The final 10K of the 2019 Chicago Marathon was a painful experience. My right knee was creaky and hurt with every step and my left hamstring ached constantly. I finished the race with a new PR, a huge sense of accomplishment and thinking that my days of training for and running marathons might be over.
I fell short of my goal (3:47) in that race, but I was still thrilled with how the race went. I ran a great 20 miles or so, finished faster than I ever have (by 11 seconds) and, despite the pain, enjoyed the experience.
It wasn’t that I didn’t get what I wanted out of the marathon, I just wondered if all that pain was really worth it. I limped around the rest of the day, re-living the race and talking about how I didn’t think I ever needed to do that again.
In the year and a half since crossing the finish line at Chicago, running has been a challenge. I worked hard to get over those knee and hamstring issues, built my mileage back up and started doing workouts again. Then the pandemic hit and eventually my motivation to do anything other than jog 3 or 4 miles went to shit. I’ve struggled with asthma and allergies, my body has been a little dinged up, and I just haven’t felt like putting in the effort.
Training for and running a marathon hasn’t even been a thought because there are no marathons to train for, I haven’t run more than 9 miles since Chicago and in the last three months I’ve struggled to run more than 20 miles a week. Not exactly a recipe for marathoning success.
Yet, while jogging a slow, sluggish 3 miles Friday morning, with snow falling around me, a surgical mask covering my face making breathing even more difficult than my asthma, I started thinking about the marathon. I started thinking about the training I did in 2019, training that was harder than anything I had done before and went better than any marathon training cycle I’d ever put myself through.
And I went back to my goal for Chicago, which has been my marathon goal since Oct. 2013, when I ran my first marathon in 4 hours, 47 minutes. During that slow-ass 3 miler Friday morning, I asked myself if I was ready to give up on my goal of running a marathon an hour faster than my debut. I fell two minutes shy at Chicago, and in the aftermath of the race, I decide I was OK with that.
I am OK with that, however, I still think about that goal. It is still written on the chalk board that hangs in my bedroom/office/gym. If I never ran another marathon, and 3:49:45 is my marathon PR for the rest of my life, that’s cool. There are other distances I probably enjoy more, plenty of other goals to shoot for.
A part of me wants to take another shot at it.
Not because I’m unsatisfied with my PR. I don’t stew over those two minutes at Chicago the way I did when I finished nine minutes shy of that goal at Chicago in 2014 or three minutes shy at the Maine Marathon in 2016.
I think I want to give it another shot because 2019 was the most fun I’ve had running since 2013, when I was doing track workouts weekly and running 5Ks almost every Saturday. Both of those years I was training with purpose, pushing my body to new and different places, and doing it with rad people.
During that run Friday, thinking about the marathon while struggling to make it through 3 miles, I gave myself a goal: Run that 3:47 marathon in October 2023, exactly 10 years after that 4:47.
Why so far away? For a few reasons:
- Two and a half years gives me plenty of time to get in shape. I’m overweight and undertrained right now, rushing into a marathon training plan is a sure fire way to get hurt and hate myself.
- I don’t really love running right now and I want my focus to be on enjoying the miles I am able to run. When running feels better and is something I look forward to (I know it will be some day), I can start training harder.
- Who knows when there are going to be marathons again. We are still in the neck deep in the pandemic and life won’t be anywhere close to normal for a long time. Virtual races are fine, but I have no interest in running a virtual 26.2 miles by myself, thanks.
Two and a half years is a long time. Maybe I’ll change my mind (I’ve already convinced myself this is a dumb idea two or three times). Maybe I will say to hell with running and find another way to work on my fitness (I’m almost 10 years into this running habit, I think/hope it is a part of my life for good). Maybe I decide that the 5K is my race of choice and focus on beating that PR that is about to turn five years old.
This is where my head is at right now, though. I want to get back to that place I was in 2019, when the thought of running a 90-minute steady state run on a Wednesday is intimidating but also exciting. I miss the way I felt while training for the marathon that summer. I miss running the miles, I miss the camaraderie of training with friends, I miss being fit and feeling good about myself.
It’s a lot of work, work I haven’t been willing to do lately, but hopefully it is work I eventually look forward to. For now, I’m going to go jog a few miles, during which I’ll probably talk myself into and out of this goal four or five times.