Sweat and sand.
The first week of marathon training is like reuniting with an old friend. A friend who you love to hang out with because they are fun and make you feel young again. You’ve missed them. It’s also a friend that you can only take for so long because even though you are excited to hang out with him, he will turn on you on a whim and remind you of how tough this really is.
“Running is a big question mark that’s there each and everyday. It asks you, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today? ‘” — Peter Maher
It starts off great. I dream about it the night before. I see myself with swift strides. Head up. Breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. My feet hit the pavement with gentle taps. Toes hit first, kicking back with punch. Everything is in sync.
My alarm goes off at 6:30 am and I intend to turn last night’s dream into reality. I have an english muffin and a half cup of coffee and then hit the road with a purpose, a goal. The first run is almost always easy. You’re fresh and running on a high octane mixture of adrenaline and goal driven fortitude.
But then day two comes and your old friend razzes you. Day two is a little harder. He says “Isn’t this fun?” with a wry smile and then reminds you of how you haven’t ran this far in a while. How the hills are steeper than you remember and how the humidity is going to suck the water out of every pore in your body and how your legs will not churn any faster despite your best effort. This is fun. I’m strong today. It hurts but I’m strong.
After a day of travel, the first week’s long run came on a sunny Saturday morning. I woke up just as the sun began to peak over the Atlantic ocean. What a beautiful day for a run I think. Twelve miles was the goal.
I started out just outside of our hotel and ran down a bike path with the wind in my face. My feet made a soft swooshing sound as they hit the surface, a mixture of sand and black top. I ran to the end of Carolina Beach past three story rental condominiums and small motels that were stuck firmly in the 1970's with names that contained Casa, Reef and Sea. Their signs said Vacancy, Cable TV and indoor pools. The scenery was amazing.
I passed other runners along the way and gave a wave. Some of them waved back but most of them didnt. I quickly realized why. “It’s really humid isn’t it?” My old friend said “I hope you brought a lot of water.” The temp at 7:00 am was a balmy 80 degrees. The humidity was clearly high and the sun was just beginning to peak over the condos and motels. This was going to hurt. I could see it in the forlorn faces of the other runners that were with me. Press on.
I ran out of Carolina beach and through the town of Kure Beach past beach themed restaurants and private, colorful beach front homes. They were painted soft blue and red and pink. The color of dawn. Sprinklers clicked, spraying a mist of water on well manicured lawns. Oh how I would love to run through them. Just for a second of relief. The houses ended on the south side of Kure Beach and I shuffled into Fort Fisher a miserable, sweating mess.
The landscape turned into more of a natural feel inside the fort. Small, twisted oak trees lined the road. They leaned away from the ocean, a result of years being constantly pushed by the sea breeze. They rested in fields of tall grass and bush. Just beyond them the ocean murmured, wide and grey all the way to the horizon. The sun was higher now. I was halfway through my water. “Are you having fun now?” my old friend said.
I hit mile five past the ruins of civil war bomb shelters. Just grass covered mounds now. They reminded me that this is kind of like a war. You battle, making yourself better and that in the end you may look a little different but you are better because of it. You have stories to tell. You survive.
I ended up running 10.5 of the twelve. I finished back at the hotel with an empty Camel-Bak, burning feet and a sense of relief. I consumed over a half gallon of water and still felt dry as a bone. The first long run was down. Only seventeen more to go.
Week two was easier. Not necessarily because I had gained a significant amount of fitness but because I had given in to the fact that I was on vacation. Running lesser miles won’t hurt you as long as they are quality miles.
I ran two more times this week. One was a six miler around a lake on the other side of the road from the beach. It was a peacful run with my wife. I dodged ducks and moms with their kids. I bantered with the locals and took in the smells of breakfast being cooked at a nearby eatery. My old friend left me alone today. I wasn’t punishing myself.
My last run was an easy five miler down Carolina Beach road. The same path I ran on my long run. The scenery was the same. I ran past the same condo’s and motels. There were less runners out today but the ones that were out seemed happier. Being on a beach does that to you I guess.
In my book, the first two weeks of training were a success. I logged 36.5 miles. I am on my way. The mileage and intensity will get higher but I’ve learned from the past that my old friend will get quieter. Because even though it doesnt get easier, you learn to tune him out. Doubt recedes with every run. Your legs loosen. Your focus sharpens. You find your rhythm. Everything begins to come together.