At last year’s New York City Marathon, I missed my Boston qualifying time by five minutes. Almost immediately – after that first crabwalk down the subway stairs at 72nd street, after the ice bath that reduced me to soft whimpers and the non-restful non-nap that followed, but before my first celebratory beer – I wanted a do-over. A mulligan marathon.
The heartbreaking thing about marathons is that if you screw one up, it will be months before you can try it again. (I mean “try it again” in the sense of racing one, not jogging an event to enjoy the spectacle along the course, or as a training run for an ultra – and hats off to you endurance monsters who can do things like that, because I certainly couldn’t.) If you’re an older runner, like me, you’ll need a month, minimum, to recover from your last race. Another month to get back to some semblance of your running routine. Another three months or so to ramp your training back up.
Add to that the logistics of finding a race aligned with your training calendar (not to mention the rest of your life) and, well, you will have plenty of time to ponder your marathon training vices. In my case, that means birds, booze and blogging.
Birds. I thought I was pretty slick, combining my easy training mileage with my birding habit. Such a good multi-tasker! My 2014 log is replete with entries that refer to an “easy birding jog” or “birding loop of park.” What that typically meant, if I’m to be honest, was a mile of easy running (a mile and a half if I was feeling ambitious), just enough to get to one of Prospect Park’s birding hotspots. The next three miles or so would consist of easy jogs from one clump of trees or watery overlook to the next, interspersed with long pauses to scan the shore for waders, the sky for raptors and the branches for warblers. Three hours later, after many of these slow 100-200m repeats, I’d jog another mile or two to get home, where I’d claim six miles in my training log. By September-October, as both my mileage and the fall migration picked up, almost all of my easy days became “birding jogs.”
As cool as it was to add an orange-crowned warbler to my life list, I suspect my training suffered for it. I’m not disavowing birdwatching altogether, mind you. I’ll just need to find the time and energy to do it outside of marathon training.
Booze. I spent last summer and fall exploring Brooklyn’s craft cocktail culture (not to mention the monthly specials at “Red, White and Bubbly”) a little too eagerly. Or maybe way too eagerly. Back in my running heyday, I strictly rationed my alcohol intake. I’d have wine a few times a week, a beer with my running buddies after our Tuesday night workout, cocktails pretty much never. I was reminded of this on one of my last long training runs, when my running partner casually mentioned her husband’s incredulity and annoyance at her refusal to drink more than a few sips of wine during marathon training. While that wasn’t a problem in my own relationship – the night before, Eric and I had killed the better part of a bottle over a delightful dinner – it was, just maybe, a problem for my running.
This year, I’m relearning the joys of seltzer and lemonade (and seltzer mixed with lemonade) and how to nurse a single glass of wine through an entire meal. I’d like to report faster 5K times and a clearer head on weekend long runs, but so far, alas, I can’t. I can report feeling a little more virtuous, though.
(In case you’re wondering, my temperate friend went on to run a 3:52 at New York City.)
Blogging. It’s not blogging per se that’s the problem, and in fact, I plan to use these Boston posts as motivation (because what could be more motivational than the potential for public embarrassment?). And when you live in a place as big and fascinating as New York City, it’s almost a crime not to use at least some of your long training runs to explore. But . . .
In my quest for blog fodder, I went a little bit overboard on the exploration last year, and didn’t take my long runs seriously enough. “It’s long, slow distance,” I’d tell myself – as I stopped to snap pictures of street art in Williamsburg and Long Island City. Or check out the menu of an Uzbek restaurant in Sheepshead Bay. Or – in one particularly embarrassing lapse – buy and consume a quarter of a watermelon from a woman and her son who were selling them out of the back of a truck in East Harlem.
Long, slow distance does not mean watermelon breaks.
. . .
So much for my marathon training vices. The virtuous tweak to my training that I’m most excited about is the Prospect Park Track Club marathon training group. The group formed last winter, to help folks train for Boston and other spring marathons, and just relaunched at the beginning of this month. I know from experience how important that group setting is – the big improvement in my race times back in my 40s came after I started running with a training group. Groups are the closest thing to running magic I know. That’s partly peer pressure (it’s uncomfortable to bail on a workout in front of others), partly because hard repeats just seem easier when you’re doing them alongside others, and partly invisible speed vibes that I can’t document but know are real.
Besides, what could be more virtuous than getting up at 5 am on Tuesdays?