Marathon Math

Two Equal Parts

My son Shawn, a three-time marathoner who inspired me to run my first, once told me that the marathon is divided into two equal parts: the first twenty miles and the last six. I did not understand it until mile twenty of my first marathon. Then it became very clear. In terms of distance and time, of course they are not equal. But in terms of effort, emotion and pain, the last six can be as long or longer that the first twenty. Fortunately, when I first faced this reality in Detroit in 2009 Shawn was at my side to encourage me. I will never forget hearing him say “Dad, you ran over five hundred miles to train for this. You can run a few more.” And he was right.

Ninety Percent Mental

Yogi Berra famously declared that “baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.” Several of Yogi’s most beloved quotes involve questionable math, yet somehow this one makes sense to athletes, particularly marathoners. My three-mile run this morning is a good example. I got out of bed at 5:30 as I do every day. I was more stiff that usual and was feeling the 3 pounds I gained over just 2 days by giving in to the overwhelming hunger that generally lasts 24-48 hours after a long, hard run. (My wife’s to-die-for made-from-scratch blueberry pancakes made resistance virtually impossible.) My legs still felt sore from Saturday’s hilly eight-miler. Rationalizations for skipping my run began to bounce around in my head.

There is only one way to deal with this temptation. I laced up my shoes, grabbed my headphones and water bottle, and headed out the door. I turned my thoughts to what I have learned from hundreds of runs on mornings when I would have preferred a little extra sleep. Running will ease the muscle soreness. Running will raise the energy level. Running, before it’s over, will be fun.

Ninety is greater than fifty, and the mental side of running prevailed. The run did ease the soreness. My energy level (and my pace for each mile) steadily increased. And before it was over, I was enjoying the run so much I wished it could be more than three miles.

 

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