There are 26 poses in bikram yoga (that sweaty, gross, baffling thing that I have grown steadily more addicted to over the last couple of years). 26 poses that never vary; performed in 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees. My favorite instructor, Tom, often likes to sprinkle bits of yogic wisdom throughout class. A good day is when I get to take class from him and hear him say that in the ancient Sanskrit Yoga Sutras, yoga is characterized as the perfect balance between effort and ease. I love that so much.
Effort and ease. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
Nine days ago I ran my third marathon. 47 days from now I will run my fourth marathon. Marathon recovery and marathon training have to happen simultaneously, though given that I haven’t run a step in the last nine days, I’m solidly delinquent with regard to the latter. The larger issue right now is this whole effort and ease business and how very much I did not feel that balance nine days ago.
When I started practicing bikram, I didn’t think it would stick. I couldn’t fathom how slogging through the exact same 90 minutes every time wouldn’t grow mind numbingly dull and monotonous. Boy was I wrong. Those 90 minutes are NEVER the same. Each class challenges me in new ways and I’ve never landed in the same spot on the effort/ease continuum twice. Each experience in that room is at least a little (and sometimes a lot) different every time.
I think I went into the marathon last Sunday hoping for something similar. I go into a hot room a couple of times a week to do the same 26 poses in the same order and every time it’s a different kind of sweaty awesomeness. Running 26 miles on familiar streets for the second time seemed like a surefire way to conjure up some of the magic from last year’s run in an exciting new way. Again, boy was I wrong. Those 26 miles were neither a comfort nor a revelation. They were different, for sure, but not in a good way. They were a letdown. I probably should have known that I couldn’t recapture the joy of running a first marathon and I also shouldn’t have expected to beat the time from my second marathon in June on a course markedly less flat and fast than the one I ran in Newport. Different course, different town. Different year, different me. I ran Portland this year about ten minutes faster than I did last year (half-hearted yay) and about 13 minutes slower than I ran Newport in June (disappointed boo).
After a year full of races – three halfs, two relays, two fulls – it feels counterintuitive to say that I wasn’t ready for this. But I think maybe I wasn’t. I ran the race I trained for, plain and simple, and with nothing above 13.1 on the books since June, it’s my own fault that the wheels started coming off around mile 15 last Sunday. I ran a solid first half and actually had pretty serious designs on a sub-four time for the first several miles. Passing pace group after pace group felt great and once I overtook the 4:10 group, I believed that it might actually happen. You can only fool yourself for so long though and around 15 the absence of the 18 and 20 mile training runs that I should have done in September became a screaming presence in my legs and (more detrimentally) my mind. I was still pretty sure I could PR and beat my 4:12 in Newport, but even that began slipping away from me somewhere around the time I managed to pull myself out of my funk long enough to appreciate the gorgeous view from the St. Johns Bridge. Oh yeah, I guess I should mention that last Sunday was a beautiful, perfect day for a run. Not at all the gray grossness that you might have expected given how this Eeyore is telling the story.
I got it together for 3 or 4 miles after that and managed to find some joy in gummy bears at the aid stations, humor in the poor planning of offering Vaseline immediately before pretzels (petroleum jelly covered salty goodness – yum!) and soul-filling gratitude at the number of strangers along the course cheering and encouraging me and so many others on when we all had little left to give. My lone supporter, Joe, was out around mile 21 and I’m pretty sure I smiled big enough to trick him into thinking I was having a good time. The last few miles were bursts of fast and slow and fast and slow and I wasn’t thinking much beyond, “Don’t finish slower than last year. Whatever you do, don’t do that.” And then I kicked it up a notch to finish strong through the finish in 4:25:56 and it was over. And I went home and hung up my medal and folded and put away my finisher’s shirt and that was that.
So here I am, nine days post and 47 days pre-marathon with no idea if it’s realistic to refocus my efforts on a sub-four in Sacramento and a fear that if I don’t, I’ll find myself out there on December 2 running another not awesome, kinda aimless race. If that happens I might just want to call it a day with this whole marathon thing and that is just too sad to bear. So the best I’ve come up with is that while what happened last weekend wasn’t a failure by any stretch of the imagination, it was disappointment enough that I’m seeking redemption of sorts in Sacramento. There are 18 and 20 mile runs on my calendar between now and the race and you best believe I’ll be hitting them. I also look at this frequently for motivation and comfort.
New, fast, downhill miles that I’m excited to get to know in December.
Most importantly though, I’ve hung this in my kitchen as a reminder.
A reminder of all of it – the first marathon, the best marathon, the disappointing marathon. There’s space to fill in that frame and even though I’m a little nervous about what qualifiers will be attached to the bibs yet to be added, I’m committed to meeting those miles – all of them – with some measure of effort and ease over the new few years.