Meeting People Is Easy

Before I moved to Colorado, a friend gave me a card titled “How to Make Friends in a New City.” The advice was basically: meet people you may like doing things you definitely like.

Despite knowing no one in Denver and liking running, I was hesitant to join a running club. It took me years to get decent at running, and I didn’t want to feel bad about my pace around strangers who were faster than me. Hanging out with people who were slow didn’t interest me either. I also occasionally like to party, and I assumed the kind of people who joined a running club would be too serious about a full night’s sleep to be any fun.

But I finally did join a running group to take a speed work class, and while some people were fast or slow or square, I did meet some people who were down. I never went to the Saturday runs, the cornerstone of this club, because who wants to wake up at 5:30 on a Saturday morning to drive to suburban Denver to go running?

Well, a new friend of mine did, and she wanted to discuss going camping with me, so I went. A few days before, I went on a club trail run, and there, an older woman said of the Saturday morning run: “Finishing that run is the best part of my week.”

It struck me as odd and kind of depressing that the best part of anyone’s week is being done with something they didn’t really want to do. But after I went to one of the runs, I understood what she meant. Hanging out in a parking lot in Englewood after running 12 miles before 9 am did give me a huge sense of satisfaction.

Yesterday, around mile 8 of a 14-mile run in Broomfield sprawl, I was afraid I would have to do something unseemly in a manicured traffic island. I was desperate for a port-a-potty. I stopped running and started knocking on doors. Eventually, I saw a couple gardening, and asked if I could use their bathroom. The wife was a runner, so she knew the place I was in and also knew what would happen to her toilet. Still, she let me go.

I’m an optimist, so I’m hoping the week will reach greater heights than using a stranger’s bathroom. But if experiencing man’s empathy to man ends up being as good as the week gets, so be it. 

Improvements Over Time

If you do something four times a week for four years, you’ll get better at it. This seems obvious, but it’s something I didn’t appreciate until I started running. More accurately, it’s something I didn’t appreciate until I got better at running. 

After the marathon and the epic winter, I was a little tired of the sport. But a bum knee kept me from running regularly in the spring. With the time off, I remembered how much I love running both as an excuse to get outside and a justification for replacing the cream in Oreos with peanut butter. And now my knee is getting better and it’s summer in Prospect Park. After the break and with the heat, running feels new.

There are very few things in life where growth is quantifiable. I think the short stories I’m working on now are better than the book I wrote, but I don’t have any proof. But I just bought a GPS enabled watch, so at least I can gauge my progress in one hobby. And while I don’t have any way to measure my writing, I’ll keep working on it, knowing that with more time, I can’t help but improve. 

Nothing Faster Than Feelings

So that marathon, how’d it go? It went great, actually. I broke 4 hours, which was my goal, and after the race, took a long bath with a Bloody Mary and a Vicodin. I don’t think I’ve ever been higher in my life. 

A time that was low for me was about 90 minutes into the race, when I realized that after running for 10 miles, I still had 16 more to go. The next 6 miles were both depressing and slow, until I realized that if I were going to break 4 hours, I had to hustle. The next ten miles were difficult, but I picked up the pace and finished at 3:57.

(Also, people looking to PR on a marathon, may I recommend Ocean Drive? It’s a flat course with no crowds after the first mile.) 

I’m a mediocre athlete by genetics—either the best of the worst or the worst of the best—but I put a lot into this race. Actual blood (from chaffing), sweat (duh) and tears (there was a small breakdown after a long run I couldn’t finish) went into this marathon, and they all came from me. That I broke four hours might have had something to do with the course being flat, but nothing to do with anyone else. I’ve never been more unequivocally proud of myself as I was when I crossed the finished line.

A week after the race, I banged my knee on a table and I haven’t been able to run since. This is frustrating for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that spring, along with fall, is really the only time running in New York is blatantly pleasant. Otherwise, it’s too hot or too cold. In the summer and winter, I can only do my best to stay hydrated or wear the proper layers, and try to find some joy in running through the thick heat or cold winds.  

Since my injury, I’ve been swimming, putting off seeing a doctor, and going for walks in Prospect Park. The spring in the park happens at a maddening pace—if you miss one day of it, you will miss whole trees coming to bloom. And on my walks, I see people who haven’t run all winter who probably thought 20 minutes earlier, “It’s such a nice day, I should go for a jog,” and a jealousy flows through me that I am not so proud of.

Patience, Humility, Fortitude

There are a lot of things about marathon training, but one that is especially frustrating is that there’s no one run that makes a difference. It’s a cumulative experience of long runs, pace runs, and runs that once seemed long but are now just 8 miles. There’s no way to cram for a marathon.

My first marathon is in ten days, and Hal Higdon has told me to rest. This makes me anxious.

I’m so used to running structuring my time, getting me into Prospect Park and clearing my head, I’m not sure what to do with myself. I feel all this energy building up in my legs, and I have to store it up for a week and a half.

The other thing about racing is that unless you’re fast, and I mean superhuman fast, it doesn’t matter at all. On my last long run, I literally ran into a friend (I suppose literally is too strong—we didn’t hit each other, but we were both running and we saw each other) and then ran with him for an hour. I was talking about the race, and to check myself, I said something about how it doesn’t really matter. I’m not an Olympic athlete; I’m just some chick who likes long term goals and fresh air. But my impromptu running buddy reminded me that even a local elite runner, whose goal is to finish about 90 minutes ahead of me, would still finish about 20 minutes behind the real runners. Even for the very fast, it doesn’t matter.

It’s hard to admit to caring about something with no greater purpose and it’s hard to run 20 miles and not get a t-shirt for your effort. And until March 27, it’s hard to wait with nothing certain but more waiting. 

I Have Measured Out My Life in Fruit Snacks

I’m running my first marathon on my 28th birthday. What’s up, aging?

There’s a transition between running half-marathons and real marathons. For one, when you’re training for a full marathon, you think an 8-mile pace run is an acceptable thing to talk about in public. It’s not, but it’s easy to let training take over your life.

And in my life, which includes a book on hold, weeks of waiting to hear back from grad school, and a couple of short stories kicking around, the marathon is a tangible thing to worry about. Running is a structured escape. It’s a reason to leave a party early. It’s a way to get out of the house for hours at a time. And if 18 weeks are passing you by, it’s a way to make sense of the time that never ceases to move forward.

And in this way, running is no different than smoking cigarettes. Well, it’s better on the lungs and worse on the knees.

As Jonathan Franzen explains:                              

There’s no simple, universal reason why people smoke, but there’s one thing I’m sure of: they don’t do it because they’re slaves to nicotine. My best guess about my own attraction to the habit is that I belong to a class of people whose lives are insufficiently structured. The mentally ill and the indigent are also members of this class. We embrace a toxin as deadly as nicotine, suspended in an aerosol of hydrocarbons and nitrosamines, because we have not yet found pleasures or routines that can replace the comforting, structure-bringing rhythm of need and gratification that the cigarette habit offers. One word for this structuring might be “self-medication”; another might be “coping.”

The other thing that’s different about training for a marathon is that you can’t get away without carrying anything on a run, and just vomiting from salt depletion when you get home. And so nutrition becomes another thing to think about, you know, instead of considering the human condition.

I bring Fruit Snacks on my long runs. I can already picture myself packing school lunches for my children that include such Fruit Snacks and wistfully remembering this period in my life, when I used Fruit Snacks to measure time’s passing. Not that I’d ever let my kids eat that shit for lunch. 

Losing Things

About two and a half years ago, I went through a phase of losing things – $20, a watch, headphones. I just couldn’t hold onto anything. About three years before that, I stopped working full time. Clearly, there was some correlation.

But it wasn’t like I was unaware of the fact that my life was changing. When I first stopped working full time, I would wake up on Monday mornings in a panic, unsure how I would get through the week without somewhere to be from 9 to 5. By the time I had started losing things, I felt more in control of my free time. I guess sometimes, your subconscious just knows better.

Winter makes me feel like this all the time. In the past week, I was an unfriendly stranger away from losing my hat and one of my gloves. I don’t think it’s my subconscious acting up.  

(Though recently, I dropped a new phone in a toilet, only to recover it and then lose it on a train a few hours later. But really, that was about me hating that phone, and having no reason to get rid of it unless my id acted up.)

It’s just that things don’t have a place in the winter. I can organize a purse, but with jacket pockets, there are just too many options.

There are things to like about the winter. I like being in Prospect Park, and seeing only the others runners and cyclists who love being outside more than they should. I like the feeling of walking somewhere,  and after a few minutes having all the layers and increased blood flow kick in, and feeling like it’s not so cold out anymore. But I’m ready for warmer weather, if only to stop worrying about where my neck gaiter is.