Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Will the Real Runner Please Stand Up?

I think it was January 2008 when I listened to a voicemail that started, “Hello, I am looking for Eric Cameron, the marathoner….”  The voicemail was from a fellow Mr. Cameron who was also registered for Boston in April of 2009 and has a penchant for tracking down members of the Cameron clan.  If I received that call today, I would be tempted to say, “The marathoner isn’t in right now, I am expecting him back…eventually.”
I have heard/read people refer to being a real runner.  It usually comes in conjunction with a goal or achievement.  Be it running a certain number of miles or days of the week, achieving a certain level of speed, or completing a race or challenge, people feel that they are not a real runner until they have reached a certain level of psychosis dedication to the sport.
I used to be a real runner. I was a marathoner.  I labored over training plans and could be found pouring over my training log.  I awoke early to run while my neighbors slept.  I set goals and chased them feverishly.  I caught a lot of them.  I blathered on endlessly about races, training, recovery, and the friends that I made along the journey.  However, the real runner is MIA at the moment.  A flaccid temp has taken his place, wide eyed and panicky about how he can fill the shoes of his predecessor.   He has the real runner’s notes on how to get the job done, but is a bit overwhelmed.
So the question is this, if one has to reach a milestone to be considered a real runner, at what point does one cease to be a real runner?  Is it a certain number of pounds gained, dropping below a certain number of miles each week, or failure to maintain the training log because the truth is too painful?  Did I lose my real runner card when I abandoned goals to kick ass in my next race?
Ah…the next race. My real runner doppelganger is registered for the Pikes Peak Ascent in August and the Houston Marathon in January.  He had goals and aspirations for glory in those events.  He had a plan.  I have a belly and a growing feeling of doom.
Of course, being a runner is what has gotten me into this mess.  I trained like crazy for three years and was limping around Boston on the evening of Patriot’s Day 2011 after completing my 8th marathon.  The stabbing pain in my heel was the call for the real runner to go away for a while.  As I wrestle (I wish I could put this in past tense) with Plantar Fasciitis, an over-use injury from all that glorious running, I also wrestle with my identity.  If I am not a marathoner, who am I?
The answer: I am a runner.  Yesterday, the first day of summer, I took the dogs out for a run.  We all needed it.  The grass was high from the recent rain and the trails were soft without being muddy.  The sun was warm on my skin as we plodded along.  My mind was full of goals; where those goals would have been focused on race paces and strategies a few short months ago, they were now about how to finally whip this ailment and get back to my former state.  At what seemed like every turn on the familiar course, I thought about the hard workouts I had put in on those same trails over the past years.  While I am currently unable to hold the pace that I labored at while preparing for recent marathons, there was a spark.  I wanted to get back there.
And I think that is the answer to my question.  I am no longer a real runner when I don’t want to do it anymore.  Yesterday’s run was slow, and my heel was a little achy, but it made me want to get after it, which makes me believe that the marathoner will return from his hiatus.  As I turned off the trail to hit the neighborhood streets, I caught something out of the corner of my eye.  It was Eric Cameron, the marathoner, gliding through the tall summer grass in the angled sunshine of late afternoon, chasing his glorious goals.
I will catch him and pass him soon enough.  Really.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Everything I need to know about running, I learned at the 2011 Boston Marathon.

The 115th Boston marathon was my 8th attempt at the marathon distance.  I was coming off of a personal best time in Chicago and was really doubtful of my ability to run faster at Boston.  As I stated in the race report from Boston, I gave into peer pressure and planned on trying to run my fastest marathon ever.  I didn’t.
Of course, it was in the not running my fastest marathon where the lesson lie.  While I could have paced better, holding some energy in reserve in the first half, I didn’t.  I ran by feel, chatted with some other runners, and had great fun.  My  final time was my second fastest marathon ever, but the lesson was in letting go and enjoying the run.  Boston is a great town, and I met up with a lot of friends.  But the lasting impression of the race is that I raced well without putting pressure on myself to run fast.  Sure, in those closing miles, I ran proudly; I wasn’t going to quit, despite paying the price for a fast start.  However, it is that digging deep when things get tough that I love about this sport.  I gave my best but didn’t stress out that my best might not be “good enough.”
It was my best on that day, which is good enough for me.
And I learned that I love being a marathoner.  Granted, there are times when I am hanging on in the tough miles, or putting in that interval effort that makes my eyes bulge  and my breakfast threaten to reappear; those times are unpleasant, but I still like them—in hindsight.  But running a marathon, being prepared for the event (more or less) and sharing in the spirit of the effort and the race, is what keeps me logging the miles.  I like training.  I like running silently through the darkness in the early morning.  I like filling up the squares in the training log.
The question of running to “compete” or “complete” is often raised by marathoners.  While I have gotten to the point that finishing a marathon is taken for granted a bit, I think that there is some grey area between running just to finish, or complete, the marathon, and running to compete—in the age group or against my own expectations.  There is that sweet  spot where I am fit and prepared and can just run for fun.  There is no expectation of finishing time, just the expectation of getting the most of the experience.  I am blessed to be able to run 26.2, and there are times that the obsession with running faster obfuscates that fact.  The 115th Boston marathon reminded me of the fact that I love marathoning and that I love being a marathoner.
I learned that I am lucky to be healthy enough to complete the marathon distance, that I have great friends that share my passion, that I have a family that supports my madness, and that the people of Boston love their marathon and treat its participants like heroes.  I learned that I am a lucky man.