Long training runs and other acts of bravery

The Bronx this Nov. 3? We’ll see.  Illustration by Jim Carroll
The Bronx this Nov. 3? We’ll see.
Illustration by Jim Carroll

This past weekend, I participated in the Three Bridges Run, a marathon training long run put on by the New York Flyers running club (go Flyers!). The point of a long run is to gain confidence by running long miles (around 20) and to experiment with taking in water and eating nutrition gels. It’s also about getting comfortable with the pain that these miles will surely bring. I liken this exercise to going to a dentist for a voluntary tooth extraction — why not just wait for the real thing?

In the first few miles of a long run, conversation is generally struck up amongst the runners. Most are total strangers, and the conversation is kept light, helping to keep our minds off the long torturous miles ahead. It’s like strangers on an airplane whose final destination is pain and suffering, or like a cocktail party in hell.

I struck up conversation with one of our pace group leaders who resembled an action figure. Not surprisingly, he turned out to be an ex-drill instructor. I told Drill Instructor Rob that I may wear my Red Sox jersey for the marathon, at which point he told a brief story of how when he was in Vietnam, circa 1972, they would know if Vietcong were in a village by how the locals treated them. I took this as a cautionary tale, considering the marathon course goes through the Bronx.

Other than the possible loss of my life, things like strategy came up. Race day course strategy is a hot topic amongst marathoners. Having a strategy seems very important, a basic requirement.

My original strategy was to make friends with the course, treating it like a golden retriever, with the hope it would guarantee an injury-free marathon, while requiring as little effort as possible. Drill Instructor Rob made the course sound more like a sleeping bear, one yawn away from ripping off my face and snapping my Achilles tendons. I prefer the golden retriever version.

I do, however, have an excellent exit strategy: fake injury, save face. Or perhaps play dead, which apparently works with bears as well.

The run went well until mile 15 when I paused at a water station for too long. My legs cramped up pretty quickly and I found myself lagging behind the pace group. At this point, a fellow runner slowed down and gave me a few words of encouragement, which helped me find the energy I needed to stay with the group all the way to the end of the run. It was a nice, gentle moment of caring (God, I hope Drill Instructor Rob isn’t reading this).

Maybe on Nov. 3 the course will be both friend and enemy — more like a race day “frenemy.” One I can enjoy the company of, all the while staying on guard for backstabbing. And perhaps, in the end, my race day strategy will be simple: “just have fun.”


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