Dear Endurance Athlete Friends, pilule
I’ve long had a suspicion that something was wrong with you. All of you. Each and every one of you has some sort of mild – or major- psychosis that propels you to these absurdly long races and mind-bendingly difficult endurance feats. I’ve spent enough time hanging out with you to know this is true and the longer I spend hanging around all of you the more warped my own mind becomes. At the end of this block of training I fear now for my own sanity, viagra sale my own safety, rx and my own state of mind.
I believe endurance athletes are Straightjacket-style crazy. You know what the irony of a straightjacket for an endurance athlete would be? That even with their upper limbs all tied up they would probably still ask for their bike on a trainer. “Well, the old arms are tied up but doesn’t mean I can’t spin out those legs!” “Maybe once I’m done my 120 minute spin I can still do a little run! Brick style you know!” “Hell, why not throw me in the lake. Having a straightjacket on doesn’t mean I can’t do a little kick. Pass me the kickboard, will you?”
My newfound certainty of the insanity of my training mates is all because of The Marathon.
Earlier in 2013 I set a goal to “accomplish an athletic first”. As proud I am of my newfound Mountain Bike skills, I didn’t feel that counted towards an athletic first. Being a Pace Bunny in the Stampede Half Marathon was a solid experience, but I still didn’t think it counted because I’d done a half before. I was looking for something major, something I could add to my athletic accomplishments, something I could do around my Birthday so I could wrap up the Birthday + race experience all in one.
I decided Marathon for a number of reasons. One: it’s an athletic first. I haven’t completed any (yet). Two: up until now (and now more so than ever) marathons have disgusted me (please read herefor an awesome account of the weird and wonderful -and very funny- reasons someone else runs). Three: I figured I could probably eat double my daily caloric intake for the week following the race which would nicely allow of a gluttonous birthday week. Four: I know that whenever I decide to tackle Ironman (which now I think, maybe never) I will have the knowledge that I can run a 42.2km finale after a long day.
With Hillary at my side we booked the race, the plane tickets. I made a spread sheet for training and populated it based on some scientific (and non-scientific) advice and training programs. I had a couple people take a look and make adjustments. And then, well, I started running.
It was mid-July when I started to wonder if I was going crazy.
Call it an increase of miles during the week and of longer runs. I had this fretful feeling during my longer distances that I might stop moving, drop to the cement in the middle of the pathway somewhere and curl into the fetal position, hands cupping my ears, letting out bloodcurdling screams until someone arrived with a gallon of Gatorade and a Cinnamon Bun. At times I would feel a rising tide of anger when my alarm went off early and I would dress myself and scoot out the door to get in the time before work. At other times I would start feeling full of gratitude and joy (the neighborhood is so beautiful! My sneakers are so colorful! Life is so grand!) -usually when I got to run 6km or less. Mostly though my feelings hinged between irritation and exasperation, a sensation that flowed mostly near the start and end of the run(s). Irritation: it’s 5:30am and I want to be sleeping. Exasperation: I’m tired. Irritation: I have only run 8km. Exasperation: I still have 8km to go! As the mileage has climbed I’ve been faced with a gamut of emotions I didn’t even know were brewing deep down in my spirit, emotions and thoughts that only the long haul of training could bring bubbling to the surface.
Having Hillary during the long runs has been a lifesaver. Usually we can find a middle ground in which to pace, set small goals within a big one, and decide when we are going to eat (Gels and Salt Tabs are my best friends). Two weekends ago we finished a brutal 34km long run in the blistering heat, and we drove directly from Fish Creek Park to Jelly Donuts. We sat outside in almost silence as we scarfed full-sized donuts down our throats, giddy like kids during Christmas, consuming calories off our dirty sticky fingers as quickly as possible. I went home, drank a protein drink, had a cold shower and lay in bed for three hours icing my knees, which had decided they were going to stop bending. As I lay in the dark, still sweating and hot, knees throbbing and stomach churning I thought, Why the Hell does anyone want to do this?
I am reminded of friend and former triathlon coach Mike Neill, who did FOUR ironman triathlons and TWO half-ironmans in 2011. Let me repeat this for emphasis: Mike ran four marathons after the superhuman feats of swimming and biking the aforementioned distance. I almost now think there might be something seriously wrong with him. Mike, if you’re reading, I know now why you were so tired that year. You probably are still in sleep debt.
Then there is my friend Lentine, who just ran all six days of the Trans Rockies race. Now, if ever you need to be hopelessly inspired by a chick who just keeps on going… and going… and going… that’s her. I am so proud of her for running this race, a mind-numbing feat that I cannot even begin to fathom. I also suspect, lovingly, there may be a screw loose in her head. I thought that until I read her race report and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud while she describes the experience of trying to eat (altitude and running 30km + a day had robbed her of any appetite) a sandwich but was crying so hard she was drenching the bread while eating it. Turns out she is human after all, just a human who wants to push and push and push herself to the max. Verdict? Temporary insanity and deep, deep down digging, to see truly how far one can go. Cause? endurance sport.
Last Saturday I ran my final long run, Hillary at my side, before the big show. I nailed the nutrition, we jimmy-rigged together a long run (the flood has damaged so much of our usual running routes we’ve been forced to be very creative), hit the water perfectly, and had a decently paced long run. My feet still swelled, my knees still locked, I was still so sore I could hardly move the next day. Never before have I had the joy of popping blisters for weeks on end, new blisters forming on top of the old ones, angry in the multi-layer glory, taunting me with their constant reminder that they won’t stop coming until I stop running. Sigh. Even at the end of this seemingly never-ending run I realized that when I run the marathon I still have 6km more to run than this. Unfathomable.
During this training I was also introduced to a whole new world of chafing, one I thought unimaginable after having suffered many unfortunate “issues” that come with long distance bike riding. One of the most bizarre instances was a few weeks ago when I thoughtlessly shoved a gel haphazardly down bra. It was a moment in time I didn’t give a thought -oh an extra gel, I will probably need this– I simply stuffed. I learned the very hard way you can get away with a lot in 15km or less when running, but certain things are not possible for longer. Strange parts chafe. In this case, the little escapee gel that I thoughtlessly put in my chest tucked between my sports bra and skin settled in there horizontally, where it rubbed, bled, blistered and scabbed over while I was running. When I went to shower I pulled off my sports bra and had to hold in my scream of terror: by sports bra was drenched in blood. I frantically grabbed at my chest and I realized then my error. The one little __ml gel back rubbed so bad it created two small holes of pain which resulted in the sports injury mentioned. I never really thought it was possible a little plastic gel pack could cause that much bleeding, but I guess I was wrong. I could hardly wear a normal bra the rest of the week. I thought saddle sores were the epitome of painful after-sport bang-ups and now I realize I am wrong.
Despite all these km and all this training, I still am in mild shock that I am going to run 42.2kms, something I often dismissed as not that big of deal. After all these months of training and all these hard sessions I suppose I am on the downslide (the endurance folks like to call it “taper”) into this athletic event. When panicked, I comfort myself with the thought of eating poutine and drinking expensive wine on the other side of the finish line. Oh, and adding it to the list of athletic accomplishments. It’s a good thing we have moved into taper. I’m really damn tired.
Frank Shorter is on record as saying, “you have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know whats coming. “ I have a hard time comprehending that I might forget about the suffering of this training.
I allow myself to bask in the incomprehension of the feat of Ironman. I allow myself even more so to fall even deeper in love with my friends who are true endurance athletes: you’re a crazy bunch of a_________s, but I truly love you all for putting yourselves through this kind of pain, this kind of wringer, to see what your body is capable of. You amaze me. You inspire me.
I still think you’re all completely crazy.