October is just around the corner. For runners in most parts of the country, this means they will soon cap off a summer of hard work with a few weeks of tapering off, followed by a 26.2-mile celebration of aching quads and lost toenails – the marathon.
This is not the case for us in Florida. We are not content to do things according to the rules! After all, have you seen the shit that happens down here? We are America’s Wang! We do things according to our OWN rules!
As a result, while the rest of you are feeling flutters in your stomach over impending races and reminding yourself that it’s okay to have a long run of only eight miles a week, we are just getting started.
I’ve only run one marathon before, and that was the Disney World marathon in January 2010. If you are not from around here, you’ll know this is notable because the marathon happened to fall on the coldest day this part of Florida has seen in many, many years. It was so cold that the water stops turned into little ice rinks from all of the spilled fluids that froze on the course. Safe, huh? (It was still better than what the half-marathoners had to deal with the day before, which was sleet and freezing rain.)
It was so cold that almost immediately I was waaaay off my goal of a 4:30 finish. By mile 3, I had adjusted my goal from “finish in 4:30” to “finish,” which was later re-adjusted to “finish without sobbing myself into dehydration.” But incredibly enough, once the sun came up, at about mile 13, I thawed out a bit and actually started to enjoy myself. By the time we hit the final six miles, I was practically delirious with joy and endorphin intoxication.
But – let’s be frank – my time? Rather disappointing. I know, I know, I should be happy that I finished, it’s an accomplishment no matter what blah blah blah, but I’m not one to be content with the bare minimum. I’d be the asshole with twenty-eight pieces of flair, is what I’m saying.
This is where Big Sur International Marathon comes in. Not only is it consistently ranked one of the top marathons in the world – because, hello, it runs along Pacific Highway 1! Doesn’t get much more beautiful than that! – but it’s also my chance to achieve my initial goal of a 4:30-marathon. And then maybe my long-term goal of a sub-4:00 marathon? Maybe even *gasp* a Boston Qualifying time? It seems highly improbable, but then four years ago I dreamed one day I’d be able to run a 25-minute 5K, and yet here I am, consistently turning them out in 23 minutes. Stranger shit has happened.
The thing about running a marathon is that it’s not just a thing you go out and do one day just because you feel like it. I mean, you can, but you’ll wind up hating your life and yourself and the other runners and the universe before you even break twenty miles. I’m not sure why you’d want to do that to yourself, beyond dumb macho braggadacio? I don’t know.
No, to run a proper marathon, you have to commit yourself to a few months of dedicated training. You have to be willing to sacrifice lazy Sunday mornings to the gods of the long, slow run. You have to be okay with watching your feet slowly morph into slabs of calcified skin and blue-black toenail. You have to brace yourself for the inevitable onslaught of silly comments: “I once ran a marathon! It only took me thirty minutes!” “You’re going to ruin your knees doing that, you know.” “Didn’t that guy die while running? Jim Whats-his-name?” (For the record, that was Jim Fixx, and yes, he died while running, but then lots of people die while driving cars and you don’t see anyone badgering drivers about that.)
Over time, you’ll learn which kinds of fuel gels you can tolerate and which make you feel like horking. You’ll understand why Bodyglide is the third best “b” thing ever invented, behind beer and bacon cheeseburgers. You’ll become best friends with pain, and your new bestie will teach you new and inventive ways to navigate the stairs to your apartment.
Right now, I’m about seven months out from my marathon, and I know all of this and more awaits me. It can be more than a little intimidating at times, especially when I look at the course and elevation profile. I see all of those hills, including a monster one leading up to Hurricane Point, and I think about the way I struggle to run comparatively-piddly bridges here in flat-as-a-squashed-pancake Florida, and I have flashes of doubt. Why do I do this? What is so appealing about this? Why can’t I just be like the lady who lives in my neighborhood, who goes for a four-mile jog every night and is totally and completely content with that? Why do I want to race?
The doubt goes away, though, when I remember the feeling of crossing the finish line after gutting out more than two dozen miles under the power of nothing more than my own two feet. No fear can compare to the euphoria that enveloped me when I realized I had achieved this tremendous feat of endurance.
I can only doubt when I know I can’t do something. I know I can do this, because I’ve done it before. The question is, will I do it better than before?
There’s only one way to find out.