Seventeen Saturdays: Episode VI
(Written Saturday, July 18, 2009)
In terms of Xs on my calendar, I’m one-third of the way through my first marathon training program: six weeks of eighteen – 24 of 71 training days – are behind me. 47 days to go, plus Oct 11, race day.
Distance-wise, I’m just under one-quarter of the way there. I’ve covered 104 miles “officially” (meaning without counting the miles that build up through the extra tenths and quarters I add to most of the shorter runs) of the 435 total preparation miles I’ll run.
And with today’s 7.2 miles with my brother Adam, I’ve run more miles in July (55) than ever before in a single month, and there are still seven running days left.
Even so, only two runs so far have marked times when I’ve set personal distance marks. It feels like most of the important work and progress to this point has been in establishing the habit and getting those Xs in their little boxes.
And I’ll take that progress, because the numbers in the next 12 weeks still look damn scary: This was my last single-digit mileage Saturday until the week before the race. This coming Saturday, I jump to a dozen miles, and then 13 – which I’m planning to pad to 13.1 so I can call it my own personal half-marathon. And I’ve been warned by both Adam and my buddy Jeff that the jump from 10 miles to 15 in weeks nine and ten is probably the most brutal progression of the whole process.
Both of those guys are big inspirations – neither had run a marathon before, and both did so on their first try with this very same plan.
And that’s got me thinking more about some of the parallels I find in the way I run and the way I write.
Maybe one of the reasons I’ve taken to this program is that it’s all there, scheduled and organized and step-by-stepped in a plan I can follow, with incremental achievable goals. All I have to do is reach that little number in the box four days a week, and eventually, it gets done, piece by piece. I didn’t have to go out and figure out the plan of attack myself. (My brother tried that last year when he first got the idea of running his marathon: All he did was add a mile every week to his one weekly run. He was fine until he got up into the dozen-mile range and it started killing him.)
Point is, this fits with the way think I work best with my writing: Start with an assignment – whatever it is – and follow the plan. Actually sniffing out news stories was never my strong point. Observing and reporting, interviewing, uncovering facts, learning from others, and assembling the pieces into a story was always where I felt more comfortable. You know, the writing part.
When I was a sports writer, nights without games – and thus, nights without assignments – were much more nerve-wracking than any game night, even with the hair-pulling post-game deadlines. In the newsroom, I was much more terrified of wondering on Monday morning what I was going to write about that week than I ever was about being asked to tackle big assignments on short notice.
Anyway, today was a ridiculously gorgeous morning for a run: Cool enough to bring light goosebumps before and after, but warm enough to sweat in shorts and a T-shirt. Clear skies, light breezes, and a rich, rising sun – the kind that just bathes everything in that almost post-rain vibrancy of color: Hillside wheat fields glowed in gold, and the tall corn in the fields rustled in waves of deepest, brilliant green. (My whole life, I’ve always measured summer by the cornfields, and every year, I swear, overnight they seem to transform from these expanses of pencil-thin rows of tiny, fragile-looking green shoots to towering, jungle-thick oceans of leaves and tassles.)
We finished in 59:14, which averages out to 8:14 per mile. I didn’t really feel the distance until we were into mile number six, and I still managed to end with a strong kick.