There are bound to be times in a man’s life when he has to come crawling back — to a woman, to an employer, to his faith, maybe — with his tail between his legs, ready to admit that he’s done wrong and willing to do what it takes to reverse course, to make things right again, if they were ever right in the first place.
In my case, at this particular moment, the thing I’m crawling back to is a distance. 26.2 miles, to be exact.
As some of you may recall — the thought of anyone actually coming back to read more of this pleases me, yes, but also literally makes me shudder with embarrassment — I began training for a marathon in November of last year, and I documented the whole process with weekly posts on this website. My main reason for doing so was that I thought people might be able to relate to my situation — as a married 38-year-old with two young children, a full-time job and a bitch of a commute that made fitting in all my scheduled runs something of a challenge. I’d run some half-marathons and put in some pretty serious time on the roads, and I thought it was a reasonable challenge to see if I could break four hours in the marathon.
My posts were full of jokey, self-deprecating commentary on my shortcomings and cautiously proud confessions of minor successes along the way. It went well enough until 12 weeks in, when, 16.5 miles into what was supposed to be an 18-mile long run, I came up limp with pain in my right ankle. I’ll spare you the details of my injury and the many doctor’s appointments and physical therapy sessions that followed, but suffice to say I eventually decided to drop out of the race. I’d then go on to half-heartedly commit to another race two months later than my initial goal race, but I eventually dropped out of that one, too.
I blamed the injury, but that was a copout. To act like I was just some innocent victim of bad luck or an inherent flaw in my physical build was obviously disingenuous. I had to come to grips with the fact that I’d caused the injury. By refusing to strength train. By drinking too much beer and not sleeping enough. By not fueling properly and by not allowing myself to recover properly after the sad long-runs I did manage to log, broken up as they were by water breaks that lasted far longer than they should have. In a nutshell, I caused the injury by not respecting the distance. I secretly knew all along that this was where I was headed, one way or another. I thought I could cheat a little, fake it, but I was dead wrong. You cant fuck with 26.2 miles.
The moment I began to consider the possibility that I wouldn’t be running a spring marathon as planned was the exact same moment I began thinking about which fall marathon I could run instead. I considered New York, my hometown race, but I have this weird gripe with that where I picture myself running a marathon and then getting stuck grocery shopping later in the afternoon or something because, like, there are school lunches to be packed and whatnot.
The Chicago Marathon, I thought, was a much more appealing option. I love the city. I like that my family and I can make a little vacation out of it. And, fine, I like that the course is pancake flat. So on October 8th, I’ll be toeing the line in Chicago’s Grant Park in hopes of finally tackling the distance.
I’ll be running the race with Nike, whose team I’ve been fortunate enough to work with throughout my training. If you haven’t been paying attention, it’s been a pretty amazing year for them — their Breaking2 project, which so many in the industry wrote off as mere marketing, turned out to be the real deal when Eliud Kipchoge came so, so close to actually breaking the 2-hour mark in a marathon, running an unfathomable 2:00:25 on a racetrack in Monza, Italy. He was wearing their Vaporfly 4% shoe, which is basically a magical feat of design and engineering that is every bit as good as they say it is and well worth the $250 price tag. I got a pair and immediately decided I’d never wear another running shoe again — until the people at Nike told me I wasn’t allowed to wear them every day, that they should be put on the shelf and deployed only on race day. I’d roll my eyes at the idea if everything else they’ve said about this shoe hadn’t turned out to be true. It’s like when you were a kid, and you convinced yourself that your new pair of sneakers allowed you to run faster. Except I think these actually do?
The particular Nike campaign I’m taking part in — the one that put me in a position to have many, many photos of myself taken while running very short distances over and over and over again around downtown Manhattan — is in some ways a continuation of the whole Breaking2 idea. None of us are looking to go sub-2, of course, but we’re all looking to accomplish something we’ve not yet been able to. We’re looking to break through.
I’ve got three weeks to go until race day. Training’s been going well. There have been hiccups along the way, but nothing major. I’ve done more squats and lunges than I can count. I’ve even lifted weights. I’ve slept better. I’ve tried my best not to let training take over my life, even going so far as to occasionally think and talk about things that do not have to do with running. I’ve got a 20-mile run scheduled for this weekend, and I’m actually looking forward to it.
I came crawling back with my tail between my legs, and in doing so may have prepared myself to stand up and face it head on. We’ll see.