The overwhelming majority of the people I work with are in constant pursuit of faster times. Maybe it's a Boston qualifying time or simply shaving a few seconds off their last half marathon.
I think it's pretty much a given if you're a runner that you're constantly seeking a faster time. The type-A personality the sport tends to attract largely dictates this.
I used to be one of these runners. Ten plus years ago I rediscovered the sport and realized that while I had been away from it for quite some time, I still had something left in the tank and I desperately wanted to find out how much.
I threw myself into my training with reckless abandon. I embraced fatigue, suffering, and pain as signs that I was becoming the runner I was always meant to be. Rather than going out on Friday night with friends, I would massage and ice my sore calves in preparation for a 2+ hour long run the next morning.
I would push myself so hard the next morning that the rest of the day was effectively a wash. I'd lie around like a corpse for the balance of the day reveling in the fact that I had pushed myself to the limit. The exhaustion I felt was a sign that I was getting closer to finding out exactly what I had left in the tank.
My relentless and unforgiving approach to training paid off to a point. I qualified for Boston. I broke 3 hours for the marathon. I posted a 2:45 for 26.2 and felt like I had plenty left in 2005.
I thought maybe, just maybe I could get within striking distance of a qualifying time for the Olympic trials for the marathon. It was a huge stretch, but given how far I had come and how strong I felt, shaving off 25 minutes didn't seem impossible.
But, just as Daedalus paid the price for venturing too close to the sun,
so did I for playing with fire all those years pushing my body to the
limit and beyond.
It would be three years before I would toe the line for another marathon. While I ran a bit faster (2:43) in 2008, this was a far cry from the Olympic Trials qualifier I had dreamt of three years earlier.
My new goal became cracking 2:40 and given how close I'd come in 2008, surely it would happen in 2009. Once again, my body failed me and while I completed a marathon in 2009, I was not in the kind of shape to attempt a time faster than 2:43.
2010 provided yet another opportunity to exorcise the demons and I was hellbent on taking care of unfinished business. A few weeks prior to entering taper, I would suffer a stress fracture. This ended any hope of notching a sub 2:40 that year.
More than 2 years passed before I commenced serious training for another attempt at sub-2:40. It had now been nearly 7 years since I had run a 2:45. Given my injury drenched past, I was very careful in how I approached training for this marathon.
My training cycle was lengthy and gradual. While I didn't do everything perfectly, I listened earnestly to the messages my body sent me and responded accordingly.
Years ago, I read somewhere that every cell in our body is replaced every 7 years. Whether this is in fact accurate, I don't know. But, I was keenly aware that I was a very different person 7 years ago.
I recovered more quickly. I felt more spry. Simply put, I was getting older. Granted, I was wiser as evidenced by my smarter approach to training, but would it be enough?
I toed the line in 2012 feeling confident that I was physically ready to attempt a sub-2:40. Unfortunately, the weather gods had different ideas that day. The worst weather I had ever trained or raced in would derail this latest effort.
This year will not present an opportunity for me to attempt a sub-2:40. I don't know if there will be another opportunity to do so down the road. I've come to the realization that most (if not all) of my personal bests are likely behind me.
Rather than feeling sad or somber about this reality, it actually feels a bit liberating. If I run another personal best, that's great. But if I don't, it's not going to kill me.
What would kill me is the idea of not being able to run at all. Having endured numerous injuries from 2005 to 2010, I tasted the bitterness of life without running and it's something I have no interest in.
Whether it's injuries, age, perspective, or some combination of the aforementioned, I've become more keenly attuned to the idea that my ability to run is transitory. It's a gift. It can be taken away from me at any moment. I am not unique in this regard.
So, on your shittiest run, your crappiest race, and your most unpleasant mile, don't forget the fact that you have the gift and don't forget that it likely won't be something you can do forever.
I run because one day I won't..