from mile to marathon

The journey of a thousand leagues begins from beneath your feet.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

in a bide for time

Sometimes, now, four months into running, I do not know anymore if running takes time away from other things, or if those interests cut into the running time. But at the beginning I simply could not envision how and whence I would produce all these extra hours of dedication. And because I could not produce extra time (there’s no place where one can buy a few slices of time, a span, a minute, or even a blink), I had to fall back on producing some excess dedication. I remember now how I ‘miled’ in those first weeks, always under time pressure, always in a hurry to get back to something else. One night we had a guest for dinner and I sped things up because I needed to get home and start cooking. On the menu we had cauliflower cream soup, and crab cakes with cauliflower-bean-brandade (from a recipe I had once ripped out the New York Times Sunday Magazine) and mesclun salad. I put home-grown arugula in the salad, from the pot I keep in the south window. It was a nice menu. I did not want to give up on social life. And I haven’t actually. We had a friend over yesterday as well, and my boyfriend grilled something. It would not cross my mind now to hurry through the running session in order to start cooking.

Monday, June 26, 2006

not knowing… why I was doing this

I was doing three miles a day, and still did not know yet why I was doing it. Okay, so three miles is nothing to a real runner, but it is substantial to me, who never ran beyond the athletic exercises mandated in school 25 years ago, what was it, perhaps a half a mile. And I did not know why I was fixated on this marathon thing. It is an extreme experience, not something you do on an ordinary day. One of those instances when what carries you forward is not muscle power, but the force of will. Or so I imagine. The first marathon runner in history, that Greek warrior with a disputed name who ran the distance between the hills of Marathon and Athens after battle, two millenniums ago, ran because he had a purpose, ran for something greater than himself. This is maybe why so many runners today engage in a marathon for the benefit of a cause. But we are also testing ourselves – our willpower, our endurance, our motivation. We are testing who we are. Three miles or not, I was still afraid I would fail the test.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


While I was walking back home from my second three-mile stretch I felt for the first time the outline of muscles at the back of my thighs, not like a region of dull pain, but as if I actually had muscles there. That made me feel grateful, as if I had reached an internal milestone. Next day the pain was numbing again, but I held on to the gratitude.

I was grateful to Kelly for her “ultimate workout” tip of varying the speed throughout the session. It kept me somehow fresh, and instead of looking forward to the moment I’d be done (a daunting prospect when you are at 0.5 miles and plan for 3) I was looking forward to the next time when I would decrease the speed, a prospect that relaxed me almost as much as the decrease itself. The speed values that flickered changing across the screen made math a little bit difficult, so I didn’t spend as much time as before calculating if I am a third or halfway through the ordeal. The end got in sight faster than I expected.

I wasn’t enjoying this too much, as you can see. God only knows why I was sticking to it, clinging to it, not letting go. I was still afraid that I would give up, the moment of disheartening potentially lurking somewhere ahead. But I was also curious how I would feel at 4 miles, or even 5. Not more than that.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

wisdom from all corners

I got some education from a woman at work. (Kelly is 38, but she looks and acts like a girl.) She had starting exercising a few weeks prior, and she was talking in the call center about this ultimate workout she does at the gym. I listened. I even asked a few questions.

During the 20 minutes or so she spent on the treadmill she varied the speed, minute by minute, from 3 to 4.5 miles/per hour, at which point she was already running, and then down again, and up again, and so on. She had started to increase the incline to 2% only a day or so before.

Oh, I thought, perhaps I am being too hard on myself dealing with an 8% incline or more. Perhaps I am attempting too much by holding the speed all the time at the highest level I can manage.

The first day I did three miles I kept the incline down at 2%, and varied the speed between 2.5 and 4 miles/hour (so I would not need to run). I don’t know if it was the low incline, the speed letup, or the simple fact that I needed to blow steam after a hard day at the office, but running this first three miles was easier than the two miles before.

My confidence clicked back into place. I was one mile closer to the marathon. It did not matter that I had accomplished this one extra mile only once, that I was still not yet running, that a marathon at this pace would take the extent of daylight, that I was irremovably 41, that my fingers swelled up thick and white, as if I had Raynaud syndrome (actually an autoimmune response to cold, while my problem was one of circulation). I had found a new method to approach my task, I could take wisdom from all corners, I was on my way to glory again.

Monday, June 19, 2006

when I was younger

Okay, so when I was younger I used to say I would be a good marathon runner. By which I didn’t mean straining my muscles on the open road. I was speaking strictly metaphorically. I meant I had tenacity. I meant I am not a sprinter, that is I am not quick, not a fast thinker, not endowed with presence of mind. As a witty soul once said, my presence of mind kicks in a day or so after the fact. Perseverance is my strong point, not speed. That’s what I meant. I was referring to a mindset, not to physical qualities. But naming the marathon was a dangerous formulation, because now, decades later, it caught up with me. And it wants me to do something. It wants me to run the marathon. For real.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


I did not start blogging live, in real time, three months or more ago, because I was scared. I was afraid that I would lose heart, give up on the marathon and everything that goes with it. One day it would be too much, the discipline, the physical exertion, the time investment. I would turn to smaller, regular things, would lose spark and glow, would stay behind diminished.

For a long time I did not decide I will run the marathon. Deciding was much too much of a commitment. For months, I did not make up my mind. The only thing I did was not to stop.

Monday, June 12, 2006

parachuting at 70

I was on IM with a friend form Europe, and she said that running the marathon at 41 is not that crazy – after all, there are 70-year-olds who learn parachute-jumping. (She conceded though that not having ever exercised might be a problem.) I felt disappointed. I wanted her to say it was a bold, wild, outrageous idea with little chances to be transposed into fact, and that I would do it anyhow.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


I wanted to do this with sprezzatura – an Italian term for the smooth, nonchalant, princely way. I wanted to do this with elegance and effortlessness. I didn’t aim to drag myself to the finish line, weary and out-of-breath. I wanted to slide with it, to be carried by it, to reach the end with reserves to spare. It was not realistic, but it was a beautiful goal to focus upon.

Here I was, pudgy and flaccid, my muscles rigid with exertion, my lungs darkened by smoke. And I was thinking of the Boston marathon, and how I would run it one day. Run it, not win it. I posses some measure of sanity after all.

Friday, June 09, 2006

something extraordinary

I had lunch with my friend Merimee a few days after I initiated my affair with the treadmill. The whole idea seemed so absurd I did not know how she would respond to it. Nevertheless, I was in a giddy mood and the lunch was delicious (Graze on Central Avenue), so I told her. I told her that, out of the blue, I am thinking of running the marathon. Her reaction took me by surprise. I don’t know what I expected, perhaps indifference. Perhaps I was just curious as to what she would say. She said it was inspiring and inspirational. She equated it to doing something extraordinary for myself. I had not thought about it this way. But her wording fit. I want to do something extraordinary for myself.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

mile two

The first time I did two miles I went easy and steady, so by the time I finished the first mile I was barely out of breath. The whole thing took me almost one hour. I stayed with this approach for several days. My limbs were rigid every morning, but doing two miles this way was easier than doing one. The problem was this pace would have me trotting for 13 hours or so to complete the marathon. I could already envision it: night falling, me, and the traffic. I tried for better time. Increasing the speed felt like progress (look, ma, I am actually running!), and it also felt dangerous. A faint blade of pain passed through my ankle, the foreshadowing of a cramp materialized in my calf. I was not sure I could handle running. Perhaps I had to do warm-ups and stretching? It sucks to be so inept at what you are doing.

Friday, June 02, 2006

the wild life

On my last and seventh day of one mile I was listless in the treadmill. I braced myself for bearing the whole thing out at a high incline (so I would invest effort) but low speed (so I would not stress myself out). There was no one in the exercise room when I arrived there. The TV was not on, and I turned on a knob in the wall that produced music, something I had seen someone else do the other day, otherwise I wouldn’t have known what that thing was for. My limbs were heavy, and I felt bored. What if I increased the speed? I would get to the end of the mile faster, and have this over with. I was curious: would the machine force me to run? I also knew the experiment could just take me out of my breathing range. I felt a wild temptation to throw caution in the wind. Let’s live with abandon. Yeah, that’s how I envisioned breaking boundaries back then.

I increased the speed progressively to 4 miles/hour, what I perceived as a risky business. The speed forced me to step faster and faster. This in itself guaranteed the ordeal would be over soon. It wasn’t. The pace didn’t really make me run – I assumed this was what they called brisk walk – but I figured out it meant that all of a sudden I was running the marathon in 6.5 hours instead of almost 9, as the day before. This was a substantial increase and I did not need to outdo myself. Or I didn’t want to faint, call it whatever you will.

I went home a bit dissociated with myself – knowing I was walking home, but at the same time wondering who that person in my body was, walking home, the length of legs aflame with pain. It occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t ready yet for two miles next day. Perhaps I would need more time than a week for each mile.