from mile to marathon

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

Monday, July 31, 2006


A little bit over a month ago I signed up for a half-marathon in September. That was June 21st, and I was able to run 10 miles by then, but I had not consciously made up my mind that I would be running a marathon. It was only after the confirmation came in an email and I saw my name on it that I realized I had committed.

I had committed to running. I felt light-headed.

In a bit over a month the date will be September 3rd, and I will run a half-marathon. I run tenaciously, that is I do not skip running sessions, but when I am running I still do it empirically, according to the whim and state of the moment. I have no plan, no schedule, no strategy. The piles of books I looked into mention build-up and “tapering,” a strange term that recalls the narrow cut of slim pants. In all the time since I bought Marathon for Dummies, that is a quarter year, I have not yet made time to study how this term applies to the preparation for a long-distance race.

I am a bit scared. But I am committed too. I remind myself often: I will run a half-marathon. It’s a stepping stone of sorts, a springboard to the real thing.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

doing everything wrong

Mid-April I finally bought Marathon for Dummies, and it scared the hell out of me.

I needed to buy gear – cotton was not the right choice. I wasn’t wearing the right kind of shoes. I had to start stretching – otherwise I was running a high risk of injury. I needed to sleep more – I was far beneath the stated requirement of resting 8-10 hours a day. I wasn’t eating the right things, whatever they were, because all those considerations of proteins and carbohydrates and their relative value get automatically blurry in my mind – in the end we need them all. Smoking and drinking weren’t even mentioned anywhere in the over 250 pages, although there was a paragraph entitled “dying for a drink.” It didn’t have anything to do with liquor – it was all about dehydration and electrolytes.

The book was full with obscure terms like split, energy gel, curl, fartlek, or glycemic index. I needed to learn a whole new language. In a casual tone it made frightening mention of plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, shin injuries, and other assorted ills – sheer reading made me squirm.

But most disconcerting where the references to mileage, scheduling, timing, the content addressing training per se. It seemed I was both running too much, while at the same time doing too little to get myself where I wanted to be. It seemed I was doing everything wrong.

I had not touched a book about running before, but right after I bought Marathon for Dummies I went to the library and borrowed a huge pile of books on running. Different authors would have different opinions. It would help my morale, I thought, if I could ascertain that they did not all agree with each other. Then the whole concept of right or wrong would lose some of its impact.

I took time away from everything else, and leafed through my collection for several hours.

I was right. What was sane and correct according to one runner, was urban legend in another’s view. I let them quarrel between themselves. I had to find my own way.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

my secret life

I was miling seven miles each day I set out to mile, when I first made the fact public. Until then, only Robert had known, unavoidable since we are living together. A couple of months ago, I suddenly announced that I am going to run the marathon, and he silently made his peace with my new focus, my sweaty arrivals at our door, my obsession with mileage, and me taking time away from our relationship. Quien sabe? Maybe he was relieved. But that is a cynical statement – he never acted relieved.

With the exception of Robert, I had kept my running life secret. In the second half of April I finally barred everything to my writing circle – the obsession with running, the fixation on a Bill Strickland school, the intent to blog about it all. We meet every two weeks in a Borders’ café, there are five of us, and we thrive on it. They were overwhelmingly supportive. One of them said I was blessed.

Blessed… The blessed among us are those who are called to serve. I could acknowledge that much. I was chafing under the obligations imposed on me (the sweat, the exertion, the time constraints of running, and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the path of the school), but I just could not be sure that I was called to serve.

Perhaps I was in a midlife crisis – nothing to do with calling or meaning, more likely with the absence thereof.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


According to my initial intent (each week increase daily output by one mile), by the time I had reached seven miles, each day when I ran I ran seven miles. I had never wavered from that model. In the first week, I ran one mile each day. In the second week, I ran two miles each day. I was not running every day anymore, as in the beginning, but each day of the new week I stuck with the newly acquired territory – three miles, then four, then five, etc. Once I had broken the barrier to a longer stretch, I had not gone back to less in any single day, never once.

I assume that was ambition, straight and pure. It wasn’t stamina. Believe me – you certainly don’t want to know how it felt.

At seven miles (which I did five times in a row) it occurred to me there would come a time when on certain days I would do less than my highest output so far, a maintenance sort of run. I wasn’t sure whether this was sound, or just practical. Daaah… sound is the equivalent of practical when what you employ is muscles…

Time concerns certainly rendered this premise practical. Once I got to 13 miles, for instance – apparently my confidence had soared – it would be hard to squeeze in the time for 13 miles each day when I went out to run. I was proud not to have ever had done less than the highest mileage achieved until that moment. It reaffirmed me. But it wasn’t practical.

I would have to step back, for the sake of wisdom. I would have to step back, for the sake of staying injury-free. I would have to step back, for the sake of still having a life. I would have to step back.

It’s hard to balance ambition with wisdom. Especially since I did not know beforehand I had ambition.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

the zone

The first time I did six miles, I was utterly spent by the time I stepped off the treadmill. I was still running in the evening then, and by stomach was in knots after dinner. I stepped off the treadmill dizzy, and managed somehow to drag myself home. My cheeks were flushed, my breath was short, and everything was sore. Everything, not just the legs.

The second time I was due for six miles it was a week-end, and I went to the exercise room Saturday morning. Even though I pushed myself for a more sustained pace, and thus exerted more effort, the experience was surprisingly different. Don’t get me wrong, it did not come easy. But it wasn’t exhausting. I was left with the willingness, even eagerness to do more. Seven miles was an approachable prospect, a task likely to be finished. Until then, the next mile I had to add to my trek had been an insurmountable task, a scary prospect, a dreaded anticipation.

That Saturday morning though – April 9th – I fell unawares into some sort of rhythm. I didn’t loath the time spans at high speed, I almost looked forward to them, those several minutes at 4.6-4.8 miles/hour, when my motion became so sustained, my pace so seamless, that in spite of the acceleration I felt as if I moving in slow motion, not in control of my own advance, but controlled by it, propelled by it, carried forward, like an athlete in THE ZONE. Okay, so 4.8 miles an hour doesn’t warrant bringing up such a transcendent term as “the zone.” But, slow and humble, I had an inkling of it.

I could not describe it as exhilarating, because it came with a mixture of soberness,, relief, and astonishment that grounded it to the earthiness of my rigid muscles. But I felt, for the first time, regardless of prior speculation, wishful thinking, alleged determination, or wild hope, I felt that one day I would, I could run the marathon.

I even returned home, through the beguiling fragrance of spring, walking like a normal person.

In any case, running in the morning, with a lean stomach, was much better than carrying around the load of dinner.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I became a citizen at the end of March. Inspired by American movies, I had always dreamt of a party with caviar and champagne, and now I finally had my fill of it. Our house was too small for all the people I wanted to celebrate with, so we had caviar and champagne three days in a row (I can now abstain from the fare for months or years to come). Given all the agitation, I didn’t run for almost a week. For a week, I eluded the six miles looming over me like darkness.

I picked up again where I left it off, five miles. It felt relatively easy. I was warm in the exercise room, running in t-shirt and leggings. Even the thought of buying some running outfit intimidated me. I was fantasizing about running outside and needing a pedometer to measure my output. I still felt unsure about how to see myself in this running equation. It was talking time away form me. It was cramping my style. My body hurt all the time. I had not started blogging yet, for fear of making a fool of myself.

I am a silly broad who thrives on approval.

Perhaps I needed to jump into running, head over heels, eyes closed, to really see where it would take me.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

five miles

I started running five miles each day. I also tried to increase the speed a bit. By two miles I was already finished, and could not envision adding 150% to my so-far output. Gasping, panting, stumbling, I somehow did. I finished five miles days in a row. The pain that outlined the muscles of my thighs after each session went higher now, up into my buttocks, as if it had gleefully discovered more territory to infiltrate. I guessed that was good. I was asking each time, myself or the gods, why I can’t just have a lukewarm life, why I can’t just stay home and skip the treadmill and the exertion and the sweat. I did not need to do this. But just the thought of giving up depressed me. The prospect of having to do six miles next week depressed me as well.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

four miles

Okay, so I was doing four miles now. Now meaning the second half of March. Walking, mostly. Not stressful really, unless I pushed myself for better time. The first four miles in one sitting were exhilarating (an enhanced, tangible victory, as any other increase of one mile, before or after). No weight loss, although I’d been at it for almost a month. Yet one morning when I was having coffee at the kitchen table, and enjoying the first cigarette of the day (yes, I know, I know, this detail doesn’t belong in marathon blog), I let my hand rest unawares on my upper leg, and I was surprised how hard the flesh was, the muscle stretching taut and firm under the skin, while my position was actually relaxed. I had build muscle, or I was just imagining it. I could not decide.

Staying at higher speeds (where high for me at the time was 4.2 miles/hour) knocked me out. I would start fresh and end up dragging myself over the treadmill, sweaty and out of breath. Four miles today, four miles tomorrow, and it didn’t get better. And I was just walking briskly. I could not envision running those four miles, never mind 26. Different varieties of pain flashed through my body, a weakness in the ankles, a snap in my lower back, a dull tension in my calves. Perhaps I was not fit for this. Perhaps I was too old.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

what I want

I had not yet run 4 miles when I heard Bill Strickland as the keynote speaker at the close of a business conference in St. Louis. He talked about this school and vocational training center he established in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the curriculum evolves around art, not to produce artists, but in order to entice disenfranchised kids, welfare mothers, and out-of-work steel workers to educate themselves (with a staggering success rate). He talked about how this country is going downhill because we don’t pay attention to the education of our children, while the children are the future. Not exactly in these words, but that was the gist of it, and it stirred up the whole audience, because we are familiar with the problem. And in the most resourceful country of the world the problem persists to a shameful extent.

People lined up afterwards to express their elation or just shake his hand. I did too, and once in front of him I did not know what to say. He had already heard it all before, how we are moved, and what a great job he is doing, and how the world needs people like him, who DO something. Then something clicked into place and I blurted out: “I am going to run the marathon for one of your schools.”

I was going to run the marathon anyhow, or I flirted with the thought, but in that moment I saw a reason to run it and it all made sense. The two disparate endeavors became connected in my mind right there and then. All the hypothetical marathons I will ever be able to run won’t raise enough money for even scratching the surface of such magnitude of a project. But, when I run, in my mind I run for a Bill Strickland school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Perhaps I am just trying to persuade myself or him or the world that I have perseverance, as I believed when I was young.

It is not enough to lament about education. We have to DO something. Once you read this, don’t turn away, don’t forget about it. Runners of wherever, runners of New Mexico, parents or New Mexico, come back here from time to time and find out where I am on this, and how you can help. I will need you.

One day before I went to the exercise room for the first time and randomly pushed the buttons of the treadmill, I had gone to a Southwest Writers meeting ( about blogging, and although I never saw myself blog before (the exhibitionism and diligence required scared me to no end), now I saw the three strands interconnected: running, blogging, and a Bill Strickland school in Albuquerque. That's what I want.

Friday, July 07, 2006


I have one comment so far on my blog, and that owe to the friend of a friend. Before the 4th of July race only 4 people had viewed my profile. To think that, at the beginning, I was reluctant to go online with the marathon, because if I gave up on running the world would find out I am a loser… How naïve. How preposterous. How pathetic. The world doesn’t even know I started running, how would they care about my hypothetical giving up?

I am aware that I took some liberties with the unstated requirement of blogging for entries be published in real time, as events unfold. I plan to bring myself up to date.

In the meantime I decided to research marathon stories. I clicked on “marathon” listed under interests in the site’s profile and I found out there are 40 other people on who employed the same formulation. I was somehow disappointed – I expected more. Of course, you don’t have to run and blog at the same time.

80% of those 40 are male. The rest is divided between women and people who didn’t care to specify their gender.

35% are from the US, and 25% from Germany. 20% are from the rest of Europe, mostly Nordic countries. (One was from Luxembourg - I am fairly certain crossing the country from one end to the other takes less than 26 miles). There’s one person in South Korea and one person in South Africa. Four are in Singapore and the Philippines.

The given age varies between 16 and 51 for the males. The women who specified their age are in their twenties and younger.

One person had 91 entries, some people had none. It gets blurry here, because some have more than one blog and then entries are not listed anymore. I found one blog that started out like mine, the chronicle of a journey, but it stopped abruptly at the end of 2004. I hope they are all right. Jean-Luc lists as his interests “marathon, marathon, marathon,” but he doesn’t expand on it. Most comments I found were spam.

(It’s funny, but I checked how many people listed Run, Lola, Run as a favorite movie, and I found exactly the same number: 40 besides me. Hmmm… I wonder if there’s a cap on 40. I have to research this further. )

I concluded these findings are inconclusive and typed in “marathon” into’s search engine. I got over 600,000 returns. Too much to do statistics. I typed in “the art of marathon.” Eight finds, most of which pertained to the art of marathon shopping (imagine! an endeavor that requires both endurance and endowment), the art of marathon drinking (the man said he is better at sprinting, I can relate to that), the art of marathon sleeping (I could be a champion, it’s just that I don’t have the time). Only one was really about marathoning. This woman had just run the marathon in 4 hours 11 minutes. I was jealous, not because of the accomplishment itself or the time it took her, but because that entry earned her 7 or 8 comments.

I want to make my blog a success, whatever that means.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

good morning, America

Yesterday, the 4th of July, I ran in a 5K race, my first one ever. The spirits were high, the sunrise beautiful, the morning cool and glorious. I placed third in my age group. I didn’t ask how many women were in my age group, for fear of finding out there were only three. But I was pleased with my mediocre time of 29:32 minutes for the simple reason that the best I had ever achieved before was 32 on the treadmill. It didn’t matter too much that the bulk of the contingent was way before me, or that I almost gave out on the course for lack of oxygen and stamina. The official photographer of the event (Scott of was kind to notice me on the website and establish a link to my blog. Go to, and return to me in circumnavigation, as Lewis Thomas once said about the jubilant song of the humpback whales. It was good day to run.

Monday, July 03, 2006

spring in New Mexico

I was so lucky when I started this (and still am). I could access the treadmill for free. I could just walk to the other end of the apartment complex in five minutes or so, and there it was. Not too many people strived to make use of it, and I felt the treadmill was largely at my disposal. Out of touch with the mechanics of miling or those of my own body, I could study the data on the machine display – speed, mileage, incline, calories consumed – and get an inkling of where I was. However faint. I spent lots of time on that rubber band computing, my mind as active as my feet, if not more so.

While the machine would be, with certainty, a godsend in winter, it was spring time in New Mexico. A glorious opportunity to run outside. I knew that soon enough I would have to go out in the open. I did not see myself running indefinitely on the belt, and I did not feel entitled to keep the machine occupied for hours anyhow. Soon enough it was going to be hours I needed to spend on it. Hours. Hours of running.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

the treadmill

The machine is a PRECOR C942, and I looked and memorized this solely so I would know what to write here, for ads to be posted on the blog. In the meantime I signed up for Adsense, and maybe someone buys it and I can partially cover the cost for the Marathon for Dummies book.

Just kidding. No one will hurry to buy it, here or elsewhere, because it stands squat and heavy, and is not sleek and streamlined and complex as some of the newer models. There is another machine in the exercise room (the brand is Lifestyle), it looks much more svelte and fit, but it requires a safety key to function, and the safety key is never there, and the person who is supposed to hand one the safety key is never in the clubhouse either.

I don’t mind, I like the PRECOR, I am comfortable on it. The other one is almost too sophisticated for me, I do not understand all the glyphs and graphs, all the buttons and lights, I do not need a machine that is so much smarter than me. The PRECOR already stumps me.

At least in the beginning (now I don’t pay attention to this anymore) it seemed to know how much I intended to run that day, or even scarier, how attuned I was to the exertion each time. Whenever I was increasing my daily task with one mile it showed quick calorie consumption from the start, as if acknowledging that day would warrant extra effort. And whenever I miled the same distance as on the day before, the calories were sluggish in accruing. The treadmill said: you did this before, so you can do it again, it’s not a big deal, not too many spent calories for you today. Smart device, really.