Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Unleashing the Marathoner

Two blogs ago, I discussed my version of those lingering questions that fall out at the end of one athletic season and the beginning of the next. Question number two in that list is one that plagues me to no end: "How do I reconcile my passion to run marathons with my desire to race well in triathlons?" After the question, I included the following parenthetical thought: "Whether you call it a need or an obsessive-compulsive behavior, it's something I MUST do."

What the hell does that mean? Will I die if I resist running marathons? Probably not. But I don't really want to find out. A month ago, when I realized I'll be in Orlando the weekend of the Walt Disney World Marathon (January 9), I registered immediately. I gave it very little thought -- it didn't even occur to me that I had not run over 13 miles since October.

The thing is, I sometimes do believe I have a basic NEED to run. If I don't run, I get crazy and I can't think straight. No other sport has this effect on me (i.e., avoids making me crazy and helps me think straight). There may have been a time I didn't run, but I don't remember it. Even in elementary school -- it may not have been organized running, and some people may have called it "playing" -- I ran. I was restless if I didn't. My athletic "career" probably started with being the fastest 50-yard-dash runner in my elementary school. Yes, I even beat the boys. I'm sure my girlfriends were mortified and it probably eliminated my chances of having a "boyfriend." But I was 10. I still had places to go (and run to).

That day I became a competitor. And a "runner." At only one other moment in my life did I become acutely aware of the importance of running. I was a senior in high school. I was having a very bad day. "Bad" is relative when you're in high school -- this particular bad day, embarrassingly enough, may have been due to a "B" on an exam. After mentally beating myself up at track practice, my track coach, the incomparable John Klarman, kicked me off the track and sent me off on a three-mile run. ALONE. I had never run ALONE before (I was a quarter-miler, for cryin' out loud, we LIVED in a group on the track). As I pounded the pavement, ALONE, my mind cleared. Upon returning to the track, I didn't (and still can't) remember exactly what had sent me into such a bad state that day.

From that day on, running has become the antidote. All the people close to me have discovered it: when Jeanne is having a bad day, send her out running. My room-mates in college did it. My friends do it. My husband does it. Like a Hyde-Jekyll transformation, I usually come back a different person from when I left.

Unfortunately, as a triathlete with a running problem, I still want to run (and excel) at marathoning. I used to think it would be difficult because of the required time commitment -- just for running and not including the other two sports. But if 2010 has taught me anything, it's that it may be possible to have both. In Detroit in October, I learned I can actually perform somewhat respectably (3:06) at the marathon distance with as little as 35-40 miles of running per week. In Pittsburgh in May, I also learned, to my own shock and disbelief, that I possess the ability to run a marathon "for fun." (Although, it's only fair to note that my attitude in Pittsburgh may have been additionally influenced by the rewards: breakfast at Piper's Pub and a trip to IKEA on the way home.)

Heading into 2011, then, will require me finding a balance. Racing marathons while training for triathlons IS possible, with a slight adjustment of goals and a constant reminder to myself why it is that I run in the first place. Running is the reason, the mentality. Racing is just the icing on the cake. I'll can still go on eating the cake...

...wait, that was a bad analogy. I like the icing better (sometimes I only want the icing and NOT the cake)...

...Let's try again. Running is the basic need, the way of life. Racing marathons is just another data point. It proves to others that you do it, but it's not really necessary for survival. My ultimate goal must lie elsewhere until I stand, once more, at that beach on Ali'i Drive.


  1. I’m glad you put the whole “somewhat respectable 3:06 marathon” comment toward the end of this post for I was only pissed off for the last couple of paragraphs.

    As we were both born in 1965 I’m sure you will remember the entire family gathered around the television to watch that “kind of neat” lunar landing. Yes, landing on the moon was just so “okay”.

    You are a runner. No getting away from it and, as we no longer (you no longer, me never) have the physical ability to represent our country in the Olympic Games or compete at a professional level then I would strongly recommend that you qualify for Kona in Utah and then enjoy the crap out of running and swimming and riding. And yes, I will thank you not to make any “Special” Olympics jokes about me to Jim.

    Happy New Year!!


  2. Racing marathons will not help your triathlon times. Your running might improve a little but while you are racking up the miles (and fatigue) your competition is on the trainer and getting better on the bike. I saw it last year and I see it this year.

    You answered the question of why do your run – but why do you do triathlons? (That question is really for me).