Whenever summer rolls around, I hear the call of travel and new experiences. While I did heaps of traveling last summer to Montana, California and Texas, this year I’ve cinched the purse strings closed and am staying in Chicago. Though, when you think of fun summer activities in the city I bet begrudgingly training for the Chicago Marathon is not on your to do list.
In February, my friend mentioned that she wanted to run the Marathon in October. Because I’d completed the Marathon in 2010, I volunteered to train with her. On the first day of training, I texted that I was up and heading out to meet at our prearranged spot.
She replied, “Sorry, I didn’t get to bed until late. How many miles?”
“Three,” I responded.
“When are we running next?”
“Tomorrow, Wednesday. Same mileage.”
“Great! See you tomorrow.”
This went on for approximately two weeks until I stopped messaging her. We’re at week eight of our training schedule with 10 more weeks to go and I haven’t seen my friend once. I suppose the joke’s on me. Why carry on with the training? Admittedly, I’m stubborn. I’ve already paid the entrance fee (cheap) and I didn’t hate the marathon the first time around. Although, I didn’t love it either. I run because it helps me keep in shape for the other activities I participate in, like dance team and trapeze. Though I won’t deny that it complicates my life. This past Saturday, I completed 13 miles and still had two dance performances on top of it.
My body doesn’t do well in the heat and humidity that are typically part of Chicago’s summers, so I run in the mornings. While I wake up naturally around 5:30 or 6 a.m., I usually still lay there thinking about more sleep, but the miles don’t run themselves. Once I’m up, the hard part is over. I throw on some running clothes, take a long drink of water, pop in my ear buds, switch on my phone’s GPS tracker to gauge my mileage and pace — lucky for me, it doesn’t track my attitude — and go.
After I hit the lakefront path at Bryn Mawr, I head south toward Lincoln Park. I’m following an 18 week program where I’ll be clocking in a total of anywhere from 15 miles for a lighter week to 31 miles for a harder one. What I just described is a “beginners” program. More experienced runners will do more mileage. Overachievers are the worst. Many runners you read about are motivated by what’s called a runner’s high. I don’t get high from running. Often times, I berate myself for the first 10 minutes. Once I reach 20 minutes, my 40-year-old body finally warms up and I acquiesce to the fact that I’m 20 minutes from home and might as well keep going. While running, I try not to think about my bed, the alcohol I might have consumed the night before or the pleasure of enjoying a cup of coffee while watching Project Runway. Judge away.
Fortunately, I’m not the only loser out on that path in the mornings. At first, it’s pretty desolate. The sun is just peeking over the horizon, which warms my spirits. You’ll see a couple runners or a biker whiz by every so often. By 6 a.m., when the sun is fully up and the path is packed, it can feel like the weekend rather than an average Tuesday morning. Saturdays, though, are the worst. Not only are the runs longer, but there are more people on the path.
Many people join groups for their long runs. I’ve never joined one because the thought of running with others who really want to do well mentally exhausts me. I don’t want to know what they’re eating or what gel packs work best for them. Seeing them all hoof on by doesn’t faze me in the slightest. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket about the whole experience because I do reap the benefits and I should be grateful that I have two working legs. Yet sometimes I still think that I could be walking the Champs-Elysées or anywhere else that sounds more like a vacation than work. I know that despite this, I’ll still have a knot in my stomach come Marathon Day. I’ll also remember to smile at every camera that I see because I learned that pictures of me grimacing, while real, are ugly.
Training for a marathon may not be the same as Paris in August. However, after you finish your first marathon, you’re part of an elite club. Some will find it fascinating and ask you a gazillion questions. Others will declare that you’re crazy. Make no mistake, you are. Secretly, though, it’s my most favorite athletic endeavor — that is over rugby, dance, cheerleading, triathlon or trapeze. I have one job to do, go forward. It’s the easiest activity that you’ll encounter and eventually it’ll get a little easier. Better still, you don’t even need a running buddy to do it.