Today’s run, of course, was the first of the year. Yesterday’s snow was gone from the local roads, so that’s where I headed. High 30s. No Garmin, just my trusty (unnamed) Timex.
Because of the conditions, however, no headphones either. I tried to keep the pace pretty relaxed. So I ended up talking to myself more than usual. And we spoke about Flo. She had a bad time of it in Philly and decided to abandon the marathon, making her farewell as a social, que-sera thing at Boston in April.
She didn’t enjoy, she said, the training. She is not a fan of long runs. She’s pretty quick at shorter stuff, but her, albeit two, marathons are nowhere near where they could be. But after some back-and-forth, a friend’s observation that marathoning doesn’t make you a runner it makes you a marathoner (a good anti-marathon cult t-shirt maybe?) put her over the edge. “No marathoning for me.”
We also spoke about Julie. She’s had more failure than success, she admits, at the marathon game. To her, though, the upside is so great that she’s going to keep at it, albeit after some adjustments.
We spoke about the siren’s call.
“You can’t deny,” I continued, “the allure of the crowd assembled in Staten Island. The low number and ‘local competitive’ start.”
“Indeed, the early-morning ride out and the constant need to take a piss. You went three times on the bus alone on the way and two or three after you arrived. This is not one of the attractions.”
“Yeah, but remember in 09 I was ready, cleaning that wide-mouthed Gatorade bottle for emergency on-the-bridge, awaiting-the-start use.”
“That’s not an attraction either. Waiting in the cold at the entrance to the bridge, awaiting the gun.”
“Yes, but then the magic. Being carried by the crowd through Brooklyn.”
“Yeah, being carried much too fast for my own good.”
“Well, now you know. Next time it would be easier and you’d be in control. That was your big mistake in 06. That and not taking Gatorade.”
On it went. The good. The bad. The ugly. And in the end I had to admit to myself that the whole marathon experience was worthwhile. Unlike other, better races I’ve run, it was the source of recognition and congratulation. It was the inspiration almost from the moment it ended with a mylon blanket, a medal, and a stale bagel consumed sitting on a curb on the west Park Drive next to the Lake as I struggled to put my outerwear on, that next time it would be even better.
Next time didn’t come in 2007 or 2008. Nor in 2009.
Now we’re up in Eastchester. There’s where Margaret Bianco lived, she was gorgeous and Lew Monday’s girlfriend. The Colligan house; Jerry was on my XC team and his older brother, also a runner, had a car and would sometimes give us a drive. Near where my godparents lived many years ago where I smashed my head, required many stitches, when I was a kid. But I’m not sure which street and which house it is.
“The thing is, in 06 I never did get in the type of miles I think I need to. Remember, I only decided to do the marathon late in the game, because of my focus on Reach-the-Beach. The three twenty-milers I did, the last at the Rockies, were no fun. Just long drawn out slogs.”
“Maybe if you were better prepared in the base-building phase they would have been better. If you didn’t run them faster than you were supposed to.”
“They’d still be slogs. Boring slogs. A good two-hours, that I can get my arms around. I just don’t get these guys who seem to relish 22, 24 milers. What’s wrong with them? Or is it me?”
“So you just want to do 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons? Well for those you can’t avoid intervals. You hate intervals. For the marathon, you do one or two sessions, tops. Not so easy for the 10K. And think of how you feel in a 10K. Half-way through and you fight every fiber not to chuck it in.”
“Yeah, but remember Healthy-Kidney 2008? I was dead at 5K, but didn’t I nearly negative split? Wasn’t my second 5K faster than Diamond‘s who, granted, was ahead of me at that point? Didn’t I fly from 72nd Street in, notching off the 1/8 mile markers painted on the curb, passing all manner of folks? 86.9 AG, second AG to Greg?”
“2009 Healthy-Kidney wasn’t so much fun thou, was it?”
Past the street where a guy, apparently drunk, drove his car into his house last month, hit a staircase, which collapsed and on which a member of B’ville’s XC team was sitting causing her some bone breaks. Back up the hill towards Concordia and across 22.
“I never got my act together in 2009. And remember that I had a decent 10K a month before at the Scotland Run.”
“And then you went out for a MP run one Saturday and just quit.”
“I didn’t quit. It was, you’ll recall, really humid and I felt like crap as I was doing the first two-mile warm-up to the path.”
“Yeah and within a quarter of a mile of going at MP you stopped. You started up again, but it was no good. You quit.”
“That was a sign that things weren’t where they had to be. So, yeah, that was the beginning of the end of my 2009 marathon plans. You know if I can’t do the work I’m not going to do the race.”
Heading south now. Pass a girl, slight wave as I pass. Must be on the XC team, though not, I daresay, the one who was sitting on those stairs.
“Aren’t you just a bit afraid of failing?”
“I might be, but that’s no big deal. No one cares how I do but me — you know whatever my time (short of ‘dead’) people will tell me how great I was, blah, blah, blah, except for those who really know the marathon who’d be polite but straight about it — and based upon my limited experience I’ll run the race I’m ready to run. Sure I died in 06, but held on and made mistakes that I won’t make again.”
“So why not do the race to prove that you can do better?”
“Well, that’s the reason for doing it. Is it reason enough? That’s the issue.”
“What about Jonathan?”
“What about Jonathan?”
“He ran pretty well at CIM. You’re not even the big dog within 4 miles of home.”
“Yeah, and there’s Charles who can cream me. But this is all about me. I figure if I do the work, I can do the race pretty well. Maybe not as well as those guys. They’re both waifs — being Brits and all (Charles only half) — and float when they run. Remember, I’m a bit large for the marathon.”
“So was Deke.”
“True. I’m not saying I can’t run it well. I’m confident that I can. That’s the trouble. I’m doubting that I want to do that work.”
Cross 22. About 40 minutes. I should get to an hour.
“Isn’t that where we started? It some ways it’s easier, no intervals and all, but in some it’s harder. I mean, 70 miles on six days a week is a lot of running. Remember John Nelson reminding us while we were at the Horseman’s Diner that were always tired in the later stages of marathon training? B notices it more than I have. She’ll be quite happy if I say ‘No’ to the marathon.”
“But it’s the price you have to pay.”
“I know. I’m not one for doing it for the ‘marathon experience.’ As I have on the license plate frame, “26.21875; been there done that.” I’d pay it. It’s not just doing the work. I’d have to do different work for shorter races. Maybe not the mileage, but the quality would have to be high. I think I can do pretty well at the shorter stuff this fall. No need to skip Tuckahoe.”
“Yeah, you were great shakes there in 09. I’m surprised you’ve already finished given how ‘fast’ you were.”
“No sarcasm, thank you. That was all part of my crack-up and you know it.”
“Fair enough. I’ll be better.”
Back into Mount Vernon, past a nearby Mosque. Today must be an Islamic holiday as the crowds I saw as I was heading out are now leaving.
“And I really love the half-marathon. It’s so much more intense than the marathon. Sure, you don’t get the recognition. My age-graded number is much better there. You know, in the back of my mind I’ve thought of heading up to Syracuse for the USATF Masters 5K champs on October 4, although that might conflict with Grete. See some of the guys I ‘know’ from LetsRun. Race the Mamaroneck Turkey Trot.”
“You don’t have to decide now.”
“I know. But it’s been on my mind since I saw Flo’s stuff and was thinking about my own 2010.”
Cross California. 58 minutes. Right knee suddenly aches. Give it a few strides, and it disappears. Turn on Stuyvesant and home. 1:00:19.