Reflections on the Run #4: Feeling the Distance

Well, here we are just seven weeks out from the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and I am really into the thick of my training. Preparing for a marathon requires a patient build up of milage and intensity. This year I have resolved to train smarter, not just harder. Last year in my run up to the San Antonio marathon I trained harder, ran faster and further than ever before. I had a great training group that helped me log many of those 60-70 mile weeks. I also managed to veer into “overtrained” territory, where your fitness peaks before your actual race. In that race five of my running buddies and I ran with relative ease through the first 18 miles or so, but by mile 21 the wheels had come off for me. They all went on to run a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, while I cramped and limped through those last 5 miles.

Distance running is about finding your limits. T.S. Eliot once said “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” A regular part of my training and racing is finding my limits and pushing right up against, if not through them. You talk to any normal person and they’d look at you with incomprehension when you tell them you run 60-70 miles per week. That’s nearly 300 miles a month (which is also about the typical milage I get out of a pair of running shoes).

What hit me yesterday after my 16 mile long run was the odd shock that I really wasn’t feeling all that sore or beat up after running that distance. 16 miles used to be quite an ordeal, and I’d limp around gingerly the rest of the day. Not that it’s easy now, but it somehow feels almost normal. During these long runs I find that a key to pacing yourself is an ability to “feel” the distance. When I get about 6-8 miles from completing my run, I can begin to visualize and feel what it will be like to hold a certain pace for that distance. It is a matter of being comfortable with being uncomfortable for a known amount of time.

Part of what is so difficult about the marathon distance is that 26.2 miles is a very difficult distance to “feel.” At mile 20, that next 10k can feel like an eternity. Throughout all this training, it’s really that last 10k you’re training for. There’s an old saying in marathon lore that says the marathon is really just a 20 mile warmup for a 10k (6.2) mile race. I think there’s some truth to that.

It occurs to me that in life, as in running, it can be similarly difficult to “feel” the distance. As a priest I am often privileged to witness people nearing the end of their natural lives. Some of these people, who are quite aware that they are dying, have taught me so much about living. While they can “feel” the distance to the end, they remind those of us in the early miles what matters most.

I think about these sorts of things a lot out on the run – my children, my spouse, my mom, dad, and sister, as well as my friends and parishioners. You all help the miles go by, and I am often struck by moments of gratefulness for your presence in my life.

The truth is, we never really know how long our race will last. We don’t know whether we’ll be running a 10k, a marathon, or a century. But feeling the distance helps us to pace ourselves, breathe deeply, and enjoy the run.



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