The Marathon

Kristin and I turning smiles into miles. Photo: Knut.

The other night I dreamt that I showed up at the indoor track at Bislett stadium to do my marathon workout. When I looked in my bag, I found that I had brought on old, worn out pair of running shoes. I'll get injured running in those, I thought. I dug around, and couldn't find any of the gels I had planned to take during the workout either. Then I realized I was wearing jeans. But I have to do this workout! I thought.

Marathon training terrifies me, to the point that I have dreams (nightmares?!) about my sessions two days out. It also excites me, and I find myself planning the route for my next session 10 days out. A well-run marathon, I've come to understand, should be executed at a pace that is just on the edge of reason. Finding the edge of reason is no easy task, and I've failed along the way.

I've had bad workouts before, but I've never failed a workout quite so miserably as I did on a frigid day late this January. As I knotted my shoes to set out after work, I tried to convince myself the lingering soreness in my legs would magically evaporate after I warmed up. It didn't. Only 8K into what I intended to be a 25K session, I found myself veering off the bike path to the nearest subway stop and collapsing in tears in the subway car.

The "I just bailed on my workout" thousand yard stare.

Let's rewind a little. I took a season break in November, then ramped up my training in December, ready for shit to get real in January. But January started with a nasty cold, followed by a two-week business trip to China and Japan. I ran during the business trip, but had trouble finding time and space to do any structured workouts. I flew back to Norway, determined to hit the ground running.

I overtaxed myself, putting in a bunch of hard workouts despite jetlag, trying to compensate for the lost time. I was scared of failure, determined to show myself that I could do the work I deemed necessary. Which led my to starting a marathon workout, after work, in the dark, on legs that were in no way ready for the trials I planned to put them through.

I was tired for days after the failed workout, and felt like I was failing the task I would set myself. I already knew not to underestimate the marathon; now I was painfully aware not to underestimate the workouts leading up to it.

In trail running, where the terrain dictates your progress, knowing the limit of what your body can handle for a given time the most important thing. In marathon running, find the Pace is the thing. At the Pace, your body will slowly fatigue and you will hang on, hoping your picked Pace will hold for 42.2K. Successful marathon workouts are calculated and executed, run with your head more than your heart.

The bike path at Frognerkilen. Photo: Pål

In Oslo in the winter, Frognerkilen is the place to go to run flat, fast and outdoors. Sandwiched between the fjord and the E18 highway, a virtually flat stretch of bike path has become my go to for workouts at the Pace. Eastwards, frequent cross-walks eventually render the bike path useless for fast running as it approaches downtown. Westwards, several rolling hills appear, and I've used this stretch several times to break the monotony of running the same 3K back and forth.

Company makes the workouts bearable. Kristin, Joost and Pål have all helped me muddle through the hard miles. Although marathon pace is hard, it's possible to hold a conversation going. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we just run, noting our asynchronous footsteps (Kristin's hummingbird cadence; mine and Joost's more similar in frequency but still rarely aligned).

Good company before another workout.

Part of a long workout is simply resisting an inexorable urge to slow down. The Pace doesn't come naturally to me. I have to pay careful attention. Ever step becomes an act of resistance, a rebellion against the urges of your body. I've heard it's possible to run in a state of flow, but I rarely experience it while pounding the pavement.

My nightmares about the race (wrong shoes! Off course! Overslept and missed the start!) are equally opposed by daydreams. In the daydream, the Pace somehow feels natural and I am flying towards the finish line faster than I ever thought was possible. Probably neither the dream nor the nightmare will be true on race day. The marathon will be just like the workouts - calculated, executed and demanding every ounce of my will.

24 days

- The Wild Bazilchuk


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