Middle Distance Runner

There’s this song, “Middle Distance Runner”, by the band Sea Wolf that I often hear in my head while I’m running. Sometimes I also hear it in my ears because it is on my running mix. But even when it is not literally in my head, it’s still there. Ever more so now as I look at the calendar, see that I’m squarely in Week Two of marathon training and feel a demoralizing sense of helplessness that it seems *way* too early to be experiencing.

This is not how it was supposed to be. When I registered to run my first marathon – the Portland Marathon on October 9 – a few months ago, it was with a swift and startling sense of claring that this is absolutely the year to do it. In 2005, my immediate thoughts upon completing my first half marathon were, in order, “HELL YEAH!” and “Welp, I have NO desire to ever run a full marathon.” That’s been the party line for the last six years, until, for reasons that now escape me, I was consumed by a desire – simultaneously invigorating and calming – to take a stab at 26.2 miles.

So I started doing some research, talked to past marathoners, moved past my brother’s “Don’t do it!” advice and settled on an 18 week training schedule from a renowned and respected professional. As the calendar inched towards June 7 – my first official training run – I felt pretty good. I am not a new runner. The first few weeks of the schedule I’m using looked like cake. A bunch of three and four mile runs with 5, 6 and 7’s on the weekends. Seriously, cake. With a good base of three half marathons in the last six months, all the training that came with that and my newfound devotion to bikram yoga, I figured the first couple of weeks at least would seem like a vacation.

Goddamn was I wrong. Last week – Week One – was nothing short of abysmal. I went just over the required three miles on the first day, but couldn’t even eke out more than 2.57 on the second day. My weekend six miles? Ha. Try 2.5 (and that’s a generous estimate since my Garmin GPS thingy crapped out after about 1.4 miles). All told, I ran 11.52 miles last week. It should have been 15. Not horrible, I know, but definitely not how I wanted to start. In what I guess is an effort to shame myself into better performance, I have my training calendar and miles run vs. miles should have run posted on my wall at work. More than the deficient mileage, it’s how I felt during those miles that bothers me. I was slow. Really. Really. REALLY slow. Like, pulling a plow behind me slow. I just felt so… new, and not in a good, fresh, ready to tackle it kind of way. I felt like my legs were betraying me and that I didn’t know what I was doing and worse yet, that it showed.

I really hate being bad at things. This is not to say that I am not bad at things, because, oh boy, am I. See: rollerskating, winking, discreetly looking over my shoulder. I also often don’t recognize when it might be in my best interest to step away from something. See: my behavior at Thanksgiving dinner tables and slot machines, as well as the entirety of 2009. These character traits combined potentially spell disaster for me when it comes to the marathon. If I don’t get my shit together, I am going to be bad at – and yet not walk away from – something that could leave me substantially worse for wear if I force myself to power through it.

So, the plan is this. Stop plodding along like I’m being forced to run. Stop complaining to everyone in sight about this (sorry work pals, new boyfriend and anyone who had to see my sour face on the running trail last week). Put the schedule away for a few weeks. Go to yoga a bunch – it makes me feel awesome and strong and like I can do anything. Run the same way I did before June 7, which, in reality, isn’t that much different from the schedule. Get myself to a better place physically and mentally and then shut the shit up and run. And run. And run. And run.

I may decide on October 10 that, in the end, I really will only ever be a middle distance runner. Until then though, 26.2 is my new best friend.

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