Remember that uber-annoying kid in high school—when the night’s assignment was to read the first chapter, she went home and consumed the whole darn book? Yeah, that so wasn’t me. I was the one skimming borrowed Cliffs Notes just before the final exam. But apparently the 23 years between then and now have fashioned me into someone even more annoying. Case in point: it’s not one book but two. Neither has officially even been assigned. Yet I’ve read both cover to cover.
The books are Hal Higdon’s “Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide” and Nancy Clark’s “Food Guide for Marathoners”. When Children’s Hospital interviewed me for the Boston Marathon charity team (to see if they thought I could both meet the fundraising goal and train well enough to cross the finish line), the interviewer mentioned in passing that the 200-runner team would follow the Hal Higdon method of marathon training and Nancy Clark’s nutritional guidance for endurance runners once training commenced in December. So books by Hal and Nancy were my very first purchases after getting that glorious email notifying me that I’d been selected for the team. (The next purchases were some super-spectacular long-sleeved running shirts—if you’re gonna run 500 miles over the course of the winter, you might as well look super-cute in the process, IMO).
So the team doesn’t officially start training for six more weeks but I’ve already finished reading the books that plot out our training philosophy. How annoying is that? Even I think I’m a geeky-suck-up-dweeb for this.
My family will be disappointed: Nancy is not aiming to rid me of my pesky vegetarian predilections. In fact, she and I will get along famously; nutritionally speaking I’m good to go with a few minor tweaks—none of which involve consuming things that had faces or mothers. Fear not, family of mine—I’ll still bring Tofurky with quinoa & cranberry stuffing to Thanksgiving dinner. (What would a familial celebration be without it???)
Hal and I, on the other hand, we are off to a bumpy start. There are several areas where philosophically I am struggling to keep pace with Mr. Higdon but the one that scares me most is this admonition, repeated many times in the book’s 356 pages:
IF THIS IS YOUR FIRST MARATHON, YOUR ONLY GOAL IS TO SIMPLY FINISH.
Now, I understand this concept, I really do. After all, travelling 26.2 miles in one fell swoop via muscle power is one heckuva goal for most human beings. But Hal, please understand this is simply not going to work for little ol’ me. And family, please understand it’s not for the reason you are going to assume.
Those who know me best are going to assume it’s because I am, in their minds, uber-competitive. I’m not entirely certain I deserve that label, but my family unit has bestowed it upon me. True, I did sit down after every race this season and figure out both my splits and my place, paying special attention to how many males—especially ones younger and allegedly in better shape—I whipped to smithereens. And yes, a multi-tabbed spreadsheet plotting this all out does indeed exist, and next year’s race schedule is already set in stone with very specific goals on how I can, no how I will, improve year-over-year. So I suppose there is some evidence to support this CJ-is-super-competitive theory.
That said, I am no Uta Pippig or Joan Benoit and I know it. I have zero illusions that my fairly consistent “top third” success in triathlons will carry over into marathons. So, why am I so scared of this “just finish” command? It’s simple: as odd as it may seem to some of you, I can at this point imagine running 26.2 straight miles, I really can. While the longest I’ve ever run to date is yesterday’s 10.55-miler, I do love running. I look forward to adding a mile per week to my long run, eventually building up to 20-milers. What I can’t fathom, what I genuinely fear, is keeping my feet moving for anything north of four hours. Get me to the point where I can cover 26.2 in the three-hour range? This sounds like great fun. Spread it out over something north of four or (gasp!) five hours? Now this sounds like cruel and unusual punishment.
So my only goal is to SIMPLY FINISH—IN LESS THAN FOUR HOURS.
Hal is not going to like that.
I am apparently in excellent company in this fear of pounding pavement for hours on end. In a respectful nod to middle-and back-of-the-pack runners, four-time New York City and Boston Marathon champ Bill Rodgers said, “I can’t even imagine what it’s like to run for five or six hours”. I’m right there with you, buddy.
There seems to be some solid physiological reasons to want to cross the finish line as fast as possible, too. I won’t bore you (or, in the case of my family, scare you) with the details of glycogen depletion and hyponatremia. Suffice it to say that the more time you’re out there on the course, the more time you’re exposing yourself to all sorts of yuckiness.
In the end, it is duly noted that maybe just maybe Hal knows a wee bit more on this topic than I do: he has contributed to Runner’s World for longer than any other writer (he was writing for the pub before I was even born). He has coached hundreds of thousands of runners in person and online. He ran eight times in the US Olympic trials and won four World Masters championships. And oh yeah, and he’s finished a grand total of 111 marathons himself—including seven in seven months to commemorate his 70th birthday in June 2001. No, that wasn’t a typo: Hal Higdon has finished one hundred and freaking eleven marathons, and is still going strong as he approaches age 80. (Google “Hal Higdon 8-8-80”—which covers his plan to run eight marathons over eight years to celebrate his 80th birthday in June 2011—if you don’t believe me.)
So Hal, I will endeavor to heed your advice. Maybe. I guess I’ve just got an issue with wanting to finish things quickly. Another example: Children’s Hospital is giving all of us charity runners until April to finish raising our committed charitable donations (my commitment is $5K). I can’t imagine letting that process drag out that long. My personal goal is to get it done before Christmas, so I can more fully focus on the running part of this challenge as training officially starts and mileage amps up. So if you’re enjoying reading this crazy blog of mine, and if you’re interested in helping me reach that goal, please visit the Sponsor My Run 😉 tab on this site.
You do that, and I promise to try to rid myself of all goals other than finishing—clearly you get the easier assignment. 😉
Enjoy the day!