Just Keep Moving
The first tough long runs of marathon training are tests of spirit as much as stride. Just tell yourself to keep moving. The third in a series of essays.
Posted Friday, 27 December, 2002
This is the third in a series of essays following columnist Hank Brown in his march to the Myrtle Beach Marathon. The first, second and fourth articles are also available.
The good times didn't last long. After my first "long" run of 10 miles on a pleasant afternoon, I wake up two days later to light drizzle, cold and wind... not exactly a chamber of commerce day. My schedule says 11 miles today. Ugh. Just three days into my training for the Myrtle Beach Marathon, and I'm already questioning the sanity of this whole idea.
BM (Before Marathon), I would not have thought twice about rolling over in bed and spending the rest of this day just like the majority of my more intelligent species -- inside! Yeah, that's right, inside. Inside... where the temperature reads 72 degrees. Inside... where rain patters on the windowpane. Inside... where wind is the gentle breeze floating from the floor vents. Inside... where I'm protected from the outside.
But here I am walking out my door in enough outerwear to clothe the Salvation Army. The wind immediately slaps me in the face, turning it a nice blotchy red. "What are you doing out here?" says the Wind. "Go back inside or I'll slap you around some more."
I turn the other cheek and start my watch. The cold air brings tears to my eyes. The light drizzle has transformed into a steady rain. The wind is of course keeping its promise. But I'm running straight into it. I'm a marathon trainee now. We run on days like this.
I always tell myself when I'm running, especially a run of considerable distance, "Just keep moving, Brown.... As long as you're moving, you're getting closer to the finish."
I decide to run about halfway (5.5 miles) into the headwind, so I would have the benefit of a tailwind the final half of the journey. Between four and five miles I finally give up the fight. The wind is relentless and the rain is gaining momentum. I turn around early. I did the math and figured 9 miles was "good enough" on a day like this. But on the way back I start feeling guilty. So I add a few blocks here and there to make up some distance, giving me a total of 10 to 10.5 miles.
Okay, so maybe I stumbled out of the blocks just a little. But I survived the first weekend. I always tell myself when I'm running, especially a run of considerable distance, "Just keep moving, Brown.... As long as you're moving, you're getting closer to the finish." Yeah, I survived, but I know what's coming: 13 miles next Sunday. It's haunting me. The road is heading toward the first real mountain. It's on the horizon.
If last Sunday's weather was a growling, bighting, fearsome German Shepherd, then this Sunday is a lovable, long-eared, tail-wagging Basset Hound. The sun is out, the air is warm, and the wind is calm. I'm anxious about the 13 miles, but soothed somewhat by the nice weather. I show up at a group run (on an old half marathon course) and after a mile or two of sorting out the group, I settle in with Jimmy from Richlands, Va. We are running about the same pace so I hope to stay joined at the hip as long as possible. We chat (when I can breathe and talk at the same time), and get to know each other better. He's getting ready for a spring marathon, so we make tentative plans to hook up for some future runs.
By 9 miles I'm wearing down, and by 11 I'm already in no-man's land. My wife Natalie has been hopping around the course in her car, checking to make sure I'm okay. After passing through no-man's land, inspired by Natalie's smiling face and Jimmy's words of encouragement, I churn my way to the finish. Hey, I'm still standing and walking around, but man, I don't think I could have run 3 more steps. Going TWICE that distance seems insurmountable right now. But I can't think that way. Take small victories... just keep moving, Brown.
Unfortunately, the lousy weather pays a return visit, and the hats and gloves and tights become second skin. I really think a big part of marathon training is learning how to deal with discomfort. Deal with wind chills of 20 degrees or less. Deal with numb hands and frozen ears. Deal with dry skin and blistered feet. Deal with tight legs and aching feet. Just zone out and run.
Sometimes you miscalculate and Mother Nature makes you pay. One afternoon I left the office and it didn't feel too bad out. I decide to wear shorts instead of tights, one top layer, gloves, but no hat. I was about one layer and one hat short. People driving by give me that look like, "you must be nuts," or, "you poor guy." Neither made me feel any better. By the time I get back home I'm shivering. Natalie first looks at me like I'm nuts (everyone's a critic!)... then thinks I'm mad at her when I brush by and dash to the fireplace. Nope, just cold!!!
The next test is Friday... 14 miles. I decide to run the same half marathon course from the previous week and add an extra mile. Within the first block, I feel a sharp pain in my knee. I panic. No. This cannot happen. We all have nightmares of the Ghost of Injuries Past, Present and Future paying a visit. I stop and walk and stretch for a minute. I jog some more and the pain comes back. I stretch again. Start again. The pain finally goes away... just one of those little "hitches" early in a run, I guess. I pray it doesn't return.
I stop and stretch every few miles, telling myself to just zone out. My left foot starts to ache after about 10 miles, but not bad enough to stop. My left hamstring is tight, probably from an old injury, so I'm sure I must be shortening my stride on that side. After I finish, I stick my aching foot in a big bucket of ice water. Good news, bad news. I'm still on schedule, but gathering a few wounds along the way. I just hope I can make it to the starting line with all limbs intact!
Just keep moving, Brown.
Next: The Meat of the Order