Go the distance

I’m running again. Training. Another half marathon, in November, if COVID doesn’t keep us from running it. I suppose if it does, I’ll run the distance that day anyway.

This isn’t a post about running. I mean, it is, but it’s not. I’m going to write a bunch about running, and then explain why it’s not about running. I’ll get there in about another 750 words, so bear with me for a little while here.

The last race I ran was a full marathon, in November of 2018. I probably don’t need to ever run a full again, but ask me again in 20 years when I feel like I need to show my kids that their old man is young, dumb and full of it, despite heading toward his mid-60s.

I’m not getting any younger, and when I started training I was heavier than I’ve been in more than 15 years. We’ve had a hot start to summer. But I’ve got a little wisdom on my side, and some different tools — including, notably, a heart rate monitor, so I know when I need to slow down without trying to feel it.

I usually run to podcasts or audiobooks, but I’m trying to work in some run-to-music days, especially Sunday, which is a recovery run (Saturday is my longest run of the week, though the difference right now, this early in my training, isn’t much).

Shuffle decided the other day to push Cake’s “The Distance” into my earholes. The video’s above, but you can skip it an just read the lyrics if you prefer.

It’s not a happy song. It’s about a guy who didn’t win the race. Everyone else cleared out, and he’s still going. Running to forget (well, riding his horse, the poor creature). But the ticket is, he’s still going.

As they speed through the finish, the flags go down
The fans get up and they get out of town
The arena is empty except for one man still driving and striving as fast as he can
The sun has gone down and the moon has come up, and long ago somebody left with the cup
But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns …

Maybe it is a happy song. Maybe sometimes you just need everyone to get out of your peripheral vision so that you can clear your head and keep going.

When I ran that marathon, the last time I saw anyone behind me was around mile 23; there were two people around mile 21. I came in three minutes before the course limit; there wasn’t a vehicle behind me, though, so I’m not sure if those people hopped a shuttle or if organizers let them finish.

All the chairs in the runner rest area had been folded up. The bananas were gone.

I certainly wasn’t fully trained up; that was my fault. I think I just got tired of putting one foot in front of the other.

But I refused to get on a shuttle. I committed to running 26.2 miles. I probably walked 8 miles of it. I felt great through 14 miles, when I started walking a few steps every quarter mile or so. But there’s a rough stretch of the course in direct sunlight on asphalt — up on the freeway — and my running muscles gave up. I walked, and walked, and jogged a few steps here and there when my legs let me, and when I saw the final corner, I turned on whatever was left of my runners and finished.

It was probably five weeks before I was able to put together two miles again. I wore kinesio tape for almost a week.

I’ve trained for a half before, though, and, if I can stay healthy (no COVID, no injuries), I’ll finish it, slow and steady, running the whole way.

The first time I did this, the hardest thing for me was some of the mid-summer 5-mile runs that I embark on between 9 and 10 a.m. It’s super-hot by then a lot of days, but if I’m working until 3 a.m., I’m not going to get out at or before first light like I do on the weekends. That summer I was running about 10:40 a mile; at the start of this training, I’m running around 12:15. That will come down some as I drop some weight, but I won’t run a lot of sub-11-minute miles.

Slow and steady.

Driving and striving.

The support team will be waiting at home. Tail wags from the pup, hugs from the child, a smile and a kiss from the wife. The rest is me. I’m not going to win the race, but I’m going to keep running it, even if everyone else has gone home.

But, as I noted before, this post isn’t about running.

It’s about the ability to keep going.

Sometimes you need better tools. Sometimes you need to make sure you’re measuring the right things. Sometimes you have to turn off all the external stuff — the tools, the advice, the customers, the bosses, whatever — and just put your head down and do what you do.

When you burn out, when you’re tired, when you most want to quit, that’s when you need to keep going. As fast as you can, even if that’s so slow you don’t recognize that you’re moving.



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