New York City Marathon Training: Stop Breakin' Down

My problem isn't a weak body -- it's a stubborn mind. I still think I should train hard for the upcoming New York City Marathon. With each new injury begetting a new limitation, my goals continue to whittle down to simply finishing the marathon -- the same goal I had last year. You pat yourself on the back for breaking new ground, not traveling the same route at the same or slower pace.

Just over a month of training remains before the 26.2-mile gallop of the marathon. I've increased to four running days a week and clocked in an 18-mile long run. My weekly total is still on the smaller side (about 37 miles/week) but if body parts behave, that total will climb to 40-plus miles per week. This pales in comparison to others who are racking up 50 to 60 miles per week but I'm grateful my foot has mostly convalesced and is taking these increasing distances in stride.

Included in training are hill repeats, which, living in Brooklyn, involve dashing up the quarter-mile incline of a bridge. I'm not at the point of setting a goal time beforehand. Rather I just run like hell, note the split, and try to repeat it several times. New York weather is nothing if not bipolar and the more humid the morning, the tougher the exercise. By the third repeat, my legs feel like they're moving through thickening concrete. I want them to move faster but they won't.

As I pull up after the last hill, gasping and wheezing, I wonder if this ever becomes easier. The answer is yes -- if I continue to train and remain (relatively) uninjured then my current uphill sprint pace would require less effort ... but is easy really the goal? When something isn't challenging, I grow anxious and look for ways to make it so. Thus, a goal accomplished is soon reclassified as a mark of mediocrity.

There's something gratifying to physical labor and pushing your body beyond a perceived limit. What was once a ceiling becomes a springboard. A personal record (PR) becomes a recovery pace. Iman, one of the faster members of my running group, found her own truth in "my main rival is becoming my ability", which got me thinking that everyone has the same core issue. We're all split in two -- there's the runner you are and the runner you want to be, and no matter how hard you train, he or she will always be a few strides ahead. It reminds me of Zeno's Paradox: "In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead." Translation: you'll never catch up to those ahead of you, a falsity in real life but an absolute truth when considering the duality of the individual runner.

We're restless souls never satisfied with who we are and what we have... but that's the remarkable thing about human nature. This desire for more can take shapes both heroic and avaricious. It's what made humans cross the unknown waters with only blind faith and clear nights to guide them. On a much smaller scale, it's what makes me run a marathon with a body that doesn't want to.

The theme song to this year's marathon training is "Stop Breakin' Down." The purest in me loves Robert Johnson's version but the White Stripes' wall-shaking, super-reverbed cover is amphetamines in an iPod.

With the left foot injury mitigating, I started believing my body and I had reached an agreement -- even if one of attritional sadism -- that if I treat it gingerly most of the time, it'll let me beat it up for the next month. Alas, just because one area heals doesn't mean another isn't awaiting its turn for trauma. My right peroneus muscle, a muscle that sounds like a villain in a Shakespearian play, and possibly the soleus are strained and possibly torn.

The twinge in my lower right leg first appeared around mile 14 of the 18-mile long run. At this point, I have enough experience with pain to know one thing -- you do not run through it. We runners often think that the same activity that causes distress will magically make it go away. So, I walked for a couple of miles, felt better and finished the last three miles strongly.

I had never even heard of these muscles before this injury -- there was the calf and all that other junk. I even said "tibula" to my podiatrist. But those obscure slabs will zap my total mileage this week to zero. ZERO. Doctor's orders.

The runner I thought I'd be this year has finished ahead again.