Thursday, March 24, 2011

Payment for the Tolling

At or about the four mile mark of my five-mile run in the pre-dawn hours on Tuesday morning, it occurred to me. What has been obvious probably to all those around me finally dawned on me (lighting conditions then and there existing notwithstanding). While my life has been pockmarked by decisions made for my benefit and to the detriment or discomfort of others, the decision to run in a marathon has been the single-most selfish decision I have ever made. And I assure you, my list of contenders for the top spot is noteworthy both for its quality and for its quantity.

I know not how people I know and love, such as my sister Jill and my brother-in-law Russ, are able to do it. While I must confess that I do not know when Jill last ran a marathon, I believe that Russ runs in at least one or two a year. The training required for them is extraordinary. And while my knees are starting to creak a bit from the stress and strain of the training-related running, which for me anyway represents a significant uptick over the type of mileage I typically run in a week's time, it is not the physical toll that has been the source of the majority of the strain. Not at all. I have gotten to the point - having run a new personal best distance of 16 miles (actually 16.4 on the course I mapped out for myself) - of preparing myself physically and mentally to complete the race in less than four hours. This past Sunday, I covered the required mileage at the pace I intend to run on race day and at the end of the exercise, while tired I was not a limp rag or a shell of myself. I was tired but not wiped out. I could have run more. I have a handle on the internal mental and physical strains of the assignment.

What I failed to calculate - because I am at my core a shallow, superficial a##hole I suppose (stop nodding in agreement) - was the stress and strain that my commitment to this exercise would have on my household. I tend to not spend a tremendous amount of time at home to begin with - making the trek to work six mornings a week at 4:00 and commencing its homeward companion five nights a week at 6:00 or later (I do come home on Saturdays - and much earlier to boot). Since the first of the year, when I started adhering to my 16-week marathon training program, I spend a significant portion of the limited amount of time I spend at home engaged in training to run this race. This past Sunday, while I was very happy with the time I achieved in running sixteen miles, it must be noted that it still took me slightly less than two and one half hours to run that distance. This Sunday the distance increases slightly to seventeen miles. On April 10 I reach the outer limit of the distance that is part of this training program: twenty miles. If I run well, then I will spend roughly three hours running that day.

I have friends who have run in a marathon before who - when I tell them that this year's New Jersey Marathon is the only one I foresee myself running - tell me that I am crazy because the rush or the high associated with completing something as mentally and physically draining as a 26.2 mile run is tough to replicate in other endeavors, which means that upon completing a first one you crave the opportunity to run a second. Candidly, while I recognize the likelihood of experiencing that very experience firsthand, their observations on this issue miss the mark. For me, anyway. I will not do this again - not because of the race that awaits at the end of the training - but because the costs associated with preparation are steeper than I am willing to pay again. Everything comes at a cost. To do something, you usually forego doing something else. I know now what the cost of preparing properly to do this specific thing is. It is a cost I have little interest in incurring again.

Abraham Lincoln was not only significantly taller than I am but wiser as well. Thus, disagreement with Honest Abe does not come easy for me. On my desk I have one of his bon mots, "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing." It is not a sentiment with which I take issue entirely - save for the fact that it reads a bit like an absolute - but it is certainly a piece of advice that (much like every other piece of advice) needs always to be placed in context.

Or perhaps it needs simply to be placed in juxtaposition. "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent; a part of the main"....

....and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls.


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