So, only five more days until the big day - my second marathon in five years. Hmmm...wait a minute. Second?
So, what's the big deal about this marathon anyway? It's not like it's my first. That ignominious distinction goes to the Fox Cities Marathon I ran in 2006 and finished in 5:09. Why fuss about this one? Who ever makes a big deal about the second of anything? Lose your first tooth, find your first job, buy your first house, enamored with your first love - people get that. They're big deals. Do the second go around on all those, and - yeah, sure - they are important in their own right, but they're not your first.
Well, in a way, this marathon is like my first. So, instead of "been there, done that," this is a big deal. When I ran Fox Cities five years ago, it destroyed me. At the time, the marathon was simply a bucket-list item. I had just had my beautiful daughter, our first child, in 2005, so in the spring of 2006 I was just getting back into running. I can't even remember what made me sign up for such a challenge at that point. Perhaps it was simply that my husband had run his first marathon in 2005 and I didn't like the feeling of being left out. ("Hey, look at me, I can do it, too!") Anyway, I decided to take on the 26.2-mile challenge, and I was so under-prepared it's laughable. I went into marathon training with absolutely no base whatsoever, and my training for the summer consisted of two 2-4 mile runs a week (pushing a jogging stroller no less and sometimes running with the dog [read: frequent stops]), one long run every other week, and a shorter long run (usually half the distance of the previous week's long run) in the interim weeks. That is what got me through the marathon. I did a Galloway-style run/walk, because I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I couldn't run the whole thing. Well, I made it through, but it wasn't pretty. I finished the run, and I remember those last six miles as being so painful that it hurt just as bad to walk as it did to run. When I crossed the finish line all I remember saying to anyone who would listen was, thank God, I never have to do that again. And, I didn't - consider it, that is - for four years.
Four years is how long it took me before I would even think about going that distance again. Up until that point I was happy with half marathons, relays, and shorter distances. The thing about that first marathon is when I say it destroyed me I don't just mean that it hurt during the event. That I think I could forgive. Rather, it killed my desire to run ... for months. I finished the race happy to have it over with, but with no real sense of accomplishment. And for several months after, if I ran, it was almost grudgingly. In a strange way, I never really felt like I completed that first marathon at all. There was so little joy in doing it. In the years that followed there have even been times when I have had to remind myself that I have in fact done a marathon. When talking to someone about their marathon accomplishments or goals, it hasn't been uncommon for me to think how cool is that? The words "that might be fun to try one day" are almost out of my mouth before I pause and remember that I have done that, too. Or, occasionally, I would see someone with a 26.2 sticker on their car and think that would be kind of neat to have - when, in reality, there is nothing stopping me from getting one - except for my own sense of emptiness in regards to that first race.
See, for me it's not just about covering the distance, it's about being able to enjoy it afterwards as well. So, in a way, Sunday's marathon is my first one. If I can get through it - it doesn't even have to be at a faster pace - and enjoy the experience, then, and only then, will I count myself a marathon finisher. I know, it's twisted, and most people wouldn't agree, but that's me, and everyone is different. I guess, the point is that in the end I never wanted this to simply be a bucket-list item, I wanted it to be something that I embraced as a part of a healthy lifestyle. Also, it's one thing to have a race distance kick your butt, however it's another to have a distance that you don't think should kick your butt kick your butt.
So, this year is different, I hope. Training has been phenomenal. My base is solid. My attitude is different. I feel much more open to the experience - regardless of what that might turn out to be. And, I don't view this as the end goal, just another step along the path.