Even though it’s been over two decades since I left high school, I still struggle to escape defining my athletic self in terms of physical education (P.E.) classes and (gasp!) high school sports. That definition repeatedly reminds me that I have no right to consider myself an athlete in any sport.
I was never picked dead last for those days in P.E. where we divided up and people picked teams, but from elementary through high school I was consistently in the bottom half of the selection. I participated in a couple of sports, but never made the varsity team of anything.
When I look back, I see the distorted importance of sports in our community, and how we respected and valued people because of their athletic abilities. And really, that was stupid.
And despite knowing in my head how stupid it was, I still fight against the definition of self that cemented over years of being in the bottom half of the team selection and never being considered good at sports.
That’s one of the many reasons I gravitated to bicycling and eventually, randonneuring. It was something I could do without worrying about being good at it. Cycling was about transportation and freedom, not speed or sport-related.
Whenever I toe the line of a marathon, a little part of me recalls P.E. days, sighs internally, and wonders who I think I am. It’s not as though I’m good at running. I look at all the other runners, and think they look way more runner-like than I do.
Technically, I’m bad at running. I’m a slowpoke. I have an awkward and inefficient gait, and I’m happy to run an overall pace of 10-minute miles over a marathon course. I have minimal interest in speedwork, and my general strategy is to simply build base miles.
Yet I am compelled to run and be part of many of the marathon events in D.C., and Saturday marked the fifth time I have completed some version of the D.C. Rock ‘n Roll Marathon route.
This course is one of my favorites, as it includes several extended climbs (particularly in the second half) and passes through all four quadrants of the city. It’s an ideal urban runner’s D.C. tour.
I have no aversion to pavement. Running off asphalt is certainly easier on the knees, but it’s fun to have runners take over the city streets. It’s refreshing not to bow down to vehicular traffic for a few hours. Sorry cars, plan accordingly. I’m sure you’ll survive.
I spent all of Saturday thinking this was my 20th marathon, which I considered an important milestone (literally!). After reacquainting myself with basic addition and preparing this post, I realized this was my 19th official 26.2 so I’m still eyeing my 20th. (I’m coming for you, 20!)
During this year’s run, I was deeply in tune with my head and body. While I was part of a big event, absorbing the crowd encouragement and enjoying the bands that played along the course, my focus was on how every part of my body was faring.
As regular readers know, one week prior to the marathon, Felkerino and I had joined with our friend Jerry to go in search of our brevet legs with a 157-mile bike ride.
This is not a taper! It is the antithesis of a taper, and probably not the best idea for someone who wishes to kick off a marathon with fresh legs.
The ramp-up for brevets and the marathon taper awkwardly collided, but I tried to view each separately in order to fool myself into a fresh leg feeling.
The snappy leg sensation never manifested, but my body felt remarkably strong on Saturday, and I believe that is due to the increased running miles over the winter months. I established a 20-mile per week (minimum) running goal in addition to my cycling miles, and this has aided my overall fitness in the early months of 2016.
Between miles 14-16, I experienced a dull sidestitch. Fortunately, Felkerino and his daughter were out to cheer me on and offer me a well-timed bite of banana , which helped me push through. After the sidestitch subsided, I felt awesome, and the miles through Anacostia Park were far less effort than they have been in previous years.
My legs threatened to cramp on me at various points during the final four miles through Fort Dupont Park and up Minnesota Avenue. Our previous week’s bike miles were making themselves known, as I had dealt with cramps in the same spots after last week’s ride as well.
“Don’t you dare, legs! Don’t! I can’t hear you!” I yelled at my limbs, stopped briefly to stretch them out, and continued to run forward while trying to ignore the leg-driven conversation, cramps lurking all the while. “We’ll talk later, legs. So don’t even.”
Part of me thought it was totally irrational to first yell at, and then attempt to ignore, my legs. “The cramping is real,” a little voice told me. But another part of me was sure I could cajole my legs into silence and push through. And the latter train of thought proved its dominance.
I flicked my feet around in hopes of delaying the cramp onslaught, while trying to move as fast as possible to the end. I saw Felkerino and his daughter, gave them a wave, and wiggled my way to the finish line.
The final two-tenths felt like at least a half-mile, but I crossed the finish without any show-stopping leg cramping. “Way to go, legs, you’re the best! Still, please do not cramp on me!” My legs listened and after some relaxed walking and a few moments of rest, they felt much better.
With that finish, marathon 19 is in the books. I even ended up with a personal best on this course by about two minutes or so, with an official finish of 4:25:59. Go me! Yeah, it’s not fast, but this non-runner will take it.
A huge thanks to our friend Jerry for coming out to cheer me in the early miles, and to Felkerino and D for meeting me in the later parts of the course.
It means a lot when you have people you know rooting for your success. They don’t know about your P.E. baggage, and your reluctance to call yourself a runner.
Your friends – and for that matter, all the spectators out there cheering and clapping- think you’re a runner. You may run slow, but you’re out there doing it, after all. They don’t give a $h*& about your town and what happened in P.E. or high school sports. You’re still managing 26.2 miles on your own two feet. You might be a runner after all.