Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Ten Miles.

I learned that becoming a runner involves losing a bit of your sanity. It involves subjecting your body to things that leave others stunned and slack jawed. This was the response I encountered most frequently in the days leading up to conquering my first ten miler.

My friends balked. My parents were stunned. Was I ready for this?
I had no way of knowing. The idea of running ten miles was like climbing Mount Everest. Few tried it.
What happened to those who ran ten miles?  Were they left shattered and destroyed? Did they transcend their physical limits and become a superhero?
All these questions rattled around noisily in my head. Over the cacophony of these questions, another faint voice could be heard. This faint voice provided answers.
You can do this. You are a runner. You are a contender, not a pretender.
I barely heard this voice it was so faint. The deafening questions barely allowed this voice to be heard. But, every once in awhile I would catch a word or two.
The day of reckoning was a few days away. It loomed on the horizon ominously. The date was circled on my training diary with the number '10' jotted on it.
I became a bit obsessed with the number. There was something about the number 10. I remembered what a big deal it was to turn ten. High school reunions always seemed to happen every ten years.
Ten years is commonly known as a decade. Ten yards is what you have to cover to get a first down. Ten miles is what you have to cover to become a real runner.
In search of inspiration, I picked up my first issue of Runner's World.  Amidst the countless articles about nutrition, hydration, and shoes was something else. There were stories of runners who ran ten miles.
There were stories about runners who ran more than double this distance. They were called marathoners. They ran 26.2 miles.
Not only did they run 26.2 miles. They ran 26.2 miles really, REALLY fast. I couldn't even manage a single mile at the pace they were running for nearly THIRTY miles.
Ten miles was a mere warmup jog for these otherworldly creatures. These gazelles thought nothing of ten miles. The same ten miles that had me quaking in my boots was nothing for these people.
I inhaled the rest of the issue awestruck by the incredible feats these marathoners were performing. How did they get there? How does one possible get into the kind of shape to attempt something like this?
I wondered if these athletes had been as daunted by their first ten miler as I was. I imagined their talent was so transcendent that their very first run was ten miles. They simply emerged from the womb born to run.
I wasn't born to run. At least, I didn't think I was. Running had been an alternative, a second choice, a last resort. I chose it in lieu of doing nothing.
Independent of the articles about the elite marathoners, there were a smattering of articles about runners who were far more pedestrian. They didn't run ridiculously fast times. They didn't win races.
But, they ran far. Some of them ran ten miles. Some ran marathons. Few of them seemed like serious athletes.
I finished the issue and while I didn't have any easy answers for conquering ten miles, I knew that it had been done. Many had done it before. Some had done much more than ten miles.
There were runners out there both elite and far from elite who had done exactly what I was endeavoring to do and more. I didn't know exactly how they had done it, but they had gotten it done. A modicum of confidence crept in.
Our last practice prior to our ten miler arrived. It was a casual, light, easy day. We jogged a few slow miles, did some stretching, and went through a few drills.
During this practice, a man stood underneath a tree nearby watching us. Someone mentioned it was Tom Dowling. He was an Olympic development coach and our coach’s husband.
He watched us intently and periodically took a few notes. I wondered why someone who worked with world-class runners was spending his time watching some high school runners. He studied us as we went through our entire routine.
We wrapped things up and began to leave. Before I made my way to the parking lot, I heard someone call my name. It was Tom.
He jogged up to me and introduced himself shaking my hand. He told me who he was. Then he said something I would never forget.
'I think you will be a great marathoner some day.'
I was dumbfounded. I hadn't even run ten miles let alone a marathon. I couldn't fathom covering 26.2 miles, let alone being great at it.
What did he see? Did he have me confused with someone else? Was he simply delusional?
Maybe he had completely succumbed to the insanity that one had to embrace to become a runner. This made sense. If you run long enough and far enough, you simply lose your mind completely.
A pregnant pause ensued as I stared at Tom contemplating all of this. I didn't know what to say.  I couldn't believe what he said. So I said the only thing I could think of to say.
I shook his hand and walked away.  Did he really think I could be one of these athletes I had read about in Runner's World? Could I become this kind of runner?
My encounter with Tom kept me awake that night. No one had ever said anything like that to me before. I wasn't sure I even wanted to be a runner.
But, the idea of being one of the fastest runners on the planet intrigued. It did more than intrigue. It seduced. It beckoned.

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