Yes, I know the post title says “Monday,” when it’s already Wednesday. Sometimes it takes a couple of days for a blog post to make its way from my brain onto my computer screen.
I did not run the Boston Marathon on Monday. Considering that there were *only* 26,000-ish people who did run the race, my non-participation is not particularly notable. Added to that fact is the reality that today marks exactly nine months since I had three of my vertebrae fused, and there really should be no surprise that I wasn’t one of the people in the insanely unseasonable heat making my way on foot from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. I haven’t actually run the Boston Marathon since 1995, but once it’s in your blood, the sense of connection never goes away. The last marathon that I completed was New York City, in 2007. The following year one of my lumbar discs, which had apparently been disintegrating for months, exploded dramatically while I was running a leisurely half-marathon in New Hampshire. Since then, my spine has continued to demand surgical attention, and the only road race I’ve entered was a Race for the Cure 5K in 2009.
I still miss it.
To the non-runners out there, this entire post probably sounds bizarre, but long distance running is one of the great calming activities of modern life, in my opinion. It is the “couch potato” option for over-achievers. I mean it. Once you’ve built up a basic level of endurance, a long run is incredibly relaxing and meditative.
I started running when I was 13, and I never gave it up. I fell in love with the rhythm, the pace, the breathing, and the opportunity to see familiar places from a different perspective than simply driving past them. Once I started road racing, I was completely hooked on the experience of seeing a location from the middle of the road in the midst of a pack of other runners. There’s an annual 10-mile race in my hometown that I entered for the first time when I was in high school. I ran that race every year for a very long time, as well as dozens of 10-Ks, half-marathons, 5-milers, a bunch of full marathons, and other events of varying distances. I was never fast, but I was steady. When I was in my 20s, I got up almost every day at 5:30 a.m. and ran at least five miles. My morning jog defined my life for almost 30 years. Building up to longer distances was only an incremental shift and a scheduling issue. Running 10, 15, 20 miles is really just a matter of planning and showing up. It is simultaneously self-indulgent and virtuous, which is a complicated combination of attributes for an overachiever. There is no question that claiming three hours out of a weekend for a training run could affect the other people in my life. Once I’d made my arrangements and gotten out out on the road, however, I was free to think about anything I wanted. I used to keep a mental list of topics to consider at my leisure–what a luxury! I solved personal dilemmas, planned elaborate menus for parties, and balanced my budget on long runs. I composed most of my dissertation while training for the New York Marathon. I trained on the Boston Marathon route regularly, whether I was preparing for that race or simply going out for a challenging hill run. Living in the neighborhood of one of the most respected distance challenges in the USA had its impact.
And so, when Marathon Monday rolls around, there is a part of me that feels a pull. This year, we were in Portland, Maine enjoying a gorgeous long weekend with friends. That morning, I went out for a long walk, followed by a Pilates class. We only caught a few glimpses of the TV coverage of the race. A lot of people struggled through the heat. The winning times were relatively slow due to the weather. Hundreds (or thousands?) of folks crossed that finish line for the first time.
I had dinner with a couple of friends in Cambridge Monday night. As I got out of my car, two runners walked past me, still wearing their race numbers. I felt a tightening in my throat, thinking of the fatigue and satisfaction and the last burst of adrenaline that was keeping them going. It was 6:30 in the evening–they must have finished the race a couple of hours previously and were making their way home after a very long day.
“I can’t believe you’re still on your feet,” I said to them with admiration.
“Neither can I,” said the woman.
I remember that feeling.
Cheers, to all the runners and all of the people who set goals for themselves just to see if they can achieve them.