One of my coworkers asked me last week if I could help her. She had decided she wanted to start running and was not clear on what type of sneakers she should buy. The running nerd in me tingled when I suggested that we go to one of the many running stores in Manhattan. I explained to her that I could explain the differences in the shoes but these running stores have people who can evaluate your stride and make recommendations from that starting point.
So on Thursday, on a warm sunny day, we walked together about ten blocks to the store where I introduced her to one of the sales guys and explained her situation. He quickly pushed me out of the conversation and started discussing her needs. I carefully listened as he explained how he needed to study her stride and landing. I smiled to myself because I saw the nervousness in her face as she glanced at me. I made some sporadic comments to remind her I was there and try to put her at ease and help out the sales guy, who was knowledgeable. I sometimes forget that running people can often make the new runners feel overwhelmed and intimidated by overemphasizing some of the potential pitfalls we have fallen into at the beginning. The one thing I kept emphasizing is not to over think it and go with what feels right. She made a selection, and as we walked out, I told her (and I can quote this because I have repeated this to a lot of different people asking me about running)-
“Don’t stress the distances or the technical stuff he mentioned at first. Just remember it will be tough in the beginning, but all you have to do is build up to running for half an hour straight. Once you can run for a half an hour, you can run any distance. And in the end, all that matters is you are having fun and feel good.”
I gained three things from this little excursion. First, I bought a new pair of sneakers myself (I can be impulsive with running stuff), second I remembered that I am still in the position of listening and learning from experts versus giving advice and finally how simple running can be when I am not concerned about distance or time. The final epiphany came because I have been playing around with my training plan, trying to find the best solution to deal with some lingering injuries but maintain my training for the New York City Marathon in the Fall. Part of the anxiety comes from the fact that I’ll be traveling at the end of July, so I want to have a proper base built up before I leave. I intentionally dropped back my miles in June to help my body heal, and now I want to ramp it back up. As this week progressed, I started to remember how long this journey is from July to November, so the only way to make it is to remember its supposed to be fun. The training plan is never meant to be a job. It is supposed to be my friend for the next four months with the culminating benefit coming in November as I run around New York City. And watching a new runner get excited about new sneakers was a gentle kick that I needed to remind myself that as sadistic as running can be, I actually love doing it so it should never be painful.
The training formally started on July 3, but I actually started a couple of days before the holiday weekend. I even managed to go out twice on that Friday for shorter distances. But the next day, my IT band tightened up during what was intended to be a 10-mile run. After 8 miles, I begrudgingly stopped. It wasn’t pain but a stiffness that was slowing me down, so I elected to be safe and skip the last two miles. It paid off because this week has been a pretty good start to my training. I even started off the week by doing some slower trail miles that both humbled and inspired me. Training for a marathon is a process, and just like starting a new relationship, there can be moments that feel entirely familiar and all of a sudden there can be something that can be completely foreign and new. Like I recently discovered that my office is only about 5.5 miles away from my apartment so I found the pleasure of slower paced evening runs. I have been trying to figure out how to add some extra miles in and few things are better than crossing the Queensborough Bridge at 7:00pm during the summer. Here is how Helen Keller described the experience (from her essay “I Go Adventuring”):
In order to get to New York from my home it is necessary to cross one of the great bridges that separate Manhattan from Long Island. The oldest and most interesting of them is the Brooklyn Bridge, built by my friend, Colonel Roebling, but the one I cross oftenest is the Queensborough Bridge at 59th Street. How often I have had Manhattan described to me from these bridges! They tell me the view is loveliest in the morning and at sunset when one sees the skyscrapers rising like fairy palaces, their million windows gleaming in the rosy-tinted atmosphere.
I can’t lie and say that my training plan isn’t an obligation because…it just is. But the key for me has been understanding is that the obligation isn’t to the plan itself but to the person I want to be at that finish line in 18 weeks. The plan is never meant to force me to do something in July but to build me up to doing something in November. It can be a tough line to thread because there will be moments when I want to cut off a run and just walk home. There will be mornings when I don’t want to do speed work or repeat grueling hills in the rain. Some days I won’t live up to the expectations of my training plan, but for most days I will fight through those hesitations, and that isn’t because I had to, it will be because I wanted to. That is the difference between obligation and desire. I know if I stick with that training plan, that those hours running in November will mean that much more and feel that much better.