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Layers of Tough
Training for a marathon in the face of Old Man Winter takes more than just a few extra layers of clothing. Fifth in a series of essays.

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By Hank Brown
Posted Monday, 20 January, 2003

This is the fifth in a series of essays following columnist Hank Brown in his march to the Myrtle Beach Marathon. The first, second, third and fourth articles are also available.

Week 7

When I first decided to run the Myrtle Beach Marathon, I came up with a plan. My wife, Natalie, has a favorite saying, "Make a plan, God laughs."

Well, week 6 must have been hysterical for someone up above. For the first 5 weeks, I was in boot camp. I was on a routine. Nothing could stop me... not rain, not sleet, not snow, not cold. Well, not cold, but A cold finally halted me... dead in my tracks. In week 6, I missed 5 straight days. My goal for week 7 is simple... get back on my feet.

I'm finally feeling better by Christmas Eve, so Natalie and I plan to run early in the morning with the Village Idiots. The "Idiots" (don't ask, they named themselves) are a devoted group of runners who for some reason, like to run very early, even on weekends (when I usually sleep in!). They go in every season, in every climate, in all kinds of weather. As luck would have it, Natalie and I wake up to driving rain and wind. Not a good day to come back, especially on the recovering side of a nasty cold. We stay in bed, which was an easy decision. One more day won't hurt. About an hour later, Natalie says, "Guess who just ran by our window?" I didn't have to guess.

Later that day we found out that Natalie's uncle Danny passed away after a long bout with cancer. He was constrained to a wheelchair the final 4 years of his life, paralyzed from the ribs down. We were all hoping he would make it through Christmas, but he fought the battle as long as he could. And I'm complaining about a simple cold?

On Christmas morning, it's pouring again, but this time it's white stuff! I don't care if it's a blizzard; I'm running today! It feels good to be putting on tights, and lacing up my running shoes. After about a block I can't hold back any longer, and proclaim (out loud) to the neighborhood... "I'm back! This feels GREAT!" Is this what happens to marathoners? We eventually pound away all the normal brain cells? It's frosty. It's freezing. The snow is blowing. I'm running straight into it. Merry Christmas!

My schedule calls for a 19-miler this weekend, and my first instincts are to postpone it until I am at full strength again. But after a couple of decent 5-milers, I decide to give it a try early Saturday morning. Natalie and I have to attend Danny's funeral at noon on Saturday so the 19-miler will start at 7:00am in order to give me plenty of time. The night before I toss and turn like a kite, before finally giving up on sleep. I'm up. It's time to run.

I check the TV to get a temperature reading. 18 degrees! Good gosh. I wasn't expecting that. No backing out now. I head out the door and the frigid air is a rude slap in the face. Wow, if I wasn't awake before, I am now! I know this is going to be a war.


I head out the door and the frigid air is a rude slap in the face. Wow, if I wasn't awake before, I am now! I know this is going to be a war.


Within a block, for some reason, I start thinking about Danny. Natalie was very close to her uncle, and this has been an emotional few days for her. I wish I had known him better, but I knew one thing, he was one tough guy. He never complained. He didn't have the use of his legs. Cancer had gradually overtaken his body. He was on heavy painkillers. So, after what he's been through, how hard can it be to run 19 miles? I had my inspiration. I was running this one for Danny.

I figure I'll probably be the only crazy person out at this time of day running in this kind of weather. Within a mile I see a group of guys about a block away passing through the neighborhood... okay, so I'm the only crazy person OTHER than the Village Idiots.

As before, I tell myself to just zone out. Step, step, step... each one the same as before. Become a foot soldier. Just run Brown. I take my stretch breaks about every 4 miles, which turn out to be small rewards. I look forward to them. I pep talk myself to these little oases' in the middle of my 19-mile desert. By 13 miles I'm really wearing down, but tell myself to get tough. Danny was tough. I stagger into my final stretch break at about 15.5 miles... only 3.5 to go. I can make it. I've run 3.5 miles millions of times before.

The final miles are pure physical AND mental combat. The war is on. I have to stop and walk twice. Keep moving Brown. I'm talking out loud now, but not to myself. "Come on, Danny, get me through this. Share some of that toughness. I need it." I keep shuffling along. I will NOT give up. Then I realize something. Danny has legs now. "Run it with me, man." And he does. And we make it.

In the winter, you wear layers of clothing to protect you. The colder the day, the more layers you add. On a distance run, you need layers too. I call them layers of tough. The longer/harder the run, the more layers you need. I think I added a layer today.

Week 8

I knew the 19-miler was a maximum effort, but when I wake on Sunday, I realize just how max-ed out I had been. I feel like the losing end of a bar fight to Walker, Texas Ranger. No problem. Today is a day off; I'll be better by Monday.

My three kids are arriving today from Ft. Wayne, IN, for their Christmas/New Year's visitation. I know I will have to really juggle my schedule to fit in a decent week of running. There is also a New Year's Eve 5k race Tuesday evening, which I would like to try. My legs look up at me and say, "Huh? You got to be kidding! We're in major distress here. Find another pair of legs if you're thinking about going any faster than Barney (the Dinosaur, not the deputy)!"

On Monday morning my legs are still whining and I'm still limping. I look in my "Dads With 3 Kids" manual and look under the chapter "What To Do With Your Kids After Running 19 Miles." It suggested sitting on your beehiney in a movie theater, or if you're up for it... bowling.

So, here we are at the bowling alley trying on shoes and looking for a ball that I can pick up without dropping on my aching feet. The thought of walking 3 steps and rolling a 16-pound ball down the alley twice each frame for 10 frames for 2 games suddenly seems like it's own marathon. By the end of the second game I am pooped. No running today.

Tuesday morning is a little better so I ease in about 5 miles, but officially cancel plans to run the 5k that evening. The rest of the week is more of the same... easy 5-milers early in the morning (before the kids wake up). By the weekend, my legs are slowly recovering, so I brave a hilly 12 miles on a snowy day. I'm realizing just how stern this marathon training really is. Nothing comes easy. If 19 miles can break me down this much, what will 26.2 miles do to me?

Don't answer that question...!

Next: The Roaring Twenties



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