear in my hip. It was possible that my body would put up a painful protest when I attempted to speed it up and make it go for a run, but I had to start somewhere. I decided that I would try to go on some short runs first just to see how my body tolerated this whole running thing. I shied away from longer runs afraid that I might injure myself before I even got to the starting line. However, I ran into my first challenge before I even got out the door. I didn’t have any running shoes that fit me because my feet had gotten bigger as I’d hiked the trail. From past experience (the Dublin Half Marathon) I knew that it was a bad idea to run in hiking shoes (I painfully lost two toe nails figuring that out), so I borrowed a pair of my dad’s running shoes and set out for a two mile run. I started out gingerly, my knee aching a bit, and my body confused by the different mechanics involved in running compared to hiking, but eventually I hit my stride and remembered how much I enjoyed running. Being in good cardio-vascular shape and with my asthma under control it was downright fun to move through the world at 6 mph (10 minute miles). I returned home feeling somewhat reassured that I could at least run a little bit. My only complaint was that my upper body was a sore. I decided not to press my luck, so I took a day off before hitting the road again for another 2 mile run. This time I ran it at 6.67 mph (9 minute miles) and felt like I could have kept on running forever. The next day, however, my knee was sore, so I decided I better give it a little more time off to recover. It was also clear that my dad’s running sneakers were too big for me and I was going to have to get a pair of new shoes before the marathon.
Now, with a week to go before the marathon, the longest run I’d done was just two miles, and I still didn’t have a pair or running shoes that fit. I wanted to get at least one longer run in before the marathon, preferable in the new shoes that I hadn’t bought yet. Without a car, I was finding it hard to go somewhere and try on shoes to buy, and I was reluctant to buy shoes online without trying them on first. Eventually, with just days to go before the marathon, I asked my brothers which kind of running shoes they used and ordered a pair online. They would arrive the day before I flew into Washington DC for the marathon. In the meantime I decided I better get in my long run, a 4 mile run, before they arrived. I breezed through my 4 mile run with a 9 minute mile pace and once again felt like I could have gone on forever. If I ran the first 5 miles of the race at that pace, I would build up a buffer of 25 minutes and could walk the rest of the race at 4 mph (15 minute miles) and finish before the marathon cutoff times. It might not be pretty, but I was hopeful that I’d at least be able to finish the marathon.
It was time to pack my bags and hope that my hasty two week training plan would be enough this time. I went to the closet and pulled out a small duffel bag since I only had to bring a few things and didn’t want to have to pay to check any luggage. I was going to go to Boston, then fly to DC, and then fly from there to Florida for a much needed vacation after the marathon. It felt strange to be packing a duffel bag instead of my backpack. There was no reason to pack a sleeping bag or my tent. Suddenly I was having separation anxiety about leaving my pack behind. Even though I hadn’t used my backpack in a couple of weeks, I always knew it was right there… Ready for me to grab it and disappear into the woods at a moments notice. I hadn’t realized that I’d been using its presence as a security blanket as I continued to try to adapt to the post trail life.
This was it though, I was leaving my security blanket, heading into the city for the first time since April or May, and embarking on my next adventure: Running the Marine Corps Marathon!