Finally a chance to update, albeit at 4:30am. Supposed to run this morning, but pouring rain and 40F might change those plans.
Last long run on Sunday of 19.5 miles. It’s good to get the last one done and move into the “taper” phase of things. This is always a tricky time. For some reason, getting sick during a taper is pretty common. You can start to feel out of shape and overweight pretty quickly due to the decrease in mileage. After having established a routine of building for so long, it becomes hard to start cutting back. A lot of good races are lost during a taper because of the psychological need to run hard and put in extra efforts. Also, a lot of aches and pains can start to crop up mysteriously. If you do get an injury during your taper, there is not a whole lot of time to recover before the big race (especially as we get older). For all these reasons and more, tapers are not necessarily fun.
Right now I am reading Again to Carthage by John L. Parker, Jr. He is the author of Once a Runner, which is a pretty good book about a college runner trying to come to terms with himself and his abilities as he trains. The sequel deals with the main character after his career is “over” and he tries to rekindle it by moving from the 1500 to the marathon. One of the main themes is “what is a runner?” Being a runner is much different from running. Running is simply an act of motion for those of us fortunate enough to be able to do so. Being a runner involves more than that. I will let others argue what it means, but for me it is pretty simple. You are a runner if not doing it means some kind of loss of self. You do it because not doing it means a fundamental change in who you are, a change that most of us have to make not by choice. You can start to break that down into specifics, like training, racing, awareness, etc. But at its core it means you have an identity that is in some way shaped by the activity from which its name is derived. And, the same can be said for other categories as well (cyclist, musician, gardener, whatever).
One of the interesting comments made in the book is how races are not the defining element, but merely the icing on the cake. We don’t train to race; we race because we train. Racing provides some logic to what would otherwise largely be a counterproductive obsessive-compulsive activity. If I am just going out and running what most would consider to be stupid long miles for the heck of it, they would think I am nuts. Add on “I am ‘training’ for a marathon”, and then it somehow seems okay. Limping around the house, not getting enough sleep, spending money on various things to keep the body moving, going for long runs in the middle of winter and summer, etc. are not the recipe for health. Doing these things without an apparent “goal” would result in calls of concern and interventions from friends. Thus, racing make it all seem “normal.”
So, even when we are standing at Hopkinton getting ready for the marathon to start, being there does not make us runners. Anyone can slog through a marathon. The definition goes deeper than that. I have heard people say (including myself) that a bad day at a marathon negates all the previous training, or that the training was wasted. What is really true is, “If you weren’t training for a marathon, what else would you be doing?” While we all want to run good times, the times themselves don’t find the person. It’s everything largely unseen that went on before the marathon. The marathon itself is just the collective ritual that legitimates it.