I believe that the marathon is about equal amounts of physical and mental toughness. I think the mental toughness aspect of the race is often times more important than the physical side. There comes a time in every race, and in every training run, when most runners want to quit. I can say this unequivocally, there comes a time, usually multiple times, in every run when I want to quit.
Running is hard. Very hard. I have to continually and constantly resist the urge to quit.
In my marathon plan for 2019, my plan to go from basically no miles of training to being able to complete the distance in November in under three months – all while trying to get through the pain and discomfort that comes with interstitial tears in my right Achilles tendon – called for me to attempt to reach 18 miles today. I’m running out of time before marathon day.
My long run previously, about ten days ago, was 12.7 miles. This was to be a HUGE jump in mileage. I was confident that I could make the jump, but I knew it would be hard.
My initial plan called for an outside run that would have been great fun, at least in a sense (as if long runs can ever be fun). My wife and I were going to head down to the family beach house to take the furniture in and prepare the house for the winter. While we were down there I planned to do a favorite long run route – I’d run from the beach house north to Point Pleasant, run along the boardwalk, and then turn around and return home. It’s a good 18 mile run that has been a staple of my long summer runs for almost two decades. My wife was going to “escort” me on a bike. I really looked forward to this, exercising together on a cool day at the beach, but, alas!, the weather didn’t promise to cooperate – we’re supposed to have days of rain – so we stayed home and I knew I’d have to do this run on the treadmill (the last thing I wanted at this point is to add the variable of cold rain to the misery I’d feel as I tried to push over the miles).
The treadmill. The TM. Most people hate running on the TM. I don’t.
I have run two “Treadmill Marathons” in my home and plenty of 20-milers on the machines over the years. (Of course, I was younger then.) I haven’t come close to 18 miles in any run since last November when I ran the NYC Marathon.
Still, I knew (and know) that time is running out. I needed 18 miles today if I planned to run the marathon in just 25 days. Proper marathon training plans have runners start to taper around now – they cut back their mileage. I’m so under-trained, I don’t have that luxury. I need to ramp up, almost right until the big day.
At a little before 6:30 a.m., I jumped on the mill, ready to do battle with the machine, my Achilles, my body, my mind, and myself. I knew that if I stayed within myself, if I didn’t let the task overwhelm me, that I’d have a shot…
I also planned for plenty of mental breaks off the TM, just to recoup my senses and calm down a bit. Time was not a factor going in. I figured this endeavor would take me at least three and a half hours.
I started at 5.0 MPH and went from there. I did a nice 1.5 miles, getting up to about 5.4 MPH at which point I took my first break. I stopped the machine, stepped off, changed my shirt, took a deep breath, and went back to work, this time determining to push the envelope a bit and go a bit faster. I decided that if I could average better than 11:00 minute miles (slightly faster than 5.5 MPH) that that would be very good.
And I did it.
My next mental break came at 6.0 miles. My overall running time (not counting the previous break of about two minutes) was 65:03. I was almost a minute under eleven-minute-mile pace. Again it was a change of shirt, a deep breath, and off again on my quest.
I felt great as I ran, knowing that I was really doing well. The next break came five miles later at 11.0 miles. I was now at 117:44. I was more than three miles ahead of my goal pace. YEAH!
I normally run with headphones on so as to not disturb my sleeping wife (although I do sometimes (often?) sing – and not well as the miles build up and I start to get a little crazy, bored, frustrated, and more).
It was here that I faced the moment of truth. I was sick of music. I was approaching my longest run distance this training season, I was tired, and knew I had seven more miles – well over an hour to go. I grabbed my Rocky III DVD, threw it in the player and hoped that it would entertain me and pump me up to get me over the next few miles. I decided to run slower to stay within myself. I was running closer to 11:45 mile pace at this point.
It didn’t work. I stopped the machine only half a mile later. I was at 11.5 miles. I was done physically and mentally. I just stood there with my head down with conflicting thoughts running through my head. “You’ll run it next year, it’s too much this year, you’re done,. You cannot do this” battled with “Get going, you MUST run that race, you LOVE it too much to quit now.”
The positive energy (barely) won out. I resolved to try again, but I must say that I was extremely close to quitting – closer than I care to admit.
I ran a more focused mile, back under 11:00 pace, and reached 12.5 miles. I took Rocky out of the machine and put in a motivation video I made for myself with images of runners, races, New York City and such with motivational messages interspersed. Positive messages really help me.
“Just a mile at a time, I told myself.” I knew that if I could get closer to 18 miles, that I’d be able to finish. I knew the next few miles were the key. I banged out three more and took another mental break at 15.5 miles. My total running time was 165:32 (2 hours, 45 minutes, 32 seconds). Now I knew I had it in me. I could reach 18. I would reach 18. I just needed one last moment to gather myself up for the final push.
Twenty six minutes and fourteen seconds later I reached my goal – 18 miles. I did it! The total running time was 191:46 (3 hours, 11 minutes, 46 seconds). The total time of the entire effort was more like 203 minutes as I figure each of the mental breaks off the machine were about two minutes, some a little shorter, but I suspect the break at 11.5 miles when I was very ready to quit might have been longer. (I wasn’t caring about the clock at that moment.)
I don’t feel terrible right now. I’m tired. I probably did the wrong thing by jumping in our hot tub shortly after (I should have iced the Achilles) but I wanted to soak my weary body before the rain came down harder (it was just starting to drizzle). It was a “now or never” moment. I iced the sore tendon once I got out of the bubbling hot water.
There were a few times in the run when my Achilles felt like it would just break in half – when the pain made me see stars, but overall, thanks to a brace I now wear, it wasn’t terrible.
In addition to the orthopedist and my chiropractor (who are bother great) (but my chiropractor might be the best doctor in the history of the world), I am going to see a physical therapist beginning next week. She and her partner specialize in runners and athletes. I have a tentative surgery date scheduled for December. If someone were to touch my Achilles right now, I’d jump out of my skin. As for the daily pain, I think I’m just used to it, but I am also tired of limping and putting up with it. Still, I cannot slow down or give in. That’s just not an option until my leg falls off.
I am more confident than ever that I can complete the NYC Marathon. I’m thinking that, if I am tough enough, and if the wonderful crowds carry me, that I might even break five hours. I used to routinely break four hours, but I was in better shape and not injured all those years ago.
Why do I do this?
I really can’t explain it.
I’ve written this before, countless times… the New York City Marathon is part of who I am. I can’t explain it more than that. That race is part of me. The thought of not being there on race day fills me with this unbelievable sadness that is more powerful than any physical pain. I love that race. I love everything about it. I love sharing the word of God with fellow runners before the race. I love the anticipation. I love the bridges, the crowds…BROOKLYN! I love First Avenue. I love the music, the cheering, the police and the fire fighters. I love the smiles. I love Central Park. I love struggling. I love finishing even more.
In some strange way, that race defines me year after year after year. Yeah, I need to run it.
And I will.
This will be my 22nd marathon overall, but my eighth NYC. There’s nothing like New York. I love running through the city that never sleeps… the concrete jungle where dreams are made…
There is nothing I can’t do!
I can’t wait until November 3rd!